Neurobics

Defintion: activities or mental tasks designed to stimulate the brain and help prevent memory loss.

My favourite way to practice neurobics is to practice writing with my left hand. To bring added benefit to this exercise I write out quotes that inspire me.

At the core of neurobics is the science that these exercises help engage new or rarely used brain pathways.

Find out more at:

Keep Your Brain Alive

#10 Language Learning Hacks

Hack #1

Ambivert mind set

Neither introverts nor extroverts have the natural upper hand. Mastery of any language is a race towards the ambivert mind set.

Practical Tip

Pay attention to the strengths and weaknesses within, and in other language learners. Identify other language learners who are willing to work as a team in order to improve the whole. An introvert could try and participate more, an extrovert could try and listen more.

 

Hack #2

Creativity begins at Simplicity

Simplicity leads into complexity, and the sum of the parts is referred to as creativity.

 

Practical Tip

Identify why you want to learn a language. It could be to pass an exam, to make new friends or to travel the world, all are valiant reasons but learning without reason overwhelms the typical learner. If conversational level is the goal then throw away the grammar book, at least initially, and learn key phrases and words that will lead into conversations. A conversation can be as short as a few fleeting seconds or as long as a couple of hours but what they both create is momentum.

 

 

Hack #3

Leave I can’t at the door

Language learning can be simplified but it is not easy. There is so much more to learning a language than a new set of words. Languages are communication tools, therefore human interaction is unavoidable. Commit to never giving into the emotion that breeds the words I can’t if you want to ever speak a foreign language.

 

Practical Tip

We are all masters of the words we acquire. If we don’t use the word I can’t in our native language then we shouldn’t be learning it in our foreign language. In fact for the first few weeks or months experiment with the subtle mind trick of learning only empowering words and phrases.

 

 

 

Hack #4

Leverage Digital

It is almost unforgivable to view language learning as a bricks and mortar business. Embrace digital and learn what is important to you. YouTube can become your classroom, there are lots of other resources out there such as iTalki and Duolingo among others that are up and coming.

Practical Tip

There is sometimes a snobbery among language learners when it comes to using tools like Google Translate, use this to your advantage, two heads are always better than one. A handy hack is to use language sites with instant messaging, copy and paste the same introductory phrases into the chat, the fact that you are messaging different people each time means that there is always a slightly different learning experience, the principle of repetition suddenly becomes a little more colourful.

 

Hack# 5

Embrace your inner chameleon

There is a well-known saying that you can’t be all things to all people, this doesn’t imply that you can’t listen or be heard by all people.

Practical Tip

There is a huge difference between hearing and listening. Listening to people from all walks of life has numerous benefits. It helps us acquire an understanding of what the word culture means, it gives us different ways of looking at any situation and it gives us the practical benefit of building an extensive vocabulary around many topics.

 

 

Hack# 6

Advice is just an opinion in camouflage

Advice sometimes needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. If there are merits to a piece of advice take it on board or test it but never accept it without personal trial and error. Hacks aren’t common because they are never grounded in common sense. There is nothing set in stone to the mind-set of a language hacker other than the fact that they will find a way to become what they set out to become in the most efficient time frame possible.

Practical Tip

Learning Spanish and Italian together often comes with a hazardous warning from fellow language learners. The downside is that words may become mixed up between these romance languages. This may well be a fact but only when it is questioned does the true answer begin to become clear.

 

 

 

Hack# 7

The Power of Association

Association is a highly effective tool for learning any language, indeed it is a tool that is used by Westerners in order to make sense of Chinese, Russian and other languages of a completely different script. When written characters are viewed through a semiotic lens they begin to transform from foreign into familiar.
Practical Tip

Association also works in the real world. Situations where words are mispronounced can be transformed from blocked out moments of embarrassment to memories of laughter and joy that stick in the mind centred on the correct variation of the word.

 

Hack #8

Progression not Perfection

Languages are highly subjective. Never forget that the definition of fluency is the ability to express oneself easily and articulately. This is not entirely dependent on the amount of words you know or use but the quality of them.

