Can You Learn a Language as an Introvert?

I wish my students asked me this question more often. Then, I would tell them about all the ways in which learning a foreign language as an introvert is not only possible, but it can become enjoyable. About ways to turn your introversion into a superpower. About ways in which you can connect with others while still being true to your self.

I’m sharing eight ways to be a successful introvert learner on the Learn Out Live blog.

And yes, I reveal a few of your introvert superpowers. It’s up to you to discover the rest.

Escape the tyranny of deadlines

Escape the tyranny of dealines on PanglossityI love deadlines. I especially like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
Douglas Adams

Setting deadlines when we’re learning another language can helpful, but it can also easily turn into yet another artificial pressure we create that commands our state of mind. This, in turn, commands our feelings about the learning process.

Having deadlines sets the pace, but if you let them overtake the process, you will not experience the fulfillment that comes with making progress.

Instead, make a commitment to show up every day, to open that workbook, to log into that app, to notice the progress bar change color. Don’t let the deadline rob you of the experience of learning.

Motivation, sustainable motivation, rarely comes from a deadline. My students come to me desperate to learn a foreign language, or to improve their language skills, because they want that promotion, that job abroad or they need to pass that exam. In other words, they have a deadline. The promotion will not be there next year, the job abroad closes applications in three weeks and the exam can only be taken twice a year.

But the students that are really successful in advancing their language skills are those who see what’s after the deadline; those who show up every lesson with their work done, with a myriad of questions, with the eagerness to learn.

The students who achieve their goals are the ones who, no matter how tight or far away the deadline is, do not put “that date” at the center of their journey.

The students who let their learning process fall under the tyranny of the deadline usually binge-memorize, forget faster and have a more superficial approach. The sad part is that they make themselves miserable in the process. Often a nervous wreck, often procrastinating, often lying to themselves about their progress.

Think about it. Which one would you rather be?

Commit to the process. Show up every day.

Image: A Canterbury Pilgrimage illustrated by Joseph Pennell and Elizabeth Robins Pennell, 1885

Energy Intelligence

Smart Language Learning  - Energy Intelligence

The theory of multiple intelligences, developed by Howard Garner,  is well-known among educators and learners. It states that we all are equipped with a different combination of “intelligences”, and this combination is what enables us to learn in a specific manner. Garner first outlined eight categories of intelligence, later used by teachers to convey the information to learners: visual, kinesthetic, musical, linguistic, logical-mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic. He later added existential (spiritual) and moral intelligences to the list.

Loosely connected to Garner’s theory – in its use of the notion of intelligence – is the concept of energy intelligence. I came across it in this article by Josh Allan Dykstra. Based in strengths assessment theory, the energy intelligence is aimed at measuring what energizes a person, rather than what they’re good at. Being good at something does not necessarily imply that we also feeling energized by that thing. For example, you may be fairly good at math in school, but after an hour of working on math problems you start feeling drained and miserable.

The question is: does applying energy intelligence theory work in language learning?

I believe it does, and the reason is simple.  As human beings, our actions are often dictated by our emotions. We don’t feel like learning when we get back home from work, so we don’t. We feel bored when we’re struggling with vocabulary drills, so we stop. Too often when we’re learning, we focus on what we think we should master rather than on directing our attention to what makes us feel energized and joyous.

When you’re energized, you get things done without really feeling like you’re trying. Trying would also imply some sort of resistance, an effort to stay busy or feel productive. Feeling energized, similar to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow, is based on the assumption that you do your best work when you’re feeling at your best, while going with your will, not against it.

There are a few things that you can do test out this theory and take advantage of it.

1. Pay attention to what energizes you when you’re learning or focusing.

Is it writing down ideas? Is it freewriting? Is it doing audio lessons? Is it practicing new expressions out loud? Create an “energizing log” and write in it whatever activity you’re doing when you feel at your best without feeling like the effort exceeds the reward.

