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My LingQ Testimonial March 28, 2008

Posted by Edwin in French, LingQ, Progress.

Some of you might have already figured out, by the lack my posts in the past few weeks, that I have been extremely busy. I have changed team recently at work, and I have been working on intense short-term projects since then.

Despite my busy schedule, my language learning progress has not slowed down in general. I have been reading and listening to a lot of French contents during this period. The LingQ statistics show that I have read close to 151,000 words in the last 3 months, which contributes to about 40% of the total number since I started using the system 8 months ago. Assuming an average article of 800 words in size, this means I have read close to 200 articles in this period!

I took a few years of French at high-school, which of course did not take me anywhere. Despite getting a ‘B’ in GCSE, I could not even conduct a basic conversation in French. I had not touched the language for almost 15 years, until the summer of 2006, when I decided to pick it up again. It was tough for me because there were not many Francophones in my area, and that I could only spend a portion of my spare-time learning. I joined LingQ in the summer of 2007, and I found significant improvement after only a few months, especially in my reading and listening.

The LingQ language learning approach focuses on input activities, namely reading and listening. This works great if the learner is in an environment where there are not many opportunities for output activities (speaking and writing). Once the learner has built up his confidence in reading and listening, he would find it much easier to improve his speaking and writing skills.

The LingQ language learning approach also emphasizes on learner’s own responsibility in his learning. He picks his own materials and the pace of learning. This works extremely well if the learner has a tight or unpredictable schedule.

Last weekend, I went to visit Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City, the first time since I started to pick up French again. I was amazed that I could understand a lot of conversations spoken around me. I was also very happy to find myself being able to exchange a few lines with the Francophones over there. What I found most astonishing was that I did not achieve this by memorising the lines from some phrase books, but the conversations came out quite naturally from my mouth.

Now I have gained more confidence in my reading and listening, I am ready to move into the next phase where I would intensifying my speaking and writing activities.


Building My Pinyin List April 10, 2007

Posted by Edwin in French, Mandarin, Progress.

A few words about my language learner progress in the last month.

I have added 450 words to my French vocabulary list, 150 words more than my original target. In order not to overload myself, I will keep the same target of 300 words for the month of April.

I have been concentrating on my French listening and reading in the past few months, though I have started doing a bit of ‘parroting’ on some simple scripted conversations last month. My experience? Very much like the ‘hamburger’ scene.

I do have a worry about my stagnated Mandarin progress, as mentioned in my previous post. So I am going to work on my Mandarin a little bit harder this month. In fact, I think I need to set some concrete goals. In the past, I have never formally built a vocabulary list for my Mandarin study. I think I am going to give it a try this month.

Here is my goal then. I am going to build a list of 100 Chinese words along with their pinyins. I have about 20 days left, so I need to on average 5 words per day for the rest of the month.

Learned Words March 2, 2007

Posted by Edwin in French, Progress, Tools, Vocabulary.
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I committed to learn 168 French words in the month of February. Here is my February vocabulary list, and the chart below is my JMemorize progress as of the end of February.

jMemorize Progress as of February 2007

I added 315 words to my list, but how many did I really learn?

Well, how do I define a word as ‘learned’? I can learn a word quickly but forget it in a few days. Even if I can remember the word a year from now, I still cannot promise that I can remember it for the rest of my life.

As I was thinking about this month’s resolution, I realized that my past resolutions of ‘learning a certain amount of words’ were not really measurable goals. I myself prefer measurable goals so that I will know if they are achieved at the end.

What I could do is to define the meaning of a ‘learned word’. For example, I could say, “All words in deck 6 or above are considered learned”. But this would present another problem. Under the Leitner system that JMemorize implements, getting a word into a certain deck requires at least a fixed amount of days. With my linear schedule, it would be 25 days for deck 6. This means I need to have all the words loaded in deck 1 in the first week of the month. I would also need to prepare for more words than enough because I am expecting to relearn some of them during the process. For a certain number of words, I have to get them right without retrying all the way to deck 6. Otherwise, I cannot meet the quota. This gives me a tremendous pressure and it is obviously against the principle of using the Leitner system.

Remember, the Leitner system is not supposed to pressure the learners. I know that once a word is in the system, it will eventually reach deck 10. I don’t want to impose any time constraint. I should try to remember as many words as I can, knowing that many will be relearned again and again during the process.

Here is my monthly resolution for March: I commit to add 300 words to my vocabulary list for the month of March. I have no commitment to learn any of them! Instead, I will let them to flow up the Leitner decks naturally.

Monthly Resolution Status January 31, 2007

Posted by Edwin in French, Progress.