 

Practical Tip

Commit to taking 5-10 minutes out of each day for a period of a week to reflect on what you talked about that day in your native language, then take a note of some of the words that come to mind. At the end of the week start translating these words and prioritise them. A flashcard system such as Anki may prove useful.

 

Hack #9

Model don’t copy

Pablo Picasso once said that good artists copy but great artists steal. What I think he meant by this was that a reinvention of the wheel is unnecessary. By all means take great ideas from other people but dilute these ideas with your own. Copying will only get us as far as the person we copy, the cost is that along the way we will lose some of our genuineness, uniqueness and general appeal to other people. A language cannot be learned effectively without interaction from lots of other people.

Practical Tip

Type the word polyglot into Google and learn from and model these people.

 

 

Hack #10

Make it fun

Language learning is a means to an end. If you discover a way to enjoy the means then, congratulations, you have successfully hacked the system!

Practical Tip

Pick a language because you are drawn to it for the best of reasons, it could be the people, the food, the weather, the culture. When you choose a language based on reasons such as these everything becomes more interesting. When I learned Spanish and Italian I started watching Cristiano Ronaldo and Penelope Cruz interviews immediately, because these people fascinated me in my native language. The meaning behind the words is a lot more important than the words will ever be.

 

Key Language Hacker Insight

Generalisations and stereotypes are a societal hack, your true personality remains constant and the different personality types transcend international boundaries, this is the single most important insight to keep in mind for a future language hacker.

Omnivert: A misunderstood personality!

Well reasoned and articulated article 🙂

MissUnderstood Genius

Pardon me if I sound like Phoebe from Friends :)(:

Disclaimer: Following questions were created while searching for characteristics of an Introvert and Extrovert as part of my training program. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Do you:

  • Need time alone to recharge their batteries
  • Spend a day at home alone with tea and a stack of novels/magazines, this sort of down time feels necessary
  • Shy away from the spotlight
  • Want the aisle seat or the back seat.
  • Resort to zoning out after you have been out and about for too long
  • Rather be an expert at one thing than try to do everything
  • Enjoy talking when you are mentally prepared
  • Exhibit increased brain activity when processing visual information and often have a keen eye for detail
  • Think first and talk later leading yourself to appear wise to others
  • Tend to have lower blood pressure than their extroverted…

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Why Language Learners can make Awesome Coders

It is estimated that there will be around 25 billion connected internet devices by 2020. The progress of projects such as ‘Project Loon’ and the development of IPv6 are making this estimation more and more plausible.

It is believed that the world is progressively becoming divided into 2 distinct groups. Those who can code and those who can’t. Even obtaining a ‘rudimentary’ knowledge of code can keep your career path firmly in your hands.

We have never been at a better point in time to take full control of our careers. The good news is that coding is not as ‘foreign’ as it may seem and it was far from rocket science that some of the best coders were raised on.

Before you decide to learn French, German, Arabic or Chinese, why not have a look at C++ , Swift, Javascript and PHP.

Reasons for language learners to code:

1. Creativity

Creativity is key in the field of Arts and Humanities. It takes imagination to be able to etch words into memory quickly. It takes a certain kind of person to look at Chinese characters like they are inanimate objects. A certain kind of person to convey the subtle nuances in a foreign text to your audience.

Creativity is key in coding. It makes life a lot easier when you have your own ideas that you want to ‘code to life’ than to depend on other ‘dreamers’ to feed you their ideas.

2. Patience

We are told from a young age that it’s a virtue, and rightly so. It’s a virtue that will serve you well in both fields. In languages you have to start from scratch. The foreign text looks completely ‘alien’ in the beginning, that is until you break it down. This is exactly what coders do. The code looks complicated until you break it down, chunk by chunk, day by day, until it begins to slowly make sense.

In languages there are languages that may seem more complicated to you than others. The key is to pick the language that will play to your strengths and not just any random language. There is no language that is impossible but things get a lot easier when you choose a language that plays to your strengths.

It is the same with coding. The front end web development languages like Javascript and PHP may appear less complicated than OS related languages like C# that are closer to machine code.

In both disciplines, start with the language that makes the most sense to you and suits your needs at that moment in time. Then gradually progress to where it is you want to get to.

