Friday, 11 December 2015

A very belated update

I had no idea it had been so long since my last update. I have been busy at my Russian classes, and I've also attended two polyglot workshops in London, spent an evening learning Dutch with citylit, taken a Portuguese class on italki (as well as several Russian ones), attended the Language show live and meet up afterwards, got married and honeymooned in Rome, visited Yorkshire and Northumberland where I walked part of Hadrian's wall and spent a week in beautiful Brugge! Phew...

A selection of my Russian books!

I am just finishing up with my Russian class, and I'm ready for a break. It is a very grammar intensive class, and I know thoughts are mixed about whether you need to study grammar separately or at all when studying a language. To be honest I've pretty much ignored Russian grammar until now. I found the majority of it looked so overwhelming and scary that I was happy just to pretend it didn't exist! However, I really haven't got any choice in the class but to look at it, and I'm finding the teachers explanations and examples so helpful. I understand a lot of it, even if I can't apply it all yet. It's starting to take the fear and mystery out of it, which is a very good thing!

I do think that I've overloaded though. Having 'real life' lessons, which come with so much self study and homework plus my italki sessions has burnt me out a bit. I'm ready for a break for language learning and studying for a while. I don't think I'm going to sign up for the next set of lessons, but will take a break from formal learning and go over what we've studied at home, and at my own pace, to consolidate it. Hopefully I'll be refreshed and ready for more structured learning again in the Spring.

I also have lots of other plans for next year including a first time visit to Portugal, possibly taking part in the charity London to Brighton walk, volunteering with my eldest before she goes to Uni, perhaps camping (Cornwall?Yorkshire? not sure yet) and I'd love to squeeze in a trip to Copenhagen as well.  I'm also thinking of heading to St Petersburg to study Russian with Exlinguo. I met some of the teachers from Exlinguo at the Language live show, and they were great to talk to and gave me lots of info. I even had a brief exchange in Russian! They have lots of great reviews, and it looks like a really interesting experience with language lessons and cultural excursions.

This will be my last update this year, so I'll wish you all Поздравляю с Рождеством! :)

Monday, 27 July 2015

Learning languages in the classroom

I have had a couple of Russian classes now, and wanted to share my thoughts and experiences. I started my journey with Russian when I took a 'Beginners Russian' course back in 2006. This was before the internet had exploded with all language learning information available now, and I really didn't think there was any other way to learn a language. I also had a few books and CDs that I used (until I got bored of them anyway).

The first time around I took around 6/7 months of lessons (about 4/5 months before I went to Russia, and then a couple more months after). It was a good class in that I found the teacher helpful, she got us all talking and we left knowing all the basics. When I was in Russia I could do things like introduce myself, ask for directions, order a coffee, book an hour of internet use, read shop signs and so on. It was a fun group and I liked the other students. However, some of the problems I encountered are similar to ones I'm starting to notice again.

Cons of taking group lessons

- As a student in a group I have very little control over the speed the teacher goes at. I understand that this is how things have to work in a group. The teacher is working with students with many different abilities and learning styles, and it's difficult to keep going over the same things when the rest of the class is ready to move on. I'm quite slow when it comes to picking up new stuff, and often find we are moving on before I've really understood the last concept. 

- They are too long! For me anyway. Again I understand why they have to be the length they are. Most classes only meet once a week, we are working to a time-table and to make it worth everyone's time they really have to be longer than 40 minutes (my preferred maximum length of study time!). However, I find myself struggling to keep going after about 75 minutes (my class is two and a half hours), and I definitely start to zone out. I don't retain as much after this time and start giving (more!) wrong answers.  

-  The material we use has already been chosen. There's usually not much deviation from the book the teacher is working from. Sometimes the content is just not relevant (dialogues where I'm pretending to be a Russian businessman at a meeting for example!), and sometimes it's just not presented in a way I can understand.

- They are expensive. Even in a group the cost is probably £10 an hour (individual tuition starts at around £25 an hour, but I was quoted as much as £75 for an hour!). Compare this to something like italki (my tutor charges around £4.50 for 30 minutes but we usually talk for at least 40), and it seems very expensive. Of course the price I pay for a group class also covers use of a room, heating, electricity, and (in this case) materials. It's still alot though, particularly as you pay up front for a whole block of sessions - no trial lessons, no refunds if you're ill, and adding on travel costs as well all make italki seem far more attractive!

And the Pros!

- It's not all negative! Being in a group of fellow Russian language learners is nice, and it's good to interact with people in real life rather than through a screen. It's helpful when you're struggling with a concept to have people to share it with who can understand! It's also nice to be able to talk about languages and Russian without worrying you're boring anyone! I have no one in 'real life' to talk about learning a language with, so it does help with that feeling of isolation I know myself and other language learners feel sometimes.

- Instant correction is another plus. I struggle sometimes with pronunciation and the teacher so far has been very good at correcting us on this. It's also good to be able to get feedback straight away, to be able to ask 'how do you say this?' or to be told your intonation is 100% perfect (yes, I'm little smug about that...)!

- It's motivating me to study. I've paid the money, and made a commitment to the attend the classes so I'm putting in the time and doing the homework. This is the biggest reason I signed up to begin with. I wanted to continue with my Russian studies, but was finding it hard to be consistent. I needed some motivation, and to get back into a routine. The lessons are certainly helping me with that.

- The teacher is lovely. She tells us stories about where she comes from in Russia, and little anecdotes which add to the whole experience.


I'm not sure yet if I'll carry on after the initial lessons I've signed up for. Writing it all down has made me think hard about it. The money is a big part of it, but I also know that it's not the best way for me to learn a language, and wonder if I'll begin to get more frustrated as the class progresses. However, it has made me carve out a time for studying, and the motivation is definitely back which is what it was all about really. I will keep updating with my thoughts as the classes progress, and share any revelations I have along the way! 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Time is flying!

