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

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Blog Design Update and Preview of the Rest of the Year

Mabry Mill in Patrick County, Virginia

If you are visiting through the website and not through my RSS feed, you may notice that Not So Lost in Translation looks different. I spent this weekend updating the site template which should hopefully ease navigation and make it easier to find things on the site. I have also changed the commenting feature. In the past, you had to register to make a comment. I now allow anonymous comments although I do ask that you leave a name of some sort just so I know how to address you. This also means that I am now moderating comments so that I can control the amount of spam that appears on the blog. If you would like to review my commenting policy, it can be found here.

 Along with updating the site, I also have been working on an editorial calendar so that Not So Lost in Translation continues to be helpful and informative. The primary focus of Not So Lost in Translation is language learning. I have also decided to add more content on personal development and life hacks that can help with language learning and learning in general. I am not planning to go into the personal productivity sphere- there are PLENTY of personal productivity blogs out there. However, language learning is a lifelong project so I think that adding a little about what I am learning about project and information management may be helpful to you as well.

 Here is a snapshot of the upcoming features for the rest of the year:

Finishing Polyglot
Next Tuesday, I will have a new chapter summary from Polyglot.  The next chapter focuses on dictionaries so I will be including some of my favorite dictionaries as well as how to add a foreign language dictionary to your Kindle.  To keep the content from Polyglot from becoming stale and to give myself (and you) more time to read the chapters, I will be alternating topics so that there will be a new Polyglot chapter every other Tuesday. If you want to follow Polyglot updates, here is a link to the RSS.

Personal Updates
To keep from falling into the trap of blogging about language learning techniques instead of actually focusing on my target languages, I will be including entries from my language progress notebook including what seems to work for me and what difficulties that I am having.   

Language Tools and Apps
 Language tools can be books, podcasts, or websites that I have found helpful in learning my target languages.  I will be featuring tools and apps that I think are helpful for learning foreign languages.

Language Learning Techniques
Have you heard about 10,000 sentences, shadowing, Pimsleur or FSI?   The language learning community is full of buzzwords and methods that newbies haven't heard of.  I tend to be skeptical of anyone that says that X technique is the best and will guarantee fluency.  I go through techniques that I have tried or am trying and my opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of the each technique.

Using Project Management Tools and Techniques With Language Learning
Coming from a liberal arts/science background, I know next to nothing about project management.   I have become interested in the topic since language learning is a lifelong project and it helps to have definable goals and ways to measure your progress.  I'm also into personal development in general so, as well as learning German, French, and Japanese, I am also working on learning about classical education and reading literature, improving my health, and working on my novel.  I have a lot of projects!  Since most other language learners are also interested in personal development, I have noticed that we tend to have a lot of other outside interests.  Learning about project management can help increase our likelihood of achieving our goals.



Five Resources for Teaching Yourself Latin

wheelock's latin

Confession time:  both of my parents are Latin nerds.  Of course they wanted me to learn Latin.  Naturally, I decided to learn German instead.  I don't regret learning German.  However, I do regret not learning Latin as well as German. Due to classical music training, I do have some knowledge of ecclesiastical Latin but my classical Latin skills are sorely lacking.

 Being a language geek, this means that I have added Latin to my growing language list.  However, I am also working on being more focused and not spreading myself to thin.  So latin has to remain on my to-do list until I can read Harry Potter Et le Prisonnier  D'Azkaban which I have made my first target for French study. 

Being a language geek, I still can do research on how to go about learning Latin.  For this week's post, I thought I would share some resources that I have added to my links list for when I am able to officially start my Latin study.

Getting Started With Latin
Getting Started With Latin is an introductory textbook for beginning Latin students.  The textbook is designed specifically for self teaching. A preview of the text book is available on the site.  The author of the textbook also teaches a free introductory Latin class.  A link for the class is also on the Getting Started With Latin website.

Latin & Greek Study Groups
Several Latin and Greek study groups at many different levels are available on the above website.  There a three beginning study groups based on Wheelock's Latin which are already in progress.

First Latin Lessons
Henry Fletcher Scott's textbook is public domain and available for download in multiple formats. The lessons are more concise than Wheelock so students who have found Wheelock difficult may want to check this resource out.
Latin with Fr. Reginald Foster
Fr. Gary Coulter hosts a website containing lessons from two introductory Latin courses from Fr. Reginald Foster.  Fr. Foster is known as the Pope's Latinist and is considered the world's expert on the Latin language.  Fr. Foster has his own website which should be checked out for news of his upcoming book!

