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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 .  Page numbers refer to the 2008 edition 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?


Weekly Review: 11/16/14

This week was a lot more hectic than usual.  I had to make day trips out of town two days in a row and, combined with celebrating my birthday, I didn't get as much accomplished as I would like.  Not that I am complaining about celebrating my birthday or anything. ;) With the holidays coming up, I need to work out a plan to get at least a week ahead in my personal projects so that I can enjoy the holidays without feeling completely stressed.

When I switched to my Asus tablet, I decided to try to use Evernote for most of my organization.  However, I have been missing Org-mode a lot lately.  I have been reviewing workflows and seeing if I can combine Emacs and Evernote.

gym 1x- 30 minutes of cardio plus weight machines
miles walked- 2.4
cardio/yoga at home: 2x for 1 hour each time

German- casual translation of two blog entries

The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport- a great objective biography of the four daughters of Nicholas II

The Physics of the Death Star- ever wondered just how the Death Star could have worked?


Seven Suggestions for Learning a Foreign Language

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   Page numbers refer to the 2008 edition translated by Ádám Szegi and Kornelia DeKorne.  Past entries can be accessed through the polyglot label. 

If you were asked to give suggestions on how to learn a foreign language, what would they be?

Let's start with a reading assignment.  Go read chapter 20 of Polyglot.  I'll be here when you are done. If you are in a hurry, scroll to page 159 and begin at that point.  Dr. Lomb was an expert at learning languages and her ten commandments for learning a foreign language are invaluable.  I have already added a few new techniques to my arsenal.

In reading through the text, I thought about what would be my own suggestions for learning a foreign language.  I am by no means an expert, but as someone who has been on the language learning journey for several years, I do have a few suggestions on the subject.

  1. Don't think that you have to live in a foreign country to learn to speak a foreign language at conversational fluency.  The biggest myth that I have heard over and over again is that the only way to learn a foreign language is to move to a country that speaks that language.  I see too problems with this assumption.  The first is that most people who move to a foreign country sadly stay in the emigre community and don't learn a foreign language.  The second is that the world is the most connected it has ever been.  It's EASY to watch movies in a foreign language, buy things in a foreign language, talk to people and make new friends in a foreign language all without even leaving your home.

  2. Don't think that foreign language study is simply studying.  Put down the textbook.  The easiest way to learn a foreign language is to try to do something in your target language every single day.  Read a blog entry.  Watch a movie.  Talk to a friend.

  3. Stop trying to translate word for word exactly what you would say in your native language.  The biggest stumbling block in conversation that we have as adults is that we have a huge vocabulary.  If you don't know the exact translation for what you want to say, say something simpler.  The whole point of communication is to get your point across to another person.  

  4. Don't be afraid to make mistakes but learn to accept correction gracefully.  If you find a native speaker of your target language who isn't afraid to correct your grammar, become best friends with that person.  Most native speakers tend to be very forgiving when listening to non-native speakers.  A forgiving attitude is both a good thing and a bad thing.  While it does encourage you to speak more (which is very important), it also can be difficult if you want to receive correction for your grammar.

  5. When you hit a roadblock, try something different.  I have written several times about dealing with frustration.  If you are having difficult progressing to the next level, try to change your learning method.  There are several great tools and programs available on the Resources page.

  6. Keep a log of how much time you spend working on your target language.  Keeping track of your time helps keep you honest about how well your course of study is working.  I'm guilty of this myself.  If I don't track how much time I spend on my German and Japanese study, I will assume that I have spent more time studying than I actually have.  Then I get frustrated that my language study is not progressing.

  7. Keep track of your successes as well as your failures! 
  8. My final tip is one that I picked up from Dr. Lomb. Write down when you remember vocabulary, when you understand sentences, and whenever you make a little progress in your target language.  By keeping a log of your success, it is easy to motivate yourself to continue on your language learning journey!

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.”


Weekly Review: 11/8/14

I decided to go back to doing weekly reviews.  I have been trying to do weekly review on Evernote, but posting here on the blog makes me feel more accountable.

After three weeks of feeling bad due to a cold which progressed into bronchitis combined with fall seasonal allergies, I finally turned a corner and started feeling better!  The weather here in the mountains has been windy but still enjoyable.  I have been trying to go onto daily walks so that I can acclimate to colder temperatures.

