Language learning and creativity [Guest post]

By Mari Polyglot

Chances are you haven’t realized yet how close language learning and creativity lie. Maybe the first thing that pops in your mind is what your crafty friend Laura does while sending letters to her pen pals; but creativity is not exclusive to glitter addicts and artists.

What is creativity? Let’s see what different languages think about it.

According to the Oxford dictionary, creativity is “The use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.” But for the RAE (Royal Spanish Academy – Real Academia Española) it is simply “the faculty of creating” and “the capability of creating”. And according to Dutch dictionaries, it is “the talent to create new things and/or to be creative”. What I want you to take from this is that even though we use different words to describe something we still get to the same point: the art of making something new.

We can all agree that creativity is the art of creation. The way we create new ideas and projects is by thinking outside the box. Getting new perspectives on things, situations and relationships is what makes us leave our comfort zones and create.

Going back to the definitions before, we can see how languages open up new ways of getting a new point of view. So, even though creativity translates directly to the spanish  word creatividad, each language has a way to define it.

This phenomenon translates to many aspects of language learning. In English and Spanish we would say seventy-five and eighty-two while in Dutch and German the counting will be five and seventy , and two and eighty… And then there’s the French who will say sixty-fifteen and forty-twenty-two respectively.

Just with counting, we can see how many different ways there are to express the same concept. Learning multiple languages thus leads us to think differently and foster more open-minded ideas.

These perspective shifts are not only from a linguistic point of view. If we go deeper into other cultures, we gain many other abilities. Not only do we develop empathy towards others, love for the unknown and a big heart, but we start to be creative by mixing traditions, ways of cooking, social environments and opening up our lives to opportunities that are no longer confined to the limits of our own culture.

lindie 1

“Not only do we develop empathy towards others, love for the unknown and a big heart, but we start to be creative by mixing traditions, ways of cooking, social environments and opening up our lives to opportunities that are no longer confined to the limits of our own culture.”

Experiencing linguistic and cultural immersions help us think creatively and become more prone to finding creative solutions to any situation.

Language learning for creative people

Now we know that languages affect our creativity in a positive way. What about the other way around? How can creativity help our learning? This one is very simple and even though you can still bring your crafty side to this, it is mostly related to the way we study.

You guys are geniuses, I’ve seen it. You come up with new ways to memorize, to take notes, to learn better almost everyday! That is creativity, finding different ways to do something so it gives you a new benefit. I love seeing all of the challenges you come up with and how supportive you all are of each other’s ideas.

PS: I am not even mentioning Conlangs because that’s a whole other topic, but think about how creative and interesting are languages that come from someone’s imagination entirely. I am fascinated by the amazing linguists that are behind these powerful new languages and have created communities around them.

Creativity and self study

Like most of you, I learn languages from home using all kind of apps, books, websites and videos. The reasons why I learn from home and not in a classroom environment are first, because I can do it in my pajamas and second because I can adapt it to my needs and move as fast or as slowly as I want. Than means that even though I have teachers, tutors and friends that correct me as I learn, I am pretty much my own teacher. I have to come up with new activities, a lesson plan and a sort of balanced learning process. Of course, I don’t do it exactly as a teacher; actually, I do it without even realizing it.

Because I know that my best way of learning is by doing fun stuff, I need to come up with innovative ideas that will keep me interested and engaged during my language learning process. So my creativity comes in handy! I paint fun scenarios and then write a story behind them, I share my progress on social media to feel some sort of validation, I sing, I follow tutorials, I play games and just keep doing fun – almost childish – activities.

It is not about creating a perfect schedule or routine; the most important thing is to create powerful ways of learning that will help you really memorize and learn long-term.

Why mixing creativity and language learning?

Sometimes we underestimate the power of creation, or even worse, we think we are not capable of coming up with good ideas. In reality, we just have to think of creativity as a natural way of thinking. Changing up your language routine is not only necessary to be constantly progressing – because you have to learn different things in each stage of your learning – but also so you can stay motivated.

