Not So Lost in Translation is a blog about language learning and personal productivity.

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Improving My Reading Skills: Becoming a Better Critical Consumer of Information

Reading more books is one of my goals for 2015.  Last year was pretty dismal in terms of reading.  According to my GoodReads account, I read thirteen books.  I found this number confusing since I read all of the time.  However, I realized that I was reading more news, blog articles, and digital media rather than books.  I learned a lot from my reading last year if my Evernote database and Moleskine are any indication, but I am not sure if focusing on one form of media over another is a good idea.  I need balance.

Photo Courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo (license)

In assessing my goal for reading more books this year, one of my goals is to get the most that I can out of each book.  That means becoming a better consumer of information.  I haven't been using my critical reading skills for fiction.  Enjoying books is fine, but I want to grow as reader and be able to contribute to the great conversation.  Being a better critical reader will help with information overload as well.  I consume a lot of information on a daily basis, and organizing my system so that I can retain and analyze information better will be a definite plus. 

What can I do to improve my critical reading skills?

Improve my Annotating:

Annotating is easy on my Kindle.  I don't why I don't use the annotate feature as much as I should.  I can export my booknotes and put them into Evernote, and this would be helpful in improving my digital commonplace.

I don't buy that many print books since I prefer checking out books from the library.  However, the downside is that I can't make notes in the book.  I could copy out passages that I find interesting into my Moleskine.  Writing out passages that I want to remember is helpful, but I find it tedious for long passages.  I've been thinking about using CamScanner to take an image of the text that I want to annotate, and then importing selections into Evernote as pdf files.  Then I can type away. 

The critical reading guide from Harvard library recommends developing your own system for annotating notes.  Maybe if I take the time to develop an annotation system for my Kindle, then I would use the annotate feature more.

Summarize My Reading:

Blogging Polyglot has been my first experience in summarizing books for my own use.  The experiment is still in progress, but I have found the notes that I have taken extremely helpful.  I don't know if I will continue blogging other books by chapter but writing a summary of key highlights and my reaction to the book would be helpful.

I have been experimenting a little with summarizing my reading, but I think that I also need to integrate a review. I have been keeping a Moleskine for the past year where I write down my incedental thoughts and ideas.  Looking back, I realized that I haven't been reviewing what I have written!  

Rate My Reading:

I also want to get better at comparing and contrasting my reading and deciding the value of a book.  One of my smaller goals for the year is to write ten book reviews on Goodreads.  I'm sure that some of you are questioning why I would even bother to make this a goal.  The answer is that the majority of my reading falls into that gray category which I classify as "good."  I have been thinking about what really constitutes a good book.  There are a few books that I absolutely love and a few books that I can't stand.  If a book doesn't fall into those categories, I tend to give either three or four stars on Goodreads and not think about it further.  This is lazy.

I want to get better at thinking systematically about the good and bad qualities of a book and making an informed decision about how a book has impacted me as a person.

Discuss What I Have Read:

I am a member of a few communities on Goodreads but I don't participate as often as I should.  I have also added a a few classical book blogs to Feedly, and I want to work more to comment more on blogs and have more conversation in general.

Resources Mentioned:


Emacs Clocking Commands and Time Management: Weekend Review 1/25/15 (Wochenrückblick 25.01.15)

Next week is the last week in January.  Here in the mountains the crocuses bloom in February which means the beginning of spring. Normally by the end of January, we will have had one or two snowstorms but this year it has just been cold and rainy with only a little snow.   I may have mentioned this before, but I absolutely hate cold weather so I will be glad when January is over.

This week I worked on my novel and worked on getting Emacs installed on my Asus tablet.  In fact, this weekly review was drafted in Emacs.  I have used Emacs in the past on my Powerbook, but I had stopped using it when I switched over to a Windows tablet.

I have been using Evernote for writing and managing my to-do list and schedule. One of my goals for 2015 is to become better at watching where my time goes.  For example, I want to spend more time writing this year.   I love Evernote but it is not good at tracking time. I can type in when I start a task, but I forget to do that often and then I forget to stop the clock.