Based on my review of my Captain's Log and Evernote entries, my interests this week were cooking, reviewing GTD, and trying to pick a planner for 2015.  On the cooking front,  I have revisited shirotaki noodles.  I have also had a craving for hearts of palm so I have been trying to work out a hearts of palm marinara recipe using shirotaki noodles.

After listening to a podcast about systems, I decided to revisit GTD to see where I need to fill in gaps in my current systems for handling information.  Along the same front, I have decided that a paper planner works best for me for appointments and to-dos.  I have had success in the past with the Moleskine week per page planner.  However, the Leuchtturm planners are also tempting.  I have also been considering a ring based planner.  I have a Franklin Covey planner that has been sitting on my bookshelf.  It's a little big but the versatility is of being to include customized inserts is tempting.

gym 3x- 30 minutes of cardio plus weight machines
miles walked- 3.2 (I average 0.8 miles during my lunchbreak.  I don't track the walking that I do throughout the day.)

Japanese- three Human Japanese lessons
German- Tageschau 4X, free translation of five blog entries, Duolingo

Time Management, Simplified: How to Be Productive With No Worries- a classic article from Leo Babauta
How I TRAINed to learn Rails- great article on learning Ruby on Rails


How To Listen to Foreign Language Radio Shows

Today's post is a followup to my previous post which is a summary of some of Dr. Kató Lomb's recommendations for learning a foreign language.  Most of the summary is about learning the necessary skills to read and understand grammar in your target language.  However, Dr. Lomb also wrote about the importance of gaining good listening comprehension in your target language.

Obtaining foreign language TV shows and movies is pretty easy on the internet.  You can check out my Resources page if you need ideas on how to find foreign language TV shows.  However, for me, watching TV and movies even without subtitles is easier than listening to the radio in my target language is easier than listening to the radio.  The reason is that I find it easier to interpret words and emotions with visual cues.  Radio is a better challenge for my audio comprehension skills.

Several German radio shows are available via podcast.  I have also written about listening to audio books and podcasts as well.  However, sometimes you may want to listen to a foreign language when you don't have internet access.  Obviously, the easiest solution is to bring your iPod with you.  

Since I'm a geek, I tend to avoid the obvious solution. ;)  As an enthusiastic foreign language learner, short wave radio is one of my favorite tools for listening to my target languages.  Short wave radios are capable of listening to transmissions in the 1.6-30 MHz range.  Transmissions in that frequency range can be broadcasted over long distances.  In other words, you can tune into live German radio.

Shortwave radio does have its limitations.  The sound quality is inferior to that of local stations and the time of day will often play a factor in whether or not you can listen to a station.  However, if you are technologically inclined, it is fun to try to see what signals you can get with your radio.  Sunrise and sunset tend to be the best time to get signals.

Short wave enthusiasts who like to tune into foreign radio stations are known as DXers.  DXing can be a very expensive hobby, but to begin listening to short wave radio, all you need is a radio with a digital dial capable of tuning into short wave frequencies.  I have a portable Eton 300pe radio.  The speaker isn't that great, but the radio includes a headphone jack and the sound improves when listening using headphones.

Short-wave.info is a helpful starting point for determining what radio frequencies are broadcasting in your target languages at any moment of the day.  DXing.info is a great guide to learn more about how to find and identify foreign language radio stations.


Polyglot: How Kató Lomb Learned Languages

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 translated by Ádám Szegi and Kornelia DeKorne.  Past entries can be accessed through the polyglot label.

For today's Polyglot summary, I finally get to write about how Kató Lomb learned languages.  After 147 pages of theory, Dr. Lomb tackles the subject of how she went about learning a new language:

  • Begin by buying a dictionary in your target language.  If you can't find a target language-native language dictionary, try to find one in a language that you are familiar with.
  • Use the dictionary to learn knowledge of how your target language handles phonemes.  Look at international words first- see how your target language handles words for nations (that aren't country specific) or scientific terms.  Examining these words will give insight into how the letters/characters in the language relate to words.
  • Dictionaries can also give you clues into how nouns are transformed into verbs, nouns are transformed into adjectives, adjectives are transformed into adverbs, etc.
  • The next steps are to buy a textbook with student answers provided and a few works of literature.
  • Work through the textbook in your language progress notebook.  Leave plenty of room for corrections.  Dr. Lomb recommends that you write your correction beside or under your original answer.  After you make your correction, write the correction five-six times so that you imprint the correct phrase into your memory.
  • Dr. Lomb recommends buying books in pairs.  This will increase the chance that one of the books that you read will be comprehensible.
  • The first read-through of the book should be enjoyable.  Write down any words that you recognize in your language progress notebook.
  • For the second and third reads, look up some (not all) of the vocabulary that you don't know in a dictionary.  Write the new vocabulary down in your language progress notebook in context using either example sentences from the dictionary or from the book that you were reading.
  • Dr. Lomb cautions that reading will give you an excellent grasp of vocabulary and grammar but you still need to hear your target language as well.  Dr. Lomb's method of improving her listening comprehension was to listen to the news in her target language.
  • When listening to the news, first listen to an international program in your native language.  Generally speaking, the international news is often the same for multiple countries.  By listening in your native language first, you should have some idea of what news topics will be covered in your target language.
  • Look up words that you don't know immediately after the broadcast.  Dr. Lomb's reasoning is that you will frequently mishear words when you are first listening to broadcasts in your target language.  By looking the word up immediately after the broadcast, you will still remember the context of the unfamiliar word which will help you find it in the dictionary.
  • As always, write the new vocabulary in context in your language progress notebook.
  • Once a week, Dr. Lomb would record a broadcast and listen to it repeatedly to focus on pronunciation.
My Thoughts:

I am ending my notes for this chapter at the halfway point.  After reading this chapter, I have several ideas on how to refine and improve my language progress notebook.
  1. Add space for writing corrections multiple times.  I always correct my mistakes, but I don't rewrite corrections.  Since I already know that I learn well from writing, repeating my corrections should help immensely in grasping the correct grammar.  I am actually embarrassed that I didn't think of this myself!
  2. Remember to write vocabulary down in context! Most of the time,I am good about including example sentences in my language notebook but Dr. Lomb's suggestion of looking up example sentences in the dictionary as well as including the sentences from your reading is a good suggestion.  Depending on the vocabulary, sometimes it is difficult to grasp subtle differences between words.  Having multiple example sentences should help to determine when it is appropriate to use one word versus another.
  3. Don't focus on one method of learning.  As Dr. Lomb is fond of saying, language is a fortress which should be assailed by all sides at once:  reading newspapers, listening to the radio, watching television, and talking with native language speakers.
If you are curious about the picture accompanying today's post, I snapped it when touring Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  If I encounter German or Japanese, I try to take a picture of it so I can revise my translation when I get home.

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.”


Guess Where I Was Last Week

I am back after a week in Philadelphia with intermittent internet access.  I love to travel, but I am still refining my packing process and still learning about what I need to take and don't need to take on a trip.  Here is what I learned from my week in Philly:

My two favorite apps for the trip were TripIt and Gate Guru.  With TripIt, you simply email your hotel and flight confirmations to the app and you can pull up your confirmation codes, directions to your hotel, a trip timeline, and links to your flight check-in in a simple interface.  Gate Guru provides real time updates on what gate your flight is scheduled to leave from.

Pay attention to where the locals stop for lunch.  Reading Terminal Market is filled with great places to eat.  I payed $7 for a yummy vegetarian gyro and $1 for an absolutely delicious apple caramel donut from Beiler's.

I ate this donut.

Take advantage of free and cheap sight-seeing opportunities.  The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are both free to the public.  I also found the Constitution Center worth the ticket price (which isn't much at all).

Learn to roll your clothes.  I was in Philadelphia for a conference so I had to pack four professional outfits.  On my last day, I had the afternoon free before my flight in the evening so I wanted to pack a few casual outfits as well.  If you go to a conference, expect to walk a lot.  I had a three block walk from my hotel to the convention center.  After a day walking, I needed a pair of comfortable shoes that would also work for going out to dinner.  In total I packed:

  • Four nice shirts that looked good with dress pants or jeans
  • Three pairs of dress pants
  • Two pairs of jeans-one for the flight up and a classic dark washed pair for going out to dinner
  • A sweater
  • A dress jacket
  • A scarf- Philly this time of year is warm during the day but the night gets cold quickly. Layering is essential.
  • Sneakers for the airport, burgundy leather ballerinas, and black booties for the conference.
Did I mention that I never pay baggage fees?