The Pope's Latin Twitter Account
The Pope has multiple Twitter accounts in several languages including Latin.    I have subscribed to both the Latin and German accounts so I can compare my Latin translation against the German. His Latin Twitter account has over 278,000 followers which is higher than his German Twitter account!


Polyglot: Age and Language Learning

The myth that the only way to become fluent in a language is to start learning as a child really annoys me.  Today's post focuses on Chapter 15 of PolyglotAge and Language Learning.  Dr. Lomb begins by addressing the perception that children are excellent language learners.  In brief summary:  they aren't.

Now that we have that out of the way, how many of my readers are from the USA?  What did you do over Labor Day weekend?

Oh, I suppose you want an actual explanation of the above statement.
Dr. Lomb separates language learning into two components:  pronunciation and grammar.  To achieve native level pronunciation, you do need to start learning a language in childhood.   HOWEVER, children take longer to learn grammar compared to adults.  The reason is that grammar is abstract, and kids aren't great at getting abstract concepts.  This makes sense, doesn't it?

Consider the following example:

When a child refers to going swimming yesterday, he or she might say, "I swimmed."

Of course, you might correct the child and say, "You swam yesterday?"

Depending on the age of the child and whether or not he or she is actually listening to you, they might accept the correction or not.

 With an adult learner, you can point out that swim is a strong verb and the past tense of swim is swam.  The adult learner is already familiar with the concept of weak versus strong verbs as well as the concept of past tense.

Dr. Lomb's conclusion is that you are able to start learning a language at any age and that retirement is just as good of a time as preschool.

My Thoughts:

One of the most challenging aspects of being an adult language learner is getting people to understand the difference between good pronunciation and native level pronunciationThere are a few situations where native level pronunciation is expected.  Adults returning to the culture of their parents are often expected to have native level pronunciation even when they haven't spoken a language outside of a limited setting since childhood.  Unfortunately, this is a problem with cultural expectations which isn't easily solved.

However, for most visitors navigating a foreign environment, they can expect that they will be instantly recognized as a foreign visitor.  Allowances for "off" pronunciation will be made.  I am by no means saying that working on pronunciation isn't important. Good pronunciation is extremely helpful when navigating a new environment in your target language.  However, native level pronunciation while desirable isn't really necessary.   

What are your thoughts?


Link Roundup: Five Links on Language Acquisition in Children

The next chapter in Polyglot is on language acquisition in children.  Since I am on vacation this week, this week's summary is postponed until next week.  In preparation of next week's chapter on language and children, here are five links on language acquisition in children:


Polyglot How I Learn Languages: How to Learn Words

Chapter fourteen of Polyglot is the third and last chapter on learning vocabulary.  Continuing from last week's reading, Dr. Lomb talks about learning vocabulary in context.  She starts with the traditional way of learning vocabulary:  writing down a glossary of words and definitions and then memorizing them.

 She argues that the disadvantage of this method is that you only learn one possible meaning of the word and that you are deprived of other meanings of the word or its Hintergrund (background). (113)
The advantage is that you have assembled a glossary yourself.  So the challenge is to learn words in context while keeping language learning personalized.

The next method of learning vocabulary discussed is the dictionary method.  It sounds exactly like its title:  you get a foreign language dictionary and memorize the vocabulary.  Surprisingly, this method has worked for many people.  Dr. Lomb believed that the method works because dictionaries provide example sentences which place the meaning of the word in context.

Her suggestion is to write the sample sentences in your language learning notebook.  Don't limit yourself to just the sentence that you need.  If you find synonyms or antonyms interesting, write down example sentences for those as well.  But only write down sentences that speak to you. The goal is to make your OWN personal glossary.

