One of the best things about working on the joy of languages blog is that our readers are always sharing smart ideas about how to learn a language. This week’s post is inspired by Anne, Ken and Vanessa, who suggested keeping a journal as a way to improve your speaking skills in a foreign language.

I loved this idea and wanted to get as many people involved as possible, so I’ve decided to set up a language diary challenge on Instagram, together with a little giveaway (more on this later).

First, let’s talk a little about how keeping a language diary can boost your speaking skills.

Writing to improve speaking

Writing to improve your speaking may seem counterintuitive at first. But writing helps develop the skills you need to communicate fluently. To speak a language well, you need to:

  • practice organising your thoughts into sentences
  • learn vocabulary to talk about everyday events
  • identify gaps in your knowledge

A language diary helps with all of these things on a daily basis. It’s a powerful way to improve your vocabulary, grammar and ability to express your ideas – all essential for speaking.

When you keep a language diary, you’ll:

1. Learn useful things

By writing about your day, you’ll be practicing using the vocabulary and grammatical structures that you need to talk about day to day stuff. You’ll learn how to communicate about things that are important to you and the people around you, which is much more useful than the random word lists most language courses give you.

2. Remember faster

Humans are hardwired to remember stories better than other types of information. The little snippets in your diary act like mini stories, which make the grammar and vocabulary easier to remember and reuse. You’re also likely to repeat a lot of the same words and structures, which naturally makes them more memorable.

3. Use the language

When we learn a language, most of us focus on “passive activities” like reading and listening. But if we want to use the language to communicate, we should focus more on activities that help us produce the language. A language diary helps you draw from the vocabulary and grammar you’ve been learning to build sentences you can use in real conversations.

4. Learn consistently

Keeping a diary is a great way to add consistency to your language learning and make sure that you practice using the language you’re learning in some way every day.

Learning together
I started the language diary challenge on Instagram so that we can work together to help each other learn a foreign language. Research shows that people are more likely to achieve their goals when they work together as a team, so I thought it would be great way to get a community of language learners together.

And Instagram is the perfect place to write a little something in the language you’re learning each day.

  • It’s based around photos, which makes it visual and fun
  • Pictures facilitate memory
  • You can connect with the language learning community on Instagram, which includes support and corrections from native speakers.

Get involved!
To join in, all you have to do is post a photo or video to Instagram, write a word or phrase about it in the language you’re learning and use the hashtags #languagediarychallenge and #joyoflanguages.

What level do I have to be?
You can join in at any level. If you’re a complete beginner, you could use the challenge to learn simple sentences, or individual words. For example, you could post a picture of a beer and write the word “beer” in the language you’re learning. If you’re advanced, you can write sentences with sophisticated vocabulary and a variety of tenses. The important thing is to write a little something in the language you’re learning.

Free stuff!
In each #languagediarychallenge, I team up with a top language learning company to give away a language themed prize. So far, we’ve given away awesome prizes from italki, add1challenge, FlashSticks, Lindsay Does Languages and irregular.endings.

Join the #languagediarychallenge
I hope you’re feeling inspired to join us for the language diary challenge! To recap, there are 2 steps to join in:

1. Post your picture or video on Instagram and write a word or sentence about it in the language you’re learning.
2. Use the hashtags #languagediarychallenge and #joyoflanguages.

That’s it! I’m looking forward to seeing your photos and videos over on Instagram.

Now I’d like to hear from you: Do you keep a language diary? What do you write about? Let us know in the comments below!

Happy learning,

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p.s. Joy of languages readers get a 10% discount on FlashSticks. Just use this code over on the FlashSticks website: JOYOFLANGUAGES10

You never fail until you stop trying. Albert Einstein.

Happy (nearly) New Year everyone!

As one year draws to a close, our thoughts often turn to how we can better ourselves in the coming year. Learning a language is something that always features highly on people’s lists.

That said, many of you will be familiar with the dismal statistic which states that only 8% of people actually stick to their New Year’s resolutions. This means that by February, most people’s language projects will be but a distant memory.

Research-backed ways to succeed

Thankfully, not all resolutions are destined for the same fate. Research on the psychology and neuroscience of motivation is full of useful tidbits to help you stay on track.

Here are two of my favourites that will increase your chances of seeing your language projects through to 2017.

1.  Boost motivation through teamwork

How often do you keep the promises you make to yourself?

Flying solo towards your goals might seem like a good idea at first, but most people run out of steam in the first few weeks.

Almost everyone puts more effort into the commitments they make as part of a team compared to the ones they make as individuals. Research at Stanford University shows that people who feel like they’re working in a team (even though they may not physically be working together) are more interested in the task and more likely to perform better.

Language learning is often a solitary activity, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of teamwork. There are increasing numbers of online communities which provide the opportunity to work together with other language learners.

Lately, I’ve experienced the value of teamwork in the language learning process first hand. I’m currently learning German as part of the Add1 Challenge, a three month online programme which unites language learners from all over the world. Even though we’re all working on different language projects, everyone is moving towards the common goal of having a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker. Being part of such a community makes you accountable to other people (making you far more likely to actually study) and gives you access to a friendly support network.

Get into the team spirit by participating in an online language learning community such as the Add1 challenge or the one on Benny Lewis’s site.

2. Set tiny goals

Working towards a large goal like “learn language X in 2016” can be overwhelming. In the past, I used to struggle with vast and ill-defined targets, a well known motivation killer.

Research shows that setting smaller subgoals is highly beneficial to learning. For example, Bandura and Shunk (1982) demonstrated that, over 7 sessions, people who were instructed to complete 6 pages of maths problems per session completed the task faster and more accurately than people who were given 42 pages from the outset.

Reaching a goal (no matter how big or small) gives you a little hit of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with reward and pleasure (Schultz 2002). Setting tiny targets and achieving them regularly boosts your mood and keeps you feeling positive about your language learning.

One strategy that has been working well for me lately is to set mini daily goals, for example, to complete one lesson from a text book, or to study for half an hour. Such goals are generally easier to reach and give you the chance to celebrate each tiny step on the language learning journey.

Now I’d like to hear about your language learning plans. Have you got any language goals for 2016? Are you planning on using teamwork or tiny goals to help you succeed? Let us know in the comments below!

 

References

Bandura, A., & Schunk, D. H. (1981). Cultivating competence, self-efficacy, and intrinsic interest through proximal self-motivationJournal of Personality and Social Psychology41(3), 586.

Priyanka B. Carr, Gregory M. Walton (2014) Cues of working together fuel intrinsic motivation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 169.

Schultz, W (2002) Getting formal with dopamine and reward, Neuron, 36, 241.

The science of never giving up: how to keep learning a foreign language

As one year draws to a close, our thoughts often turn to how we can better ourselves in the coming year. Learning a language is something that always features highly on people’s lists.
That said, many of you will be familiar with the dismal statistic which states that only 8% of people actually stick to their New Year’s resolutions. This means that by February, most people’s language projects will be but a distant memory.