Overcoming fear in language practice

You might be the most extroverted person on the planet, but as soon as you start learning and speaking a new language, something in you changes and you feel a bit more shy. You’re nervous you’ll make a mistake in front of a native speaker. What if they laugh at me? you think.

Fear when speaking a new language is very normal when starting out. It’s healthy and OK as it drives us to be conscious of correct grammar and vocabulary usage. I think it’s because we don’t want to be seen as inferior or stupid, and learning a language brings us down to a baby’s level again. It’s important to remember that babies and kids aren’t afraid of making mistakes – the more they mess up the faster they learn!

You’re probably reading this because you’re looking for a practical way to get over the fear of making mistakes. Me telling you it’s OK to make mistakes is not going to help.
Here are 3 ways you can feel less shy when speaking a new language:

1. ANALYZE THE SITUATION & GO EASY ON YOURSELF

What helps is to identify WHY you’re afraid of speaking a language. It could be because you’re too shy (same tbh) or because you don’t know enough vocabulary. It’s great advice to tell someone to start speaking a language from day one, but for some people, a combination of shyness and lack of vocabulary makes this nearly impossible. Remember to be kind to yourself – if you don’t feel ready, take some more time.

If you use the wrong particle, grammar structure or word, what’s the worst that can happen? People will either correct you, ignore the mistake because they understood you anyway, or, in the least likely scenario, be a bit confused and ask you to repeat – which is a good opportunity to learn from the error. If people laugh at you, that’s a reflection of them as a person, not you.

2. PREPARE IN ADVANCE: VOCAB & PHRASES FOR SPECIFIC CONTEXTS

When I was working as a design intern at a Japanese company, I was VERY scared that I wouldn’t understand anything during meetings and presentations. It’s impossible to know what words to expect, but luckily I had an idea of what we would be talking about. It helped me a lot to look up words I suspected I might hear during the internship. I built vocabulary lists and example sentences of design-related vocabulary. In this way, I taught myself. You can’t find a textbook for every topic under the sun, so taking matters into your own hands and creating your own language learning materials boosts your confidence and helps you improve faster since you’re learning something that has direct value to your life.

You may even want to write out a full conversation the way you imagine it going. I do this for job interviews in foreign languages a lot. I have taken many job interviews in Japanese and Korean, and to ease my nerves, I like to write out what I expect my interviewer to ask me, and how I’ll answer accordingly. It’s an effective way to learn new vocabulary too.

You might be interested in: Tips & Tricks for Vocabulary Acquisition

In the case of online interviews, I pasted some vocabulary cards on my wall and laptop screen for quick reference. Obviously you can’t do that when you’re talking to someone in the flesh – but people will certainly understand if you pause for a while to try and look for the right word. If you cannot remember or don’t know a word, you can always talk around the word and describe it in another way. If you don’t know the word for “cake” for example, but you know the words “sweet” and “food”, you can say “sweet food” and they might say “cake?” in return.

3. PRACTICE IN A SAFE ENVIRONMENT

Just like practicing a speech for a presentation, you can practice using new words and phrases in a safe environment until you’re ready to use it with a native speaker. This could be talking to yourself, a pet, a chatting partner online, or a tutor. My favorite method is talking to people on voice apps. When I can’t see someone’s face and they can’t see mine, I feel less ashamed of making mistakes.

For practicing Mandarin, Japanese and Korean, I use an app called Goodnight. It’s not really for language exchange per se, but it’s a great way to be connected to people around the world via a phone call. Since it’s just a voice chat, you don’t even need to know what the person looks like, and you can practice talking to them in your target language. The worst that can happen is one of two things: 1. They’re a creep 2. They hang up. No biggie, right? In the former case, just cancel the call and move on. If they hang up on you – no worries – you can just dial to connect to the next person. It’s a very effective way to improve your pronunciation too since you’ll be hearing your target language so much! Other apps you can look into are Saito San, Kakao Talk and Wakie (click those links to see me practice Japanese and Korean on apps!) You can try Omegle too but it’s full of creepy people.

Lastly, remember not to take language learning too seriously. Your goal is to communicate with others, right? It’s counter-effective to worry about using the right words and grammar each time you try to say something. Rather be natural and throw in a bunch of words hoping it makes sense, instead of staying quiet and missing the point of communication. Your listener will more often than not help you in the right direction.


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Women In Language 2019 is coming!

