Learning a new Language

It can be easier than you might think

No Language is perfect and neither are we, but the courses tell us otherwise

Languages are a great skill to master for everything from training and exercising your brain, to making travel and social interaction much more enjoyable.

The problem is that most of the time, we can find them so damn difficult to learn. Sure there are some extremely talented folks out there, that just need 10 minutes in a culture and they learn the lingo, but for a lot of us myself included that’s not the case.

Im a big believer in at least learning the basics, like yes, no, please, thank you, hello, goodbye, the essential 2 beers please and since im childish, the best swear words.

My work involves a lot of travel, meeting and working with different crews of people with different cultures and languages, many of them speak English as a second or third language, so having these basics in the bank works very well, and has helped improve my people skills.

Over the last 3 years, Ive been based in Central Asia which on the surface is for the most part easy in terms of language, just learn Russian, one language which is universally spoken as a first language across the region.

The difficulty is, well its Russian, for the most part a complex, intimidating and well just really difficult language to learn.

This is the first problem in the way that we are taught to tackle languages, we are taught that they are intimidating and difficult to master, as humans we tend to overthink and over analyze learning tasks and so this new language gets built up to be some kind of invincible monster.

The second problem I have found is that most language courses are looking for perfection and teach a classical clean version of the language. In reality that’s not the way it works each, language is modified by its users.

As an example im from the North East of Scotland so while I speak English, I really have to think about what I’m saying and the structure when I need to speak classical English the way its taught, the real world just isn’t like that, if your not a native English speaker and you spend enough time with me, you will speak English the same way I do. (If you ever bump into a Kazakh who speaks Doric the NE Scottish version of English I probably know them).

Trying to learn this classical version of the language your trying to master can be a nightmare, again it builds up the difficulty and intimidation factor and means it takes far longer to get confident in the language.

The third problem is there is a lot of focus on reading the language, which can be really challenging if the characters aren’t Latin. Again having to learn to read the language immediately builds up builds up the difficulty and intimidation factor and means it takes far longer to get confident in the language.

Especially when there are really good instant text translation apps which are free to use, this is just uneesecary for the learner today, although if I was being cynical I’d say its a great hook to keep us paying for tuition for longer.

OK so what’s the solution?

The good news is that there are other ways to do this, we can make it much easier for ourselves to learn any language. We just need to re-adjust to the viewpoint that just as no language is perfect, we ourselves do not need to be perfect fluent speakers in that language.

Intimidation factor — This is the one thing that makes learning a language so bloody difficult, the thought of the complexity of the task gets into your head, so start with the low hanging fruit.

  • 5 minutes per day with the basics — To begin with just learn the very basics yourself online or on a free language podcast. 5 minutes learning, hello, goodbye, please, thank you etc. will give you confidence in yourself, keep going just with those until you have mastered them.
  • Write the words phonetically — On paper or a prompt card, write the word the way it sounds and include a description, again don’t spend hours doing this, just as you learn and get comfortable with the word, get it on a card in this way, not the way its written in the language your learning, but the way it sounds in your language eg, hello in Russian is Privet, but the sound is Pre, Vet when written in English. Being able to match the word to the sound it makes is much easier to digest than a bunch of letters that make no sense to you
  • Aim for the way word sounds, not perfect pronunciation — Almost no native speaker will speak with perfect pronunciation, local modification of the language sees to that. A part of the intimidation factor with a language is that we are taught that we need have perfect pronunciation before we can speak the language and that’s simply not true. All you need is that a native speaker can understand you
  • Don’t be afraid to talk like a cartoon caveman — What I mean by that is don’t be afraid to miss words out, simplify the language and your sentences as much as you to build confidence and add to your skills as you build confidence, eg, Can you tell me where the nearest restroom is?, this could be simplified to hello, where is nearest bathroom? No one will laugh at you, people will just be happy in general to help out or have a conversation with someone who took the time to try and learn their language. As you build confidence and your skill in the language build up your sentences.
  • Watch TV in that language — Pick your favorite shows or movies and stick the subtitles on for context. This immerses you in the language when you don’t have access to a native speaker, it helps build your recognition of the language and phrases, don’t underestimate the power of that.
  • Learn to count in that language — Start with 1 to 5 then 5 to 10 etc. go as slowly as you feel comfortable with but learn the numbers, once you have those down you can learn to do simple arithmetic in your chosen language, this helps you to think in that language and is a game changer quite honestly. I use this as an exercise 5 minutes before I start my learning for the day and it gets me in the zone.
  • Don’t worry about reading it — In the beginning you don’t need to be able to read the language, you have a translation app to help you available for free on your phone, use that instead, let you brain focus on one task, learning how to speak. Over time your brain will recognize words and start to put it all together for you reading wise, but don’t focus on it. Your brain is truly amazing, so relax, don’t overload it, and let this come naturally because it will.