After having a conversation with Yi Tang about time management, I learned that he used Org-Mode for time tracking. I am embarrassed to say that I forgot that Org-Mode had a clock function which you can use to clock the time you spend on items on your todo list.

To active the clock function in Org-Mode, you use C-c C-x C-i (Ctrl-c Ctrl-x Ctrl-i).  When an item labeled TODO is toggled to done (highlight TODO and then use SHIFT plus right arrow), the clock automatically stops. If you haven't labeled an item as TODO, the clock can also be turned off using C-c C-x C-o (Ctrl-c Ctrl-x,Ctrl-o).

I have finished my Emacs installation and now I am trying to get my files organized so that I can start tracking time spend on projects.  I have a basic setup going so I can start tracking time, but I have to work more to get it fully optimized.

My experiment on using Lang-8 for my German is going well.  Something I have learned is that I get more corrections if I break up my entries into smaller chunks of text.  What this means for my weekly review is that I will have to break up my entry and publish the initial entry and then update it throughout the week with the rest of the German entry.  Or possibly I could stop writing so much...which is probably not going to happen. :)

How has your week been going?  Did you learn anything interesting?

German Version:

Nächste Woche ist die letzte Woche im Januar.  Hier in den Bergen blühen im Febuar die Krokusse.  Das bedeutet Frühlingsbeginn. Bis Ende Januar haben wir normalerwise ein oder zwei Schneestürme aber dieses Jahr war es nur kalt und regnerisch, mit nur ein bisschen Schnee.  Vielleicht habe ich es schon einmal erwähnt aber ich hasse kaltes Wetter.  Ich freue mich wenn der Januar vorbei ist.

Diese Woche habe ich an meinem Roman weitergeschrieben und Emacs auf meinem Asus Tablet installiert. Übrigens habe ich diesen Wochenrückblick mit Emacs geschrieben.  Ich habe in der Vergangenheit Emacs mit meinem Powerbook benutzt aber als ich zu einem Windows-Tablet gewechselt habe, habe ich aufgehört, Emacs zu benutzen.


Integrating German Into My Daily Systems

As I mentioned in my yearly review, one of my goals for this year is to improve my German in my weakest area: actually producing German.  To achieve my goal, I need to speak and write more German.  Along with that goal, I want to continue to improve my oral and written comprehension.  I know from past experience that the best way for me to reach a goal is to integrate steps to accomplish that goal into my daily life.

How can I add more German into my daily life with the least amount of friction?  As you may have already noticed, I have added a new feature where I am translating my weekly review into German.   my Wochenrückblick blog entries count toward my goal of producing more German, and I think more about what I am accomplishing during the week at the same time.

For improving my oral and written comprehension, I have found three ways to integrate German into my daily schedule:

  1. Be more consistent about listening to Tagesschau on the way home from work.  One of the key ideas I got from Polyglot is that international news is an easy way to listen to native level materials with a mental cheatsheet included since, if you are already familiar with news and current events, you should already have some idea of what they are talking about.  The Tagesschau iTunes feed has a list of the topics included in the program.  By going to the website and checking out the articles about each topic, you have a list of vocabulary related to the topic. My plan is to listen to a broadcast once for my initial test of comprehension and then to look up more about the topics included in the broadcast.  I will add sentences containing relevant vocabulary into Anki and then listen to the broadcast again to catch what I missed.

  2. I go to the gym three times a week.  My present to myself this Christmas was a new pair of headphones so I wouldn't have to listen to gym music any longer.  The United States Foreign Service Institute produced a full German course.  The vocabulary is dated but my goal is to listen to pronunciation and to try improve my accent.  I plan to listen to the course while I am working out so I will have three hours of native material to listen to each week.