3. Basic Math required.

It is generally believed that you are either good at maths or languages but rarely both. I don’t believe in this generalisation,it leads us to creating a narrow view of the world in our minds eye. Moreover, the idea that coders need to be gifted at maths is simply an illusion. I’m not sure where this idea has come from but it seems to exist nonetheless.

Coding is more about semantics and syntax than it is math. Two words that dominate the area of Linguistics and have been the topic of many a thesis. To be a good coder you need attention to detail and be able to proofread the work of others. Coders need to communicate with their teammates in order to reach common goals.  The job specification for a coding role and a language role are very similar when they are written in plain English.

The key difference between semantic mistakes in coding and language is that in coding things break in the most unusual way when there is a single character missing or in the wrong place. Nevertheless, I have met translators and coders alike who have spent hours finely combing through a piece of text in order to produce what they believe to be great work

Bonus Reason

1. The colour grey is non existent in coding.

While I enjoyed the challenge of the subjectivity of language learning, I often longed to be either wrong or right. If you agreed with the previous points and are smiling at this last, then coding could well be for you.

In coding, you either complete the code you intended or you don’t. You will never encounter two coders running the same code and getting different outputs. Computers are ‘dumb’, they only understand the binary language of one’s and zero’s. Even when we write the code in our native language, a compiler will compile (translate) whatever we say into a series of numbers which will be some sort of variation of this:

10101011101101010.

There is no blaming someone else. The computer will do exactly what you say. This can be quite an empowering feeling as you can now take full responsibility for the outcomes in your life.

A Simple Plan

The solutions to some of the biggest problems almost always involve a simplified approach. It is the same with languages.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. – Benjamin Franklin.

If you don’t  begin to develop a structured, organised and disciplined approach then you won’t excel in languages. ‘Attacking’ language learning without a plan is akin to sending a randomly selected team without a formation out to meet your opponent.

Verbs and Vocabulary Plan: 

The plan is ‘ridiculously’ simple.  It is based on the fact that people only need about 700 words and 50 verbs in order to communicate pretty effectively in a foreign language.

Block 1 (24 weeks)

Learn 15 new words a week.

Learn 2 new verbs in the Past and Present.

Block 2 (24 weeks)

Learn 15 new words a week.

Learn 2 new verbs in the Imperfect and Future.

Active Listening: The single most important language skill to accelerate your learning

Do I need to be an extrovert to be good at languages?

Introversion and extroversion lie on a continuum. I think that the vast majority of people are in fact omniverts. Most people adapt their personalities in line with the type of people they are around, in essence we are all chameleons.

However, if I had to gamble on an introvert or an extrovert then I would choose the introvert.

When did languages become about talking and not communicating?

Dedication and effort will get you far in bettering your grasp of a foreign language. Trying numerous ways of improving your level, from playing games to acquiring language exchange partners will help you. However, I think that the strongest attribute to have is to make a conscious effort to listen more than you talk. Whenever we talk too much, we need to remember the saying that we have two ears and one mouth because we need to listen twice as much as we talk.

Benefits of active listening:

1. Learn.

We cannot teach ourselves new things when we are the ones talking. If we are the ones  talking then we are only hearing things that we already know. If we try and listen more to other people then it is pretty hard not to learn something new, each and every day. I believe that if we acquire a little bit of knowledge every day, while it may seem small at that point in time, over time this will prove to be invaluable to us.

You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. You do that every single day. And soon you have a wall. – Will Smith.

2. Friends.

We all want to be listened to. As language learners we need to make friends of our target language. There is no getting around this. It is human nature that we like to talk about ourselves and what is going on in our own lives. We are all our own centers of the universe. The Moon and the Sun both revolve around each and every one of us.

Take advantage of this, make friends in your foreign language and actively listen to them. Listen to their problems, worries and ambitions. Even if you don’t have a very good level in the language you will probably have already realised that people aren’t always looking for advice. A lot of times people just want to talk things over and they end up giving advice to themselves. This fact doesn’t change across different countries and cultures.

3. Less Energy Consumed.

This depends on the type of person you listen to, but in general it is less draining to listen than it is to talk. You can then use that saved energy on other endeavors. A great ‘side benefit’ to language learning is that you get talking to people from all walks of life based on the sole fact that you speak a common language.

