Sunday, 26 November 2017

What is Memoriser and How to Use It. Part 1 - Practising with Memoriser

Our previous posts were about Ready vocBlocks and My vocBlocks. Today’s post is about Memoriser, the tool helping you practise your new vocabulary by doing different types of exercises.

Part one of this post is a guide on how to practise with Memoriser while part two will be a guide on customising your Memoriser.

Once you have chosen a Ready vocBlock or created your own for learning, you need to press the ‘Learn’ button to start practising. When you press 'Learn', a Memoriser session is started.

Please note that when you click the ‘Learn’ button, a Memoriser unit for this vocBlock with the name ‘Memoriser unit: [vocBlock’s name]’ is created. It can be found in your Memoriser section. If you go to the Memoriser section, you will see a list of all Memoriser units that you have.

Memoriser Sessions

When running Memoriser sessions, you can see a number of buttons that allow you to perform certain actions. Let me go into a bit more detail on each of them.

Edit. This button allows you to edit the displayed vocBlock entry (i.e. a word or phrase you recorded for learning).

Very often it is when you are doing your exercises, you notice that you made a typo while adding a word or phrase, haven’t made clear what type of speech a word belongs to or have recorded an explanation/translation/synonyms that just don’t help you recall the word.

There is no need to stop the session, go to ‘My vocBlocks’, dig out the vocBlock and then the word in question and rectify the issue. The ‘Edit’ button here is a convenient shortcut which you can use for fixing a vocBlock entry without stopping the session you have started. Once you have amended the entry, just click ‘Ok’ to save changes (or ‘Cancel’ if you have changed your mind for some reason) and you can go on with your exercise.

Delete. This button allows you to delete the displayed vocBlock entry (i.e. a word or phrase you recorded for learning).

When doing your exercises, you might find that you already know and use a word or phrase you recorded some time ago as you have come across it several times while reading or listening and have even been using it yourself, so there is no need to keep it and learn it.

Also, you might find that you have changed your mind and do not want to learn a word or phrase anymore. It seemed interesting and necessary when you came across it and therefore you recorded it for learning but now it seems boring or not needed. Again, there is no need to stop the session and rummage in your vocBlocks to find this word or phrase, as you can just delete it and go on with your exercises.

Sound on/off. This button allows you to mute the sound, so it doesn’t play automatically when a word is shown.

For example, if you are learning your words during lunchtime in your office and don’t have headphones at hand, you can just mute the audio pronunciation and do your exercises with the audio on next time when you are able to play it. Please note that if you click the ‘Play’ button, the audio for the displayed word will still be played.

Show keyboard shortcuts. As you have guessed from the hover over text for this button, when you press it, you will be able to see a list of keyboard shortcuts available in Memoriser.

The keyboard shortcuts are one more way to save your time while doing the exercises using your desktop or laptop computer.

Stop. As you have probably guessed, this button allows you to stop your session.

Stopping your exercises doesn’t mean, of course, that you will lose any results you have already achieved in this session. The correct answers are counted once you have made them, so you can stop the session at any point when you need to. For example, if you have been doing your exercises while waiting for your doctor’s appointment and have been called in or if your kids have started fighting and need to be separated for a cool down.

Help me. This button allows you to view the answer if you are struggling to recall it.

A friendly advice here is to try to recall the required word or phrase to make your practice more effective. Even if you don’t manage to recall the answer, it is shown automatically after 10 seconds (this time can be changed in Memoriser settings by the way), so you won’t lose much time in any case. Doing your best to recall a word or phrase is important as part of active (and therefore effective!) learning.

Check. This button allows you to have your answer checked.

If the answer is correct, you will see it in green and it will be counted as such, so you will need to give a correct answer for this word or phrase only one more time for this type of exercises (at the learning stage) or at this revision stage. If your answer is incorrect, you will see it in red and it will not be counted as correct, so this word or phrase will be shown again before you have given a correct answer twice (the number of correct answers can be changed in Memoriser settings).

As Memoriser sessions include only 20 words by default, depending on the size of your vocBlock, it might take more than one session to complete each stage. If in between sessions you cannot remember how many times you have already given a correct answer for each word, you will be able to see it below the right-hand upper buttons.

