My Favourite Language Hacks of 2015 2

my favourite language hacks of 2015

We’ve got three days of 2015 left! Have you started making your new year’s language resolutions yet? It’s always good to look ahead but it’s equally important to look back at the things you’ve achieved this year, and I’m sure there’s a lot!

I’ve been thinking this week about all the language-related things I’ve done this year and thought I’d share with you my fourite language hacks that have helped me move my language learning forward this year. Let’s get started!

Mnemonics for learning vocabulary

The one language learning technique that’s completely revolutionised (I’m serious!) the way I look at language learning is mnemonics – a memorisation technique that supports learning vocabulary, especially in languages that are very dissimilar to the ones you already speak or are familiar with.

Essentially, you associate words with images that help you remember the sound of the words. For example, the French word ‘gare’ (train station) sounds like ‘big pan’ (gar) in Polish so I can imagine walking into a train station where I can see a huge pan with soup bubbling away in the middle. That’s the image that will help me remember the French word.

I’ve written a post about how to use mnemonics to learn vocabulary this year so make sure you check it out if you’re not sure what I’m talking about!

I first heard about mnemonics properly in Berlin, at the Polyglot Gathering, in May this year. I went to a lecture by Anthony Metivier – a real expert in the field of memory techniques. Anthony recommended using mnemonics on a completely different level – he spoke about building what he calls ‘memory palaces’. He’s written about it on Benny Lewis’ blog so check it out if you haven’t yet.

I’ve been using very basic mnemonics for learning Japanese in the last couple of weeks and I can tell you it’s an absolute life-changer!

Language learning podcasts

2015 has definitely been the year of podcasts for me. I wrote a blog post about podcasts for learning French a few months ago but since then, my podcast-listening has reached a completely different level. You might think podcasts are so 2012 or whatever, but I’m telling you – there’s new stuff being created all the time.

language learning hacks

The three really cool podcasts I’ve discovered this year are: the I Will Teach You A Language podcast by Olly Richards, the Creative Language Learning Podcast by Kerstin Cable and the Actual Fluency podcast by Kris Broholm. Between them, they cover topics from language learning strategies, routines and motivation, to tips on learning specific languages and language missions, to developing a languages-based business.

The language-specific podcasts I’ve really valued this year are the ones made by the Pod101 guys – I used SwedishPod101 when I learned Swedish for a while earlier this year, and I’ve now been using JapanesePod101 for learning Japanese. They’re great for beginners. If you want to learn a new language and you’re not sure where to start, I really recommend that you start with them.

Apart from podcasts relating strictly to language learning, I’ve discovered some great podcasts about personal growth, productivity and self-improvement. The one that I’ve particularly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone is the Tim Ferriss Show (as a side note, Tim is not a language learning coach/blogger but he has been interviewed by Benny Lewis about how he learns languages – it’s one of the many things he’s tried learning and he’s got some useful insights – worth listening to). The majority of Tim’s own podcast episodes centre around interviews with people who have been ‘successful’ in one way or another – actors, athletes, writers, philosophers, entrepreneurs – you name it. Lots of inspiration that I’m sure can inspire you (indirectly) to get on with language learning!

SMART language learning objectives

This year has been the year of SMART goals for language learning. Many people sometimes feel overwhelemed by learning another language because their ultimate goal is so huge. ‘Being able to speak Korean’ – it sounds impossible, doesn’t it?! How about ‘learning and being able to use five verbs in speech’? It sounds much less scary, doesn’t it?

Setting SMART goals is helpful because you can break your big goal into smaller ones and tackle them one by one.

I’ve found this technique incredinbly useful and rewarding – it’s so much easier to look back and celebrate your achievements when you set small SMART goals, as opposed to just having one big one. If your only goal is to speak Spanish fluently, when are you ever going to celebrate? And how many times? Once? I don’t recommend it!

Recording my learning in the Motivation Journal

This year, I’ve been using the Motivation Journal to track my language learning progress, celebrate my little successes and plan how I’m going to tackle future language challenges. I’ve been using the journal weekly to record:

  • What’s gone well
  • What’s made me proud
  • What I’d like to improve on

This has helped me keep my language learning more focused, have specific goals that I can review frequently and keep track on my progress. Each week of the journal starts with a motivational quote as well so that’s been a great way to stay motivated and focused whenever I’ve felt a bit stuck.

The Motivation Journal

Anki for learning vocabulary

I first heard about Anki earlier this year – I know, I’m so behind everyone else. Anki is a piece of software you can use for learning vocabulary. It’s based on a technique called spaced repetition – revising words less and less frequently, until they stick. It also identifies words that you struggle with a little bit more, and forces you to revise them more frequently.

Not reinventing the wheel

Believe it or not, other people have learned languages before you. There are plenty of techniques, tips and hacks around that have worked for others. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel! I’m probably stating the obvious but I’ll be honest with you – until this year, I’d been quite an independent language learner. I would work out my own strategies and routines, and only occasionally go to others for help.

This year, I’ve had so much fantastic support from the language community – thanks guys! There are so many ideas floating about and everyone is really happy to share them. It would be a real shame to not make the most of it!

If you’re learning a language and struggling with a specific aspect of it, reach out to your audience, such as your Facebook friends or members of a group you’re part of. That’s what I did when I had no idea where to start with Japanese. I hadn’t even realised how many of my Facebook connections could speak this language! I also got lots of useful tips for working on my German when I spent a few days in Berlin during the Polyglot Gathering in May.

Next year, whenever I’m stuck, I’ll remind myself that others have been there before, and won’t hesitate to reach out to my wonderful network of language learner friends.

Stock phrases and conversation starters

Image: Pepe Pont

Image: Pepe Pont

One of the things that have helped me take my foreign language conversations forward this year has been having pre-prepared stock phrases and conversation starters to hand whenever I’m faced with a conversation in the language I’m learning.

What do I mean by stock phrases? Fixed phrases I can use in a conversation, for example, to say I agree with my conversation partner, to ask something about them, to express a feeling (e.g. surprise, disappointment or excitement). I now practise such phrases in advance and have them to hand, and fall back on them whenever I feel I need them. They make me sound more fluent and more confident about my language level.

Similarly, I’ve found it useful to consider some possible conversation starters in advance. What can I talk to my conversation partner about? I can ask them about their interests, what they think about this and that, or tell them about an interesting book I’ve been reading. I’ve tried to practise these in advance to feel that I’ve got something up my sleeve if ever I’m stuck.

Listening for sound combinations

This is something that’s really helped me take my listening skills in a few languages to a new level. I always used to listen for comprehension but focus only on individual words and phrases. Something I’ve tried this year is listening for sound combinations.

For example, what does X sound like when it’s followed by Y? What does it sound like when it’s at the beginning of a word compared with when it’s at the end? Is it ever silent? When listening for sound combinations, I’ve found it useful to forget the meaning of the message altogether and just focus on individual sounds. It helps so much!

What are your favourite language hacks of 2015?

What are the language hacks that have helped you take your language learning to the next level this year? Share them in the comments below or get in touch to let me know!

Thanks so much for reading 5-Minute Language this year, guys. I really appreciate it! Let’s make 2016 the best year in language learning ever – happy new year!


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  • Cool post Agnieszka! I totally agree on the point about podcasts. I’ve been using the innovative language series podcasts for French, Turkish and Spanish and they’re fantastic!

  • niko d.

    I am using LWT (Learning With Texts – just google it) every day, and it’s a fantastic piece of software, and it’s totally free! By reading interesting material you learn vocab just by reading immersion.