There is no better ice breaker than having a knowledge of the native language of the person you are speaking to. You don’t even need knowledge, you just need a genuine interest and the knowledge will come gradually. You begin to acquire some insights into many different aspects of life and you begin to see that there are commonalities across all of lives industries and sectors. You begin to see that nothing is impossible if you decide that you have sufficient interest in it.

Life is about growth – Abraham Maslow.

A French Vacation

If you want to go on holiday in France, without knowing a word of French, then you need a plan. The natural thing you think you will need to know are phrases like ‘How are you?’ and ‘My name is..’ Resist the urge to learn such things and instead learn what you need to know to get by.

If you don’t know how to speak French then don’t learn the words to start a conversation that will never materialise, due to your lack of words. Instead learn a handful of words and a handful of phrases that you need to survive.

At the end of the day, words that will help you get by and help you ‘survive’ are the key to enjoying your short time abroad.

People may tell you that the French are rude if you destroy their language with your bad French. However, in my experience, this theory is more the exception to the rule rather than the rule itself. Even if you make an attempt and fail miserably, if you do it with a smile and sincerity then 99.9% of French people will try their best to interact with you and help you. Despite what some people will say, if you succeed to try your best in the French language then the French will try their best in what knowledge they have of your native language.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. – Nelson Mandela.

Les phrases (sentences)

1. Je voudrais = I would like.

2. J’ai réservé une chambre pour deux personnes = I booked a room for two.

3. Où est? = Where is?

4. Je viens d’Irlande =  I am from Ireland.

5. J’aime bien cette ville = I love this town.

6. Je suis complètement perdu = I am completely lost.

7. Les gens sont très gentils ici =  The people are very friendly here.

8. J’ai besoin d’aide = I need help.

9. L’hôtel est très agréable =  The hotel is very nice.

10. Je voudrais louer une voiture = I want to rent a car.

11. Avez-vous une carte? = Have you a map?

French people use the verb ‘aimer’ more frequently than the verb ‘adorer’. In fact, to say I love you the French say ‘Je t’aime’ and not ‘Je t’adore’.

Le vocabulaire à savoir (the vocabulary to know):

1. s’il vous plaît (formal) s’il te plaît (informal) = please

2. une bière = a beer

3. une bouteille de vin = a bottle of wine

4. le restaurant = restaurant

5. les directions = directions

6. la plage = beach

7. le soleil = sun

8. une voiture = a car

9. l’eau = water

10. le magasin  = shop

11. le cinéma =  cinema

12. la pluie = rain

13. ça = that

14. là-bas = over there

15. par là =  that way

16. à droite =  right

17. à gauche = left

18. tout droit = straight ahead

19. la côte = coast

20. la rue = street

21. la route = highway

22. l’essence = petrol/diesel/gas

23. l’office du tourisme =  tourist office

In France, there are 2 greetings you will use as a tourist:

Bonjour = Good Morning, Hello.

Bonsoir = Good evening, Hello.

(Bonne nuite is only used when you are going to bed).

How to Learn a Romance Language

1. Don’t learn every verb tense.

 

There are lots of verb tenses in any language. However, you will eventually discover that you only need a strong grasp of a handful of them. Normally teachers will teach you about all the exceptions to the rules. My advice is to forget about this and pick out the verbs you need to know.

 

When it comes to tenses I have discovered that in the Romance languages you only need to know 7 maximum, and that is at a near native standard. I have learned that learning the Present and the Past are the first 2 most important tenses to learn. This is followed by the imperfect tense.

 

It may come of a surprise to some people that the future tense isn’t mentioned among the ‘sacred three’. This is because you can construct sentences in the future tense without actually using the future. In fact, from my experience of French, native speakers tend not to use the future tense to talk about the future. e.g.

 

French people will often tend to prefer”. 

“Je vais aller” instead of “J’irai”.

It’s like in English, more people will tend to say:

“I am going” rather than saying ‘I will go’.

 My prioritisation List on Verb Tenses:

  1. Present and Past (Beginner).
  2. Imperfect and Future (Intermediate).
  3. Conditional and Subjunctive (Advanced).
  4. Imperative (Orders).