I can't believe we're already half way through July. I have been so very busy, and I don't think I'll be slowing down any-time soon.

My plans to get into a regular routine with Russian haven't really gone that well. The group lessons I'd signed up for were cancelled due to lack of interest, and it has been difficult to find time, motivation or both. However, I have been pretty much consistent with memrise, doing anything from 5-20 minutes a day. I'm at the point now where it's a regular habit to open the app daily and spend some time on there. I also have a reminder that pops up during the day if I do forget, which is very helpful.

I have managed to find and sign up for another Russian class which is going to start very soon. I took a trial session a few weeks ago, and it was so much fun to be with a real life teacher and group of others who are learning Russian. I know lots of people don't like learning languages in a classroom, and I admit that I hated it at school, but it feels different when it's a decision made as an adult rather than something forced upon me as a teen! As I have some knowledge of the language it doesn't feel too daunting, and I'm looking forward to starting.

I'm also heading to the Polyglot workshop run by Olly Richards, Alex Rawlings and Richard Simcott this weekend! How great (and hopefully motivating) is that going to be! Very excited to be going. Will share my experience here afterwards.

I returned to italki last night, with my first session in 5 months. My last tutoring session was actually the evening before I had the phone call to say my dad was in hospital. It has taken me a little while to contact my tutor and explain why I suddenly disappeared after buying a package of lessons. I was so nervous about the session as it feels as if I've forgotten so much, plus I hadn't spoken any Russian since that last session. However, my tutor was lovely and so patient. We did some basic vocab, and she reminded my how to conjugate verbs and it was all fine! I really hope that the combination of traditional type lessons in a group, and italki sessions will work in a positive way for me.

As well as stumbling along with Russian I'm planning my wedding, honeymoon, and holidays which is all proving far more stressful than I thought. I've used airbnb for the first time (fingers crossed it all goes well!), and will hopefully be doing some small Italian/Dutch learning challenges in the next couple of months as well.

До встречи :)

Sunday, 31 May 2015


I will be taking part in the instagram language challenge for the month of June. I gave it a go back in February, and I'm looking forward to giving my Russian a boost with it this month.

Want to join in? See how it works here.

Putting this months prompts here as a reminder, and for anyone who wants to take part!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Starting again...again

It's been almost 3 months since I last studied Russian (with the exception of Memrise, which after a break and a huge catch up of words to revise, I do almost daily). Officially I failed the #Add1Challenge, although I gained so much from taking part. I have wondered about continuing. It feels as if I've forgotten so much and I'm not sure what the point is. I know it's partly to do with the challenges life has thrown at me recently. My dad passed away, and a good friend of mine has also died - which has left me a little lost...

I know deep down if I give up on Russian now I will regret it. Even if (at the moment) it seems a random and slightly pointless thing to pursue. I have signed up for a ten week summer course in the hope that it will rekindle my passion for Russian, help refresh the habits I was building back in February and give me a reason to keep going when the course is up. I'm actually looking forward to studying with other people as well. If nothing else parting with money should be good motivation to get something out of it!

The course starts at the end of June, and I will be posting here about being back in the classroom again and my thoughts on learning a language this way. In the meantime I'm starting small with two 10 minute Russian binges a day. The first 10 mins will be spent on Memrise, and the second 10 mins I'll spend on an audio lesson or working with a text book. Hopefully, this will build into something more, but for now I just need to get used to doing something regularly again.

Saturday, 23 May 2015


Welcome to my new blog. From now on all my language learning chat will be here, and all my travel/volunteering musings will remain at - what we do matters.

I came to language learning late after nothing but a few years of French at school. Needless to say I remember very little from this, and it wasn't until 2006 when I signed up to volunteer in Russia that I even considered learning another language again.

I took 6 months of Russian lessons (1 day a week for 2 hours) before heading to Russia, and being amazed that I could read shop signs and hold basic conversations. My Russian was very rudimentary, but the effort was appreciated by many and I was praised by the translators working with us. It was a really great feeling.

I then took a break, had a baby, and my language learning journey came to a halt...
I did find myself occasionally glancing at my Russian books and CDs, and thinking about taking it up again. However, it wasn't until after an illness, and a death in the family that I decided to try again. I was feeling lost, and needed to do something that meant something.  I have no idea why I thought learning a language would help, but I think it has :)

Originally, learning Russian had been a by-product of volunteering, a small part of the whole experience, but it has become so much more. It has connected me to language learners around the world, it keeps me connected to the time I spent in Russia and has opened the door to a whole world of language learning I never thought was for me.  I have now also dabbled in Toki Pona and Dutch, just for fun really.  As I plan to volunteer in Morocco and Moldova in the next few years I will also be exploring Arabic, French and Romanian. 

I am an extremely slow language learner, my Russian is still very basic, but that's not the point. I carry on because really I can't stop. There's something so addictive about studying a language. Recently my Dad, and a good friend have passed away. It's been a tough time, and my language learning has come to a halt, but I know it's there waiting for when I'm ready again.

If you would like to read about my time volunteering in Russia. You should start here.

If you want to read my previous posts on language learning and Russian please use the links below.

Learning Russian (again)
Cyrillic alphabet
A different way of learning
Still here, still learning
Language Master Key
21 Day Language Blast - Day 1
Language Blast Days 2-5
Ten days in...
16 Days of Russian
21 day Language Blast complete
Reading in Russian
Learning multiple Languages (at the same time...)
Toki Pona in 48 hours
New Year Ramblings
Toki Pona update
We need to talk
Chronic illness and language learning
#Add1Challenge update