Here I return to my opinion again, which I have ex-
pressed several times, that the knowledge you obtain at the
expense of some brainwork will be more yours than what
you receive ready-made. If you figure it out from the con-
text, this small incident will be a positive experience. I would
only like to refer to Pavlov’s principle in a primitive form:
if two areas of the brain react at the same time, the effect is
always more lasting. In language learning, the intellectual
sphere can react with the emotional one. If the target lan-
guage can stimulate both, the learning effect is enhanced. (116)
 Some words are easier to learn than others.  Short nouns are easier to learn than longer nouns.  Nouns are easier to learn than adjectives since adjectives are more abstract rather than concrete.  Verbs are the hardest to learn because you have to learn the conjugations for each form of the verb.
The end of the chapter is a discussion on the vocabulary that you need to survive in your target language or the most common words phrases that you need to learn. Here is a link to the most common 625 words in English.

My Thoughts:

My personal homework for the week is to go over Dr. Lomb's list and find example sentences of each vocabulary word in German and Japanese.  I also plan to use  the method described in this source: when you look up the definition of a word, use Google image search to see if the definition agrees with your understanding of the word.  Using image search helps you get an idea of whether or not a word has multiple meanings or a different meaning from your native language.


Polyglot How I Learn Languages: Vocabulary

I am halfway through Polyglot as of today!  Blogging Polyglot has been my first experiment in blogging a book, and I do believe that the experiment has been successful.  By making the chapter summaries for my blog, I have been forced to look back at each chapter and to examine the structure to present it best for Not So Lost in Translation.  In many cases, when I thought I had understood the chapter contents on my first read through, after trying to summarize the chapter, I realized that I needed to go back and examine Dr. Lomb's arguments.

Today's subject is vocabulary.  This week's post will cover two of three chapters on vocabulary:  Language and Vocabulary and Vocabulary and Context.

Language and Vocabulary

When choosing a language, a common concern is the amount of vocabulary needed to become conversational in your target language.  Dr. Lomb's argument is that even languages that are considered "vocabulary poor" such as Hungarian will contain vocabulary that is not present in your native language. Here Dr. Lomb references the Hungarian differentiation between "becoming free"  felszabadulás and "setting something free" felszabadítás (103).  Choosing a target language should not be based on the amount of vocabulary that you have to learn to become conversational in that language.

Vocabulary and Context

How do you learn vocabulary?   Vocabulary should always be learned in context.  For example, "TB" could be an abbreviation for textbook, thoroughbred, tuberculosis, or turbulence depending on context (107).  Learning vocabulary is often the most difficult part of language learning.   For multiple language learners, vocabulary can be even more frustrating since, often, when you are trying to speak one language, you will insert words from another language.  

Of course, it did happen to me once that I couldn't remember the word refrigerator from my own native English.  I could remember Kühlschrank and reizouko but not refrigerator!  I didn't know whether to celebrate or be concerned for my own sanity.

Making associations is one way to remember words.  For example, the word Kühlschrank  is a compound word from "cool" and "closet." 

When speaking, a person's expressions and gestures will also provide context on what they are saying.

Dr. Lomb ends the chapter by discussing the amount of vocabulary needed to become fluent in a language.  I have read several articles that have said that the easiest way to become fluent in a language is to memorize the most common words that make up 80% of spoken vocabulary.

 Dr. Lomb's answer is more honest.  Learning new vocabulary is a lifelong process.  Languages are constantly evolving and borrowing words from other languages.  The good news is that you already have some vocabulary from your target language.  American English speakers are familiar with sayonara, gracias, por favor, merci, and many other words that have filtered into our common vocabulary.


Polyglot How I Learn Languages: What Sort of Languages Do People Study?

Viola reichenbachiana 001.jpg
"Viola reichenbachiana 001" by H. Zell - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

After a discussion on the best way to supplement classroom learning, it makes sense to discuss what language to learn.  Languages and our perception of language is the subject of chapter 11 of Polyglot.  The chapter begins with a UNESCO survey which concluded that people tend to learn the languages of the countries that border them since they are most likely to be useful.  In the U.S., this conclusion is certainly true:  Spanish and French are the most common languages learned by Americans.

In Hungary, however, Dr. Lomb mentioned that the situation was different.  Many Hungarians learn German but fewer learn Slovakian, Ukrainian, Romanian, any variety of Serbo-Croatian, or Slovenian.  The reason is the perceived value of the language.  Germany has the largest economy in Europe, and the German language has long been considered one of the main scientific languages.  Hungarians believe that learning German will improve their career so they learn German.  Other popular languages to learn are English and French: two other global languages.

Aside from proximity and economic utility, a third reason that people choose a particular language to learn is their general perception of a language.  Italian and Spanish are considered passionate and French romantic.  Sadly, German, Russian, Czech, and Serbian are not considered as attractive. 

