Smile Train is an organisation very close to my heart, since I was one of those cleft babies – but lucky enough to grow up in a country where repairs are routine. It makes my heart sing to see the charity sharing that opportunity with those who might otherwise never get the support they need.
First and foremost, posts like these give us that heartwarming sense that there are good people doing good things in the world. We certainly need some of that lately. But it’s also a reminder of how powerful it can be to combine language learning with your passions for activism and goodwill. It cross-references your worlds, and paints another corner of it with your target language.
Plug In to Multilingual Charity Initiatives
Smile Train in Spanish found me this time. But many global charities, like Smile Train, Cancer Research or the WWF, have information sites catering for many different regions and languages. A quick Google, like WWF España, for instance, is a great place to start looking for them.
Most also offer newsletter signup in those languages. Newsletter campaigns tend more and more to be packed with rich media, serving short and snappy update videos direct to your inbox. Like hacking your socials to drip-feed target language effortlessly, this is another way to lock in language practice regularly and unthinkingly.
As well as show support for your favourite causes.
What’s not to like?
Lastly, remember that there’s more than one way to support your charity. If you’re not in a position to donate, just signing up and sharing on social media is still valuable awareness-raising.
And if you’re doing that in your language learning social channels, you’re helping fellow learners, too!
Where to Start?
Need some inspiration? Here is my unapologetically unimpartial list for some examples! But charity is personal – make it your own.
It’s not all work and no play, though. The post reminded me that keeping up your languages isn’t about interminable formal study sessions, or filling all your spare moments with strict heads-down books-open calendar scheduling. There is a place for that, of course, and many of us happily geek out over it.
But too much intensity will burn the shine off anything in the long run.
One antidote to this is to foster brief but very regular habits, or daily tactics. These draw on the trusty old little but often approach. But there’s a second, even simpler method for working this sage advice into your day: putting language in your path. Create an environment in which you naturally bump up against foreign language material in the course of your day-to-day, even when not officially studying.
Setting this environment up requires just a little initial planning. It involves putting together a multilingual manifesto: a plethora of personal polyglot policies which create effortless exposure to language.
These tweaks, or displacements, help shift your focal centre to target language interactions with the media around you. Most importantly, they are dotted around, and embedded within you day. They are the kind of activities that work just as well for one or two languages as they do for handfuls of them at the same time – especially if you have both active and maintenance projects.
Here are a couple of my own personal favourites for levering in the languages almost imperceptibly!
Languages on Drip
I am a news junkie. I can’t help it – I just love knowing what’s going on. Under normal circumstances, I will be checking live UK news outlets multiple times a day. Yes, I acknowledge that this can be an unhealthy addiction in current times!
First, I shuffled my links and icons so that foreign sources (like the excellent NRK app from Norway) were more accessible. Next, I turned off notifications from English-language news apps, and turned on those in other languages. This is incredibly useful; I now get regular snippets popping up on my phone in multiple languages. I hear a ping, and get a little reading tester in any one of my languages. Bite-sized practice, drip-fed at regular intervals: perfect.
There’s another positive side-effect. The news is engaging again – the Fleet Street-induced media fatigue has subsided!
Subtitles and Chill
News-fixing via notifications is the perfect example of a zero effort change to make language pop up in your everyday. Another is to tweak your defaults on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Of course, the obvious (and most full-on) language learning advice for using streaming is to watch foreign language series or shows dubbed into your language(s). But that can be quite hard work, and there is actually no need to max it out all the time. Heaven knows, watching nothing but shows in a language you’re still learning can frazzle the mind.
Instead, simply switch target language subtitles on by default. That way, there is always some foreign language content in front of you, even when you just want to relax and not bombard your brain too much. Your eye will wander to the bottom of the screen now and again, catching the odd new word or interesting translation. Believe me, I’ve picked up some very interesting Polish vocab watching Star Trek Enterprise.
And of course, the full-blown, polyglot, stereo experience is always there when you’re ready for the mental gym.
