Wednesday, June 29, 2011

No New Post Today

If anybody has noticed, I usually post a new article every Wednesday.  However this week I do not have time to put an article onto the blog because I am too busy preparing for my 1000 Charity Challenge.  Take a look at other posts from this month to see my progress: About Raising Money for Charity, 1000 Challenge UpdateSMART Goals and The Final Week.

Thank you for all the notes of support and links to websites to help me find my vocabulary.

Don't forget about this blog!  In July we will look at some more websites for listening practice (continuing my recommendations from this previous post), some suggestions about useful people to follow on Twitter, some more recommendations about other websites that will help you improve your English and we might look at some phrasal verbs and ways to learn them.  Also, I hope that there will be a guest post (an article from somebody else)... but I'm keeping that a secret at the moment. :-)  Keep watching the blog to find out more.

I'll also try to post a video of Friday's event as soon as possible.

Wish me luck!

Monday, June 27, 2011

1000 Challenge – The Final Week!

Don't worry, things are not really this bad.

So I have been very busy recently trying to find and learn my 1000 new Spanish words and phrases.  The picture above gives you an idea of how my brain feels at the moment. :-) The work is not over yet but I think I need to give all of you an update.

Here is how my general graph of learning looks at the moment.  I’m actually feeling quite confident about this but obviously, I’ve got a lot of work still to do – and, these are my estimates.  We don’t know how I will perform on the day of the event.

Columns 1, 2 and 3: 'How many words in total', 'English to Spanish', 'Spanish to English

What I know for sure is that by 8pm on Friday night, my challenge will be over and, hopefully, I will have raised some money for a local charity that needs help.

For more information about this charity and what the goals are you can click on these links to see pamphlets from the organisation, Promover Gualeguaychu – they are all in Spanish.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I've talked about repetition; the 75 times you need to really acquire new language (see previous post).  Well holidays are a perfect way to use some of your English again and again and again.

If you are studying in an English speaking country, this might be especially useful for you.  Think about the questions you are asked when you return from holiday or just a long weekend.  They are always the same:

“Where did you go?  What did you see?  What did you do?  Did you enjoy it?  Who did you go with?  What was your favourite place?  Oh, I’ve been there, did you visit ______?  What did you think of ______?”

What a wonderful opportunity for your English!  You know what questions to expect and you can learn, prepare and rehearse your answers.

Let's look at a few phrases you can use for each of these questions.  Remember, vocabulary is good but learning and acquiring complete phrases helps with fluency.  To make this post prettier, I've also included some photos of a recent holiday I had on the border of Argentina and Brazil.  Enjoy

The ruins of a Jesuit mission, San Ignacio Mini, Misiones, Argentina
1.     Where did you go?

I spent a few days in… (you stayed in one place)
I spent a few days travelling around… (you stayed in one general area but visited a few specific places in that area)
I went/travelled up to… (if the destination was north)
I went/travelled down to… (if the destination was south)
I went/travelled over to… (if east or west)
I went with some friends up to…

In the background is Paraguay, on the right is Brazil and I am standing in Argentina!
2.     What did you see?

Well, where to begin? (a rhetorical question for yourself, which gives you more time to think and explains you have a long story to tell)
I saw lots of stuff actually.  I saw… (then give a list)

The waterfalls at Iguazu on the Brazilian side.
3.     What did you do?

What did I not do? (a great reply that explains you did a lot of things – make sure you really emphasise the ‘not’ and say it with a smile on your face)
I did a bit of… (climbing, shopping, sunbathing, kayaking, hiking, waterskiing, reading… the list goes on and on and on)
I actually did a lot more than I expected.  I… (then give details – this is if you did more than was in your original plan)
Not as much as I’d wanted.  I… (then give details – if you did less than was in your original plan.