2. Make sure that you’re energized by something you’re actively pursuing.

Sure, I feel great when I listen to smart people being interviewed on podcasts. But that’s not a product of my brain. My brain just processes information. It does not reflect or act on it. I’m taking that a step further by noticing that I’m also energized when I’m brainstorming and wordmapping around the concepts that I’ve discovered on the podcast.

3. Enable energizing activities.

Enabling good habits is crucial in forming good habits. A simple example would be placing a glass of fresh water next to you if you want to get into the habit of drinking more water. By seeing the water, your brain will be triggered into feeling thirsty and wanting to drink. The fact that the water is readily available eliminates the effort and enables you to take action.

Similarly, we can enable energizing learning habits by making it easier to get into an energizing state. That could mean simply having a dedicated spot or a dedicated ritual for that state.

4. Use energizing activities to get started.

If you know that something feels good, gets you in the flow and helps you get work done, start with that something. Start with it even if it doesn’t connect immediately with what you should be doing. Starting a project is, very often, half the battle, because it builds momentum. Momentum is a learner’s best friend.

5. Use knowledge of what energizes you to get back on track.

You can use energy intelligence to your advantage when you need to refocus. If you find yourself procrastinating and dreading to get back to the work that you were doing, it helps to remind yourself how energized you feel when you’re actually doing it. Again, trick your brain into re-starting (your conversations, your learning sessions, your reading, your classes) and it will only get better from there.

Original image: L’Energie Moderne by Georges Hugnet (French, 1906 – 1974) from The Met online archives

What is Microlearning?

Microlearning and language learning

The What

Microlearning refers to short, easily-digestible pieces of content that learners can use to expand their knowledge, fill a gap in knowledge or just for pure entertainment. It is generally used to refer to digital artifacts (videos, online quizzes, online lessons) rather than traditional ways of learning (lectures, textbooks).

In traditional learning setting, the information is pushed from teacher/trainer to student/learner. Think of your typical classroom. The teacher comes to class with the material already prepared, or follows a textbook. The teacher provides the information, which the learners are required to assimilate, if they want to “see progress”.

In microlearning, the learner has a need for information (often called knowledge gap), accesses a lesson and finds out the answer to their question. The learners take responsibility and decide what they want to learn based on what they need in order to accomplish a certain task or to advance a certain skill. This is called a pull approach to learning.

The Why
If you’re wondering what are the advantages of microlearning, consider this:

  • Microlearning is learner-controlled. You can get topical answers to your problem and learn what you need to fill the gaps.
  • It is not time-consuming. With most learning artifacts taking anywhere from 1 to 10 minutes, microlearning derives instant knowledge gratification, and it is an excellent filler of idle-time.
  • It is measurable. Every lesson has one clear, distinct learning objective, usually followed by a very short review or reflection time.
  • It is flexible. You can easily go back and forth between the lessons if you want to solidify your knowledge, review, or find the answer to a question. This is not something you would likely do with a one hour class. In language learning, spaced repetition is key, and that is something that can easily work with chunks of content.
  • It accounts for levels of knowledge. One of the most time-consuming and motivation-draining assumptions is that all learners start at the same level and have the same interests. Microlearning enables user autonomy, therefore the students can choose the level they start at and the goals that they set.
  • It works with short attention spans. The typical adult learners can focus anywhere between 3 and 20 minutes, if they’re really engaged. Microlearning solves this problem by providing bite-sized learning opportunities that students are more likely to complete.
  • Procrastination-proof. Ok, there’s no such thing as procrastination-proof, but you’re more likely to procrastinate when you’re faced with a twenty page paper than you are when you have to watch a 3 minute video.

The How

Here are a few examples of microlearning techniques and platforms for foreign languages:

  • Mini-lessons

Babbel is a Berlin-based initiative supported by the European Regional Development Fund. It’s a really great tool for building vocabulary and practicing phrases.

BBC Languages features short lessons in over forty languages.