Switch Your Sauces
Of course, you don’t get more everyday than food and drink. And foodies can mix it up a bit by introducing a couple of kitchen-specific personal policies.
If you regularly cook from scratch, switch your sauces… I mean, ahem, sources. Find a target language recipe book or website, and commit to find dishes from there alone. It needn’t be for every meal. But once or twice a week, banish your native language from your meal prep.
This trio has worked a treat for me lately. But you can find polyglot tweaks to put languages in your path in all corners of your life. From gaming, to exercise, to background chatter while you work, there are ways to study multiple languages a day yet not be studying 24/7.
So what will your multilingual manifesto look like?
This week I’ve been practising my languages alongside tuneful trolls and celebrity sambas – all thanks to a bit of franchise hopping.
International rollouts of TV franchise successes are nothing new. I remember my excitement in the early noughties on discovering that the UK’s Pop Idol had a German version. Yes, it had the slightly unwieldy name Deutschland sucht den Superstar (Germany is looking for the superstar). But it was the same glitzy, shiny, melodramatic format that I loved in the UK.
Back then, of course, it was still pretty difficult to find clips online to watch (28.8k modem, anyone?). Needless to say, I came back from a trip to Cologne that year with both the series CD and DVD. I still have them somewhere, in my piles of foreign language authentica.
Nowadays, of course, it’s a completely different story. With whole shows widely available through national broadcaster platforms, there are few barriers to enjoying overseas versions of your favourite shows.
So what’s so great about franchise hunting as a language learner?
Franchise exports are excellent language learning resources for a number of reasons:
the format is familiar, so you can guess a lot of vocabulary from context
they are fun to watch, especially if you are already a fan of the original
franchise exports are often some of the biggest shows, so are both really easy to find, and have lots of supporting material on social media channels
transplanted shows often include local twists that give an insight in your target language culture
they can be a stepping stone to get to know well-known personalities in the target language country, which you can then track down in more home-grown shows
‘Easy to find’ is always a winner for language learning resources, of course. The simplest way to track down a particular franchise in a foreign language version is to locate its entry on Wikipedia. For instance, on the entry for The Masked Singer, you can find out local names for the show’s incarnations, and marvel at just how far the show has travelled.
The online encyclopaedia can throw out some quite surprising facts, too. Before my franchise hunt, I would never have guessed that the Masked Singer started life as a South Korean series. Now that’s a great excuse for Korean learners to watch some gloriously silly TV – not to mention further temptation in my way to learn Korean some day!
Once you’ve located the show itself, you can then follow its social media trail for even more authentic material. Instagram is great for short texts and videos. For example, Skal vi danse? – or ‘Norwegian Strictly’ to UK viewers – features bite-sized interviews and behind-the-scenes presentations which make for great listening practice. Likewise, the comments are great for reading some often very colloquial language (if you can handle the barbed tongues of irate viewers!).
Franchise telly might be as far away from highbrow as you can get with authentic material in the target language. But it can punch well above its weight as a bit of fun practice content!
Bravo, inventor of the three-minute, throwaway pop song. Not only does it provide a little well-needed escapist entertainment, but it also doubles as a fantastic little language learning tool.
I’m far from the first language learning aficionado to use music to learn, of course. Many learners arrive at a new language after first falling in love with its music. And countless language teachers regularly spice up their classroom lessons with a pinch of pop.
But why is the simple song such a great medium for vocab mining? Besides the sheer fun of it. Well, for one thing, your typical chart hit is a nice and concise text to work with. It is the embodiment of bite-sized.
Secondly, the language of popular music tends to be quite colloquial, and not too elevated. You can pick up some nice, common turns of phrase to use in conversation. That doesn’t stop it expressing some universal and familiar truths, though, as well as some lyrics that can provide lively talking points.
What’s more – and here is the clincher – pop music is just so incredibly accessible now. Where overseas music was once hard to get hold of, it is now just a YouTube or Spotify search away.