Here, Dr. Lomb makes the point that acoustics alone is not the sum of perception.  Consider the words violet and violence.  Both words sound similar but violet has peaceful quiet connotations and violence is the exact opposite.

Interestingly, some sounds tend to come up in words with similar meanings.  The short i as in "bit" is also found in mini, little, the German winzig (tiny), the Spanish chiquito, and the Hungarian kicsi (small, little).

Dr. Lomb ends with a few words on the concept of "easy" and "difficult" languages.  Hungarian is often considered a "difficult" languages because of the number of suffixes that can be affixed to a word.  However, English has phrasal verbs which are verbs whose meanings are modified in the presence of certain adverbs:

The phrase "run into" is used to describe meeting someone.

The phrase "run away" is used to describe leaving home usually without the permission/knowledge of parents or a spouse.

My Thoughts:

One of my favorite languages, German, is often considered harsh sounding to non-native speakers.  Honestly, I have never thought the language sounded harsh.  Perhaps this was because my first exposure to German was in musical form?


Polyglot How I Learn Languages: How We Should Read

View of the back garden at Swannanoa Palace

Continuing from last week's argument on the importance of reading, Dr. Lomb next covers how to read a foreign language text in chapter nine of Polyglot.  She breaks reading down into two stages:
  • Stage 1: reading with a "blitheness practically bordering on superficiality"
  • Stage 2: reading with a "conscientious-ness close to distrust" (85)
In the first stage, the goal is to enjoy the story.  The reader should try to learn words based on context and only use a dictionary as a last resort.  In this stage, it is acceptable to skip vocabulary words that you don't  know.  If the word is important, it will come up again later, and you should be able to determine it from context.

Being able to determine words based on context by yourself is central to Dr. Lomb's method of learning languages:

The sense of achievement sweetens the joy of work and makes up for the boredom of effort. It incorporates the most interesting thing in the world even into an indifferent text. You wonder what it is? Our own selves. (86)
The sense of achievement that you gain from determining the meaning of the word provides both motivation and a stronger link to retaining the meaning of the vocabulary word over time.  As a reminder from the previous chapter, Dr. Lomb believed that words that you have determined should be written down in the text so during the review portion of the method, you have a reinforcement of how much progress you have achieved by reading the text.

In the second stage, after you have finished the story, the goal is to reread the text completely with an eye for trying to determine why the writer writes the sentences the way he or she does and if he or she makes any grammar mistakes.

Here Dr. Lomb shares the story of Aussi Brebis by Mikszáth Kálmán.  A father hires a girl to teach his boys French.  The boys have absolutely no interest in learning French and decide that the best way to get out of learning French is to prove that the girl can't speak French.  In the process of proving that she doesn't know French, the boys, by scouring dictionaries to try to trick her, teach themselves French.

Dr. Lomb ends by recommending abridged texts for language learners who are concerned about trying foreign language texts.

My Thoughts:

Giving up my dictionary and learning from context is one of my current struggles.  In some ways, I feel like I am being lazy by not looking up words.  However, if I can get better at determining words by context, I believe that my overall comprehension will improve.

For English learners, the Stepping Stone books such as  Oliver Twist , are adaptations of classic novels designed for young readers.  Of course, you are welcome to go through my blog archives and find my grammar mistakes.  ;)

The Little Prince was one of the first German texts that I read on my own after college.  Here is a link to a page with several free online foreign language editions of  The Little Prince.  The story is beautiful and bittersweet and I really loved to read it.

I am currently working through these classic Japanese stories which have hiragana and a few kanji.


Polyglot How I Learn Languages: Chapters 7-8

Finally, we are arriving at the specifics of Dr. Lomb's language learning technique.  Books are critical for language learning, she argues, because they are portable language partners that we can mark and annotate at will.

Dr. Lomb advocates buying books so that the book can be annotated with notes and markers so that it becomes "a mirror of yourself." (69).  As to what to annotate in the margins,  she recommends only the forms and phrases that you have managed to determine from context. In fact, she argues that consulting a dictionary should only be a last resort.   If you don't know a word and can't figure it out from context, continue on, and if the word is important, it will probably come up again.

