Use your target language to learn something new

Since the middle of last year, I’ve needed to learn a number of new Excel skills to manipulate and analyze data at work; for the most part, this has meant paying regular attention to youtube videos by Bill Mr. Excel Jelen, and Mike Excelisfun Girvin.  They have both quick and easy “here’s something you might not know about Excel” videos, as well as longer “clear and concise instruction of an Excel function” videos.  In addition to their own ‘shows’, they also get together and share unique approaches to the same excel problem and share their differing answers together, as part of an ongoing series of “Dueling Excel” episodes.  I’ve learned so much from these videos, as well as their books (many available at my local ibrary).

Excel in French?

A while back, I wondered if it would be hard to track down similar Excel videos in other languages.  As it is with most things these days, all I needed to do was turn to Google and ask “comment utiliser index match excel youtube“. Once a youtube video that was remotely close to what I was looking for opened up, I was set— Youtube’s “suggested videos” eventually guided me (as expected) to videos with a decent number of views.  Without trying very hard, I found a short video introducing the =VLOOKUP function, which is evidently called the RECHERCHEV function French– voila!

Other hobbies?

If learning Excel in another language isn’t your thing, what about guitar?  In English, you can have James Taylor teach you how to play Fire and Rain, himself. If happen to enjoy the guitar and also want to learn Brazilian Portuguese, why not try learning how to sing and play a song? Or just sing along…. or just play along.. etc. etc.


I don’t know how to say “how to play guitar” in Portuguese, so I used Google Translate, and then used copy/paste to put the results, “como tocar guitarra,” into a google/youtube search.  Once you start adding in the names of artists and songs that you like, you may find something.  In my case, I ended up finding a high-quality guitar lesson for Caetano Veloso’s ‘Sozinho’.  The video wasn’t done by Caetano Veloso himself, but this teacher quite cleverly incorporates great on-screen tabs as well as original audio from the song.


What if the language level is over your head?

At this point, I don’t understand more than a few words of this video (i.e. I don’t speak Portuguese); however, looking at the guitar instruction, it’s pretty clear that it’s a good video (over 80,000 views at this point).  If I stuck with this video long enough to pick up the song on guitar, I’m confident that at least a few of the phrases from the teacher would stay with me.

Don’t torture yourself

If you don’t feel like learning the whole song, remember you might just want to try learning the chorus before moving on to another song.  I don’t think I would ever encourage people to treat these kinds of videos as something to memorize; however, if you’re not using your target language as a tool for learning something new every once in awhile, then you may find that this kind of exercise is an interesting change of pace.

Again– if Excel and Guitar aren’t your thing, what about French instruction on how to cook?  Are you a student in the Sciences? Why not listen to how a French math teacher explains integral equations?  There’s nothing really revolutionary about anything that I’ve written here, but I think many language learners would benefit from giving it a try.


Take a happy approach

japanese calendar 人生は今が勝負であるJust scanning some images from an old box of papers and pictures.

This quote was one of many from a calendar that I had when I was in Japan–each month would greet you with a no-holds-barred Buddhist edict that you could try and pull into your life.

This particular quote reads “人生は今が勝負である、今を喜ばなければならない”, which you might (liberally) translate as “In life, the fight is for the here and now; you have to create happiness out of this moment“.

Take what you wish from the quote, but what comes to mind today is how easy it is to think of the long walk to competency in another language as some sort of unbearable burden that you have to carry until……when?

When I think of the most successful language learners I know, most of them have simply embraced the challenge as part of their life.   Joggers keep jogging, even in inclement weather; golfers keep at it, even when they’re totally frustrated.  Perhaps you have a similar example from your own life.

Just like hard-core sudoku die-hards delight in a particularly challenging puzzle, try to find a happy approach to your language learning—those challenging days are really a mark that you’re improving and ready to take on new things.  If you can keep that thought in mind in the middle of those moments when you ‘just don’t understand’, or you’re feeling misunderstood, it gets that much easier to dust yourself off and keep moving forward.

What works for you?

So many arguments about ‘the best way to go’ for language learners at different levels…

The tricky part, of course,  is that what works for one person might be totally off-base for you.

Ultimately, we can only really judge ‘what works’ for ourselves—if you find yourself arguing, it’s probably a sign that you should try something different…… conversely, what works for you may not work so well for someone else…..  “learn and let learn” I guess.

The designers of most language tests (DELFJLPTHSK, etc.) are trying harder and harder to make test scores reflect real world communicative ability; are you aiming beyond standard language tests (that really only mark the beginning of the next stage of learning)?

As you consider your goals (however broadly), what works for you?

Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners

I don’t count myself as a hyperpolyglot(!), but I can definitely agree that the key to successful language learning is simply finding a way to enjoy the process.  Judging from the book review in The Economist, this seems to be part of the message of Michael Erard’s new book, Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners.

from the review: “Hyperpolyglots may begin with talent, but they aren’t geniuses. They simply enjoy tasks that are drudgery to normal people. The talent and enjoyment drive a virtuous cycle that pushes them to feats others simply shake their heads at, admiration mixed with no small amount of incomprehension.”

If you’re an active language learner, are you on an upward spiral, or are you stuck in the language-learning doldrums?  What kinds of things do you enjoy doing that other people might think of as ‘drudgery’?

[*After reading the review, I submitted a suggestion to my local library and they’ve already agreed to order the book.  I honestly can’t say it often enough: I love the Edmonton Public Library!  (update Jan 16/2012:  the book is now in the epl database]

Albertan soldier learns to speak Pashto

There was a great story in the Sunday Edmonton Journal about an Albertan soldier who learned Pashto while on duty in Afghanistan.  Definitely worth a read!  [update11/11: Journal story removed from website, but it’s still posted on the National Post site]

“By the end of his 2008 tour, the member of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, 1st Battalion, could converse. But it wasn’t until he returned to Edmonton that his studies took off. Grove bought a computer program and sought out local Afghans to talk with. He watched Pashto videos on YouTube and covered the subtitles with his hands. He’d never learned a second language before, no classes in high school, and had no previous interest.”

Read more here

This is exactly the kind of person that I’m hoping to interview for my successful language learners project— do you know anyone else in the Edmonton area who has learned to speak another language as an adult?

The photo gallery that accompanies the story has a picture of  Cpl Shawn Grove, but check out this picture of his notes—- crazy to imagine having to tell someone that “Engineers are setting off bombs”!!!  [too bad the Journal story is gone– the picture gallery included a close-up of Cpl Grove’s notes, which included the Pashto for “Engineers are setting off bombs nearby” (!)”  updated: 11/11/11]

Cpl. Shawn Grove's dictionary and notes