A Song for Europe
As far as prime examples go, nothing quite approaches the three-minute pop perfection of the Eurovision Song Contest entry. I have long had a deep-seated fondness for Eurovision songs as my learning tools of choice.
Also, an added benefit of choosing a Eurovision song is the excellent lyrics database Diggiloo Thrush, complete with translations and transliterations to tailor the material to any learner’s level.
But don’t let me badger you into choosing Eurovision (as if I needed any encouragement). Any song will do! After selecting one, Google for the lyrics, and begin to work through, line by line. As you move through the music, record each new term in your preferred practice / drill tool. Anki is always forever my go-to.
Adding colour to your conversation
Whatever your source, the nature of the song can provide some very colourful additions to your conversational repertoire. It is a fun game to toss out freshly memorised song lyrics to tutors mid-flow, and see how naturally (and imperceptibly!) they fit into the conversation – or not.
I currently find myself levelling up my Greek, first learned twenty years ago through Eurovision songs and island hopping. Music (much like food) simply has to play a part in any Greek learning plan, naturally. By way of example (and to spread the love), here is my working for a particularly favourite Eurovision song of mine, Cyprus’ underrated 1993 effort “Μη σταματάς” (Don’t Stop).
By going through the text systematically, you see how much high-frequency vocab you can mine from working with even the simplest of songs. And of course, you get the added memory bonus of having the words and phrases lodge in your head with a particularly sticky ear worm.
So without further ado… Ladies and gentlemen! I present to you the conductor, George Theofanous. Let the music (and learning) begin!
το βλέμμα – look, glance, stare (cf. βλέπω, to see) θολός – dim, cloudy, blurry σηκώνω – to lift up (cf., σηκώνομαι, to get up)
ο σταυρός – cross
I said it was bite-sized – three minutes of music doesn’t take long to work through. And there is some great, high frequency vocab to take away from that.
Deconstructing a favourite song
As you can see, deconstructing a favourite song in a foreign language does sometimes take the mystery away from it all a bit. Didn’t it all seem a bit more serious and credible before I translated it into complete banality? Now, it all sounds a little bit over-the-top. Walking past the debris? Everybody arriving naked? Hmm.
That said, I will always love this song, and not only for the extra vocab it’s given me. I adore how the lads are taking it all so seriously. I celebrate the oomph the backing trio are giving it. And I applaud the cheesy sax solo.
Sometimes an old, long-neglected language project will rise up and demand attention again. “Remember me, old friend?” The reasons can be many. But the call can be hard to resist. Over the past few weeks, my former passion for Greek bubbled up from the linguistic Lethe, that river of oblivion where loved ones drift off to be forgotten. And the trigger? Food.This is fast becoming a theme…
Now, this taste for all things Greek is nothing new. I was always a bit of an unabashed Hellenohile. Some of my earliest solo expeditions, learning about the world as a travel-mad youth, were to Greece. In fact, my first trip abroad on my own was island-hopping back in 1997, armed with just a one-way ticket and a rucksack. Admittedly, it wasn’t a complete success – I had money stolen from my debit card and had to come home early and dejected (although a happy ending: everything was reimbursed by the bank on my return, thankfully).
On a Greek adventure in 1997.
But naive rookie tourist mishaps aside, there is no denying the touch of paradise to the region. Cast an eye over a Santorini or Mykonos sunset and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
And yes, Greece and Cyprus have brought some of my all-time favourite entries to the Eurovision Song Contest. You know me by now – Eurovision is always somewhere in the language learning mix. Before I even began to learn in earnest, I knew a host of terms of varying usefulness. These included αγάπη (love), άνοιξη (spring), αστέρι (star), ελπίδα (hope), Φωτιά (fire), θάλασσα (sea), σταφύλι (grape) and all the other lovely things people tended to sing about in Greek at Eurovision.