Mango Languages can be accessed through libraries, higher education institutions and K-12 school. It is also a homeschooling platform for learning foreign languages.

Curious has crowdsourced lessons from native speakers.

  • Podcasts

Slow German obviously allows you to listen to a native speaker reading a text in German at a slower speed. It’s useful if you want to learn clear pronunciation.

Survival Phrases teaches the basic conversation starters for when you’re on holiday.

Daily French Pod is a daily dose of real life French as it’s spoken by native speakers.

There is a long list of free language learning podcasts in iTunes.

  • Video language channels

Deutsch fur Euch is a German channel that offers clarifications on certain snippets of language.

Japan Society NYC has a language videos playlist called Uki Uki Nihon Go.

DutchPod101 has a lot of video resources for learning Dutch.

  • Games

Duolingo is obviously the app du jour, that uses gamification and adorable anthropomorphic owls to trick you into learning a foreign language. It is also crowdsourced but it has strict quality assurance.

BaBaDum is a game with well-designed graphics that help you learn 1500 words in 13 languages.

No matter what resources you decide to use, remember that learning a language does not have to be a “only if I have an hour to spare” activity.

Image: Family with a Microscope by Jacob Ernst Marcus (1784 – 1826).

Language Links: German MOOC and Swedish idioms

German Mooc and Swedish idioms

Just for fun, I publish a list of articles about foreign languages and language learning.

Coursera announced that it will launch its first foreign language learning MOOC in October in collaboration with University of Pennsylvania. Auf Deutsch: Communicating in German Across Cultures is a beginner course scheduled to run for six weeks. “The course will be informative and entertaining. People will hopefully be learning something new about German culture. Students will learn about the different lifestyles Germans have. That’s where the entertainment part will come in.” says Professor Edward Dixon, the course developer. I, for one, have enrolled and I can’t wait to dissect the instructional design of the course.

Speaking of fun in German, do you act as if you have fat pants? It’s not an insult, I swear! Head over to FluentU to find out what that means in a list of 10 German idioms. I haven’t lost my mind and all my cups are in my cabinet.

I bet you’re tickled pink by funny expressions in foreign languages. Check out this video of 10 Swedish expressions, unless you have a feeling there are owls in the moss (meaning something is quite off).

What happens when actors are told to speak in their native language for “authenticity”? Using Gratuitous Foreign Language (GFL) is Hollywood’s way of saying “hey, as long as it sounds foreign and exotic, we’re covered”. But is everything foreign-sounding really true to the plot of the film? Salon gives a few examples of native speakers who took a few liberties on camera.

Can you translate your standup routine into a foreign language, and still keep the same jokes? If you’re Eddie Izzard, you can try, but there is no guarantee that your audience will understand. Although the misunderstanding itself can become a source of humor.

P.S. More German language resources here and here.

Image: Nordic Summer Evening by Sven Richard Bergh (1889 – 1900)

Language and … personal development?

tool-for-personal-development-language

A good 70 percent of my students are professionals. A good 70 percent of my students want to learn a foreign language as an extra skill that will advance their career. A good 70 percent of those get something more in return.

How do you feel about made up statistics?

I thought so. But at least my guess is informed by the years of teaching and years of asking all sorts of people “Why do you want to learn another language? What’s in it for you?”

The truth is this: I set out to find research about the effect that learning a foreign language has on personal development. I found no such study. If you come across one, please send it my way. Professional development is clearly impacted by being bilingual or multilingual. But how does learning a new language make us grow and evolve on a personal level? Does it change the way we communicate? Does it change the way we view challenges and set goals? Does it force us outside of our comfort zones? Does it open up new ways of perceiving the world around us?

Let me tell you a few stories. Stories about people that I’ve worked with and the transformations I saw in them while they were learning a foreign language.

Let’s start with Aimee.