  3. Read native German language materials (both books and blogs).  I have a German dictionary installed on my Kindle.  There are a lot of great free and cheap ebooks available on Amazon such as the German editions of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories including Der Hund der Baskervilles  and Sherlock Holmes: Gesammelte Romane und Detektivgeschichten .  I am also subscribed to several German blogs about productivity and vegetarian and vegan cooking.  Finding and reading blogs about your interests is an easy way to get used to reading native level foreign language materials.  Most bloggers use informal and conversational writing styles which are much easier to read than news sites.
Have you experimented with systems as a way to achieve your goals?  What have your results been?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Weekend Review 1/18/15 (Wochenrückblick 18.01.15)

For some reason, I have been struggling with writing this week.  I'm not sure why.  My schedule has not changed that much, but it felt like it was more hectic this week. I procrastinated on a blog post this week which annoys me since I worked hard over the Christmas holiday to put myself ahead of schedule, and I don't want to lose ground.  Hopefully next week will go more smoothly.

On the positive side, I am on target for my exercise goals and I have been doing well with food logging.  I am also on target for my goal to read 50 books this year.  I have been working more on taking better notes on my reading, and so far I seem to be doing well.  I have an old Mac Powerbook and a Windows tablet.  My Mac notebook has been my workhorse computer, but I have been using my Windows tablet more and more.  Lately, I have only been using my Powerbook for Emacs and DevonThink.  I finally installed Emacs on my Windows tablet.  I decided to treat this as a fresh install.  I have been having fun playing around with the tutorials again.

Tip for Windows 8.1 users:  This Stack Overflow exchange will help you find where Windows is hiding your .emacs file.  This thread on Windows installation is also helpful.

Exercise:  30 minutes cardio 3x/week, walked during lunch breaks
Currently reading: Inferno (fiction), The Well-Educated Mind (nonfiction), John Adams (biography)

German Version:

Ich weiß nicht aus welchem Grund aber diese Woche habe ich mit dem Schreiben gekämpft.  Ich weiß nicht, warum.  Mein Tagesplan hat nicht viel verändert aber es hat sich diese Woche hektischer angefühlt. Ich habe es aufgeschoben, zu bloggen.  Das nervt, weil ich über Weihnachten viel gearbeitet habe, mit dem Ziel, mehr zu schaffen als mein Zeitplan eigentlich gefördert hätte.  Ich will nicht an Boden verlieren.   Ich glaube, dass das Problem vielleicht Schlafmangel und, da ich keine Möglichkeit habe, während der Arbeit Wasser zu trinken, auch Wassermangel ist.  Hoffentlich klappt es nächste Woche.

Auf der positiven Seite bin ich auf Kurs für mein Ziel im Training zu kommen und ich habe jedes Tag mein Essen in mein Tagesbuch geschrieben.  Ich möchte dieses Jahr auch fünfzig Bücher lesen und bin soweit damit im Plan.  Ich habe mehr gearbeitet um besser Notizen auf meiner Lesung zu schreiben. Bis nun geht es gut.  Ich habe ein altes Powerbook and ein Windows-Tablet.  Mein Powerbook ist mein Arbeitstier aber ich benutze immer mehr mein Windows-Tablet.  Kürzlich benutze ich mein Powerbook nur für Emacs und DevonThink.  Ich habe schließlich Emacs auf mein Windows-Tablet eingebaut.  Ich habe Spaß noch einmal mit Anleitungen spielen gemacht.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Every Day Carry: Essential Apps and Items Fall/Winter Edition

I do a clean up at the end of the year and try to get my work spaces (home and office), my car, and my purse clean for the new year so I can clutter them up again as the year progresses.  I can't use public transportation for my commute so I have probably expanded more than needed since I bring a work bag and a gym bag with me on days that I go to the gym.

I went through my iPhone first and identified the apps that I am using the most as well as apps that I am not using as much.