One lesson that I did learn from the trip is that I need to invest in better rain gear that will fit into my carry on.  The last day of the trip was both windy and rainy. Unfortunately, this was also the only day that I had any time for sightseeing so I was determined not to let the rain get in the way of fun.  I packed an umbrella but it was next to useless with the wind.  Also, wet city streets are not friendly to socks and ballerinas.  Next time, I will pack a rain jacket and my comfortable black ankle boots.
Invest in good luggage.  I brought my old faithful Eddie Bauer luggage that I picked up at Target
10 years ago.  For a bag that I bought for less then $50, it has held up over the years.  The issues that I have is that it has two wheels which makes maneuvering through the airport a hassle.  The telescoping handle has a single shaft.  The feature was designed so that you can fit more into the luggage but in practice it means that I can't fit my laptop bag over the handle so I always end up with a sore shoulder from carrying the bag through the airport. I am currently investigating a carry on bag with spinner wheels to make airport trips less trouble.  Right now I am considering this Samsonite bag although the Rimowa is tempting since I have heard so many positive reviews.

Plan for Technology Malfunctions.  My hotel had wifi so I thought that I have internet access for most of the trip.  My Kindle decided that this trip would be an excellent time to drop wifi intermittently. My conference had charging stations so I was able to keep my phone charged and functional for the trip but I have learned that bringing an emergency charger is also a good idea since the Philadelphia airport did not have a charging station that I could find.

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.”


Brainstorming: Digital vs. Paper

I struggle with maintaining a system to handle my projects and to-dos.  I use Trello and a modified Kanban system for Not So Lost in Translation, and I use Evernote to handle some of my daily notes. I still prefer paper for my language progress notebook, mindmapping, and making notes about books that I am reading.  I have been debating how to optimize my system so that I can have my information easily available to me.

How does my system breakdown? 

  • Trello with a modified Kanban system-Not So Lost in Translation editorial calendar
  • Evernote- daily notepages with IFTTT integrated Captain's Log (using E.C. Chang's recipes) including:
    • weather forecast for the day
    • any tweets that I send out
    • my Foursquare check-ins
    I also append a daily journal page which includes:
    • Three project goals for the day
    • Three project goals for the week
    • My "If I'm Bored" section*
* In order to keep myself from wasting too much time on the internet, I have a list of reminders on books that I want to read, ideas that I want to research, blog post ideas, TED talks, and the current foreign language texts that I am working on. In addition, Evernote also houses drafts of upcoming blog posts. I use an adapted version of Michael Hyatt's template.

 In addition to Evernote, I also maintain a OneNote notebook.  The notebook houses my notes on Polyglot

  • Language progress notebook
  • Notes and important quotes from books that I am reading 
  • Mindmaps
  • Monthly assessment on where I am going in terms of my long-term goals
What are gaps and areas that need improvement?
  • I find it unwieldy to use both Evernote and OneNote but I like OneNote's screen clipper so I that I can clip parts of a PDF and take notes on the clipping.  I have considered upgrading to Evernote premium so that I can have the same feature integrated into my Evernote account.
  • I don't want to make my language progress notebook digital since I learn better by writing.  Could I add a summary to Evernote so I can include it in my progress tracking?


Polyglot: Textbooks and Conversation

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 translated by Ádám Szegi and Kornelia DeKorne.  Past entries can be accessed through the polyglot label.

Conversation is my weakness when it comes to language learning.  In this week's Polyglot summary, Dr. Lomb addresses one of my main frustrations when it comes to language learning:  Why is it easy to translate a technical document but hard to talk to someone on the phone? So naturally I was very interested in this week's chapters of Polyglot.  I am going to discuss three chapters from Dr. Lomb's book: chapters 17-19.

Chapter 17 is one of the shorter chapters in Polyglot.  The topic of the chapter is textbooks. Although Dr. Lomb was a language instructor, she doesn't focus too much on the topic of textbooks since Polyglot is designed to supplement language learning in the classroom rather than replace it.  However, she does have two suggestions in this chapter:
  • Use textbooks prepared by speakers of your native language.  Speakers of other languages won't be familiar with the unique set of differences between your native language and your target language.
  • Don't use elementary school books in your target language.  They will teach simplified and unnatural language for an adult.
In my own experience, I have found that using elementary school textbooks to learn grammar is not helpful.  However, reading Japanese children's short stories has improved my reading skills and confidence in my reading ability.  Dr. Lomb's point is that the constructions used in children's textbooks wouldn't be used by adults.  I would agree that every language learner should be aware of social differences.