She also mentions that her method is designed to supplement teacher-led language learning rather than replace it.  Some methods of language learning (wikimoon's 10,000 sentences for example) argue against learning grammar.  Dr. Lomb, in contrast, argues that learning grammar is an essential albeit unpleasant part of language learning.  However, the process can be made more pleasant by using books to illustrate aspects of grammar.

Moving on into chaper eight, Dr. Lomb introduces the concept of linguistic microclimates:

 As opposed to macroclimate—like the language of the country you live in—I mean the linguistic environment which immediately surrounds  you  in  your  studies  and  which  you  can,  to  an extent, create for yourself, even in your home. (77)
Dr. Lomb suggests creating a microclimate through books and internal monologues.  Here it is important to realize that Dr. Lomb originally wrote Polyglot before the internet became common. In addition to books and internal monologues, we can create a microclimate through news (videos and newspapers), movies and tv shows, podcasts, blogs, and online forums.   

Internal monologues are also helpful in the development of language.  In my own case, I actually understand and read German much more proficiently than I speak and write German.  This is one area where I need to do more work.  It's easy now for me to read German blogs.  In fact, I was actually surprised yesterday when I realized that I had read an entire paragraph in German without needing to consult a dictionary.  However, when it comes to producing German, I am getting better but I still work at making sentences sound right.

Here, Duolingo and Lang-8 have been helpful.  Duolingo because it yells at me when I produce incorrect grammar and Lang-8 because I can write diary entries on any topic that I like and I can receive corrections from native speakers. 

Dr. Lomb makes one suggestion about monologues: they should always be silent to avoid errors in pronunciation and  "to prevent passersby from thinking that your tongue has been loosened by some alcohol." (77)

From here, she talks a little about the importance of monologues in developing and maintaining language. She cites internal monologue as the reason why many expats fail at learning languages (they live in a microclimate of their native language) and why foreigners who live isolated for years in a country where they are the only speaker of their native language in that area can still produce their native language flawlessly.

Dr. Lomb also argues that books help introduce colloquialisms and native speech patterns. Here, I also agree.  Dr. Lomb points out that language text books often teach stilted text that isn't spoken by actual native speakers.  Here books (and blogs especially) can help you develop vocabulary outside of questions such as "Where is the airport?"

My Thoughts:

These two chapters were helpful in introducing concepts that are actually helpful to me in my language learning.  I have two action items that I need to work on based on Dr. Lomb's advice:

1) learn vocabulary out of context rather than looking it up in the dictionary

2) work on adding more internal monologues in German and Japanese to my daily life and continuing with Duolingo and Lang-8 to improve my German in particular


Quantified Life Revisited

After two weeks of working to improve my techniques for tracking my personal data, here is my first report.  After deciding to make Evernote my repository for all of my personal information, my copy of Evernote for Windows crashed.  :/  I searched around for the issue and after removing my database files and reinstalling my database, it is working...sort of.  I am still having issues syncing my database so I need to spend more time on the Evernote help forums.

Areas of My Life That Need Quantifying

  • Fitness
  • Language learning
  • Programming
  • Reading
  • Travel


My goal was to add my most common meals to MyFitnessPal so that I could continue logging my progress on my diet.  Honestly, I still haven't gotten around to doing this.  The majority of the issue is that my life is still pretty crazy and I haven't been able to budget the time to sit down and do the entry.  Also, making meals is somewhat of a pain in the app so I think that issue is part of my reluctance to sit down and do the work.

HOWEVER, tracking my food is even more critical than usual since I have a sprained MCL and have been banned from any exercise involving my legs for two weeks.  So I will try to block off some time this afternoon and start making meals for the app.

EDIT: And done!

Language learning

Since writing the previous post, I have decided that using Evernote and Quantified Awesome is probably the easiest way to track my language learning progress.  Through my continued reading of Polyglot, my main lesson so far is that I need to use my languages in my daily life.  For me that means podcasts, blogs, reading, and watching TV in my target languages.

I am currently interested in learning four languages:  German, Japanese, French, and Cantonese.

For German, I have been busy watching/listening to world cup coverage.  Since my written Japanese is still weak, I have decided to focus on reading and translating and still working through Pimsleur and Human Japanese.  For French, my goal is to work through Duolingo until I can read the language at a 50% rate and then start translating.  I am also working through the FSI course.  For Cantonese, my goal is to listen to a podcast when time permits and start listening to Hong Kong dramas to get a feel for the language. 