Favorite Apps:

  1. Facebook
  2. Instagram
  3. Twitter
  4. MyFitnessPal- I use as a food and exercise diary.  I like the feature where your food is analyzed and compared to daily nutrition goals.  I like to try to get my food as close to the recommended value.  My one wish is that the tool would have an export function so that I could look at my data outside of the program.  When reading the forums, I did find this export tool which works in Excel which may be what I am looking for.
  5. Runtastic Pedometer- I use this to track my daily walks and runs.  A bonus feature is that it integrates with MyFitnessPal so I don't have to manually enter my exercise data.
  6. 30/30 is a series of adjustable timers. The app is worth checking out just for the interface which is one of the most inventive that I have seen for iOS.  I use the app when I want to focus on specific tasks for long sprints.  I alternate between using the Pomodoro Method and the 52/17 method.
  7. CamScanner turns the camera on my iPhone into a scanner. I love the ability to convert to pdf format. I use it to scan business cards and then send the information to Evernote.
  8. TripIt organizes all of my travel information into one place.  It's easy since I just hit forward on my confirmation emails and the info is added.  This is one of my two essential travel apps.
  9. GateGuru is great for short layovers when I don't have time to check the board to find out where my gate is.  
Apps that I am not using:

  1. Any.do- I like Any.do's interface but I tend to write down my to-dos in my notebook rather than my phone.  After reading a few articles and looking at a few IFTTT recipes, I realize that part of the problem is that Any.do doesn't have great documentation and I didn't realize that I could send to-do items from my email.  I will probably try to give Any.do another chance this month.

I decided to break my bag down into what I consider necessities and luxuries.


  1. Emergency inhaler
  2. Eyeglasses
  3. Sunglasses-prescription and non-prescription for when I wear my contacts.  I have extremely light sensitive eyes, and I have difficulty seeing in full sunlight.
  4. Eye drops
  5. iPhone

  1. Notebook pouch
  2. Calendar for the year
  3. Lip gloss
  4. Umbrella
  5. iPod
  6. Antibacterial hand sanitizer**
** I should qualify this by saying that hand sanitizer should only be used in moderation and only when you can't find a sink.  Soap and warm (not hot) water is the best method for killing bacteria.

My notebook pouch contains two pens (A Pilot G-2 and a Marvy Le Pen), my red Moleskine notebook, and a few notecards and index cards for when I need to scribble a note to someone.  I also keep a few cards with my name and email address to give to new acquaintances. The clutch was purchased off of Etsy several years ago.

I know that I carry a lot of redundant items.  I don't want to burn my phone battery so I carry my iPod to listen to podcasts and audiobooks during my commute to work.  I also carry a physical calendar and notebook. I tend to remember events better when I write them down. I still write much faster than I type so I keep my notebook around to jot down quick ideas, German words that I want to look up from my reading, as well as my to-do list and grocery list.  Everything gets processed at night into Evernote.  When I fill this notebook up, I may look into the Evernote integrated Moleskine.  Do any of you have the Evernote Moleskine?  Do you like it?

What do you carry every day?


Weekly Review 1/11/15 (Wochenrückblick 11.01.15)

I would classify my performance this week as average.  The weather was unseasonably cold and I was more tired than usual.  I know that I should listen to my body, but I really don't want to because I am too excited about my plans for the new year.

To kickstart my diet for the new year, I tried a new recipe:  cauliflower with tomatoes and mozzarella.  It was quite tasty!  I also accomplished my task goal of pulling out my notes for my novel and reviewing the first section.  I use Excel and yWriter to organize my writing projects.  I have been debating adding Trello to the mix since I like visual organization methods.

Links for the Week:

Top 10 Gmail Labs and Features You Should Enable:  I love the features that Google has been hiding from us.
How to Keep a Digital Commonplace:  Going along with the idea of being a better diarist, improving my commonplace is one goal that I am working on.  This article discusses OneNote but I am a huge Evernote fan.
Trello: Selbstmanagement für Selbstständige und kleine Teams (German)- I have a Trello account and I have played around with the app but I feel that I am not using it to its full potential.  Although the article is in German, running it through Google translate should cover the gist of the article.