In fits and starts over the years, I cobbled together what you might call holiday Greek. Although I probably never strayed beyond A1, I have always been pretty proud of that achievement. After all, it was one of my very first self-taught language projects. Very few materials were available besides phrasebooks and basic primers back then, mostly tailored to holidaymakers. But it was enough for me to Get By In Greek, as one of those 90s titles went.
Learning Greek as a purely functional, transactional language for travelling meant that there was rarely much academic rigour to that study. But as a result, when I do come to use it, even today it seems more serviceable and everyday useful than some of my more ‘serious’ languages.
Also – and this is a consequence of the performance pressure we put ourselves under with close, considered study – I think I might even be a little less nervous about speaking a language I openly admit is (very) imperfect but useable. If it works when popping to the φούρνος (bakery), that’s enough for me.
A Taste of Greek
But back to food. And there is honestly nothing quite like Greek food. It is arguably the best comfort cuisine in the world. And a chance TV encounter earlier this year stirred that long-time love of Hellenic language and culture.
And he is ready for it – he has a ton of content online, from his own recipe website to the full gamut of social media feeds, full of foodspiration. But as it stands, much of that is in Greek, tailoring for that faithful home audience.
So if you really want to access his edible world of wonder, you would do well to dig out the Ελληνικά.
As far as social media is concerned, live content streaming is one of the best and most accessible sources of authentic materials for language learners. Watching in real time is a brilliant way to feel connected to your target language right now, in the real world. And throughout lockdown, Akis* has been live-streaming from his kitchen regularly, making – and eating – the tastiest samples of Greek cooking for his fans. Let me tell you, it is hard not to get hooked back into the country and culture when a plateful of πορτοκαλόπιτα (orange pie) is staring you in the face.
Not to mention the fact that Greek, at least to my ear, comes across as one of the most clearly articulated European languages. It has a staccato, precise flow that somehow matches your perception of the word written on the page, without everything mushing together as it comes out of the mouth.
(As an aside – I have no academic backup at all to claim this of Greek. I’d love to hear of research into the clarity of Greek speech patterns if you are aware of any!)
As a perpetual Greek beginner, this makes it easier to pick out familiar words in normal, free-flowing and sometimes very complicated speech. Listening to those feeds, that handful of familiar words just pops out: γάλα (milk), φράουλα (strawberry), ψωμί (bread)… and it is so satisfying to feel like you understand. Even just a little.
So whats does my Greek revival look like? Well, a bit of Duolingo now and again is a good (if predictable) start. Appropriately, food vocab one of the first things you’ll learn in many of these courses. That has been immediately useful!
You probably know what comes next, fellow language enthusiast. With the Greek bug taking hold, out came all the old books, including one of my first ever language learning purchases, Linkword Greek.
But was that enough? Of course not. My copy of Essential Greek Grammar arrived in the post today. Incorrigible, I am.
Aren’t books almost as delicious as food, though?
Has anything inspired you back to your language learning roots lately? Please let us know in the comments below or on Twitter!
It’s the little things that keep us going in challenging times. And no exception this week, which brought a tranche of serendipitous rediscoveries that kept the housebound language learning ticking over, preserving at least a modicum of precious lockdown sanity.
Many of us now have a heap of extra time on our hands at home right now. So clearly, many of these archaeological finds proceed from the fact that a lot of surprise spring-cleaning is going on. And from old, forgotten but effective study tools, to long-misplaced books, the little things keep coming.
It was the spirit of serendipity that gave me the biggest language-learning smile-moment of the week: my old Bose SoundTouch 20 WiFi speakers, resurrected to new life.
Long shelved media equipment comes into its own. My old Bose SoundTouch 20 now serves as a precious connection to target language countries.
I’d shelved this heavy-duty media beauty some years ago, as it lacked BlueTooth. Instead, it works across WiFi only, interfacing with devices on the same broadband connection. Smaller, more portable Bluetooth speakers just seemed less cumbersome and easier to connect to now and again.