For example, when it says ‘Entry 2 of 20, 0 correct answers’ it means that the second word is currently displayed and you have 20 words or phrases in this session in total, so 18 more words to go before the session ends. The number of correct answers for this particular word is 0 for this type of exercises or for this stage, so this word will be shown again before you have given a correct answer twice.

If you make a typo or a spelling error when typing in your answer, your answer will still be counted as correct and the correct spelling will be displayed. If you aim at practising your spelling as well, you can press the thumb down button described below, and this word or phrase will be shown you again so that you could practise it more.

Instead of pressing the ‘Check’ button, you can press ‘Enter’.

Thumb down. This button allows you to increase the number of instances the displayed vocBlock entry is shown.

The default Memoriser settings mean that for each word or phrase you need to give a correct answer twice before it is marked as learnt and not shown any longer for this type of exercises (learning stage) or at this stage of revision. However, if you feel that your knowledge of this particular word or phrase is shaky, you can press this button and this word or phrase will be shown again even if you have already given a correct answer twice. Please note that you will be able to see this button only after you have given an answer and pressed ‘Check’.

Thumb up. This button allows you to decrease the number of instances the displayed vocBlock entry is shown.

If you have given one correct answer out of the required two and feel that you know the word or phrase already, you can press this button and this word or phrase will be marked as learnt even though you haven’t given the correct answer twice. This word or phrase will be shown again only for the next type of exercises (learning stage) or at the next stage of revision. Please note that you will be able to see this button only after you have given an answer and pressed ‘Check’.

Next. This button is there for you to proceed to the next vocBlock entry (the next word or phrase).

Please note that you will be able to see this button only after you have given an answer and pressed ‘Check’. Instead of pressing the ‘Next’ button, you can press ‘Enter’.

Timer. The default Memoriser settings mean that the timer is set to 10 seconds. You will be able to see the countdown below the left-hand upper buttons. At the fourth second of the countdown, warning red background starts flashing to let you know that the answer will be displayed shortly if you don’t manage to give yours.

If you feel that 10 seconds is way too little time for a particular vocBlock or for all of the vocBlocks you practise, you can easily change the timer settings either in the Memoriser unit settings for a particular vocBlock or in your profile settings for all of your vocBlocks (please see part 2 - Customising your Memoriser for details).

Memoriser Units

Once your session has finished, you will be taken to the Memoriser section. If you would like to run one more session, you can just click on the relevant Memoriser unit and a new session will start.

There are some other actions you can perform in the Memoriser section by pressing the relevant buttons. Let me go into a bit more detail on each of them.

New. This button allows you to create a new Memoriser unit out of one or several vocBlocks you have in ‘My vocBlocks’.

For example, you have a series of vocBlocks: one vocBlock for each episode of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ TV series. Say, you have decided that each of them is too small to be practised on its own, so you create a new Memoriser unit and choose all vocBlocks of this series from the list of your vocBlocks, so that all of them are included in one Memoriser unit.

The two numbers to the right of each Memoriser unit indicate the number of words already learnt for this type of exercises (learning stage) or at this revision stage and the number of words this Memoriser unit has in total.

Edit. This button allows you to edit the relevant Memoriser unit. For more details on customising Memoriser exercises please see the next post: part 2 - Customising your Memoriser.

Delete. This button allows you to delete the relevant Memoriser unit.

Please note that once a Memoriser unit is deleted, all records pertinent to it are deleted as well, so you will no longer have statistics on how many words from this Memoriser unit you have learnt.

The vocBlock, from which this Memoriser unit was created, will not be deleted. However, if you need to delete this vocBlock as well, you will need to do it from ‘My vocBlocks’.

Mark as finished from the ‘More’ dropdown. This button allows you to skip any work that you haven’t yet finished on the relevant vocBlock.

For example, you created a vocBlock with words on the topic ‘Cooking’ but have been watching so many YouTube videos and TV cookery shows that learnt most of the words in this vocBlock. For now you would like to concentrate on other vocBlocks you have but would still like to keep the 'Cooking' Memoriser unit just in case you want to brush up the vocabulary on this topic in the future. So you can just mark this Memoriser unit as finished for now.

Restart from the ‘More’ dropdown. This button allows you to return to the beginning of the first (i.e. learning) stage so that you could start working on a particular Memoriser unit from the very start.