4.     Did you enjoy it?

Definitely!  It was exactly what I wanted.  (it was a perfect vacation and it is what you excepted)
Definitely!  It was exactly what I needed.  (it was perfect and helped you to relax)
Immensely!  (100% brilliant!)
Very much so, yes!  (90-100%)
Hmm, not that much because… (30-40%)
Yeah, more or less, but I think _______ could have been better.  (your vacation was 50/60% and there are one or two things you didn’t like – for pronunciation help with this, take a look at this previous post)

The Iguazu waterfalls on the Argentinian side.
5.     Who did you go with?

I just went by myself (no travelling companions; alone)
I went with…
I was going to go by myself but I ended up going with _________. (the original plan was to go alone but this plan changed and you went with another person)

6.     What was your favourite place?

Well, I particularly liked… (you want to talk about a specific thing that you liked on holiday)
________, without a doubt. (a tag at the end of the answer to explain that one place was much better than all the other places)
That’s a difficult question.  I guess I’d have to say… (if you are not sure about your answer or there was more than one really good place)
I probably enjoyed ______ more than anything else. (this is not as strong as ‘without a doubt’ and shows that there were a few things that you really enjoyed)

Breathtaking and spectacular, isn't it?
7.     Oh, I've been there.  Did you visit _____?

Yeah, what did you think of it?
Of course! (an obvious place to visit that would be impossible to miss)
No, we didn’t have time to go there.
No, we didn’t have the opportunity to go there.
No, I really wanted to but…

8.     What did you think of_____?

I thought it was spectacular.  (amazing)
I thought it was breathtaking.  (very impressive)
To be honest, I wasn’t very impressed with _______ because...  (under 50%)
It was alright but not as good as everyone was saying. (50-60% but people told you that it was 100% amazing)
It would have been great but it was spoiled by… (a good place/event was much less fun because of something that happened – bad weather, for example)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Few More Changes

Hello all,

The main post will come tomorrow but I thought I would point out that I've just added a link to a brilliant site,  Take a look in the right column and scroll down until you see PhraseMix.

Apart from that, you will probably notice that I have changed the appearance of the site a little bit.  Hope you like it, I certainly do.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How much time do I need?

How long is a piece of string?
This is a question that probably every language learner thinks about when they start a new language: ‘How long will it take me?’ or ‘When will I be able to have a conversation?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. There is an answer but it is different for each person. Fortunately, we have a phrase in English to reply to questions like this: “How long is a piece of string?

The answer to both of these questions is ‘It depends’.

What does it depend on?

Many, many things such as opportunity, motivation, how you learn, as well as what the best way is for you to learn personally. However, I will mention one thing specifically: learning doesn't and can’t happen all in class.

1:4 Ratio of Time

First of all, a ratio is a relationship between two numbers. If I spend 1 hour preparing dinner and 1 hour eating dinner that means the relationship between preparing and eating is 1:1. However, if I spend 4 hours preparing dinner and only 2 hours eating it, then the ratio is 4:2 (or better to say 2:1) because 4 hours preparation equals 2 hours eating. (Don’t worry, this is NOT a blog about mathematics.)

Recently I read a post about 10,000 hours on another teacher’s blog: “10,000 hours of hard practice to achieve mastery of one’s given discipline.” This basically means 10,000 hours of practice to be really good at something.

This started me thinking about 10,000 hours to learn a language. Maybe we can ‘break this down’ (divide this) into the four parts of language and communication: speaking, reading, writing and listening. Speaking is chatting with friends, talking to colleagues, speaking on the phone, etc, etc. Listening is also chatting with friends but can also be watching TV, watching youTube, listening to podcasts or audio language lessons, listening to music or listening to the radio. Reading can be done with a website, a blog, Facebook, a newspaper or a book – I recommend trying a book. Writing can also be on Facebook, writing on a blog, posting a comment on a blog (hint, hint, see 'Post a Comment' below), writing emails or even writing a journal.

So 10,000 hours is a lot of time but there are many different ways you can use that time.  Remember, it's not all work - a lot of the time it can be a lot of fun!