Women In Language is a three-day, online seminar featuring some of the most influential women in the online language-learning community. From 7 to 10 March, more than 30 female speakers will be sharing their thoughts on language learning and culture. If you haven’t already, make sure to register here for Women In Language! There will also be raffles and exciting events where you can interact with speakers during their calls. And it’s all digital, so you don’t even need to leave your couch.

Speakers will be presenting on the following topics, as stated on the Women In Language website.

  • Learning Languages – talks for learners of any level who want to learn effectively with winning strategies and masterful methods
  • Living and Working with Languages – tips and shared experiences about international/intercultural love, cultural differences, running a language-based business, volunteering, language jobs and stories of how languages can change your life
  • Travel with Languages – stories from the road, travel tips, retreats, and introductions to other countries and their languages
  • Language Discoveries – NEW FOR THIS YEAR! Minority or unusual languages, little-known communities and quirky learning techniques that usually don’t get center stage

I have the honor of speaking alongside some of my favorite polyglots, like Ophelia Vert, Abigail Lang, Language Bae and more! My talk is titled Identity Crisis: The ups and downs of living, working and dating in a foreign language.

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Register for Women In Language here! 

Tickets are $29, meaning its only $1 per speaker – you can attend all the talks on all the days if you register! Proceeds also go to Wikitongues – a nonprofit that I was a co-founder for a few years ago.

Some FAQs:

I’m a man/gender non-binary/I don’t identify as a woman. Can I still attend?

Absolutely. This is an event designed to showcase some of the many women doing many amazing things in the world of languages. That means that although the speakers are all female, the audience is definitely not. In fact, we encourage you to attend regardless of your gender. It’s important everyone sees how much awesome stuff is being done by women in language.

What if I’m busy between 7th and 10th Mach and can’t attend all the talks?

No problem! You will have lifetime access to all the talks after the event so can catch up as and when suits you. Also, you will have free access to the Women In Language Facebook Group that will be a place you can ask questions to Kerstin, Shannon, Lindsay, and even some of the speakers at the event. So you won’t be left behind!

I hope to see you there!

Credit to Women In Language 2019 for the images

How I set up my planner for 2019

With 2019 around the corner, it’s time to sort out our lives for a fresh start. Have you been consistent in using a bullet journal or planner this year? I used 3 planners this year – each book is for 4 months. It was a great feeling to finish one and start afresh in another one! For this new year, I’m going a lot more minimal and simple with my planner.

Here are things I have in my planner:

  1. Goals for the year
    1. Categorized into faith, interpersonal, personal, health, languages and work
  2. Mood tracker for the year
    1. An arrow pointing up for a good day, straight line for an average day, and down arrow for a bad day
  3. Language log for each month
    1. I’ve selected a few languages to focus on. Each language is indicated by a color dot, and next to it I’ll indicate with a symbol whether that day was passive or active studying. I haven’t made this a year view because on one day I can learn more than one language, so it makes sense to do it monthly because there’s more space on the page.
  4. Habit tracker for each month
    1. Using symbols to indicate to myself what the habits are 🙂
  5. Monthly overview
    1. A simple calendar, with 15 days on the left of a line and 16 days on the right of a line.
  6. Weekly spreads
  7. Bible verses for each month
  8. Gratitude log for each month
  9. YouTube subscriber graph

Here’s a video of my journal-making process!

I’m using color very minimally – color for meaning.
Pink is used for things like the days of the week (next to the dates in black), or a small crown on 100,000 subscribers on YouTube, heh. Each language also has a color, as mentioned above.

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What I like about having your own planner that you create is the fluidity and openness to change. If I am not happy with my weekly spread one week, I have total freedom to change it the next week! Here’s my weekly spread for the first week of January. Usually, I like to have a full page a day, but we’ll see how this goes!

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If you’re a journaler or blogger who’s interested in bujos, please let me know in the comments so we can connect!

Happy new year in advance!

Love, Lindie

How I’m studying for JLPT N3

こんにちは!
I’m taking the JLPT N3 this December. I’ve never taken a JLPT test before, and I’m not sure if my level is near N3, but I have enough time until then to formulate and stick to a good study plan.

☆ Reading practice

The Japanese novels I have are limited, but I’m going to make use of the few I have in conjunction with online sources.

offline
The first book I’m using is Read Real Japanese (Essays). There is also a version with stories, but I prefer nonfiction. The Japanese page is on one side and the English translation of that page is on the other side. At the back of the book is a dictionary with the words that appear in the book. This book isn’t specifically aimed at any JLPT level, but I appreciate the detail that the notes go into and I love learning words from a variety of sources.

