Monday, 18 September 2017

How I Resumed Studying German After a Five Years Break

Missing German

I really want to restart my German study, I thought looking at the German text books on the shelf. They had been there dusty and neglected for around five years. The only phrase in German I remembered and could say fluently was 'Sorry, my German is quite rusty, I haven't spoken it for quite a while.'

I kept this phrase in my head just in case I came across someone who spoke German so that I could use it before switching pathetically to English which every German speaker I have met so far speaks. I missed speaking German and it would have been such a shame to miss a chance to speak it just because it got rusty.

I absolutely need to restart my German study, I thought looking at the DVDs in German on the shelf. I had spent so much time and effort in the past to get so far as B2 level (i.e. upper intermediate) and started enjoying German films in the original.

So it would have been an absolute waste to let it rust further. I didn’t feel though that my level was B1 (i.e. intermediate) anymore let alone B2. I felt I forgot a lot of what I had learnt so hard. So, I needed to restart studying asap before it sank even lower.

A Fresh Start

I was dreading going back to studying German though. It was really intimidating.

These textbooks I started but not finished a while ago were intimidating. Would I be able to just pick up where I left off? I really doubted it.

These DVDs in German I watched a while ago were intimidating. Would I understand half of what is said in these films if I watched them now? I didn't think so.

And the gigabytes of B2 level digital study materials stored on my hard drive for future use were screaming guilt at me whenever I dared to open the file with intimidating 'German study' name.

All of this volume of German language goodness was so overwhelming that I dreaded to even approach it, never mind taking any action.

One day I got so sick of being bullied into stupor by my German study possessions that... I boxed all this stuff and donated it to the local language centre.

I needed a fresh start. I told myself, I am not returning to the textbooks I once used and films I once watched only to feel regret that I have forgotten so much stuff and that I have to start all over again.

I then erased ruthlessly all the digital materials from the hard drive. I'm not at B2 level anymore, I thought, so I don't need them. At least not now. I need to take it step by step. And by the way being a busy adult, I accepted that these steps would probably be teeny tiny ones.

I decided to make a fresh start. To make my German study fresh, i.e. different from what I had been learning before, I chose to study Business German this time. It will also align well with other recent activities and interests, I thought.

So, I subscribed to the Business German podcast Marktplatz by Deutsche Welle on iTunes which had transcripts and additional texts with comprehension exercises online. These types of activities had two out of the four skills covered: listening and reading.

To have writing skills covered I registered on the website for learners of German by Goethe Institut with opportunity to write answers to the questions they asked around different topics and also make general comments on the texts they offered on these topics.

Finally, to have my speaking skills covered, I joined italki, which is a website that helps learners of different languages find language exchange partners.

Mind you, no storing of materials this time which would bury my will to study under its unmanageable volume. I even decided to print out only one Marktplatz lesson at a time to avoid piles staring at me from the shelf.

Lovely! I was back on track with the solid plan covering training all four core skills backed by fresh language resources from such trusted websites as Deutsche Welle and Goethe Institut, several potential language exchange partners who answered my messages and, perhaps most importantly, language learning aligned with my current activities and interests. I was happy! And I happily forgot about German for another month.

A Habit

My psyche though didn't forget and kept reminding me. For the whole month the thought of not going through with the decision I made to resume my German study was gnawing me, biting at my peace of mind.

I tried to shrug it off by saying to myself that I was too busy. It didn't help. Reading a book while you are too busy to study German? Enjoying a meal with your friends while you cannot spare half an hour to study German? Booking cinema tickets while you don’t have time to study German? Boy, it was annoying!

Then one day I was talking to a friend of mine and mentioned that I was planning to resume my German study. There it was. A commitment. How would I feel if next time we met she asked me ‘How is your German study going?’ Would I be able to admit to someone else what a massive procrastinator I was?

So, I needed to get the ball rolling. I started reading the texts from Goethe Institut Website online, doing the exercises and writing answers in the comments section from time to time. What a joy! My German self shook off the dust it had gathered in years of neglect, spread its wings and soared up high.

It lasted for three days. Then work happened. Then I was too tired. Then it was my holiday. Then post-holiday blues. And then I just didn’t remember to study. My German started gathering dust again.

‘So, how is your German study going?’ my friend asked me. Damn, it was bad. Had to admit a defeat to her.

‘Why don’t you just put it in your calendar?’ she asked.

Indeed, why don’t I?

So, I created a weekly event in my calendar called ‘German study’. I carefully chose time and day for study when I knew I had nothing on.

I then made an announcement to the family proclaiming this hour as ‘sacred no-disturbance-tolerated’ time. Now it was official. My German study had its day and its time in my week.

Once a week wasn’t much but it was better than nothing. I focused on listening to the Business German dialogues, translating unknown words with vocBlocks built in dictionary and finally repeating the whole dialogue sentence by sentence after the speaker. My aim was to get better at understanding when listening, enlarge my vocabulary and improve my pronunciation.

The only problem was that new vocabulary kept piling up. Also, when I tackled the next dialogue I sometimes came across the same words I had encountered in the previous dialogue, the words I was supposed to have learnt already but just didn’t get around to.

So, I started creating one vocBlock per dialogue to learn vocabulary in bite sizes. Once I recorded the unknown words from the dialogue I was working on, I sent the vocBlock straight to Memoriser to do the exercises daily so that I was on top of the new vocabulary portion by the next week’s dialogue and also didn’t have to look up the same words again.