But what has this to do with language learning?
technically magic little things
Well, the SoundTouch has a special magic trick: six chunky preset buttons sitting on the top of its hefty frame. Once paired with your device, you can tune these to Spotify playlists or world radio stations of your choice. And, after that, you don’t even need your device to be connected to play them. Just tap a preset button and it bursts into life.
I put these to great use all those years ago, when the machine was shiny and new. I tuned three of the presets to foreign language music playlists on my Spotify account. The other three, I pointed at various radio station live feeds from countries of study. Then, whenever the mood took me, I could immerse myself in the target language at the touch of a button, no fuss at all.
How could I have forgotten about this wonderful piece of equipment?
Needless to say, it is sitting proudly in the living room again. This time round, it is primed with two foreign music playlists, and four radio stations: NRK P2 (Norwegian), RÚV Rás 1 (Icelandic), NDR Info (German) and Polskie Radio 24 (Polish). Instant immersion at a tap. And as always, the quicker and easier a language learning habit is to implement, the more I do it. It doesn’t get much quicker and easier than button-pushing.
What’s more, it has become a valuable portal to a global village while travel is shut down. If you are struggling with your big world suddenly feeling very small and restricted, you can take advantage of this remedy without fancy equipment. Even placing the link to a free radio app on the first screen of your phone will make the world feel a little closer.
Tidy little things
Bringing objects of love and fascination closer is a recurring theme. Not only forgotten overseas sounds, but long-missed books resurfaced during these long, quiet evenings.
The aim of the exercise was to move the books from my most active language learning / maintenance projects to sit right next to my desk for easier access. This was no mean feat; thanks to a rather hectic peripatetic lifestyle pre-shutdown, there was quite a bit of disorder to tackle.
The resulting bookshelf rummage was a revelation. Sometimes we forget how lucky we are, how much we have. From the depths of obscurity, I plucked a wealth of beautiful books that had almost entirely slipped my mind. Not defunct old tomes, but materials worth going over again (or for the first time, in some cases – the shame of it).
Treasured books are indeed some of the very best little things.
Is there anything more satisfying than reorganising your home library?
Talking of serendipity, as I sit here writing this listening to NRK P2, my favourite Norwegian language programme, Språkteigen, pops on unexpectedly. I always listen to this as a podcast, never on broadcast radio. It feels somehow more special now. All the little things in their rightful place again; the language gods are happy.
What have you rediscovered in lockdown from your language learning past? Let us know in the comments!
Such a thoroughly strange week draws to a close. The first of many weeks, no doubt, by the end of which strange will be normal. After the first run of stay-at-home social distancing, I expected to have blitzed my languages. Instead, what have I been spending my excess time on? Baking. Yes, consuming home-made cake instead of grammars. What sort of procrastinating distraction is this?
Cake by Rich – it doesn’t look much, but it was mighty tasty.
A bit out of the blue, too. A long-time lover of fast food conveniences, I was as surprised as anyone to find myself whisking and whirling in the kitchen. But then, strange things happen in strange times.
As ever, the online polyglot community came good. For some reason, baking and languages intersect quite neatly for a lot of my friends and colleagues on social media. In fact, I am the one who is late to the party; many have been sharing baking pics for as long as I have followed them, their culinary posts nestling surprisingly comfortably amongst the motivational language learning anecdotes.
And why not? Food is a cultural journey in itself. Instagram attests to the appetite for food stories from trips overseas. If anything, the connection had been staring me in the face for years. One of the biggest treats of exploring somewhere new is, for me, the food. While the planes are grounded and the borders are closed, I will really miss that.
And that leads me excitedly (and rather unsubtly) on to #LangJam! No, not cake filling, but my first time taking part in the annual surprise language dabbling weekend. As well as the international baking, this seemed like a great way to inject a bit more sugar and spice into my routine.
As for the flavour, the great jam sorting hat gave me Ukrainian for my first taste. Now, where are those recipes for yabluchnyk?