Once again, the point is to find innovative ways to make your language learning more efficient. If that way includes crafts, do it! It might include going to a language cafe, translating songs or playing video games in your target language.

I am sure that most of us are interested in many things, so mix and match your passions. Let one inspire the other. Find like-minded people and enjoy the language process as much as you can! Languages are everywhere, so there’s no excuse! It is time to create and learn.

Oh, and remember to have a lot of fun with it!



Written by Mari Polyglot
Illustrated by Mari Polyglot
Edited by Lindie Botes

Mari is a language enthusiast from Venezuela with a passion for teaching. She hopes to one day serve as an inspiration and guide for future polyglots.

Instagram / Twitter : @MariPolyglot
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/MariPolyglot

 

How to study Japanese grammar

Grammar is either your favorite part of a language, or the most frustrating part of a language. Here’s my guide on how to study Japanese grammar:

1. Take a grammar structure and practice writing it in your own way. Then, get it checked by a native speaker. 
For example, if you have the structure ~てみる which is to “try”, then and your example is 「この本を読んでみてください」 (please try reading this book), then you can take the sentence and replace words to make it your own. e.g.:
このパンを食べてみてください Please try eating this bread
その車を運転してみてください Please try driving that car

2. Don’t just rely on one textbook.
There are great grammar forums that you can use for reference to read more about grammar structures. I suggest the following:
Jgram (so good, even has JLPT level indicators and study lists)
Take Kim’s guide to Japanese
Maggie Sensei

3. Use the structure as soon as, and as much as you can
As soon as you learn something new, don’t just write it down in your notebook and forget about it. You can make an Instagram post using it, write a blog in Japanese using it, or even just talk to yourself or make a video where you use it. The more you say it, even if you just speak to yourself, the more it will become cemented in your memory.

4. Keep listening and reading Japanese
If you constantly listen to Japanese music, TV or radio, you might hear the grammar structure being used and then you’ll say “Oh! I remember that. Now I see how it’s being used in daily conversation”. You’ll feel good about yourself and you’ll be reminded of what you’ve learnt.

5. Get a grammar reference dictionary
My FAVORITE grammar dictionary is A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar by Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui. It’s full of examples ❤ There are 3 dictionaries: One for basic, then intermediate, and finally advanced. I use the intermediate one. I kind of use it like a reading book and just look at it for fun, which is super geeky, I know. It’s so beautiful.

6. Don’t focus exclusively on grammar. Learn from daily conversation and remember not to neglect reading, writing, and listening. Think of it as a workout. You can’t go to the gym and just do leg day every day. Your arms won’t be toned and your legs will be insane. You might be excellent at grammar and vocabulary but you may not have confidence to speak because you’ve never practiced speaking. Everything is connected, so by practicing Japanese daily, you’ll be ingraining grammar into your memory too. Just remember, practice makes permanent, not perfect… so make sure you check things with native speakers if you’re unsure.


Header Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

5 Rules for Choosing a Language Textbook

 

Buying language textbooks can be intimidating. How do you know you’re getting one with an equal balance of grammar and vocabulary? What if it is too businessy and outdated? What if it’s too difficult? What if you can just find resources online instead?

Here are five simple guidelines you can apply when you’re looking for your next textbook.

1. Establish why you need a textbook

If you’re a complete beginner in the language, getting a textbook is a good start. It helps to have a curriculum to follow, because beginners often feel intimidated and don’t quite know where to begin. If you’re intermediate or advanced in a language, a textbook will only be beneficial to you if it is specialized. Rather than chapters that teach you vocabulary and grammar structures you’re likely to know already, invest in something like a book that improves your writing through essay prompts, or a textbook specifically targeted to advanced or business language usage, if that’s your goal. Perhaps you’d be better suited to something like a bilingual novel instead of a textbook. Write down your language goals and decide what type of textbook will suit your needs best, rather than just blindly purchasing one.