As calendar worked so well for me, I decided to make the most out of the vocBlocks’ reminders. I chose not only frequency (every day) but also time for the reminders to land in my inbox (10 pm).

Doing the exercises every day helped me learn the words quicker. It was important for me as I had a new dialogue to listen to and write out new vocabulary from every week so I needed to keep the rhythm of learning new words to avoid any backlog which would have built up if I had skipped exercises.

More importantly though I gradually formed a habit of studying every day for just 5 minutes.

Later I had to allow more time though as the number of vocBlocks increased and I had to not only learn new words but also revise the ones I had learnt before. But it was no problem as my German study started to snowball.

Snowballing

It turned out that the most difficult thing was to actually start and then form a habit to study regularly.

As you have seen, for me the trick was

- to carefully select and block an hour for German study in my calendar and

- learn new vocabulary with the vocBlocks language learning productivity tool also based on calendar.

Once the habit was there, my German study started to gather momentum and to my surprise I eventually found myself wanting to study more.

So, to my regular one hour a week study and daily review of vocabulary I later added reading texts on the same topics as the dialogues and doing the exercises for these texts. I then started speaking to a language partner once a week and gradually added various downtime activities which I by the way alternate to keep my motivation high.

These downtime activities include at the moment listening to songs in German while looking at the lyrics, watching films with subtitles plus reading articles and memes from my Facebook feed.

I now feel a need to add grammar practice as it’s more efficient to brush up grammar rules in theory from time to time rather than come across the same grammar patterns, again and again, trying to deduce the rule out of many separate occasions.

I am by no means at the end of my German study. There are loads to learn and loads to try out. There are fiction and nonfiction books I am planning to read, films and documentaries to watch, podcasts and lectures to listen to. And there is culture to smell and taste :)

Hope my experience I have shared here, will help you restart your language study too.

Happy restarting!

Monday, 4 September 2017

What is vocBlocks LookUp and How to Use It

What is vocBlocks LookUp

vocBlocks LookUp is a dictionary extension for the Chrome browser you can download from the Google Store for free.

It makes your reading online easier as you can Ctrl + double click unknown words to see their translation or definition plus audio pronunciation directly on the web page. Note: please use Alt + double click on Mac.

But there is more to vocBlocks LookUp than just a dictionary you have a click away. vocBlocks LookUp packages the words you have looked up together with the context in which you have come across these words into a vocBlock so that you could learn them.

Where to Find vocBlocks LookUp

You can download vocBlocks LookUp from Google Chrome Store. Just click on the blue ‘Add to Chrome’ button in the top right hand corner of the window. Once the extension has been downloaded, you will be able to use it straight away.

Looking up Words when Reading Online

With vocBlocks LookUp you can look up unknown words in two ways.

You can Ctrl + double click the words you need to look up (please use Alt instead of Ctrl for Mac) and a pop-up window with definition or translation will appear on the same webpage. Please note that the extension will ask you to sign in before you will be able to use it.

Alternatively, you can look up words by opening vocBlocks LookUp in a separate browser tab and copying and pasting or typing these words into the lookup field.

To open vocBlocks LookUp as a dictionary app in a separate tab, you need to click on the blue block symbol you have in your Chrome toolbar. Here you get the same look and feel as in the pop-up window.

Translation, Definition and Pronunciation

Depending on your level, goals or just personal preferences you can choose between translation into your native language and definition in your target language.

For example, if your level is intermediate and above, definition might be more suitable as it can give you a better idea of the meaning of the word especially if there isn’t any equivalent in your native language or there are several equivalents and the translation doesn’t provide a clear picture. Choosing definitions also helps you bypass your native language increasing the level of immersion into the target language.

On the other hand, if your task is translation into your native language, you will obviously need to choose translation to make the process quicker.

If you would like to have both translation and definition for one and the same word in one window, you will need to choose more than one combination of languages under ‘Options’ in the vocBlocks LookUp window (see the screenshot below). For example, if you are learning English and would like to have both translation from English into your native language and definition in English, you will need to choose two combinations of languages: English - your native language and English - English.

In the same way, it’s possible to have translation into more than one language in the same window. For example, if you are learning German and would like to boost your English at the same time (English not being your mother tongue), you can choose the following two combinations of languages: German - your native language and German - English.

The history will be available on the right hand side as a list of words you have looked up so should you need a quick access to a word you looked up before you can do so easily and quickly.

You can also have several tabs for different words open so that you can flick between them if, for example, you need to compare synonyms.

Words come with transcription, as they do in a dictionary, and audio pronunciation. To listen to the way words are pronounced, you need to click on the sound icon.

Learning

Once you have looked up a number of new words, the extension will automatically package them into a new vocBlock called, for example, ‘Memoriser unit: New words, en-en, 10 Sept 2017’ and send it to Memoriser for learning. As with any other vocBlocks that you have in Memoriser, the tool will be sending you email notifications reminding you to practise.

The words in these automatically created vocBlocks will be recorded with their definitions and/or translation. The extension will also automatically record the context (the sentences) in which you have come across these words. You don’t need to learn the context of course, it’s there to remind you of how the word is used and to help you remember it better.

If you decide you don’t need to learn all the words you have looked up, you can edit the vocBlocks the extension created for you and leave only the words you need to learn. Just click 'delete' button for the word you don't need when doing the exercises.

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

Happy reading!