German version:
Ich würde diese Woche meine Leistung als Durchschnittsleistung abschätzen. Das Wetter war unzeitig kalt und ich war müder als normal. Ich weiß, dass ich auf mein Körper hören soll aber mir gefällt das nicht, weil ich sehr begeistert über meine Pläne fürs neue Jahr bin. 

Zu der Diät für das neue Jahr beginnen habe ich ein neues Rezept bereitet: Blumenkohl mit Tomaten und Mozzarella. Es war sehr lecker! Ich habe auch mein Ziel von meine Notizen für meinen Roman zu finden und den ersten Teil zu überprüfen erreicht. Ich verwende Excel und yWriter meine Schreibprojekte zu organisieren. Ich habe die Absicht Trello hinzufügen, weil ich visuelle Selbstmanagementtools mag.


Polyglot: Scholarship versus Aptitude

Details on the covered bridge in Newport, Virginia

Polyglot is an ongoing series where I am blogging my thoughts and summaries of famous polyglot Kató Lomb's book Polyglot: How I Learn Languages.  Page numbers refer to the 2008 edition (pdf) translated by Ádám Szegi and Kornelia DeKorne.  Past entries can be accessed through the polyglot label.

The Linguistic Gift tackles a subject that I have been thinking about recently:  scholarship versus aptitude.  In this chapter, Dr. Lomb argues that the "linguistic gift" or "being good at languages" can be simplified into an equation:

(Invested Time + Motivation)/Inhibition = Result

In other words, succeeding at language learning is dependent on the amount of time you invest, your level of motivation, and the amount of negative inhibition that you have to fight.  Negative inhibition can be poor self confidence which results in being afraid to try conversation because you are afraid that you will make a mistake.  Another source of negative inhibition is trying to translate exactly what you think in your native language because you are afraid of using simple vocabulary in your target language.  This is caused by a concern that people will think that you are stupid.  Of course this concern is understandable, and I am guilty of not speaking in German because my German vocabulary is much smaller than my English vocabulary.

I think the above equation can be applied to any learning endeavor.  Math used to be my least favorite subject in school.  I didn't consider myself "good" at math so I wanted to spend the least amount of time on the subject as possible.  Since I didn't want my math scores to ruin my GPA, I had to fight my instinct to avoid math and studied to improve my math ability.  After spending more time on the subject, I realized that I was not as bad at math as I had thought.  Math simply required more time than other subjects.

One of the ideas that I want to explore in 2015 is the idea of considering why I am reluctant to try different projects, and the resulting friction in starting something I am already perceiving as difficult.  Maybe I need to throw out the word difficult.  Instead of referring to a difficult project, would categorizing a difficult project as a project that needs more time or a project that requires more background learning help overcome my tendency to procrastinate?

I also want to try to reduce the influence that negative inhibition has on my actions.  Some of my hesitancy in speaking German comes from the fact that I don't want to make stupid mistakes.  If I don't write in German, I don't make mistakes but I am also not learning anything as well.  One of my goals for 2015 is to improve my written and spoken German.  I am going to focus on written German first. My reason for doing this is so that I have time to focus on grammar and reviewing some of the grammar that has been decaying in my brain from lack of use.  Once I am more comfortable with grammar, spoken German should be a little easier.

I mentioned in my yearly review for 2014 that I have decided to do my weekly review in German in 2015.  I want to share a little bit about my process.

My first step is to write my weekly review in English.  My goal in my weekly review is to identify three areas where I am doing well and three areas where I need improvement.  I also go through my Evernote and Pocket databases and identify what I have been thinking about this week and what I have learned.  Then I go through and plan my work schedule for the week as well as my personal schedule.  I translate everything into German (with the exception of my personal schedule) using a rough translation framework.  I don't translate word for word.  I focus on concepts instead.  By avoiding word for word translation, I make the process less painful.  I also want to use more natural phrases, and concept translation works better in producing more natural sounding German.  After I have completed my translation, I post it as an entry to Lang-8.  Hopefully, I receive some corrections.  After I review the corrections, I post the corrected entry here.