For example, you have already finished the learning stage for a vocBlock but when it was time for the revision stage, you felt that you could have learnt this vocabulary better. So, in cases like this, you can just press ‘Restart’ and go through the learning stage again.

Run word cards from the ‘More’ dropdown. This button allows you to look through the Memoriser unit entries without doing any timed exercises.

For example, you can start your practice by running cards with words and phrases, look at the pictures and listen to the audio, so that later it is easier for you to do the Memoriser sessions for this vocBlock.

We hope that you find this (not too) short guide on how to practise with Memoriser useful. But if we have missed anything or you have a question please do not hesitate to drop us a line.

Happy Learning!

Monday, 13 November 2017

What are My vocBlocks and How to Use Them

Our previous post was about Ready vocBlocks, the mini dictionaries or vocabulary blocks on different topics ready for you to learn. Today’s post is about ‘My vocBlocks’ which is another section of the vocBlocks.com website.

My vocBlocks is the place where you can create your own vocabulary blocks by recording the words you need to learn.

You can record new words one by one or in bulk. In this post we will focus on recording words one by one as you come across them while reading a book or an article, listening to a podcast or watching a film.

If you have lists of words which you would like to learn or if you need to record a list of new vocabulary for a text you are studying, you can use the Import function. You can find a separate guide on the Import function in this post.

To record words or phrases one by one, you need to create a new vocBlock and then start adding words to it.

Creating a New vocBlock

To create a new vocBlock you need to press the ‘New’ button in the section ‘My vocBlocks’.

Then you will need to

- name this new vocBlock;

- add a description for it (optional);

- choose languages for both the original words and their translation;

- attach or drag and drop a picture for this vocBlock (optional);

- press OK to save changes and finish creating a new vocBlock.

Let me go into a bit more detail on each of these fields just to give you some tips on how and what for you can use them.

Name. If you create a vocBlock on some particular topic, you might want to name it accordingly. For example, if football happens to be your hobby and you would like to talk about it in your target language, you name the vocBlock containing football words ‘Football’.

Very often though the new words that you would like to learn do not belong to the same topic. For example, you are listening to ‘The British History Podcast’ and would like to pick out all new words for you to learn, so you check the transcript for this podcast to locate them and record them in your new vocBlock called ‘The British History Podcast - Episode 122.’

If your language level is quite high and you don’t come across new words too often but would still like to capture them to grow your vocabulary further, you could create one vocBlock with all new words you have gathered within a week or a month and name it, for example, ‘11-17 December 2017’ or ‘December 2017’. Just don’t forget to send it to Memoriser at the end of this week or month for learning :)

Description. This field can be used for any additional information you might have. For example, you can record the links to the articles that were the source of vocabulary for this vocBlock. If you are a teacher and create a vocBlock for your students for practising new vocabulary, you can add instructions to this field or any pertinent information for your students.

The box ‘Sort in alphabetical order’ just below the description field, is for the cases when you need to revise the words you have recorded in the order of their input and not in the default alphabetical order. For example, you have been listening to a radio drama from the podcast ‘BBC Radio 4 - Drama of the Week’ and have recorded new vocabulary from this drama in a vocBlock. To make the learning of this vocabulary easier, you would like to revise it by running word cards in the order you came across these words and phrases in this radio drama, so that you could remember them based on the development of the plot you enjoyed. In this case, you just need to untick this box.

The box ‘Share with other users’. When this box is ticked, the vocBlock appears in the ‘Shared vocBlocks’ section. So you can share any vocBlock you have created with your friends who study the same language or with your students if you are a teacher. Don’t forget to send the link to this vocBlock to the people you want to share it with.

Word language, translation language. Here you need to choose your target language from the ‘Word Language’ drop down and your native language from the ‘Translation Language’ drop down.

If your target language level is quite high, so that you would like to bypass your native language and have explanations or synonyms in your target language in the ‘Translation or Explanation’ field, you need to choose your target language from the ‘Translation Language’ drop down as well. For example, if you study English and would like to have explanations in English as well, you need to choose English from both drop-downs.

