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How starting over can boost your language confidence

It’s important to recognise the brain’s need for pause now and again. But it might help our guilt-ridden, study-obsessed selves to note how effectively a rest can restart our engines.

I’ve experienced this effect recently, after picking up Modern Hebrew again. Like a few languages, I’ve had an on-off relationship with Hebrew since I was very young. Just like my other ‘side’ projects, though, I’ve never run with it consistently for very long.

Not that it hasn’t been useful; a trip to Israel in 1999 and a random conservation with Israelis in a Paris bar rank amongst the great opportunities I’ve had to use it! At around the A2 level, it was certainly a working, useful knowledge of the language.

That said, I never really had great confidence in my abilities to speak Hebrew well. I drifted off into other languages and other hobbies. Then, something remarkable happened: I picked it up again after a long break.

Starting from scratch – with an advantage

What I did was to reset my Anki decks. In particular, I removed all previous scheduling information from my Hebrew cards, and moved them back into an active deck. In essence, I set up Anki to start all over again with the language.

Note that I hadn’t touched these cards in over a year and a half. Back then, my last Hebrew adventure, I’d had a course of Hebrew lessons through iTalki. During that period, I amassed around 1000 vocabulary cards. But I’d long since ‘rested’ these by moving the whole set into a dormant Anki deck.

zzzRestedLanguages - where my dormant languages go to sleep for a while!

zzzRestedLanguages (bottom) – where my dormant languages go to sleep for a while!

Something wonderful happened in the first few days of reinstated Hebrew. I amazed myself at how much I could remember. Not just words like ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’, either, but more complex vocabulary nouns like ‘driver’, ‘newspaper’ and phrases like ‘I work in London’. It was still there. I could still speak Hebrew!

Confidence lost – then refound

It might seem crazy that I sounded so amazed. After all, I’d actively learnt Hebrew on and off for a while. But I’d not spoken it in so long, I had written it off. I’d lost my confidence. And that happens so easily with languages you don’t use.

The lesson to take from it, of course, is that our brains are much more robust than we realise. We should have confidence in our abilities; we often underestimate them when we’re in the thick of learning, and it isn’t until much later that we realise how solid our first passes were.

This also serves to remind ourselves of the hard work we spent in the first place. All that work – surely it’s worth revisiting those ‘rested’ tongues now and again? You earned the right to be confident through hard work. Starting over can bring that confidence back.

Where next?

So, where next? As a perennial dabbler, I have a few to choose from. An earnest fresh attack on Greek and Russian would be a good place to start. I’ve not used either properly in a while, and definitely feel that confidence deficit with both.

If you choose to resurrect any of your former language adventures, I’m certain it can also remind you that you have everything to feel proud and confident about as a learner!

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4 thoughts on “How starting over can boost your language confidence

  1. Ron says:

    I tried using Anki for multiple languages for a while, but after some time it got so overwhelming I just stopped using it at all. After seeing those review notifications on my phone for so long (more time than I’d admit it here… **cough), I finally decided to get back at it some weeks ago. I just made a backup from my old decks, deleted everything, and started from scratch again. How did you do with your old Hebrew deck? How did you start using it again?
    For now I’m using it only with one language, Japanese, but I plan on adding Russian soon (my Russian teacher uses this google sheet table and put a lot of our sentences there. it seems such a waste for me to not be putting those on Anki already.. ). How do you handle all these decks in multiple languages?
    I identify myself with many of your posts lol
    Congrats on your blog!!

  2. Richard West-Soley says:

    Ohhhh I recognise that Anki guilt! In the end I came up with this ‘Rested Languages’ deck approach (a deck set to 0 cards a day) to save my shame at the dreaded ‘red number’ on my phone. It’s a bit more manageable now I just keep my active languages on rotation. When I’m ready to restart a language, I move it back out of my rested deck into my main ‘Languages’ one.

    It’s a bit fiddly to reset the scheduling on a deck in Anki, but I found some good tips here: https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/1432861881 The best way I’ve found is to export the deck out of Anki, unticking ‘Include scheduling information’. Then delete the original deck in Anki, and import it back from your export. A bit long-winded – surprised there isn’t an easier way to do it in Anki (although most likely many, including me, would be prone to accidentally resetting decks then!).

    A friend of mine is learning Russian with a teacher using Google Sheets – I wonder if it’s the same teacher? She is the one who taught him some of the Google Sheets tricks he shared with me (http://www.polyglossic.com/google-sheets-language-learning/).

    Thanks for the comment – really chuffed you’ve enjoyed the posts! 🙂

  3. Ron says:

    Thanks for the tips! 🙂

    Yeah, and maybe if they made it too easy to do, I think it’d be also much more tempting to just reset the deck than keeping the reviews up to date, especially when they start piling up…

    I’ll try adding again one language at a time. And not fall into the burnout trap again… ahah

    *yes, it’s the same teacher 😀 (his name is Yevgeni. One of the best teachers I’ve taken classes with on Italki btw)

  4. Richard West-Soley says:

    Small world! I’ve heard really great things about him – will have to look him up on iTalki, as I have *really* rusty Russian that is in desperate need of some reviving… 🙂

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