Have you rustled up your own language learning / baking crossovers? Any recipes you’d recommend? Please share in the comments!
Don’t you love a good online subscription? Netflix, Evernote, Amazon Prime – these language learner-friendly platforms have earned their monthly fee many times over for me. But I also love good value, and I won’t let myself to sign up for a new monthly service until I’m absolutely sure I’ll make the most of it. And I have to admit, I deliberated long and hard over signing back up to Audible this month.
Many moons ago, I was a contented lover of the audiobooks behemoth. But after exhausting the list of pop science and psych books I usually plumped for, it all started to feel a bit samey. My passion for the platform waned, and I eventually cancelled.
Lost that loving feeling
The problem was simply that we had grown apart. Our interests were no longer a good match. Pop-sci could only take me so far. Truly, my heart was looking to plug a big, language-learning sized hole. There was a lack of polyglot love.
This relationship just wasn’t going to work any more.
That was, until our paths crossed again, years later, and I felt a little of that former affection stirring my curiosity. So often it happens this way when it comes to serendipitous encounters with forgotten former flames.
It was searching for the audio version of Olly Richard’s Short Stories in Icelandic that Audible popped up, beaming and enthusiastic. A free first month with two free credits, with the option to cancel any time. What a no-brainier – by signing back up, I won what I sought for nothing. If, after that, it looked like things were not meant to be, I could just ride back off into the sunset.
This was my chance. Test the water, no commitments on either side. A friendly catch-up over coffee, if you will, to see where the land lay. Could that flame of passion reignite, and bring a happy ending to this private screening of Audible Actually?
Spoiler alert: the script has a happy ending. Audible had changed. The spark was back!
Not only are all of Olly Richard’s short stories volumes available in native speaker narration (some not quite out yet at the time of writing). But there is a veritable treasure of books from other European countries too, available in the original language.
In fact, there is so much material that the advanced search options now include a language setting, so you can hone in on your specific love interests and language passions. French, German and Spanish turn out to be particularly prolific languages of love for Audible nowadays.
Here’s the thing: not all of the platform’s language-learning cards are on display at first glance. Like all things love, there is a little mystery. Namely, not all the audiobook languages appear in the search settings list.
Take Norwegian. While Danish sits happily and boldly in the menu, lovingly representing Scandinavia, I was disappointed to see norsk missed off the menu. But a little search on a Norwegian title threw up some results. Phew – we were still compatible!
This is the case with the Norwegian versions of the Harry Potter books. They are all there – you just have to find the titles before searching. Those are easy enough to find on Wikipedia, amongst other places. Lovers should never have secrets – but sometimes you do have to ask the right questions.
Everybody loves a happy ending, don’t they? I have professed my commitment and will be hanging around long beyond my free trial.
Do you ever get the resource itch? That hankering for new books, DVDs and other resources in your target language, however many are still unfinished on your shelves?
Well, I get this a lot. And lately, it has been particularly chronic.
It was pondering over ordering the (quite heftily priced) Game of Thrones auf Deutsch that I realised it. I still have a ton of engaging, foreign language learning resources under my nose. They have been lying, forgotten for years, on my shelves of old DVDs.
A treasure of DVDs
It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. Back in the day when DVDs were still the thing, before Netflix rendered them all a bit quaint, I used to go out of my way to choose boxsets with interesting language options.
And often, production companies would be quite generous with the options. They overloaded those discs with as many dubbed versions as possible, maximising their market appeal.
DVDs can offer a generous helping of foreign language soundtracks.
It was building up to an iTalki conversation session this week that I started digging through my old collection for some German maintenance material. I had forgotten what a wealth of it there already was, hiding on my shelves.
But there’s more. Revisiting it all, years after they first caught my eye (and wallet), there were plenty of nice surprises. Some of those soundtracks and subtitle languages weren’t on my radar at all the first time round. Now, I was discovering all sorts of things that past Rich hadn’t a clue would be of interest to future Rich.