If you are studying more than one foreign language at the same time and would like to boost the foreign language you know better, you need to choose this foreign language from the ‘Translation Language’ drop down. For example, if you are studying German at intermediate level and would like to boost your English which you are studying at advanced level, you need to choose German from the drop down for the ‘Word Language’ field and choose English from the drop down for the ‘Translation Language’ field.

Image. If you would like to have a custom image for your new vocBlock, you can drag and drop or upload a picture in the ‘Image’ field. This picture could reflect the content of this vocBlock or could be just a picture you like. If you have a series of vocBlocks, for example, vocBlocks for different episodes of the same podcast or for different episodes of the same TV series, you can make this series stand out by adding the same image to each of the vocBlocks in this series. For example, a picture of Sheldon for your vocBlocks with vocabulary from ‘The Big Bang Theory’ TV series.

The box ‘Default Memoriser parameters’, once ticked, allows you to customise Memoriser exercises for this vocBlock.

For example, if you feel that you need just passive knowledge of the vocabulary you have recorded in a particular vocBlock, you can delete all free type exercises from the list (please tick the box first for the list to appear). In this case, Memoriser will be creating exercises with only multiple choice questions for this particular vocBlock.

If you feel that the vocabulary you have recorded in a vocBlock is not too difficult, you can delete all multiple choice exercises from the list and Memoriser will be creating only more difficult, free type exercises for this vocBlock.

If you are not sure what type of exercises you would like to do at the time when you are creating a vocBlock, you can always customise exercises in Memoriser later, once you have started learning this vocBlock. In this case, you don’t need to tick the ‘Default Memoriser parameters’ box and make any changes to exercises when you are creating a vocBlock.

Once you have created a new vocBlock you can start adding words or phrases to it.

Recording Words and Phrases into a New vocBlock

To add a word or phrase to the vocBlock you have created, you need to click the ‘New’ button while you are in this vocBlock. Then you will need to

- record this word;

- choose this word from the suggested variants from the built in dictionary or type in your own translation/explanation (optional);

- record any additional data you might have (optional);

- attach or drag and drop a picture for this word (optional).

- press OK to save changes and finish adding the new word. Alternatively, press ‘New’ to save changes and start adding the next new word.

Again let me go into a bit more detail on each of these fields just to give you some tips on how and what for you can use them.

Word or phrase. This field is for the vocabulary you would like to learn. As any other field for text on this page, it allows you to format text the way you want by selecting different typefaces, colours, etc. For example, to remember words easier you can colour code them like it’s done in one of the Ready vocBlocks ‘Musical Instruments’ where each group of instruments (brass, keyboard, percussion, strings, woodwind) has its own colour. Or you can simply make some most important words stand out by choosing a bigger font or a different colour for them.

Once you have input the new word into this field, just below it, suggested variants from the built-in dictionary will pop up. If you would like to look up this word and have translation/explanation, transcription and audio pronunciation for this word added from the dictionary, you will need to click the word you require from the suggested variants. For example, if you would like to look up the word ambivalent in the dictionary and record it for learning, you will need to type it in the ‘Word or phrase’ field and then click on it below.

Translation or explanation. This field is filled in automatically, once you have clicked one of the suggested variants from the built-in dictionary. You can always customise the translation or explanation from the dictionary, for example, by deleting all variants of translation or meanings in the explanation apart from the one you have come across yourself.

For example, you would like to learn the word ambivalent. This word has two meanings: characterized by a mixture of opposite feelings or attitudes and uncertain or unable to decide about what course to follow. In the article you are reading, this word is used in the first meaning, so you can delete the second one and concentrate on the one you have come across so that you could learn this word easier based on the context that you will remember and associate with this word.

If you would like free type questions with the ‘Word-Translation’ direction included into your practice, you might want to choose synonyms over explanation for the words you would like to learn (you don’t really want to memorise the explanations, do you :) ?). In this case, you can customise the information from the dictionary by deleting explanation altogether and leaving just synonyms. For example, for the word ambivalent you can delete the explanation we mentioned above and just leave the synonyms equivocal, ambiguous.