What do you think about Dr. Lomb's equation?  Do you have sources of negative inhibition and how do you overcome them?


Wochenrückblick 03.01.15

Scroll down for English version.

Diese Woche war ich eigentlich ziemlich Produktiv.  Ich habe das Ziel gesetzt drei Blog-Posts fertigzustellen. Das habe ich gemacht, und ich habe auch etwas über meine Familiengeschichte erforscht, das auf meiner To-do-liste für einen Monat gestanden hatte. Schließlich habe ich meinen Jahresrückblick fertiggestellt.

Ich bin auf einem lokalen Markt frisches Brot kaufen gegangen und habe die altmodischen Weihnachts-Süßigkeiten, die meine Mutter letzten Monat gesucht hatte, gefunden. Ich glaube spät Weihnachts-Süßigkeiten ist besser als keine Weihnachtssüßigkeiten, nicht wahr?

Gestern bin ich um Äpfel zu kaufen zum Apfelgarten gegangen.  Ich meine, dass ich kein Snob bin, aber ich liebe heimische Äpfel. Während ich dort war, habe ich gesehen, dass sie Apfelkuchenfüllung verkauft haben. Naturlich habe ich über Apfelkuchen nachgedacht und ich habe zu viel Zeit auf Apfelkuchen- und Kuchenrezeptenachschlagen verwendet. 

Mein Ziel für diese Woche ist meine Notizen für meinen Roman zu finden und den ersten Teil zu überprüfen.

English version:

This week I was actually pretty productive!  I set the goal of finishing three blog posts on my blog, finishing some family history research that has been on my to-do list for a month, and finishing my yearly review.

I went to a local market to get some homemade bread and found the old fashioned Christmas candy that my Mom had been looking for the past month.  I guess belated Christmas candy is better than no Christmas candy, right?

Yesterday, I went to the local apple orchard to get apples.  I don't think I am elitist about too many things, but I do love homegrown apples. While I was there, I saw that they were selling apple pie filling.  Of course that got me thinking about apple pies, and I spent way too much time looking up apple pie recipes and pie recipes in general.  

My goal for this week is to dig up my notes for the novel that I am working on and to start revising the first part.

Cool grammar that I learned:

Verwenden is a transitive verb. You use something on something. In my sentence, I wanted to explain that I was using (wasting) time on looking up apple pie recipes.  Since the action of looking up apple pie recipes was what time was being wasted on, the phrase looking up apple pie recipes becomes one giant compound word:  Apfelkuchenrezeptenachschlagen.  Guess what my new favorite German word is?

How has your week being going?  


Year in Review: 2014

spoiled Maltese- holiday 2014 edition

When I was in my college honors program, we had an assignment to write a paper on how we had changed over the past year.  Honestly, I hated it.  Every year I would procrastinate until Fall Break and then struggle over the paper for the entire week.  I find it very humorous that I am now writing a smaller version of the same paper.

In choosing to do a yearly review, my goal is to look at my strengths for the past year and try to find areas where I need improvement.  For a lot of reasons, 2014 was one of my busiest years in a very long time.  I think that overall I coped well with the increased demands on my time.  When I started blogging again this year, I was not sure if I would be able to continue blogging through the year or if I would even find enough to write about.  I find it interesting that the posts that received the most interest and comments are the posts where I am struggling to work through ideas and concepts.

Some areas of my personal life did fall through the cracks.  I spent more time at home this year rather than visiting with friends.  I hesitate to say this, since talking about being an introvert is becoming trendy, but as a person who prefers quiet I do have to push myself to go outside of my comfort zone.  I always have fun meeting and interacting with friends and new acquaintances, but I have to overcome the initial friction of doing something that can be a little intimidating since I was severely shy growing up.  Honestly, at this point in my life, I don't know that I would classify myself as shy.   I think that some of my hesitancy is because I have been holding onto an idea of myself that isn't necessarily true.  I have to remind myself that meeting new people is fun.