Needless to say, I’ve spent a good chunk of time this week enjoying past seasons of Medium in German, with Norwegian subtitles. It’s definitely saved my bank balance – although German Game of Thrones still sits happily on my wish list!
Old school benefits
In these days of podcasts and foreign language streaming on Netflix, the idea of DVDs can seem a bit, well, old school. But chances are you have a lot of this material to hand, even if it lies stored away in attics and cupboards.
And more often than not, if you’re like me, there is still a lot of use to be had from it. There is no way that I ever watched all those episodes of Medium in every language and subtitle option available. Waste not, want not!
If your shelves are wanting, then fear not. Old DVDs also represent a route for buying fresh resources more ethically, too. Charity shops are heaving with old films and TV series, often for as little as 50p a pop. Buying second hand breathes new life into old materials that might otherwise be destined for the dump.
And after you’ve eked the most out of your old favourites, consider paying the benefits forward. Donate them to a good cause, or set up a sharing circle with other language learner friends. We can create a whole sub-economy in recycled, dubbed classics!
Give your old DVDs some language learning love. What have you rediscovered lately?
Same objectives, different worlds – the polyglot and school classroom teaching communities strive for identical goals, but it often feels like they are leagues apart. It’s a perfect match waiting to be realised, as both have so much to learn from one another.
That’s why it’s always a hugely positive eye-opener when I attend teacher conferences. I’m no longer a classroom teacher myself, but I’m lucky enough to remain part of that world through my work creating language resources for schools. And as a lone ranger language learner in my free time, there are always lots of tips for tweaking my own study. This year’s #TeachLang conference was no exception, with a focus on that notoriously challenge foreign language skill, listening.
Listening: The dreaded monster
It’s no secret that listening – and actually comprehending – is one of the big, bad, dreaded monsters of language learning, whether in the classroom or for independent learners. Perhaps like me, you’ve given podcasts a go in a language you’re working on, only to feel disillusioned at how little you understand. Or maybe you feel flummoxed by those oh-so-fast responses by native speakers when travelling. Either way, listening can be flippin’ hard.
Teachers know this only too well. It can be a challenge to keep students feeling confident with such an overwhelming, brainpower-intensive task. Thankfully, there were some excellent nuggets of classroom wisdom on offer at the conference.
Martine Pillette in particular summed up the right initial approach to listening with her focus on tuning down the pressure to get everything at once. In short: you can get a lot from authentic listening resources without understanding every single word. A shame nobody told that to my inner critic years ago!
In this kinder-to-yourself method, you focus on mini-tasks at more abstracted levels instead of word-for-word comprehension straight away. For example, start by simply trying to identify the general topic of a segment. Listen out for individual words to note down, rather than grasp whole sentences. In essence, train yourself to catch gist. This kind of focused listening reminds me a lot of Benny Lewis’ active method for consuming podcasts.
Dovetailing into that was a lovely segment from Jennifer Wozniak around the use of prediction in listening exercises. Key to the predictive approach is preparation. With some basic knowledge of what the listening text is about, which words do you expect to come up?
Take a podcast on technology in Icelandic, for example. You might figure that the words tölva (computer), farsími (mobile phone) and gagnvirkur (interactive) are probable candidates for inclusion. Before listening, note them down – look them up in a dictionary if needed – and see how many of them come up on your first pass. You can tick them off, bingo-style, as you hear them. How many did you get?
Jennifer Wozniak talking at the Linguascope #TeachLang Teach Languages conference, February 2020
These are just a couple of the fantastic classroom techniques that teachers are sharing to take stress out of listening. They hardly scratch the surface, of course, and it’s well worth a rummage in live stream archive of the Linguascope Facebook page to see what else a bit of back-to-school can do for us.
As for me, I’m just off to play some Icelandic listening bingo. Wish me luck!
What techniques do you use to cope with listening practice in your foreign languages? Let us know in the comments!