Learning a Language: It Takes a Village

December 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in Motivation | tips - (Comments Off)

We live in an age of “being connected”. The number of smartphone users connected to the internet is expected to reach 6.1 Billion in the next 5 years. By this point in time, around 70% of the world’s population will have access to the internet (and the vast majority of human knowledge) in their pocket.

This constant connection is incredibly useful. From buying groceries, looking up a quick fact, getting directions, or speaking to someone on the other side of the world, this connectedness is convenient.

The convenience of online solutions to life’s problems necessarily touch language learning as well. Learning a language on your own can be a rewarding hobby, and there are plenty of tools to help you along. From learning vocabulary on Memrise to watching video lessons on Youtube, to using Anki flashcards and reading blogs about language education, the internet is a great place to find resources. Even italki has advice for how to move your language learning forward by yourself.

Unfortunately, there is often a temptation to limit one’s education to just these solitary activities. It is understandable why: we like activities in which we can easily see our progress. Memorizing a hundred words using flashcards is a rewarding activity. It creates the experience of progress. The experience of memorization gives us immediate feedback, and because of this it is easy to get caught-up in the exercises, and forget that language is inherently a social activity. In fact, there are theories of language development that explain the evolution of language as a way to expand our social groups. (This theory also thinks of language as a form of grooming, as seen ape societies.)

Though it is possible, and often makes sense to practice individual language skills alone (for example, building up vocabulary), it is through integration of these individual skills that we get the practice which will help us approach fluency.

Moreover, the rewards of learning are not the numbers of memorized words or the efficiency with which you construct sentences. The fundamental reward of speaking a foreign language is gaining perspective, understanding someone from a different culture and world, and being understood by them. Experiencing the social rewards of the work you are doing by learning a foreign language will encourage you to keep going. That magical moment of understanding and being understood makes the process of studying and practicing worthwhile.

As we enter the holiday season, a time many countries and societies celebrate togetherness, family, and connection to their communities, we hope you take the opportunity to practice your language skills, and share your excitement about learning languages with those close to you, perhaps even by speaking to them in their own languages! Don’t get lost in solo practice, but reward yourself and connect with others by sharing the wonder and excitement of language learning.

 

 

 

 

This is your brain on “Thank You”

November 26th, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in tips | Writing - (Comments Off)

This is not a post about Thanksgiving, it is about Giving Thanks. 

Though the Thanksgiving holiday itself is very U.S.-centric, the concept of the importance of gratitude is universal. Since the mid 90s, the concept of gratitude has captured the attention of researchers in the fields of psychology, especially positive psychology, and neuroscience.

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The strongest pattern emerging from the study of gratitude is somewhat surprising: although expressing gratitude often means thanking someone else, the real benefit of feeling and expressing gratitude is gained by the person expressing gratitude. Even when expressed to no one in particular, expression of gratitude has some real and measurable benefits.

Among the benefits described by academic studies of the subject are increased happiness, better connections with others, and general improvement of one’s relationships.

Expressing gratitude routinely trains the brain to find reasons to be grateful, and trains the brain to feel happy about positive experiences. In fact, the field of neuroscience generally sees habitual practice of feeling, acknowledging, and expressing gratitude as a great shortcut to happiness, productivity, and connectedness.

As a company that is based almost entirely on connecting people, we believe strongly that the practice of gratitude, and the benefits of expressing gratitude in everyday life are worth celebrating.

So, we would like to say:

Thank You

To all our wonderful users, students, teachers, and tutors: we want to express the immense amount of gratitude we feel seeing the development of our community. This Thanksgiving, we are deeply grateful for all the people donating their time to others by correcting notebooks, writing articles, sharing their experiences in the community discussions, and dedicating the time and effort for learning foreign language from each other, often from opposite sides of the world. We are grateful to see the meaning our effort can take on for those who want to understand speakers of other languages, and willing to dedicate their time and energy to help the online language-learning ecosystem grow and develop.

We are glad to express this idea, and hope that you will find many ways to express it, and many people to whom you want to show your gratitude.

A common practice recommended by positive psychology is of gratitude journaling. Picking a certain time of the day to do a simple mindful practice of finding reasons to be grateful helps make the habit part of one’s life. This kind of continuous practice is familiar to all language-learners.

Imagine how hard it would be to learn a language if you simply spent one day each year binging on foreign-language material, and lived the rest of the year unconcerned with your practice. As with gratitude, language learning is a continuous practice of small, but intentional steps towards a goal, a better understanding, and better connection to others.

On this Thanksgiving holiday, and in light of this idea of continuous improvement and practice, we would like to share this article about Thanksgiving written by a Lakota columnist for the Guardian.

And, of course, we’d like to encourage you to say “thank you” to someone today, in whatever language you want to pick.

 

Works Cited:

Harvard Medical School: Harvard Mental Health Letter

Psychology Today: The Grateful Brain

US National Library Of Medicine: Gratitude and Well Being

 

The Hyperglot and “Hakuna Matata” 

November 19th, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in italki Team | tips - (Comments Off)

There are many movies celebrating very particular hobbies. From surfing to stamp collecting, cinema illustrates the thrill of hobbies that capture our obsessions and imaginations.

What, then, about our favorite obsession: learning languages? Though there are plenty of actors who speak multiple languages, and quite a few movies where they switch fluidly among and between spoken languages, it is hard to identify a film that is about language-learning as a hobby.

Enter “The Hyperglot”, a 2013 short film celebrating the self-directed language learner. The story is simple: a talented, self-directed learner of languages in New York City is looking for connection. Switching fluidly among languages, he actually finds a greater degree of understanding from those UN-like him in speakers of languages from all corners of the world.

All of his interactions are with people who would otherwise be passers-by. Instead of leading separate lives intersecting only in time and space, our hero finds real connection with the people and linguistic worlds around him.