Transcription. This field is filled in automatically, once you have clicked one of the suggested variants from the built-in dictionary. Again you can customise it if you feel that you would like to record the transcription in different signs that you are more used to or if you don’t need any transcription at all (friendly advice: please do not delete transcription for English words and please actually pay attention to it. Check out our small collection of commonly mispronounced English words as well :)

Additional data displayed in Memoriser. This field can be used for any notes you would like to make that will help you learn the new word or phrase. For example, you might want to copy and paste the context (a few sentences) in which you have encountered the new word, so that you could recall the situation or idea described in which this new word reveals its meaning. Context also helps you see how this new word is used grammatically and its collocations (other words it is used with). You can also think of and record your own sentences with this word here and have them as reference when you learn and revise this word later.

By the way, if you use vocBlocks LookUp while reading online, you don’t need to record context manually as it will be recorded automatically along with the new words you look up with our free browser extension.

Pronunciation. This field is filled in automatically, once you have clicked one of the suggested variants from the built-in dictionary. When you learn words with audio pronunciation, you remember them better.

If you are learning your words during lunchtime in your office and don’t have headphones at hand, don’t worry: you can always mute audio in Memoriser and practise with the sound on next time.

If you have your own audio recording of the word or phrase, you can always drag and drop or upload this file to the pronunciation field. Alternatively, you can record yourself pronouncing this word or phrase.

Image. This field allows you to drag and drop or upload an image illustrating the word or phrase if you would like to back your learning efforts with some visual aid. For example, you can upload pictures of your friends to learn adjectives describing personality.

If you use your phone for reading and it’s not convenient to copy and paste sentences which you would like to record as context for your word, you can take a screenshot and add it as an image for the word or phrase you would like to learn.

For words you struggle to remember, you can create visual mnemonics and upload these images to back your learning. For example, for the word concubine (a woman who lives with a man but has lower status than his wife or wives in polygamous societies) you could add an image of a cube and a sad lady prompting you to remember this word.

We hope that you find this short guide on My vocBlocks useful. But if we have missed anything or you have a question please do not hesitate to drop us a line.

Happy Learning!

P.S. If you read a lot online, download the dictionary extension vocBlocks LookUp which is specifically designed for those who would like to grow their foreign language vocabulary more productively through reading. This post offers a guide on vocBlocks LookUp if you would like to learn more details.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

What is Ready vocBlocks and Why Learning These Words

Getting By or Nailing It?

Ready vocabulary blocks are mini dictionaries for anyone who wants to master their English to the degree of a native tongue. Ready vocBlocks are organised by topic and ready for you to learn.

The topics covered are relevant to everyday life and include, for example, your house, your car, nature, the food you eat, travelling, DIY, gardening etc. This is the detailed vocabulary you won’t find in textbooks but these are the words all native speakers know and use.

Ready vocBlocks are not for those who have just started learning English. When you start learning a foreign language, you don’t need detailed vocabulary. You are in a survival mode where you need to be able to communicate on a basic level with limited means.

Once you have progressed to the intermediate level, you feel that you have done a lot. And this is true! You are able to understand and speak your target language and it feels amazing! That’s when you might sit back and relax. Or choose to expand your vocabulary even further.

With the English language, most people would choose the latter and grow their vocabulary further. It’s for one simple reason: English is not just a foreign language, it’s the language of international communication. And with the Internet today this international communication, as well as the vast repository of data available in English, is just a click away from you, so intermediate level might not be enough.

Ready vocBlocks are there for you to help you expand your English vocabulary further or, if you are an advanced learner, to help you fill in any gaps you might have.

For example, if you are killing it at business meetings held in English but are stuck for words for small talk around your weekend plans or if you get lost in a loud banter at the bar with your friends speaking English, you might want to brush up some words every English native speaker (and a lot of advanced non-native speakers!) knows. After all, it’s informal interactions that help you build rapport and gain trust of your international business partners and friends.

The words you might not know and that are known to the native English speakers from their childhood are things you can find in your house, school and office; the food you eat; animals, birds and trees you see around and even zodiac signs your friends mention in their convos. Many advanced non-native speakers know most of these words too.

You can obviously be quite fluent in English without many of these words, but if you are not content with just getting by and want to really understand and speak the language of international communication like a native speaker, to comfortably interact with both native and non-native speakers on a higher (or should I say deeper) level, Ready vocBlocks will do you a ton of good.

You will start noticing these words everywhere once you have learnt them. And what once was just some obscure bits of conversations you totally missed out on, will start making sense.