2. Check for audio

You can probably (illegally) get away with downloading a PDF version of a textbook online, but it is unlikely that you’ll find the audio files that go with it. Most well-made textbooks come with a CD in the back. These CDs usually have audio files of the example sentences or vocabulary words. This is extremely important for perfecting your pronunciation. What I like to do with CDs is pop them in my car on the way to work. Even though I don’t have the textbook by my side, I can listen to the example sentences on repeat and really nail the pronunciation, as well as get used to natural grammar.

It’s up to you to decide whether or not you really need audio input. If you’re an intermediate and above learner, you probably have a good idea of how to pronounce new words. I’m still a beginner in Hungarian, and the textbook I use doesn’t have audio input. Luckily, you can work around it by using a website like forvo to look up a word, but having a CD on hand is much easier.

3. Stay away from the following:

Be careful of mass-produced “copy-paste” textbooks (i.e. a language company producing books in multiple languages in the same format. Be wary for books that claim to make you fluent in a certain number of days and weeks as well. I’d also advise against the “for Dummies” series of books – they generally make heavy use of romanization for languages like Japanese and Korean, which isn’t a good start if your aim is fluency.

Finally, don’t fall prey to the “1000 most common phrases” books – these are usually overpriced and you can definitely find common phrases online! Don’t waste your money on something you could just Google. My preference for textbooks is textbooks made by companies from the target language’s country. For example, Korean books made by Korean authors, not Korean books manufactured by large international companies.

4. Think about longevity

If you’re at a beginner stage, you tend to progress really quickly in a language. Once you’re intermediate, you might not notice your progress as quickly. Beginner textbooks are the ones that get resold and given away the most, since people work through them so quickly. If you’re able to get a base in the language by using resources online, do so until you feel you need a textbook for more structured lessons. That way, you won’t buy a book, use it for a month and need to throw it away.

Longevity also refers to textbooks that you can go back to and reference. I particularly like the Korean Grammar in Use textbooks because they have grammar structures that I can go back to and refer to if I forget the rules behind using them.

5. But don’t think too much

Use your gut to decide what book is best for you. If you think too much and look up too many options, you’ll be paralyzed and left unable to make a decision. It’s like standing in a shop and seeing 10 kinds of chocolate cereals. It would be much easier to make a choice if there were 3 cereals only, right? In the same way, don’t think too hard. If you see something that just “looks right”, go ahead and buy it! Your heart is telling you so.

All the best with your textbook hunting!

Love,
Lindie

Feeling demotivated with languages?

It’s human nature to feel like we don’t do enough. I feel the same way in many aspects of my life. If you’re struggling with this, think about it objectively and ask yourself why you are feeling this way. Do you have any proof or evidence that you aren’t doing enough? If your grades are going down, if you’re doing the bare minimum required and if you’re skipping class, then yes, you have reason to believe you are not doing enough. But if you’re putting in extra hours, reviewing your materials, engaging with materials, lecturers, online courses etc, then you have no reason to think you aren’t doing enough.

In our world of instant gratification and so-perceived overnight successes, it is becoming harder and harder to live and work with patience. You must understand that learning a language takes time and it requires a strong base and patience. Hold onto that. Language learning takes years, and nothing happens overnight.

Studying 24/7 is not effective for anyone. In fact, it will make you tired and de-motivated since your body needs rest and a break. Your brain cannot take in massive amounts of information at a small time. If that were the case, language learning wouldn’t be a journey or an exciting thing to add to one’s CV cause everyone in the world would be able to learn any language in minutes. Reward yourself for every little step you’ve taken and how far you’ve come, no matter if you feel progress is slow.

Don’t be so hard on yourself, and pat yourself on the back for what you’ve done so far. Can you see progress from a year ago to now? If so, you’re on the right track and you’ve done an excellent job. Keep going! It’s okay to slow down. Just don’t stop.

My friend Alex Rawlings said he once heard someone tell him that learning a language is like swimming in a river. If you stop swimming, you float back because of the current. If you keep swimming, no matter how slow, you’ll at the very least stay at the same place or move forward slowly.

You can do it, and I believe in you.

Check out this video I made on motivation and language learning.