Fiction writing is another area that I didn't focus on this year.  I wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo this year since 2013 was the first year that I won NaNoWriMo.  October was an extremely busy month and I didn't have time to outline at all for NaNoWriMo.  I knew from my past attempts at NaNoWriMo that I couldn't attempt to write without an outline and hope to win.  So I didn't attempt NaNo this year.

In terms of language learning, I am getting much better at reading and understanding German.  However, I am not producing German nearly as often so that skill is becoming extremely rusty.  One of my goals for the new year is to produce a week in review in German each week to help boost my written German skills.

I also didn't read that many fiction books this year.  I read a lot of tutorials and articles but, in terms of actual fiction read, this year had a dismally low book count.  One of my goals for next year is to get back to reading fiction again and challenge myself with a 50 book challenge.

What are my goals for 2015?

  1. Get out more!  Take more walks, meet with friends, and see more interesting places.
  2. Complete NaNoWriMo.  Specifically, I hope to have a first draft of a novel completed.
  3. Write more in German.  To make my weekly reviews more challenging, they will be completed in German!  
  4. Read more fiction. Next year I want to read 50 books.
Do you do a yearly review?  Do you find it helpful?  What are your goals for 2015?


Tracking My Learning Progress: Becoming a better diarist

How do you handle information overload?  I have been thinking about how I handle and process information.  As an autodidact (self-directed learner), one of my goals is to become a better critical thinker and not just a walking encyclopedia.  I have broken down my goals into three areas:

  1. Become a better diarist 
  2. Develop a better commonplace system
  3. Become more consistent with my weekly review and analysis
Today's post is going to focus on my first goal:  to become a better diarist.  For many a diary has become symbolic of the locked book that a young teenage girl pours her heart into.  While I have kept a diary on and off since I was eight and I did have a few of those locked diaries, I am more interested in the "journal of occurrences" that many Victorians kept.

Victorians were avid diarists.  Diary keeping was something that was encouraged in childhood.  Victorian diaries were varied.  The first form of diary to become popular among the middle class was similar to what modern Americans would refer to as a daily planner.  Diaries were used by businessmen to note appointments and to reconcile accounts, and they were used by women to note household expenses.  Drawing on the popularity of Samuel Pepys's diary after its initial publication in 1825, diarists also recorded the weather, visitors, and some of their daily life.

I admit that blogs are in many ways the modern successor of the diary.   While I do use my blog for reflection on personal development,  I don't include many facets of my life (mainly because I don't think you are THAT interested in what I had for breakfast).  Where I think that a diary may be helpful is combining various bits and pieces of my life such as:

  1. Weight loss and nutrition- currently handled by My Fitness Pal
  2. Recipes and fitness articles
  3. Daily occurrences- formerly handled by OhLife
  4. Reading- currently handled by Goodreads
  5. Personal development
I have made some progress in my integration.  Evernote serves as my digital repository.  My Goodreads updates are automatically added to Evernote using an IFTTT recipe.  Recipes are funneled into Pinterest and from there into Evernote using an IFTTT recipe which sends items from a particular board into Pinterest.  I do the same for fitness articles.  My Twitter updates and additions to Pocket also end up in Evernote.

Where I am struggling is keeping track of daily occurrences and personal development.  I was sad to see that OhLife closed because sending a quick email on my day was easy to do.  The best feature of OhLife was that it would pull random entries from the past in its daily reminder email and it was a great reminder on what was going on when the old entry was written.  There a few new alternatives to OhLife popping up so I need to to an investigation and see if I can find a new alternative.

Personal development is another area where I would like to add more focus.  I am intrigued by Benjamin Franklin's virtues template and I would like to find something that I could adapt to my life.

Do you keep a diary?  What are your tips for keeping track of your progress?