I want to get back to programming since I have a few ideas for programs that I need to write and since I don't like losing skills.  However, the weather has been too pretty recently for me to feel comfortable sitting inside.  I do want to continue coding but I think that I am going to push my sprint back to a month when it isn't pretty outside.


After looking at my Goodreads account, I realized that I am very much behind in my goal to read 50 books this year.  Since I can read outside on my porch and enjoy the weather, I decided to cure my cabin fever and get some reading done at the same time by making reading an hour a day my Agile sprint for July.  I am also trying to become better at highlighting and making notes so that I can have more thorough reviews for each of the books that I read.  My current obsession is commonplace books so my goal is to turn my Evernote into a commonplace book.  My goal is synthesis of knowledge and better retension for my reading.


I am now using Camscanner to track my receipts and tickets.  I email either the jpg or the pdf file into Evernote for longterm storage or upload the file to my Flickr account.  I use Foursquare and and IFTTT recipe which sends my Foursquare checkins to my Evernote.  I also use Mynd to better plan my day to day travel.

What's next?

My goal is to do another review on August 1st to see how well I have progressed in tracking my life and to see areas where I still need improvement.

Have you tried tracking your life?  What did you discover?


Polyglot How I Learn Languages: Modern Language Learning Methods

After a week's hiatus, I am now returning to chapter six of Polyglot: How I Learn Languages.  The last part of chapter six is an overview of modern language learning methods and Lomb's opinions on the pros and cons of each technique.

Berlitz Method

Also known as the Direct Method, Charles Berlitz marketed and popularized this method.  Lomb begins with the Berlitz Method as the first of the "modern" language learning methods.  According to Lomb's summary, the essence of the Berlitz method is "making a connection between an object (concept) and its foreign-language name without the mother tongue mediating." (p. 56)

The advantage of the method is the focus on the target language and as much of the instruction as possible is done in the target language.  Lomb unfortunately assumes the reader is familiar with the Berlitz method and its underlying philosophy. She mentions the method briefly in introduction after going through the historical grammar translation method but does not mention that the method was developed to mimic how children initially learn language.  Later on the chapter she makes a few comments about why the method is ineffective:

 There is as little likelihood of squeezing an adult into the intellectual framework of their childhood as there is into their first pair of pajamas. (p. 61)
Children’s and adults’ abilities differ from each other. A child is automatic; an adult is logical.  (p.62)

Audiovisual Method

The audiovisual method is also known as The Army Method because it was developed by the U.S. army after WWII.  The focus of the method is repetition of common phrases.  The student will hear a standard phrase spoken by a native speaker and several variations of that phrase will follow.  The goal of the student is to try to mimic the native speaker's pronunciation as close as possible.  Patterns will be subconsciously absorbed over time from the constant repeated exposure to phrases.  Material is "overlearned" and the focus is on mimicking correct utterances.  The method has proven successful in producing students with good pronunciation and basic communication ability.

We expect technology to relieve our physical and spiritual discomforts. In regards to language learning, the audiovisual method tries to reduce the burden arising from the memorization indispensable to any language learning by an increased involvement of the eyes and the ears. (p.58-59)

Lomb predictably has a scathing remark about the method although she grudgingly admits that the method has been successful over the years.

This is the principle the “immersion” method is based on. It is not by chance that it was born in America, which is so fond of comfort. (p.59)


Note:    several free FSI courses are available that were made using this method. Unlike Lomb, I am not that critical of the audiovisual method.  Like any method, the audiovisual method has its pros and cons.  Personally, I am using the FSI French for grammar and the FSI German to improve my pronunciation and listening comprehension.

My thoughts:

Lomb correctly points out that language teachers overreacted to the failure of the historical grammar-translation method by completely throwing out grammar and logic when learning a language.  As I mentioned above, I do use the FSI courses.  However, I have also found that seeking out grammar instruction on top of pronunciation help is needed.

My problem with Lomb's argument is that she neglects the positive aspects of each language learning method.  The grammar-translation method, the Berlitz method, and the audiovisual method all produced individuals fluent in their target language.

I would argue that the problem with language learning in general is the assertion that there is one "magical" method that will work for everyone.  I don't buy it.  Most of the successful polyglots that I have read about and talked to devised a system that worked for them.  If I were to suggest that there is a common element in successful language learning, it is time and determination.