And, on a side note, there are hidden benefits any knowledge can bring you (check out the nerd style posts in our blog to learn more).

So, if you feel that Ready vocBlocks are for you, read on! A quick guide on how to use Ready vocBlocks is next.

Types of Ready vocBlocks

There are two types of ready vocBlocks:

- vocBlocks illustrated with pictures and

- vocBlocks illustrated with example sentences.

The vocBlocks illustrated with pictures include nouns and verbs which are easier to learn with the help of visual aids. For example, fruit and vegetables, body parts, insects, DIY tools and verbs, etc.

Some picture vocBlocks offer you to further expand your vocabulary based on the words you already know. For example, the vocBlock ‘Countries and Nationalities’ is aimed at learning nationalities based on the knowledge of the names of the countries, like in the pair of words ‘Argentina-Argentinian’. Another example is the vocBlock ‘Animals and their Babies’ aimed at learning the names of the animal babies based on the knowledge of the names of the animals, like in the pair of words ‘horse - foal’.

With picture vocBlocks you learn words by doing two types of exercises. The first type is choosing a correct word for the shown picture from the given variants and the second type is typing the relevant word for the picture.

The vocBlocks illustrated with example sentences include verbs which are learnt more effectively in context. For example, irregular verbs and phrasal verbs.

With context based vocBlocks you learn words also by doing two types of exercises. The first type is choosing a correct verb for the given sentence

and second type of exercises, a more difficult one, is filling in the gap (or gaps) in the sentence with a correct verb.

All verbs have definitions or synonyms that help you understand and remember their meaning.

These context based vocBlocks also help you practise your grammar, i.e. use of tenses, voice and mood of the verbs.

How to Use Ready vocBlocks

Ready vocBlocks with pictures can be used with translation or without it. Most of the picture vocBlocks are translated into French, German, Russian and Spanish.

If you choose vocBlocks with translation, the learning stage will include two types of exercises each with two directions Word-Translation and Translation-Word. So, first, you will need to choose a correct translation for the word, then type translation, then choose a correct word in English based on its translation and finally type the word in English based on its translation. If you feel that you would like to include your native language in the learning process and that you need more time learning these words, you need to choose the vocBlocks with translation.

vocBlocks with translation are also useful if you are learning your second foreign language and would like to boost your English at the same time. In this case, however, you might want to customise the audio for these vocBlocks and record the words in your target second foreign language.

If you would like to bypass your native language, then picture dictionaries without translation are the ones you need. In this case, you will need to choose the English language from the languages drop-down menu. There will be two types of exercises: choosing a correct word for the picture from the given variants and typing in a word for the shown picture. Bypassing your native language is preferable if you don’t need to practise your translation skills and just need to understand and construct sentences in English.

If you have a particular topic in mind on which you would like to expand your vocabulary, you can quickly find this topic or words related to it using search field for Ready vocBlocks.

Once you have chosen a Ready vocBlock, you can either send it to your Memoriser for learning or edit it first. For learning, you will need to click the ‘Learn’ button. For editing, you will need to click the ‘Copy’ button to create a copy of this vocBlock in the section ‘My vocBlocks’. Please note, that once you click the ‘Learn’ button, a copy of this vocBlock will be created in ‘My vocBlocks’ automatically.

We hope that you find this short guide on Ready vocBlocks useful. But if we have missed anything or you have a question please do not hesitate to drop us a line.

Happy Learning!

Monday, 16 October 2017

Why You Don't Speak the Foreign Language You Learnt at School

and why it shouldn't stop you from learning it now

‘I don't speak French,’ you tell your friend. ‘I can say a couple of words and phrases but that's it. I studied it for 10 years at school but somehow I don't speak the language’.

So, you feel that if you couldn't learn to speak a foreign language in 10 years, surely learning a language is not something worth taking up and adding to your arm long list of commitments of a busy adult. Who would want to waste another 10 years without seeing any substantial result? Why invest your precious time and focus your attention already spread thin on something futile?

But what if I told you that you don’t speak the foreign language you learnt at school because you were not actually learning this martyr of a foreign language for 10 years? What if I told you that you were just being taught?