If like me you struggle with languages but have a real need to learn or are just curious and want to make a start with a new skill, try some of these tips, its taken me long time to get to a point where im comfortable with Russian, almost 3 years actually, but since ive used these 7 tips day to day for the last 3 or 4 months, Ive developed more than I had the previous 2 years.

Languages don’t need to be intimidating or complex, we just need a strategy to kill the intimidation factor at the beginning and use simple tools and tricks to keep us going.

Its like anything else we want to learn or improve at, small steps taken daily build up like compound interest in the brain and lead to something great, the trick is to make it simple, fun and to keep going.

Journaling to achieve your goals

Connect with your subconscious

Image by George Walker, Courtesy of Canva

How to channel your subconscious to achieve your goals

This is something I’ve discovered since I started journaling as a serious daily habit, and for me at least I’ve found it really works.

I have been journaling on and off for about 2 years now, and finally committed to it as a serious daily commitment and part of my routine around the start of this year.

I’ve always had difficulty in accepting that I could be creative, so taking two years to accept that journaling was an exercise worth even just for myself, is a pretty good time line for me (It took me 10 years to start writing and publishing my work for example).

Since I committed to journaling daily I have seen a lot of the benefits that others have reported and that have been written widely about such as:

  • Writing down my internal dialogue helps me make sense of feelings
  • Writing down my thoughts and ideas lets me get them out of my head and onto paper where they can either be trashed or developed, I have an eidetic memory so being able to take those thoughts onto paper really helps me either stick in the archive folder in my head or prioritize them, for others like my partner who also developed the habit it helps her to get rid of thoughts and feelings she just doesn’t need to hang on.
  • Writing those thoughts down also allows me to de-stress and it quietens down my mind at the end of the day, I’d go as far as to say that journaling is now an essential part of my sleep routine.
  • It gives me a chance to think about and record what Im thankful for in my life, which I find de-stressing and also gives me more appreciation for the world around me and has given me an appreciation for practicing mindfulness that I didn’t have before.
  • It gives me a dedicated space to document my life and my progress towards my goals, that all mine. I just need to be honest with myself.

There are many other benefits that people have reported from journaling, but those are some of the headlines for how it works for me.

There are many ways to journal and I think its something that you do need to play around with yourself to find what works for you, however I do think that its a powerful tool for channeling your internal dialogue and therefore subconscious.

The biggest benefit I have had from journaling is an exercise I started 2 months ago, and is now THE essential part of my journaling routine.

The last thing I record in my journal before going to sleep is up to 8 questions for my subconscious to work on, these can be anything from self development, to what I need to improve in my writing, the development direction my business should be going, any issues Im having or problems Im difficulty in resolving.

In the morning, I get up grab a cup of tea and breakfast, open the journal, and pick up a pen, I start to answer the questions, just writing what comes from my subconscious, no filter, no thinking about just writing down the answers to the questions.

While I sleep my subconscious is working on the answers.

What this has done is give me clarity on the direction I should be going with my goals and the confidence to pursue them no matter what they are, if they are meant to give me enjoyment and fulfilment I’ll document that when I ask myself the question.

Likewise many things that were not giving me enjoyment, fulfilment or bringing me closer to my goals have been removed, giving me a simpler and less stressful life.

Ive also refocused on things I didn’t even know were that important to me, like family (that sounds bad and it is but at least I can be honest about it), the direction I want my life to in, the things I need to improve in myself, and also given the uncertainty in the world right now I have a clear direction to take in the event that I lose my job.

To say im less stressed, more rested, more in touch with my true self and sense of purpose and just generally happier and more grateful for the life I have is an understatment.

If you have been thinking about journaling or are journaling now and would like to 10x the benefits, then please give this small trick a go, its changing my life for the better, it coul give you a world of benefit as well…

The power of friendship

We all have a common invisible enemy in the world we are fighting right now, its important that we keep in touch with our friends.

I came across this quote from perhaps the greatest philosopher of all time Aristotle while reading this morning.

Normally over the last few weeks on a Friday I’ve written about trying to do something different at the weekend and it got my back to thinking about the power of friendship, especially when right now there is not much if any opportunity for any face to face good old fashioned physical social interaction.

Last week I got together with a group of friends online, to check in with each other and have some fun, after a few of us had a bad week, it was a chance to catch up and also just try something different from the usual messaging.

At the end of the day it had several benefits for us all, in terms of improving mood, helping us to feel normal again and for those of us who had not enjoyed the last week, it provided us with a fresh audience to have a good moan at, and generally get a lot of frustrations vented.

Last week must have full of family fun for some of the guys, I can tell you…

Anyway, the power of friendships at this time, is more important than ever. In this regard technology can help us massively. We can still catch up via video group calls, it’s good fun, something different and gets us halfway there to the social interaction we all enjoy and need as human beings.

I was actually just talking about this with my partner, and we both agreed its that physical social interaction with people that we miss.