I first started working with Aimee in the middle of her two year long maternity leave from a market research position for large hospitality group. Aimee was a hard-working career woman who loved what she was doing for a living (a typical Sociology major), but had found herself stuck at home with a toddler and little intellectual stimulation. She was at an upper-intermediate level of English and always thirsty to learn more.

Honestly, Aimee was, at the time, my most advanced student. She was sharp, quick and confident. I thought the main reason Aimee had for wanting for work on her English skills was just to have some interaction with an adult while being stuck at home during the day.

I loved working with her because she wouldn’t say no to any challenge, and she would diligently do her homework.

Yes, your teacher really cares about these two things.

I started to slowly introduce advanced and proficiency materials into our lessons: a lesson based on a TED Talk here, an article from The Economist there, a “look what British skit I found, let’s see how much you understand” playful email a week all the way over there.

Aimee just took the ideas and ran with them. We spent an hour talking about Jamie Oliver’s TED talk on teaching children about food and how Aimee would apply it to raising her child. We would connect Charlemagne’s blog on The Economist with sociology ideas she remembered from college. Then, Aimee started doing these things by herself. First, she showed me a new British series she was into  (It was Smack the Pony but don’t Google it if you’re at work). She couldn’t understand everything, but she got most of the jokes and if she didn’t, she asked me about it (if you want to make your EFL teacher blush during a lesson, do just that).

Another time, Aimee was really excited that she could watch The Hunger Games in English, without subtitles or dubbing. Her favorite new words in English were “chatterbox” (usually to refer to her now-learning-to-speak-and-will-never-shut-up-but-look-how-cute daughter) and “brick and mortar” (simply because it’s so descriptive).

We continued to work together even after Aimee returned to work. She confessed that studying a foreign language, and going in depth with it, helped her in her job tremendously. Having worked with metrics her entire career made Aimee really good at goal-setting and working through objectives, but studying a foreign language opened her up to new ideas, that she would not have listened to or read in her native language. She took some of these ideas and applied them in her marketing department. She took other ideas and started up a conversation with her new German expat manager. Some of them became seeds for new projects, both personal and professional. Aimee now feels more fulfilled in her career because she has the freedom to explore side projects at work. She’s also the one to start a conversation about Smack the Pony (yes, she still watches that).

I watched her go from a fluent but still insecure English speaker to a fully fluent and can debate anyone under the table confident speaker.

The three short ideas from Aimee’s journey:
1.     Be curious.
2.    Capitalize on your strengths.
3.    Always apply what you learn.

*The names I use are slightly changed, but the stories are 100 percent real.

Image: Charlotte du Val d’Ognes by Marie-Denise Villers (1801), currently on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Language Links: Learning habits, listening skills and foreign beer

Language Links: Learning habits and foreign beer

On Sunday, I publish a list of articles about foreign language and language learning. Let’s keep it fresh!

Are you a serial highlighter? Does your page look like a neon fest when you’re done with it? Do you think this technique really helps you remember more? Think before you highlight and four other facts that will teach you how to learn.

Can you teach an old ear new tricks? Is it possible to learn to distinguish and replicate unfamiliar sounds in a foreign language? It turns out that it is possible, as long as there is feedback. Feedback is an essential ingredient in training our brains to hear new sounds and start to produce them more accurately.

Are you planning a trip to Italy and wondering if you’ll be able to get away with just knowing “Ciao!” You’re not really in luck here. According to the data collected by the Eurobarometer 386, your chances of having a conversation in English while visiting Italy stand at 34%. It could be worse; you could be in Hungary, where only 20% of the population can hold a conversation in English. Czech linguist Jakub Marian compiled a map of percentage of people speaking English in the European Union, divided by country. But, if you want to order beer in the local language, there’s a map for that too.

Speaking of beer (why wouldn’t you, it’s summer), is it pronounced Stella ArtTWAS or Stella ArTWA? It’s Belgian, so ArTWA. Read this list to learn how to pronounce beer names.

Deutsch fur Euch is a Youtube channel that I use to learn little tidbits of German. In episode 42, Katja teaches the vocabulary necessary for talking about your family in German.