Learning vs Being Taught

Let me explain the difference between learning and being taught using cat food analogy. Imagine you have a cat and as a responsible loving owner, you feed him his cat food regularly. One day, when you work from home, you leave some breakfast leftovers on the table before rushing to your study to take a conference call. While you are busy working, your Fluffy Fluffington gobbles the sausage leftovers, helps himself from your glass of milk and saunters into your study purring smugly before curling itself shamelessly on your lap.

Now, why do you think this cat is more excited about some leftovers and not so much about its highly nutritious balanced and delicious cat food? Firstly, eating only cat food all the time is boring and, secondly, the cat knows that it will be given its cat food at some point, so again, it’s boring. With the sausage, there is this fresh new taste as well as the taste of adventure and action: the whiskered thief carefully planned the escapade, assessed the risk of being caught, calculated the time needed for looting while anticipating the taste of the succulent booty in its mouth all the time.

When you were taught a foreign language at school as a kid you were given that cat food, same boring cat food you were guaranteed to get. Most likely there was the same textbook you hated or the same activities you didn't really want to take part in or the same teacher you didn't get along with. You were not in charge and couldn't change much, so just chewed the cat food you were given. And you didn't worry about not getting this cat food: an apocalypse needed to happen to get rid of school.

When you learn a foreign language yourself as a busy adult, it’s a different story. It is that sausage that you choose yourself, work on getting and enjoy much more. Don't like the textbook you have? Into the bin. There are others to try. Don't like speaking? To the bookstore. There are self-study books to buy. Don't get along with your tutor? To preply. There are others to contact.

And there is no guarantee that you will have time to study as planned, your kids might get unwell, your job might get crazy or your spouse might kick up a tantrum and demand your undivided attention. The sausage might be gone before you know it.

I am actually not saying that being taught is always boring and I am pretty sure the cat enjoys its cat food too. What I am saying is that the sausage off the table has a much more exciting taste, a taste of conscious choice.

Conscious Choice

When you select the content for your language study based on your own interests and what’s going on in your life, when you manage to find time to fit your language study around your other commitments, when you do more of what you like whether it's reading, listening, writing or speaking, conscious choice, when learning a foreign language, is a game changer in terms of end results.

Choosing content. If you are interested in traveling, for example, and are getting ready for your next destination, why not read about this place in your target foreign language? I am pretty sure you don’t exactly have a guidebook in this language lying around, but you can just google it using the relevant words in your foreign language. Once you are back, you can speak about your travel adventures and the sights you did in your target language with your language partner or tutor.

When you choose the content for language learning yourself, you are more likely to enjoy it and are actively involved with it. These chances are even higher if this content is relevant to you personally.

Choosing time. It is not an easy task for you as a busy adult to find time for your language study. It's often really hard to find any slot whatsoever, where you could squeeze in some French (German, Spanish, etc.) So, once you have managed to find this slot in your day (or your week) this time slot is sacred. After all, it is not easy to get yourself into the habit of getting up half an hour earlier to do some reading in your target language or to convince your colleagues at work that you are not avoiding them during lunchtime when you go back to your desk to do some grammar exercises or to talk your spouse into looking after the kids every evening while you are having your Skype lessons.

All these difficulties with finding or freeing up time make you treasure the little time you have for your language study and you are more likely to stay focused and use this time more efficiently.

Choosing activities. Doing more of what you like is a dream come true. When learning your foreign language at school, were you not happy because at each and every lesson your teacher asked you to voice your opinion on some topic in the language you were learning? Or were you bored to death by grammar exercises and were itching to just chat in your target language? Well, guess what? It’s you who decides now, so you get those grammar self-study books or ditch grammar exercises completely and keep chatting away with your language partners. Whatever works best for you, you are the boss!

Doing something you like is quadrillion times more effective than doing something you don't like. You need to try to have all four core language skills covered of course but it is your choice on what activities you would like to spend more of your time.

3 Mistakes to Avoid

When restarting learning a foreign language you studied at school, there are 3 mistakes you need to avoid. Making any of these mistakes can stall the whole process so you need to recognise them before your language journey even starts.