Anyway back to the idea to connect with each other last Friday, the challenge was to try and have a party, or a night at the bar online.

Catching up on video calls brings the challenge of who can bring the most interesting beer to the party for example. Especially for those of us who aren’t allowed to leave the house where we are right now.

As the week went on the challenge of connecting and making it fun and a trip down memory lane for us became a real challenge.

Some of the fun was searching around and dragging the stuff out the back of the cupboard that’s not seen the light if day in years or making our own. It gave us a creative challenge for the week and something to look forward to on Friday.

Music streaming is also our friend, we can create a playlist to suit us and share it, knowing people across the UK, Europe, Scandinavia and Central Asia were listening to the same music at the same time was honestly pretty cool.

A diverse mix of heavy metal and dance music is what most us listened to back in the day, getting creative with this challenge was and is great fun. It’s also surprising to discover some stuff you hadn’t listening to for years and equally to discover to your horror that some of the stuff you listened to endlessly back in the day is actually truly awful…

This reappraisal of our social lives and having to move online has also reconnected a bunch of us who have not been in touch for years having spread out to the 4 corners of the world many years ago.

I cant begin to tell you how much fun the week was, the challenge of the music to bring, the challenge of digging around for drinks in the cupboard. We also told each other exactly what was happening in our lives, stuff you probably wouldn’t on messaging, but would have face to face.

One of our friends was potentially facing redundancy from his job on the Monday, he might have told us that on text but not how he was feeling. He got the advantage of telling his best mates what was going down, and we all got to give him feedback and then check in on Monday and see how it went.

All was good in the end thankfully.

What that one experiment has done, is have us all in communication as a group this week, getting more social interaction and its been positive for us all. We don’t need to have a drink, we can have a coffee and a catch up, lunch, whatever your thing maybe, and we are sharing music and video back and forth in the group, its not normal, but its the new normal and its fun with friends and that’s ok.

This week the Friday night fun is a check in and a chance to discuss some ideas we have, some of us in writing, some art, some business, whatever we are into.

Next week is going to be a quiz based on our myspace pages from back in the day, which should be interesting….

Anyway the point is as Aristotle said, the antidote for 50 enemies is one friend.

Reconnect with some of yours through the power of technology if you can, embrace the new normal and with your friends get together to defeat the commons enemies of the virus and the monotony of quarantine, because together we are stronger and together we are the antidote.

Creativity, something for the weekend sir?

No matter what your hobbies and pursuits are, chances are that right now you can’t indulge in them at the weekend the way you normally would.

To effectively break the weekend out from the rest of the week during these times, we need to break out our creativity and do something different.

Luckily for us all there are literally millions of options here, most of which can be enjoyed from the comfort of our very own lockdown cell, sorry I mean home…

The internet has a big role to play here as we can search for how to guides and video content to help us start well just about anything.

Being creative and using the artistic sides of our brain and personality has huge physical and mental health benefits and also has the handy advantage that it distracts us and takes us a usefully large portion of our time once we are in engaged in a creative activity.

It could be photography, after all your smart phone give you all the options you need and an app such as lightroom or others gives you alot of creative possibilities for those photos for free.

You could take that final step and get writing on medium, on your own blog or even just in a journal.

You could learn to play that instrument that gathering dust in the attic.

You could even indulge in some drawing or painting, got some paper, or wood or plasterboard etc in the garage? Got some household paint and a kitchen knife even? Great you can now have hours of fun creating abstract art.

The list of possibilities is endless, but what they all have in common is that they are all tremendously good fun, great for your mental and physical wellbeing and easier than you think to get started.

This weekend give it a go, I guarantee you wont regret it…

Recession beckons — A chance to expand your horizons???

Yesterday I talked about working at home and the potential advantages of that.

So with recession looming is home where the heart is or is home where the opportunity is?

Well for myself I have to say it’s where the opportunity is.

That opportunity comes in many forms, monetary, travel, culture, adventure and a chance to live outside your comfort zone.

I’m very fortunate to have been able to travel the globe and make a living since my late teens and I’m a big believer in travel expanding the mind.

However living and working in a foreign country has many more advantages to it especially if the world does go into recession.

The chance to go live and work in another culture I regard as a real privilege and a chance to really experiance other parts of the world first hand, meet new people and learn many different perspectives.

In fact I recommend it to as many people as I can. It’s not for everyone but if you can make it work for you then great.

You will come away from your time on assignment with a different and refreshing perspective. Depending on where you choose to travel to you may well build a resilience, can do attitude and flexibility that you would not have had before which will put ahead of your peers.

As most of us will know, in a recession cash is king. If your moving from a country with high tax rates and high costs of living to a country with a more friendly attitude to taxes and lower cost if living then straight away your ahead, your costs are less and you have more cash to hand to weather the storm and make the most of the opportunities that come your way.

Think about it, and if in these uncertain times you are given the opportunity grab it with both hands and make the move.