Image: From My Studio Window by John Kane (1932) on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

4 Ways the Progress Principle works in language learning

Progress in language learning

Dear language learner, when was the last time you gave yourself a pat on the back for learning two new words?

Surely, you would be proud of yourself the first time you held your own talking about strawberry tarts in that language.

But did you consider that just knowing the words for strawberry and tart meant you were making progress?

According to research conducted by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, you should celebrate every little ounce of progress.

Dr. Amabile, a Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and the author of The Progress Principle, collected 12,000 daily journal entries from volunteers working in seven companies. She analyzed the responses and found that the most powerful driver of employee performance was whether they had made progress on a meaningful task that day.

The progress principle states that people experience a positive inner work life – a sense of accomplishment which leads to increased intrinsic motivation, positive perception and positive emotion – when they make progress on something that they personally find meaningful.

The idea of doing 10 minutes of language practice a day might not seem very productive, but the truth is that you’re more likely to start a task that requires 10 minutes of your time, rather than commit to a one hour task.

We are less likely to procrastinate when the task seems manageable.

Here are four ways to apply the progress principle and Dr. Amabile’s research next time you sit down with a language course:

1. Don’t think in terms of “too small a progress”.

There is no such thing as small progress. There is progress. Eliminate the scarcity mentality of not enough: I haven’t learned enough. I can’t speak well enough. I don’t understand enough.

Regular, minor accomplishments, what Teresa Amabile calls “small wins”, improve engagement and intrinsic motivation, positive perception and positive emotion.

Take a moment each day to recognize and celebrate the progress that you’ve made. You can do this through keeping a language journal, in which you write down the expressions, grammar rules or new notions that you learned. You can keep it simple and just highlight the day on the calendar to show that you showed up and studied something.

2. Deal with setbacks constructively.

In her study, Teresa Amabile found that negative events have a much greater influence on our mood and productivity than do positive events. On the one hand, we minimize our accomplishments, while on the other hand we tend to blow the setbacks out of proportion.

It’s crucial that you don’t let setbacks interfere with your forward momentum. If you missed your practice time one day, or even more, treat it like it’s no big deal, but resolve to do something about it. Avoid shaming yourself into never practicing or trying again. Teresa Amabile writes:

Given the demands of modern work, it is easy to ignore those small steps forward and focus on what still needs to be done instead. Take a moment each day to celebrate and recognize the progress that you, your coworkers, and your subordinates have made each day.

3. Use nourishers to gain and maintain momentum.

A nourisher can be a language teacher, a language coach or simply a community of language learners, be it a classroom or a virtual forum. It makes sense that in such a long-term and high effort endeavor we need a support group for motivation and ploughing through the difficult parts of language learning.

Nourishers directly support people’s inner work lives and include actions like providing encouragement and recognition. Because they support inner work life, nourishers also lead to better performance.

4. Build on progress

When people have made good progress in a task, that could be an ideal time to introduce new challenges. This is because their inner work lives, particularly their intrinsic motivation for the work itself, will likely be high as a result of their success.

The moral here is to always aim for growth in your language skills. It is easy to fall into the comfort zone trap: I know these words so I will only use these words. I can make myself understood just using the present tense, so I won’t bother with the other tenses. I know the right way of saying hello, so there’s no point in learning all the informal ways.

Yes, recognize progress. Yes, acknowledge progress.

No, don’t dwell too long on past progress.

Do you have any good ways to track your language learning progress?

 

Teresa Amabile explains more about the Progress Principle and the research behind it on her website and her Twitter account. I also recommend the interview she did as part of the Truth About Creativity virtual conference with David Burkus.

P.S. More tips about language learning: Why learn another language?

Image: A City of Fantasy by an unknown 19th century artist from the National Gallery of Art

Language Links: Lingua.ly web app, easy Thai videos and how to talk nonsense

EasyThai German Greetings and talking nonsense in a foreign language

Every Sunday, I publish a list of articles about foreign language and language learning. Let’s keep it fresh!