I am also using official JLPT N3 practice books and do the reading tests from them. Reading is challenging to me just because of how much content there is to get through in a limited amount of time. Here’s an example of what an official reading test looks like. I’m a very hands-on learner and like to write, so after I’ve read the piece, I like to write it down.

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reading before bed
I like to read for an hour or so before I sleep. Usually I read books in English. I have quite a few novels and nonfiction books from Japan, so I think now is the perfect time to push myself to read them. I’ll read with a highlighter and highlight the words I don’t know, and look them up in the morning. Currently, I’m reading 考え方のコツ

online
JapaneseTest4You has lots of JLPT activities catered for different levels. I’ll be making use of their N3 Reading practice tests to make sure my level is on par with the standard. I’ve noticed I read rather slowly out loud (much faster in my head), but I’m concerned about my reading speed for the test. It’s important to read fast but retain information so that you’re able to answer the comprehension questions about the section. I need to learn to read faster and more accurately!


☆ Kanji and vocabulary

online & offline
Every time I encounter a word I don’t know, I’ll write it down and make sure I know the correct stroke order. I’ll transfer it into my N3 vocabulary book and review it often. I don’t like flashcards, so I’ll stick to vocab lists on paper. It’s key to remember not to memorize single words. The best way to get Kanji in your memory is to learn it in the context of a sentence. For that reason, I prefer writing longer sentences down than single words when I’m learning new Kanji.

For me, the best way to learn Kanji is to learn it in the context of words and sentences rather than single characters. For this, I like to use jisho.org to look up a character and then see the example words for it. You can see how I use Jisho to practice Kanji in this video:

Then since I love example sentences, after learning the Kanji I will go on either tangorin or weblio and look for sentences that are at my level and one or two above my level. While doing that I’ll often encounter a new vocab word or kanji and then kind of do the same process for that word.

online
One of the best websites I’ve found for Kanji is renshuu.org. I need to make a conscious effort to use it more, though! Renshuu has quizzes, games and goals you can set for your Kanji learning. You can select which level (JLPT or Kanji Kentei) you want to review.

textbook
I am using the textbook called Kanji Isn’t That Hard! which I checked out at the library at my local Japanese Embassy. I can see the book is for beginners as it uses pictures to illustrate how the Kanji is built up, but what I like about it is that it explains the build of the Kanji in both Japanese and English. So just by reading the explanation of the character, I also learn new words. In my Kanji notebook, I write down the character, it’s stroke order, and the kun/on-yomi. I practice writing the character over and over until I don’t have to think about which stroke comes first or last. It should be a natural hand movement without too much thinking. Sometimes this means writing it 5 times, sometimes 50. I make sure to say the pronunciation of the Kanji while I’m writing it.

For other vocabulary acquisition, and since I like to learn through conversations and context, I’m using Japanese For Busy People III. It’s not specifically catered to JLPT N3, and it’s actually a bit easier than N3 would be, I think, but it’s great for a holistic approach to Japanese learning. Each chapter has a main conversation, and then it goes over grammar points with lots of practice exercises. At the end of each chapter is a Kanji section.

☆ Practice and immersion

1. I’ll be using the app Goodnight to practice Japanese, although it’s mainly used by Taiwanese people. Some Taiwanese people on the app speak Japanese too. I found a good friend who lives in Japan and though he’s Taiwanese, he’s on N1 level. We speak Japanese together. Talking to someone on N1 level is great because they’ll use different vocabulary than someone on my own level would.

2. I might also use the app Saito-san to broadcast in Japanese. You can have a little broadcast room and viewers can join while you speak about various topics. I did this a few years ago and you can see my video of it here.

4. Changing my phone, apps and laptop settings
I changed Spotify, Facebook and Instagram to be in Japanese, and I also set my phone language to Japanese. I have a separate Twitter account for tweeting in Japanese and following Japanese accounts too. Finally, I’ve gone as far as labelling all the folders on my laptop in Japanese. This won’t guarantee me passing JLPT N3 of course, but just seeing Japanese and seeing Kanji every day helps remind me what my goals are.

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I’ve labelled my laptop folders in Japanese!

5. My daily planner and shopping lists
My planner notes are all in Japanese, and I often write my shopping lists in Japanese too. This helps me use Kanji I wouldn’t normally write out, and also helps me learn new words when I need to explain something in Japanese.