At the beginning of this month, I made a new month’s resolution to learn 3 new/forgotten French words a day. This translates to 93 words in the month of January. Here is my vocabulary list so far.

Together with the unofficial word list I made up last year, I now have 279 words on my list. Building the list is a no-brainer. I got over 93 words way back in mid-January. But how can I get those words into my head? How can I actually ‘learn’ them?

Lacking of a good vocabulary building system, I need to design my own. Here is what I do. I store all my vocabulary on a spreadsheet!

The reason I store all my vocabulary on a spreadsheet is that I can manipulate them easily. I can perform other fancy operations with my vocabulary on the spreadsheet, such as checking for duplications and matching against some other frequent word lists (like this one). The best thing about using a generic spreadsheet is that it is highly portable. This means if I find a better system later on, I can easily export the entire vocabulary from the spreadsheet and import it to the new system. I can also update my French vocabulary page in my blog with just a few clicks.

As for learning the vocabulary, I am using jMemorize recommended by several bloggers. I just need to import the vocabulary from my spreadsheet into jMemorize using its import feature.

jMemorize is a free Java application that utilizes the famous Leitner system, and combined with time schedules. Words that have been known are considered to be learned until a specific expiration date has passed. The higher the deck, the further away the expiration date is set. Here is my progress as of this morning:

jMemorize Progress as of January 2007

As for my monthly resolution for February, I am going to increase the number of words, but I don’t want to be over-ambitious. I am going to double the amount of words per day to 6, which means 168 words in the month of February.

My method of handling vocabulary list is by no mean the best solution, and surely it still requires a lot of refinements. If you have any vocabulary building tips or tricks, please feel free to share with me.

My New Month’s Resolution January 1, 2007

Posted by Edwin in English, French, Motivation, Progress, Vocabulary.

How long does a typical New Year’s resolution last? A month?

We often make New Year’s resolutions for the sake of New Year. After failing for so many times, we just stop making them. Is there a way we can overcome this fate?

Say if a typical New Year’s resolution last for only a month, why don’t we try to have the same New Year’s resolution every month? Then it will last!

Personal development guru Steve Pavlina has explained the power of a 30-day trial. It seems that our determinism typically lasts for a month. What we can do is to try something out for a period of 30 days. If you don’t like it, stop doing it. Otherwise, you have the choice to continue doing it, and potentially you could turn it into a new habit.

I have already done my PCL for French, which contains high-level goals and actions. As for down-to-earth commitments, instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I am going to make a New Month’s resolution.

An article from Voice of America last year gives some suggestions of New Year’s resolutions for English learners, but the resolutions can be applied to other languages. You may listen to this audio clip here.

In summary, English teacher Lida Baker suggested 5 simple goals:

  1. Listen to the radio
  2. Listen to songs
  3. Read Children’s books
  4. Learn a word everyday (or every other day)
  5. Talk with native speakers when there is a chance

‘Learn a word everyday’ seems attractive to me. But since I am going to try it out for only a month, I might as well make a bolder goal and make it 3 words per day, as suggested by David. So what I am going to commit in January, is that I am going to learn 31 x 3 = 93 new French words.

After 30 days, if I fail, or if I reach the goal but don’t like it, I will change my quota. If I like it, I will do it for another month. If I continue doing it until the end of the year, then it has become my year 2007 resolution.

Happy New Year!

Writing My PLCs December 31, 2006

Posted by Edwin in Motivation, Progress.
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My company has this policy that every employee must fill out a Personal Business Commitment (PBC) form every year. The form contains several goals and at the end of the year, we are to write our own report and see if the goals have been achieved.

I have just spent the entire day last Friday to fill out my own report. It is really tough. Honestly, I hate writing reports, especially my own! But then they say my next year salary and future promotion depend very much on it. Please tell me if everything has not been decided already!

This is the time of the year that people start making new year’s resolutions. As far as language bloggers are concerned, I notice people like Kelly, Geoff, and Tony have already done theirs.

Some language bloggers also write progress reports from time to time. I realize this is a good thing to do for the following benefits:

  1. You have a clearer understanding of what you have achieved so far (if any), and also make plans for future developments
  2. The whole world is holding you accountable, at least you have this impression yourself
  3. You share your own progress with others. If the progress is successful, you motivate people, If it is a failure, some people may be able to offer help to you

I now have the choice of putting everything in one report, or doing each language separately. I have actually tried the former, but the report does not look good. So I’d rather do one report on each language. Currently, I am most concerned with my French progress. Therefore, I will do French first and the rest later (if I still remember).

Here is my Personal Language Commitment (PLC) 2007 for French, which contains both the progress report and goals for next year.