Now, I saw an infographic about how many hours of class an native English speaker (like me) needs to learn another world language. The shortest time (for similar European languages) was about 600 class hours. However, the hardest languages for native English speakers (Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean for example) need 2200 class hours. These numbers are obviously averages but they give a general idea.

The information did not talk about learning English, but we can assume that English will be between 600-2200 class hours.

So I hope you see the importance of practice outside the classroom. Here is my last piece of mathematics, I promise:

2000 hours of class + 8000 hours of practice outside the classroom = 10000 hours 

This is a 1:4 ratio. For each hour you are learning English in class, you need four more hours of practice outside class… if you want to be proficient.

What do you think? What do you think your ratio of class:outside English work has been this year so far?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

EXTRA - Warming Up (a tip for IELTS and other exams)

My father helping me to get ready for the
Brighton Marathon last year (2010).
I was reading another blog recently and it talked about ‘warming up’. As a runner, I certainly understand the need for warming up – you need to get your body ready for the physical activity of running. When I was doing martial arts as a teenager, we probably spent the first 10 minutes of every hour session warming up. It’s very important.

It’s also very important for mental preparation as well. You need to warm up for your big language event: the IELTS exam, or FCE, or CAE or whatever. One of the suggestions that Aaron Myers gave was to use his travel to an interview to listen to a Turkish audio lesson. For the day of your big event, you don’t want to focus on anything new so choose a piece of listening that you are familiar with (a podcast you have listened to a few times already, for example).

This warming up is necessary to ‘switch on’ your English and get your mind ready for the task.

If you have an English exam soon, good luck!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

1000 Challenge Update

Here is a journal of my progress since the beginning of the month.

Day 2
Spent 1 hour finding and putting down my first 60 words (Day 1 was a non-starter).  Hopefully I’ll get faster at this.  I’ve also found a few websites with common verbs, words and Argentinian phrases.  Added to this, my Facebook is now in Spanish.  Let the learning commence!

Day 4
I have to go to Uruguay today.  Yesterday I added a total of 2 words only.  I was very tired.  Not good enough!

Day 5
I'm going to try learning from Spanish to English instead of English to Spanish.  I’m hoping that after acquiring the Spanish to English, I’ll have quicker success with the English to Spanish.

For this challenge it is important not to get overwhelmed* by the task… I am only at Day 5 so I should not be trying to do too much too quickly.  Every word learned is a success!

* overwhelmed = to feel too much pressure or stress

Day 6
I quickly moved back to English to Spanish - starting from L1 to L2 works much better.

Day 7
Unfortunately I’m not following some of my own rules here.  I have to learn a lot of words quickly so I am looking at word lists and finding any words I don’t know.  This means that I have a lot of unrelated words written together and not in groups, like I recommended.

Words that I’m having problems with at the end of the first week:

To shake or jerk – SACUDIR
To help or assist – SOCORRER
To find out or investigate – AVERIGUAR (I remember this one but not the spelling so I can’t pronounce it.)
Posh/snobby – CHETO
To happen – SUCEDER
To scold or quarrel – RENIR
To distribute – REPARTIR
To put out or extinguish – APAGAR
To heave or pick up – ALZAR
To exhaust or use up – AGOTAR
T-Shirt - REMERA

Day 11

Okay, I have recorded (written down) more than half the words/phrases I need for 1st July.  See links below for websites I have been using.  I want to give a big thank you to Silvia Bernaudo for some of these links – they have been really useful!

I have probably learned about 100-150 words from English to Spanish.  I haven’t learned any words Spanish to English yet.