☆ I don’t have a daily plan

Because I have a fulltime job, and I tutor languages after work, I don’t have enough energy or time to dedicate a specific amount of time to JLPT study each day. In fact, if I tell myself to learn 10 words a day and finish one lesson from a book a week, I’m going to stress myself out a lot more. I prefer a more haphazard approach, studying when I feel up for it, and then giving it my all. Of course, consistency is key, so it’s important that I do something in Japanese each day (like listening to a podcast at work) instead of ignoring the language until I feel like it.

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6 unique ways to improve listening in any language

You sit at home and read your textbook, get all the questions right, and speed through your Duolingo and Memrise apps… but then once you have to talk to a native speaker, suddenly, you have no idea what they’re saying! Why is listening so hard?

Remember, listening is one of the most important aspects of communication. When you were a baby and you learnt your native language, did you start speaking immediately? I’m pretty sure your mom didn’t put a textbook in front of you when you were learning to say “mama”. You learnt by listening to her, right? That’s the process we need to adopt. In many languages, I prefer to listen to the language way before I dive into learning how to speak it. This way, I’ve come up with 6 techniques you can implement to improve your listening comprehension in any language.

01 | Draw it out

Listen to what someone is saying (on a podcast, on the radio, or on a TV show), and draw it out. This will help you identify intonation, so that you sound more natural when speaking, and so that you’re able to identify sound patterns in the language you’re learning. If you want to be very technical, you can draw a graph on paper with lines indicating high/low pitches, and then draw a certain word or sentence out. It’s important for languages such as Hungarian and Vietnamese, where questions don’t have a rising tone, unlike in English. Here’s an example:

Sound-graph

02 | Siri and your GPS

If you use Siri, you can change the language she talks in. What’s great about Siri is that what she says also appears in text. Siri has also been programmed to sound like a natural in each language, so you might notice subtle differences in intonation, humour, and formalities in each language. Additionally, change your phone language to your target language, and your phone GPS should start up in that language. I learnt the words for “left” and “right” in Hungarian by listening to my GPS – I didn’t even have to look the words up once!

03 | Call some strangers (no need to show your face!)

For Chinese, I like to use the app called Goodnight. Many Taiwanese people use this app, and since there’s no video feature, it’s purely a voice chat app. It’s great to hear how people answer the phone, what things they normally say when starting a conversation, and of course, to get used to natural pronunciation and filler words.

For Japanese, there’s an app called Saito-san. It does have a video function though, so be careful for people who are there for PG-18 reasons. I don’t recommend it for younger learners. If you can filter through the weird people, it’s an excellent way to practice both your speaking and your listening. You also don’t have to have the camera on either and can choose to do just a voice chat. They also have a broadcasting feature where you can host your own little live audio show.

For Hindi, Arabic, English, French and more, you can use the app called Wakie. It’s a phone-call app like the ones above, but with a wider audience. Also no camera, so you don’t need to be afraid of making mistakes at all.

04 | Shadowing

Shadowing means repeating what someone is saying. You can do this through any audio material, like the radio, a TV show, a podcast, or even music (though often, for tonal languages, tones are ignored when singing). Listen to slow news as well, such as News in Slow Japanese. By shadowing, you’ll get used to how native speakers speak, which in turn will make listening to them easier since you’ll be used to intonation and word usage. If you constantly listen to Japanese music, TV or radio, for example, you might hear a specific 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 it’ll be easier to listen to native speakers.

05 | Slow down video and audio speeds

If you’re watching a YouTube video in your target language, you can slow down the speaking speed. You can also slow own audio on VLC. Another thing you can do is use the listening sections from standardized exams to hear slow audio. On YouTube, you can find tons of videos for JLPT listening, and the same can be said for the Korean TOPIK and Chinese HSK. The beginner levels are usually spoken slower, making it easy to hear the words clearly.

06 | Learn filler words and interjections

Native speakers don’t sound like they do in textbooks! It’s important to learn filler words. In English, some filler words are “um”, “uh”, “well”, “hmm” and so forth. Similarly, other languages have their own unique ways of pausing during speech, and these often don’t appear in textbooks. You can look these words up, but the best way to learn them is by speaking or listening to natives. Watching TV shows in the language is also a wonderful way to pick up filler words. In Korean, Japanese and Chinese TV, you’ll often see filler words and sentences written on the screen like playful subtitles. These are good because you can hear the word and see it visually, helping solidify it into your memory.

It’s a workout!

In closing, remember to make listening a part of your language-learning routine. 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 and listening. Everything is connected, so by practicing listening daily, you’ll be ingraining native 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!