Lingua.ly announced the launch of their web app this week. Lingua.ly is a cloud-based language learning technology that is mostly based on vocabulary building. Simply put, you install their Chrome extension, choose the language that you want to learn, and go about your business browsing the web. When you come across a word that you’d like to remember, you click on it. Lingua.ly translates it into your target language and saves it. You can then review your list of visual and audio flash cards. Their new platform also recommends content based on your level, creates personalized exercises and draws from gamification theory.

Do you think that you’re talking nonsense when you speak in a foreign language? If you don’t, but you’d like to, there’s an app for that. MuchPhrases equips you with the weird sentences to impress your quirky friends in Spanish, Norwegian and French. I always thought you should aim for foreign language phrases that make sense, but then again it might be easier to break the ice with gibberish. On that note, “I bought these shoes from a wizard.” Here is the story behind the app.

Take advantage of a slow summer and advance your language skills. Here are 15 ways to practice a foreign language this summer via the Transparent Language blog.

Want to know how to say “hi” and “bye” in German? Here are 22 ways to greet someone in German.

Learn Thai through easy YouTube videos via the WomenLearnThai blog.

 

Image: The Golden Bend in Herengracht, Amsterdam by Gerrit Berckheyde (1671 – 1672) from Rijksmuseum.

P.S. Language Links: French habits, English countryside MOOCs and sustainable economics through language learning

Learning a language is like traveling

Traveling and language, Norfolk Virginia

As summer closes in, this morning I was thinking about traveling.

I love the anticipation of traveling somewhere. Even the planning. I don’t like being on the road, but I like that sense of possibility when you get out of the car in a new place and you try to take everything in: the sights, the smells, the air, the way the wind blows.

Then I noticed this quote staring at me from the spine of an AFAR magazine:

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move. (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Isn’t this what we’re doing when we’re learning a new language? The anticipation of finding out a new way to express a thought or a desire; the way the mind races to see what you can do with a new word; the feeling that it will reveal a world unknown.

I like the planning of language learning too. The laying down of pencils if you’re old school – red is for feminine nouns, green is for masculine, purple is for neuter. The logging into the app. The points, the lingots, the levels.

That feeling when you get out of the car and take in a new place. That feeling at the end of the session when you know three more words. What can you do with three more words in a foreign language? The possibilities are endless.

 

* I took the picture on the waterfront of Norfolk, Virginia.

Language Links: French habits, English countryside MOOCs and sustainable economics

Each Monday, I publish a list of articles about language and language learning. Let’s keep it fresh!

5 Things for Adults who Learn a Foreign Language – “Older brains are like the Library of Congress” so we must train ourselves to retrieve information.

5 French Habits that Scare Foreigners – Why you should still speak bad French and how to deal with arguments, weird food and la bise.

Literature of the English Country House – a Downton Abbey kind of MOOC. Be ready to embark on a historical journey through literature and notable country houses through FutureLearn.com, a new MOOC provider based in the UK.

Forbes published an interview with Duolingo CEO, Luis von Ahn. Here are two takeaways from the article:

I believe that to have sustainable impact, you have to have a model that generates sustainable economics. For me the important thing is getting capabilities to large numbers of people who need them—for free—and having a sustainable business model behind that whose monetization strategy is neither exploitive nor is it charity.

We looked at the different theories of language pedagogy when we started out, and we discovered that they’re like diets: There are thousands of them, they’re not well supported by data, and they all contradict one another. But working at the scale of millions gives us the advantage of being able to engineer better teaching methods quickly. For example, we might look at our data and see that a lot of people are having trouble learning how adjectives work. So we posit that maybe we should teach adverbs before we teach adjectives.

 Image: View of the Gardens of Villa Medici by Michel-Martin Drolling (1811 – 1816) from Rijksmuseum.

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