How am I finding my 1000 words?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Other Things I've Done for Charity

Recognize the guy in these photos? Yes, this is me doing some silly things for charity; specifically, shaving off a long pony-tail and doing a 10k run in a kilt - it's NOT a skirt! :-)

So by now, you have probably seen my video post about my 'sponsored learning'. I just wanted to give you a bit more information about my motivation for this. I've decided to do this to:
  • Improve my Spanish.
  • Raise money for Asociación Promover in Gualeguaychú, part of the Argentinian Fundación Conin
  • Hopefully inspire you with your language learning.
  • Maybe inspire you with your fundraising efforts for other charities around the world (a lot of people need help).
  • Investigate how effective memorization for language learning can be.
  • Share my experiences with memorization as I work on this.
  • Show what great progress is possible with a little effort (I hope).
  • Improve your English as well (I'll share my difficult words with you so even if you don't speak Spanish, you might learn some new English vocabulary).
I'll post later today or tomorrow to give you a summary of some problem words I'm having and my feelings about the memorization so far.

Remember to share this with your friends.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

No Magic Please, part 1 (Learning Vocabulary)

There is no magic trick to learning vocabulary.  I’m sorry.  Maybe you want to stop reading now. :-)

Like all language learning, you have to do some work but there is certainly efficient work and work which is mostly a waste of time.

There are nearly 7 billion people in this world which probably means there are nearly 7 billion different ways to learn vocabulary!  Everybody is different, everybody remembers different things and everybody has different priorities about what words are useful to know.  BUT, there are some methods which are good ideas for everyone. 

L1 to L2 and L2 to L1
(L1 = Your native language, L2 =Your foreign language, English, for example)

When we studied Beginners Spanish at St Andrews we were given a goal by the professor.

“You must learn 30 new words a day.”

You have to learn twice.
Now you might think that is a lot, but actually, it wasn’t that bad and all I needed was 5-10 minutes maybe three or four times a day.  But that wasn’t the only thing we had to do because he also said,

“You will have to learn it twice.”

What he meant was that anyway we learned our words, they would need to be learnt English to Spanish and Spanish to English.  Understand?  I'll explain.

You can’t just learn in one direction because if you just learn L1 to L2 then only your Speaking and Writing will really benefit.  If you only learn vocabulary L2 to L1 then you will improve your Reading and Listening skills but your Speaking and Writing will not improve very quickly.

You need to do both.

Index Cards (I used them and I think they are great!)

I wrote 5 or 6 words on each card, one side in English, the other side in Spanish.  Then I would look at the English and try to remember the Spanish.  If I got it right, good, if I didn’t remember correctly, I put a tally mark next to the English word.  I then when to the next word and did the same thing.

With 6 cards I had my 30 words for that day.  I looked through them four times a day and quickly I knew which words I needed to focus on.  For every time I remembered the word, I could rub out (erase) one of my marks.  Once the word had no more pencil marks, I would highlight it.  Once the car was clear of pencil marks I would turn the card over and do the whole thing again, this time looking at the Spanish and remembering the English.

It worked very well.  Remember you’ll need to recycle these cards over a few weeks before you have completely memorized these words – remember the 75 times! ;-)

English side (the marks show how many times I forgot the Spanish)
Spanish side (these marks show how many times I forgot the English)
This method can work with phrases as well as individual words.

Learning in Categories

Another important thing… try to keep your vocabulary together in categories.  You see all the words on my cards are computer-related.  These things are already connected in your brain.  It helps to learn things in groups – it is how our brain works.

Last week I recommended blog article by Berni Wall, 10 ways to increase your vocabulary.  This is from the article,

“…for example animals, can you, hand on heart, say that you know the English word for all the animals? Think of all those you don’t know and look them up in your own language. Do the same for other [groups of things].”

To help you get started look at this website, Language Guide, and select one of the groups.  Try to record the words you don’t know on some index cards and see how quickly you can learn these words.

Vocabulary Circles

If you are studying on a language course right now, you could try Vocabulary Circles.  I must credit this idea to Caroline Gwatkin and I think it is a great way to learn groups of words from groups of people!  The benefit of this way of recording vocabulary is you immediate see what you already know (good for confidence) and see what you can learn from the other students in your class - you don't always need to learn your English from the teacher.

That’s all for now.  There is plenty more think about when we learn vocabulary and I’ll talk about that more in part 2.  I look forward to your comments and opinions.

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