Polyglot: Grading Our Linguistic Mastery

Photo Courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo (license)

Polyglot is an ongoing series where I am blogging my thoughts and summaries of famous polyglot Kató Lomb's book Polyglot: How I Learn Languages (affiliate link) .  Page numbers refer to the 2008 edition (free) translated by Ádám Szegi and Kornelia DeKorne.  Past entries can be accessed through the polyglot label. 

Today's topic is one that I often have struggled with as a language learner:  how do you grade your fluency if you don't have a teacher?  How do you keep yourself honest?  When my friends ask about my language ability, the first question that is asked is how well do you speak German or Japanese?  Are you fluent?  Answering that question is difficult since "fluent" is a nebulous term.  

In chapter 21 of Polyglot, Dr. Lomb addresses how to grade your own progress as a language learner.  Dr. Lomb personally used a grading scale based roughly on a school grading scale.  Having an "A" ability in a language meant that you could function as a professional in the country, your vocabulary was almost as varied as that of your native language, and that you could produce text without grammar mistakes.  An "F" meant no language capability at all.  For the between levels, standard tourist capability earned a "D".  A "C" student could understand the essence of the text but not the details and could speak with people on the street but would often have to ask people to repeat themselves.  A "B" student could read a text and need a dictionary for about 20% of the words and could improvise a speech on a familiar topic that a native could understand.  

Having a grading scale is invaluable in determining how well you are progressing toward your language learning goals.  Among the internet community of language learners, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages is the most often reference used when discussing language ability.  The Common European Framework is well known internationally and most dedicated language learners will be familiar with the system.

If you are based in the United States, the  American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages scale may be useful.  The scale is primarily used in academic circles.  Language ability is broken down into novice, intermediate, advanced, and superior.  Reading, writing, and speaking are graded separately at each level.  If you are Canadian or are interested in learning Canadian French, the Canadian Language Benchmarks grade ability in English or French.

When determining your language ability, two points are important to keep in mind:

  1. You may have different capabilities for speaking, reading, and listening in your target language.
  2. Language ability changes over time.
For example, I read and write German much more often than I speak German (unfortunately).  My reading and writing ability is much better than my speaking ability.  However, when I do make an effort to speak German, I have found that my speaking ability improves dramatically.
Ultimately, the best assessment of language ability is to take a standardized test.  The Goethe Institut offers several tests for different levels of German ability.  The Japanese Language Proficiency Test is the default test for Japanese ability.

If you want an informal test of your ability, Deutsche Welle offers a placement test for their courses which are categorized according to the European framework.  JLPT Level Check is a good source to grade your Japanese language ability.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Dealing With the Change of Seasons

Since I have lost over 50 pounds, the change of seasons tends to affect me more than in previous years.  Or maybe I am just getting older? ;)  In particular, I struggle with productivity in the evening and wanting to stay inside all of the time.  I have found that going to the gym and getting enough vitamin D are essential to my productivity so staying inside all of the time is not a solution.

How can I keep up my evening productivity and motivate myself to go outside even when it is cold?

  • Wear gloves- My hands are problematic during cold weather.  I lose feeling in my hands easily, and then they hurt when my hands get warm again.  I currently have a pair of driving gloves that are a mixture of leather and spandex.  I may need to switch to a pair of all leather gloves with a lining to keep my hands warm.
  • Look into wearing more layers- I have heard good things about Uniqlo's HEATTECH.  Costco also sells inexpensive base layers.
  • Look into getting another humidifier- I have a small humidifier but I may need to invest in another one to increase in the humidity in my house.  
  • Be sure to get enough vitamin D.  Since I am a vegetarian, my main source of vitamin D is mushrooms, cheese, and fortified foods.  Also, I need to try to go for a walk even when it is cold.  Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D.  I may need to look into taking a supplement depending on how much vitamin D I am able to get from my diet. (For anyone else interested, here is a good summary from the National Institutes of Health of foods containing vitamin D as well as recommended daily levels).
Are you a winter person?  What are your tips to stay productive during the winter?