Chapters 18 and 19 are titled How We Converse in a Foreign Language and How We Should Converse in a Foreign Language.  The first chapter discusses how we start the process of adapting thoughts to a new language and how this differs from children learning a first language.  Children learn grammar organically by years of exposure to sentence constructions. As adults, our tendency is translate word for word into our target language while maintaining the grammar of our native language.  Unlike children, we can grasp the fundamentals of grammar in a new language when exposed since we already understand the concept of "past tense" and "direct object."  Dr. Lomb's observation explains why adults tend to write in a new language better than speaking it- we have time to think through the grammar.  In conversation, our natural instinct is to default back to what is familiar.  Dr. Lomb's suggestion is to fix the new grammar rules in our minds by contrasting to what is familiar.  For example:

In English, direct and indirect objects are indicated by word order.  However, in German direct and indirect objects are indicated by changes in the definite/indefinite article and adjective endings.

Another interesting observation is that colloquial language is harder to translate than academic language.  The reason?  Collequial language has more irregularities.  Today's image has several phrases for asking "what time is it?"  Dr. Lomb observed that it was easier to translate complex biology than to figure out the correct way to ask the time!

The final chapter, How We Should Converse in a Foreign Language, contains tips for improving your conversation skills:
  • Don't attempt to translate word for word.
  • Learn phrases in your target vocabulary.  They are easier to remember, and you learn words in the correct relationship.
  • However, if you can't think of a phrase, say whatever you think is closest to what you are trying to say.  Foreign language is about compromise.
  • Use antonyms such as "not flexible" if you can't think of the word brittle
  • Be careful of false friends.  False friends are words that you encounter that you assume have the same meaning in both your target language as well as your target language.  An example of this is billion.  In English, the term billion refers to one thousand million.  However, in German the word for billion is Milliard.  Billion refers to a trillion.
My Thoughts:

Each language learner struggles with certain areas of language learning.  For me, reading and translating are much easier than speaking.  As a naturally introverted person, speaking in my native language sometimes makes me nervous.  After reading these two chapters, I have decided to focus more on my phrases deck on Anki as well as remembering to have fun!  Sometimes, it is easy to forget that the reason that you want to learn a language is to communicate with other people!

What are your thoughts?

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How to Kanban: An Introduction

How do you keep track of multiple projects?  Project management is a topic that comes up over and over again in the personal productivity blogosphere.  Recently, I have been trying to improve my own project management skills.  My background is science and the humanities, and I have never had formal project management training.  Particularly, for my personal projects, I am guilty of following a cyclical pattern where I focus heavily on one project (the most urgent one) and leave the others on the backburner.  For languages, having daily input is valuable. My two main priorities are improving my German fluency and learning the kanji.  However, I have four other languages that are on my learning list (French, Cantonese, Korean, and Latin).

I decided to explore kanban since I had heard that it was a visual method of project management.  Kanban was developed by Taiichi Ohno of Toyota.  Originally, kanban was designed to address bottlenecks and inventory management problems in Toyota's assembly line process.  Kanban treats a project as a series of processes both large and small that need to be completed.  By breaking down each process, kanban lets you visualize materials needed for each process for the process to be completed.  

The simplest way to set up Kanban is to take a whiteboard or sheet of paper and break it down into three sections:  Backlog, Doing, and Done.


The backlog section contains all of your tasks that you need to finish for your project.  In this section, you list each process as well as any notes needed, materials needed, deadlines, etc.


The doing section contains the tasks that you are working on right now.  One of the most important aspects of kanban is limiting your work in progress.  When you set up your kanban, analyze how many tasks that you think that you can work on effectively in one day.  Your analysis doesn't have to be perfect- another aspect of kanban is incremental improvement.  In my own experience, I have found that I am much more likely to overestimate instead of underestimate so when in doubt, aim lower rather than higher.

Limiting your work in progress improves your focus.  Kanban emphasizes doing a task right the first time.  By setting strict limits on the number of tasks that you can accomplish in a day, you are more likely to be efficient because your mind focuses much better on one task at a time!


The done section contains the tasks that you have finished.  Seeing in the tasks that you have finished is good for several reasons:

1. Noting what tasks you have completed and what is still in progress can help you find potential bottlenecks. Visualizing and noting inefficiency fits in with another Japanese production philosophy- kaizen or continuous improvement.
2.  For us GTD or Agile fanatics, it integrates well with the weekly review. At the end of the week, you have a list of tasks that you have accomplished.
3. Physically seeing what you have accomplished is a powerful psychological motivator.  It's easy to stress over what you still haven't accomplished while forgetting what you have accomplished.

For my next entry in the series, I am going to talk about how I have integrated my kanban into my own project management.