Mistake # 1

The first mistake is treating your language study as something you have done before and turning it into revision. If you dig out your old textbooks (you still have them, you hoarder?) and start revising, you risk losing motivation as it’s certainly not motivating to feel you have forgotten so much of what you knew before and cannot even introduce yourself properly in this language now. Besides, let’s face it, school textbooks for teens are not really exciting for a thirty-something-year-old.

Things that interested and motivated you earlier might not interest and motivate you anymore. And things that seemed boring are probably exactly the ones that make you tick now. In other words, you have changed, so why would you want to treat your foreign language study as something that should be the same?

For example, at school you had those super boring texts about all those famous people (and I don’t mean celebrities by that) and historical events, while all you could think of was that party or that date and your makeup and outfit decisions. Now that you yourself are making history (you do vote, don’t you?) you are more likely to enjoy this kind of texts and even consider reading on some news in your target language (of course, once you have upped your level to at least intermediate).

Don't get me wrong by the way, I am not saying that learning a foreign language you used to study at school is the same as learning a language you have never learnt before. Of course, you have forgotten a lot but once you start reviving this corpse of a foreign language of yours, you will start remembering words, grammar rules and even phrases you didn't even know you knew. Human brain is an incredible thing indeed!

So, revive not revise.

Mistake # 2

The second mistake to avoid is studying the language exactly the same way you were taught at school. Have you even asked yourself why your teacher just loved all those grammar exercises? Or why your teacher avoided grammar completely? Or why your teacher never spoke the language they were teaching so your listening experience was very limited? Possible answers are: mainly grammar because grammar was easier to teach and assess with a class of 30 unruly teens; no grammar, because the main task was to teach pupils to communicate in the foreign language and grammar got neglected; teacher not speaking much in the foreign language because, well, perhaps they were just not fluent themselves.

Besides, at your age (I'm not saying you are old!) you do have a wealth of experience to guide you through the learning process, including the knowledge of what learning activities help you learn best (it's usually the ones you enjoy doing most).

For example, if you learn better while listening rather than reading and it’s writing that helps you activate your passive vocabulary and not speaking, you are free to choose to listen and write more as you are the one who decides now not a teacher who has a class full of different pupils, curriculum to follow and education standards to adhere to.

So, formulate not replicate.

Mistake # 3

The third mistake you might make is shying away from new ways of learning a foreign language just because you are so used to the traditional ones (I am guilty of this one myself). Say, for example, you have never tried Skype lessons or language learning websites or spaced repetition software. All those are there to make your language learning easier and save you time.

With Skype it’s easier to organise lessons and find a teacher, as you have a bigger worldwide pool of teachers. And you save time on commute as you don’t have to get to the venue where the lessons are held. With language learning websites it’s easier to find the learning materials you need and download them instantly or complete the tasks online saving time on having them shipped to your house or getting them from a bookstore. With spaced repetition software it’s easier to learn new words while saving time on both organising your regular study of new vocabulary and the learning itself.

Saving time and effort when using all these new ways of language learning is vital for you as a busy adult. You don't have as much time for studying a language as you did when you were at school and yet you might want to see results faster this time (certainly before 10 years go by). Seeing results will keep you motivated. Lack of time is not the end of the world and certainly not the reason to abandon the idea of learning a language, but you do need to use the time you have more efficiently especially if you want to progress at a pace faster than that of a snail.

For example, at school you could afford not to learn a lot of new words as you were not required to understand much beyond texts you had in your textbook. When learning by yourself, even though you have less time, you might want to grow your vocabulary faster so that you could start using the materials that are not adapted for the learners of this language because (let’s face it) they are a bit boring and there are less of them at hand while you have loads of materials for native speakers on the Internet.

With new words it's spaced repetition software that will help you learn more vocabulary while spending less time on it. vocBlocks.com is one of the tools, for example. Wherever you have Internet connection you can use any five-minute slots to revise your new words. And you don't have to plan your revision and remember to do the exercises, it is organised automatically for you: your progress for each block of vocabulary is tracked with reminders landing in your inbox prompting you to revise.

Once you have grown your vocabulary sufficiently and upped your foreign language level, you can switch the language of some of your downtime activities from your native to your target foreign which will add more time to your daily language study without you having to sacrifice anything for it. You can watch movies with subtitles, listen to songs with lyrics or just read memes in this language on Facebook, for example.

So, innovate do not stagnate.

Happy learning!