What are your thoughts?



Quantifying My Life

I am trying to integrate more progress tracking into all areas of my life.  I have written about keeping a progress notebook for language learning, but I think that it would be more helpful for me to also include progress in other areas of my life. Specifically, I have decided to try to use Evernote as a repository for all of my notes including my language progress notebook.

What areas of my life do I want to quantify?

  • Fitness
  • Language learning
  • Programming
  • Finance
  • Reading
  • Food?
  • Travel


 I have been doing very well in going to the gym and keeping up with my diet.  However, I do see room for improvement.  I got bored with logging my food in MyFitnessPal, and I need to go back to logging what I eat. 

What can I do to remove friction from the process?

I need to take the time and make groups for my most common meals so that I can add them in easily.  I have  groups already for my weekday breakfast and for Saturday nights when I am at home but I can also add other meals that I like to cook.   

What are my goals for my fitness log?

As a vegetarian, one of my goals is to make sure that I am getting enough protein and fat in my diet.  Based on past analysis, I do well in getting enough protein but I need to work on adding healthy fats to my diet.  Logging my progress and experimenting will help to see if I am being successful with my progress.

Language learning

I have written about how I keep track of my language learning progress.  I am curious about actual numbers and trends.  Am I better at learning in the summer or winter?  Does exercise help my progress?  In this case, I think that physically quantifying my language learning time through Evernote and then exporting to a spreadsheet may be helpful.  I am also interested in trying out Sacha Chua's Quantified Awesome.  Noting effort in both Evernote and a spreadsheet may be redundant but I am also trying to use Evernote as a diary (in the Victorian sense of an actual account of my activities for the day).  Having the information on what I am learning in Evernote will still be helpful.

I am currently interested in learning four languages:  German, Japanese, French, and Cantonese.

To maximize my learning efficiency I have decided to integrate my German and Japanese study together.  I am working to try to use primarily German text material to study Japanese.  Also, I am integrating German more into my discretionary time.  I read several German blogs, listen to German news podcasts, and will try to keep up with international news from a German perspective.

I am currently learning French through Duolingo and Cantonese through podcast. I am focusing more on French at the moment.  Cantonese is my newest language.  Right now I am spending the least amount of time on it.  After I get my Japanese and French to a more advanced level, I can focus more on Cantonese.


I have to decided to resurrect my almost forgotten knowledge of Ruby.  Currently, I am working through the Codecademy tutorials.  I am also working on changing my GTD methodology to the Agile Results system.  One benefit of the Agile Results system is the focus on monthly sprints.  Monthly sprints are skills that you try for a month to learn something new and to evaluate the skill to see if it is useful in your life.  For July, my sprint is going to be Ruby. 

I plan to use Evernote and a spreadsheet to document my effort and any resources that I pick up along the way.  I have already found several useful tutorials to work on after I finish the Codecademy tutorials.


I use Mint for my finances.  I am satisfied with the tracking features on the website.  I do think that Evernote will be useful for documenting receipts so that I don't have to carry so much extra paper in my purse.


I use Goodreads to track my books.  I can review books on Goodreads but I don't have any way to store my notes.  Since I read most of my books on Kindle now, I can export notes and highlights.  I want to try to sync this with Evernote so that I can integrate my notes and highlights into my book reviews.


Since I am resolving to go back to logging my food using MyFitnessPal, I'm not sure if I need to add food logging to Evernote.  Right now, I log interesting recipes from Allrecipes.com and Spark People to my Pinterest page.  Two areas that may need potential integration are notes from the recipes that I have tried and notes on restaurants that I want to try.


I plan to integrate travel into Evernote in two ways: notes on when/where I am traveling and itineraries for trips.  I noticed that, although I have moved to a more walkable neighborhood, I am still driving to run errands.  Tracking my travel time running errands may help remove some inefficiencies in my planning as well as to encourage me to walk more when I have an errand that can be accomplished in my neighborhood.

I can also use Evernote to help with itineraries and notes for my larger trips.

What's next?

I am currently experimenting with IFTTT recipes to see what I can automate so that I can make this as seamless as possible.  After I have finished automating my system, I will do an assessment on August 1st to see what I have learned from this experiment.

Do you have experience in quantifying your life?  What have you learned from the experience?