2. Become aware of what you talk about.

 

One of the most ineffective ways to learn any language is to randomly learn words and phrases. If you don’t have some sort of a coherent plan then naturally the way you communicate in your foreign language will not be very coherent either. If you learn the right words then you need to learn less words – 750 words constitute those that are used every single day by every person who speaks the language. (How to Learn Spanish).

 

In order to progress naturally and  quickly in any foreign language the age old adage ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’ is very true. I would advise that you get as creative as possible in the planning stage in order to accelerate your learning when you do start.

What worked for me, was a plan where I consciously became aware of what I talked about most often. I then broke these topics up into the most frequent words I used to construct these sentences.

Once I had identified the words to learn I then started watching Youtube videos in the target languages of topics that were of interest to me in my native language. Within a week of starting my Spanish learning I was watching interviews of Cristiano Ronaldo and understanding some key words.

 e.g I learned the Spanish words for:

 

football.

half-time.

to enjoy.

disappointed.

win.

lose.

3. Watch the same thing more than once.

 This is something I never do in my native language but something that I will often do in a foreign language. I will usually leave a gap of a few weeks or months in between viewings. I wouldn’t watch every video, just the one’s I enjoyed. This task showed me how I was progressing and kept me motivated. I find it very rewarding, often even amusing, to see what I can now comprehend that I couldn’t before.

When choosing something to watch I have found that the daily news is the best for beginners. movies are best for advanced learners.

The reason being that the daily news will not use a lot of technical jargon. This is because they have a mass target audience and they don’t wish to alienate any major sector of society.

 Movies can be very specific and they also use slang. Movies are generally very inaccessible for beginners, even with subtitles.


4. Don’t over focus on perfect pronunciation.

 I am no good at accents. Ask me to do any Irish accent and I will fail miserably. At this stage I probably wouldn’t even attempt it. It isn’t something that comes natural to me and it isn’t something that I desire to perfect, there is so much more I can be doing with my time. When I started to learn French I was put off by the fact that the pronunciation seemed so different and was seen as such an important skill to acquire. Thankfully I started to realise that I should just go with the flow and concentrate on what I was good at and the rest would fall into place with time. I speak 4 languages and I cannot roll the ‘r’s’ in Spanish. However, I don’t think that many people who can would swap my skillset for this.

I find it illogical to start learning a language by focusing on perfecting your pronunciation. Learn the words and verbs, start talking as soon as you can and make mistakes and learn from them. If you pronounce something really badly, learn to laugh at yourself. Learning a language is as much about being unique and relatable as it is about technical ability.

 Languages are in essence social tools, used by human beings as a means of communication. You aren’t learning coding, you should therefore have as much fun from human interactions as you can. Learn to laugh at yourself while language learning and you will have acquired much more than just the capacity of speaking in a foreign tongue.

5. Be authentic and avoid the perfection myth.

 Don’t try and be perfect. All that is required is that you be your authentic self. One of the most energy sapping things to do in this world is to try and please other people. “You can’t be all things to all people”. This isn’t to say that your personality won’t change and grow. One of the great things about language learning is that it improves people’s lives for the better. You will become more open minded, have a wider circle of friends and you will be more confident in yourself.

 

The best piece of advice that I have obtained is that you have to keep in mind that not everyone is going to follow you. As Seth Godin would say, you need to build your own ‘tribe’. You need to attract the people you feel comfortable around because that is how you can progress and that is how you can be at your optimum level of happiness.

6. Learn to become a good conversationalist.

 I think there is a misconception out there, among a lot of people, that you need to be an extremely outgoing extrovert to be a good conversationalist. I have discovered that in order to progress with languages  it is more important to be a good listener than it is to be a flamboyant talker. By listening you will acquire new words and new insights.If you spend all your time talking and not actively listening then the progression timeline will become larger.

7. Be open minded.

 Being open minded is one of  the key hacks to building an extensive vocabulary. By being open minded you will attract more people to you. You will find yourself talking and listening to a lot of different people, from all walks of life.