After the screening of this film at the NY Polyglot Conference 2015, the italki team decided to get together on a Thursday night, and watch it with a few friends. After the 25 minutes it took to watch the film, the mood of the room had changed. There is something magical about seeing one’s obsession affirmed in a work of art. The conversation among us became lively, excited. Various hidden language talents of the room burst forth and bloomed among us. We even decided to have a small language challenge of our own, to memorize “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King in a language we have not studied before. The choices ranged from Chinese to Icelandic, and we are sure to see some hilarious renditions of this song by italki staff on our instagram feed soon.

The bigger insight from this italki activity is this: language learning is a fundamentally community-oriented exercise. In the same way that we we build community around our passions in a local context, creation of art and media like “The Hyperglot” film provides additional motivation from inspiration and a feeling of partaking in a larger, more global experience. Learning foreign languages in isolation is self-contradictory, as language is the medium of connection and interaction.

Having our passions affirmed by our own “tribes” and communities helps us stick to the work involved in achieving our language goals, not just because of accountability, but because of the real rewards that come from interacting within and belonging to a group of friends. The presence of media dedicated to our passions helps us feel this on an even greater scale, and inspires us to dream and to succeed.

The trick to staying motivated, then, is surrounding ourselves with those who share our passion, as well as seeking out those inspiring works of art that celebrate and affirm our belief that our passion is worth pursuing.

italki Learns (about) Esperanto

August 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in event | feature | Motivation | teachers | tips - (Comments Off)

Saluton! This week italki is trying out a new language. We decided to focus on esperanto – the constructed language created in 1887. 

Why esperanto, rather than any other conlang?

Well, first of all, we’ve recently sponsored a language meet-up in Germany, based entirely around esperanto: International Youth Congress (IJK). We saw around 300 young people get together in Wiesbaden to practice esperanto, listen to lectures, and get their 100ITC voucher. 

Besides simply showing support to the esperantists of the world, we are involved in the event and are involved in the esperanto community because esperanto learners need support. The fate of the lone esperantist can be difficult.

There are many reasons to learn this language:

… but, it still seems that esperanto is seen as an odd hobby. There are very few native speakers, and this language, though built on a beautiful dream, has not found as much traction as it’s creator probably hoped.

It is, however, a very useful language to learn. We are actively looking for esperanto teachers, and are doing everything we can to support the community. The most important issue that the lone esperantist has is the lack of speakers with whom to practice day-to-day. Though IJK, polyglot gatherings, and other events help to build community, many esperantists get to meet and practice the language in person.

That’s great, but once the language enthusiasts disperse, there is often difficulty in practicing the language in a natural environment. Sure, there is media out there to support esperanto learning.

We feel that practice, one-on-one, is the best way to learn or keep up a language, so we have decided to put some effort behind building the esperanto community online, on italki.

In the spirit of support for the esperanto community, we have decided to take a few esperanto lessons with our teachers.

italki, meet esperanto!

First, esperanto tutor Teddy presented a “Chinese version” for Chinese speakers in the office, and later that week, we gathered again for the “English version” delivered by esperanto teacher Tim.

Teddy Nee, who runs Nee’s Language Blog and the author of two italki Articles on esperanto, described the basics of esperanto grammar, including descriptions of the different parts of speech, plurals, and use of the accusative. 

Tim Morley (mentioned above for his TEDX talk) gave us a fascinating description of worldwide esperanto community events and organizations such as the World Congress, IJK, and Pasporta Servo.

Members of six cultures and speakers of so many languages, tried to get the basics of this cool language while in our office. Sometimes we just like to take a step back and look at how awesome the future is. 

We’re very thankful and glad that we have such cool teachers, and are really proud to support the esperanto community.

Are you ready for the Challenge?

The clock starts on June 1st, but here are 4 things that you should do BEFORE the Challenge starts to set yourself up for success.  Our experience shows that preparation really pays off!

 

Tip 1. Choose your teacher(s) ahead of time

Try to complete those trial sessions so you can choose your teacher(s) and begin planning. Many italki students find it helpful to work with several teachers.

Out of trial sessions?  If you used all three long ago when you first registered, email italki support to ask for more.

Still looking for teachers?  Find one here: browse teacher profiles.

 

If you’re about to have your first italki class, then this is for you:

FAQ: It’s my first italki session. What should I do?

Tip 2. Schedule sessions (or a package) in advance

Booking your sessions early is a great way to make sure you’ll put in your time and complete the Challenge. Even better, buying a package and booking the hours in advance is an excellent way of making yourself commit!

Here at italki, it’s a strategy we use ourselves to cope with our busy schedules!

Want to schedule something now? Here are some links:

 

Tip 3. Set your goal and discuss with your teacher

Set your own Challenge goal in advance. What would you like to be able to do by the end of June? Decide on at least one little thing you will do every day to keep moving forward toward your goal.  If you’d like some help with this, try answering these ten questions to help you clarify your Challenge goal  (you will have to sign in to a Google account).

What will success look like to you? It could be everything from a conversation with a native speaker to being able to read a restaurant menu and place an order!

 

Tip 4. Tell your friends

Social support is a great way to motivate yourself, both by receiving encouragement and by publicly declaring your Challenge goal.  Add your voice to the Thunderclap announcement.  If you make a video pledge to announce your goal, we’ll send you 50 ITC!

Here’s one of our favorites!  We love Cassie’s sense of humor, creativity, and her unique personal challenge goal of explaining how to make bread all in French!  This is what it’s all about!

Encourage Cassie by commenting on her notebook entry here.

Additional Language Challenge Resources:

Challenge Official Site and Registration Page

Challenge Rules and FAQs

Challenge Blog Coverage