 

If you speak to the same type of people all the time then your vocabulary will be limited to that subset. Speak to people from multiple subsets and you will be well on your way to becoming bilingual or multilingual.

8. Be creative and ‘unrealistic’.

 Human beings tend to fill up the time allocated to them to do a task. If I gave you 5 years to do the same task you could do in 5 months then I have no doubt that basically the same progress will have been made.

 With language learning the only limit is placed by yourself. If you can decide what it is you are setting out to achieve and what sort of a timeframe you expect to achieve it in, then you are more than half way there to achieving it. There is great power obtained from making a decision and there is even greater power from taking responsibility

9. Travel if you want.

 In my opinion, one of the most wonderful things to learning a foreign language is having the opportunity of travelling to foreign lands. There is nothing more exciting than living in another country and making yourself adapt, nothing more challenging than making new friends in a new environment. Travelling is a way of seeing the world and also being an ‘ambassador’ for your own country.

Through travel you begin to see how diverse the landscape of the world is. You may also begin to realise that while the landscape and culture may be vastly different, the diversity of human personality is surprisingly constant. I have never been to a country where all its inhabitants were of the exact same mindset, and that mindset was the polar opposite to my mindset.  There is a ‘John’ and a ‘Mary’ in every corner of this planet.

10. Be polite.

This is a simple concept but it is one of the most effective. Human beings are creatures who usually tend to reciprocate emotion. When learning a foreign language, and making lots of mistakes,  you begin to see more clearly the merits of trying to become a polite and courteous person. Being polite and making an effort will be appreciated by the people you are trying to communicate with and their tendency will be to try and help you rather than ridicule you.

Language Learning

Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.

In my former years of language learning, I must admit, I couldn’t ever imagine being capable of speaking another language. I felt overwhelmed. I felt the topic was too broad to overcome in a feasible time frame.

I couldn’t see myself ever attracting non English speaker friends. I couldn’t see myself speaking in a different accent. I’m not capable of doing accents in English so how was I supposed to perfect an accent in a different language.

My grades were average and more importantly my progress was too. Realistically speaking it would take me years to learn French and it did.

Being realistic is the most commonly traveled road to mediocrity – Will Smith.

Take a different path and leave a trail.

Four years of University later, two years living in Francophone countries and I could finally say I could speak French. I was happy to be able to call myself bilingual but then a new problem arose. I wanted to become multilingual. However, I had little desire to spend years at it. I preferred to speak in months.

A solid house was never built on a questionable foundation.

I decided that I wanted to learn Spanish and Italian. This time I took a different approach. I did my research. I formulated a plan. I remembered what had and hadn’t worked, when I learned French, and then I took my first step into the unknown.

You can’t construct a sentence without using words.

Learning should not be drudgery, it should be fun. I don’t particularly like learning grammar and I don’t like spending time on perfecting my pronunciation. Therefore I didn’t do either.

I do, however, enjoy learning lists of vocabulary and verbs, so this is what I did. I used music to make this a task I looked forward to. I found that memorising doesn’t require a lot of cognitive thinking so it is easy to listen to music at the same time.

I learned grammar and pronunciation predominantly through subliminal learning. I watched Youtube videos of my favourite Spanish and Italian personalities.

You don’t set out to build a wall.

Naturally, with my approach, I became aware of the vocabulary and verbs needed, at each stage in the learning process, in order to progress effectively. I found a way to neutralise the information overload of randomised verbs and vocabulary, that I had encountered in the French classroom. I progressed in Spanish and Italian in a matter of months, where before it would have taken much longer.

Scientia sit potentia.

Had I known of alternative methods before I started my first language then the process may have run a lot smoother for me. In formulating the method, that finally worked for me, it took a lot of research. Had there not been research on word usage frequency, had there not been examples of polyglots on Youtube, I’m not sure if I would have stumbled upon my method as easily.

I have created LinguaHacks in the hope that people may use the site in order to help them construct their own unique language learning method. I think that language learning is not one size fits all. I think that alternative methods need to be available online so that new learners have a more comprehensive overview of what is possible and what they can surpass.

Everyone is capable of speaking a foreign language. Learners just need to be pointed in the right direction in order to find their own way to reaching their goals.

LinguaHacks