IWTYAL 212: How should I use all my free time?

Olga asks: “How should I use all my free time this summer?”

Episode Summary:

  • Managing 3-4 foreign languages
  • Why focusing on one is a good idea
  • How to “live” the languages you already speak well

Full Transcript:

Good morning everybody, welcome back to the I Will Teach You a Language Podcast.

Did I mention before? I think I might’ve mentioned before that I have been getting these big urges to go back to studying Italian recently. I don’t know, I have to say for the last couple of years my language learning it hasn’t been as active as I would have liked, but I keep getting these big kinds of pangs to go back and spend time on particular languages.

I had it this weekend on two languages in particular. First of all was Japanese because I had been recording a new introduction video for my website because I Will Teach You a Language is getting a big new redesign that is going to look amazing and I want to put a video on the front page that basically kind of sums up what I’m about and what I am trying to do with the website and so we went and did some filming around London. So, we filmed me speaking different languages around London.

One of the things that I did with that in Camden Lock, if you know London, is I sat with my friend Takeshi and we spoke Japanese for a while and I remember thinking, “I really would like my Japanese not to suck so much. I would like to spend some time really getting it back” or improving my level I should say. Then on that day one of the assistant producers for the video, it was an Italian guy called Andre. A really really nice guy and he is Italian and its yet another person in a long stream of really cool Italian people I have me and it makes me think– because I used to speak Italian really well and then I kind of lost if when I moved back to London and started learning Spanish and then didn’t keep up my Italian.

I’ve always regretted it and I think it’s really high time for me to spend a bit of time getting it back and I’m feeling these big pangs coming on.

Today’s questioner has truckloads of free time and she is asking how to use that free time best. I wish I was in that situation. But before we get to that I would like to have the sponsors of the show and they are the place that I will go to when I want to get my Japanese and my Italian speaking practice you can find a bunch of different native speakers from all different countries people that offer professional lessons, informal tutoring. It is of course italki the best place to find teachers online and you can get a free lesson by going to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/freelesson.

Now without any further ado let’s hear from Olga.

Olga: Hi Olly my names Olga and I come from Ukraine. First of all, I would like to express my gratitude. Thanks for all your amazing podcasts, you work is highly commendable. Just a bit of my language learning story, I am a student and my major is foreign languages. So, I study English German and Polish. Well since I live in Ukraine I can also communicate in Russian but that doesn’t matter really.

So, the reason that I have set out to learn Spanish and now I have summer vacation. I’ve heard you speaking about some techniques to implement language learning in to extremely busy hectic lifestyle. Since I’m relatively free right now I’d like to ask you for your recommendations how to use this time most effectively, how to maintain my English and upgrade my Polish and German and still improve my Spanish. Thanks.

Olly: Hi Olga, thank you very much for a question that is going to make a lot of people green with envy I think because so much free time and all those languages to learn. First of all, you have got to enjoy it, that is the main thing, but let me get to that over the course of my answer.

So here is the thing, it doesn’t matter how much free time you have got. I don’t personally think that you can properly actively learn more than one language. Now for you, well I should qualify that I guess, you can’t actively learn more than one language and do it well for all the reasons that we’ve covered in different podcasts.

Now if Spanish is the language that you are focusing on then what I would suggest you do is devote a large amount of daily study time to that because Spanish is given all the languages that you already know Spanish won’t be particularly hard for you. So, I think now that you’ve got free time you’ve got a really good opportunity to make some progress with it. So, I would choose a certain amount of time every day that you are comfortable with, maybe a couple of hours and then spend that daily time studying Spanish and it should be daily. You have got an opportunity to immerse yourself in that language right now, so take that opportunity and have that nice kind of daily study time with Spanish.

Now remember that languages are long term pursuits and I often have the feelings like this, I have got a couple of weeks where I am really free now or maybe I’m going to spend the next month focusing on this language or that language and then inevitably I don’t do as much as I plan and then the rest of your life takes over again and it always reminds me that the bigger question for this is how to use these languages in your daily life because when this busy period comes to an end you have still got to go about your life and use those languages and not lose them.

So, I would really say that because you can already speak those other languages, your Polish your German and your Russian I guess and you English which is fantastic, I would say to you just go out and enjoy the time. Use the free time you have got to enjoy those languages to the full, forget about studying you can always do more studying later. But go out and do the things that you normally wouldn’t have time for. When you’re busy with your working or you are at school or whatever you don’t have time for a lot of things and you can kind of snatch 15 minutes here or there in an hour if you’re lucky.

But when you have got these big periods of free time you can go out and do really cool things that you can really immerse yourself in the language with and remember I am not talking about studying here I am talking about actually living the language. So, go to language meetups near you, go on to languageexchange.com or mylanguageexchange.com and find some people to do language exchanges with locally so you can exchange. So that is cool you meet some new people and practice the language. Go and travel if that option is available to you.

Why don’t you go down to Poland and spend some time there, read books in these languages you are trying to keep up. Maybe you can take a course, lots of universities have free courses. You could go to a German university and study a course on anything you like in German. Maybe you can start a blog and do a bit of writing in one of those languages that are stronger for you. It doesn’t really matter but I would focus on substantial activities and deep focus. So, if you think to yourself, “Okay tomorrow is my German day” how can you do something where you really immerse yourself in German and you use it and you speak it and you read it and just try to enjoy it as much as you can.

The more time you can spend in the company of the language the more it will mean to you and the more beneficial it is going to you. I wouldn’t just try to cram in a few weeks of a crazy study just for the sake of it. So why don’t you try this? Why don’t you sit down and grab a piece of paper and a pen and make a list of all the things that you would like to do in your life with those languages. So, what excites you about German? What excites you about Polish? What excites you about English?

Make a list, kind of a dream board of a few things that you would love to be able to do with those languages and then go out and do them in the free time that you have got because there will never be a better time to live these languages that you know. That is my very very simple and straightforward answer to the question. So, I hope that was helpful and hopefully that inspires you to make the most out of the free time that you have even though that when you did leave me the question it was a couple of months ago so I hope that free time hasn’t come to an end now.

Anyway, if it’s too late for you then hopefully for somebody else it will be beneficial. So, thank you very much for the question Olga.

If you would like to ask me a question I’d love to hear from you. Please go to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/ask in order to do that and also, I would really appreciate a quick review on the iTunes store. Now it will take you under 60 seconds. All you have to do is open up iTunes on your computer or your phone, search for the I Will Teach You a Language Podcast and then click the button that says, “Leave a rating and review” and you can write anything you want. You can tell me you hate the podcast, I don’t care, just write something, and that will be very– It would mean a lot to me because it helps me reach more people with language learning and with all the stuff that we talk about here.

So, if you do have a free moment please do leave a rating and review of the podcast on iTunes, I’d love you forever.

Alright then, I am going to leave you with a quote today which comes from the Dalai Lama and he said, “In order to carry a positive action we must develop here a positive vision”. In order to carry a positive action, we much develop here a positive vision and I think Olga with you with all of your languages and everything that you are going to do in your life with those everything has to start with that vision that you have got, best of luck.

Thank you so much for listening to today episode, I really hope you enjoyed it. One of the questions I get asked most often about language learning is how to improve your memory because things get so much easier when you learn new words and you don’t forget them later in conversation when you really need them. So, what I decided to do was to put together a short email course. It’s a three-part email course over three days that teaches you my favorite techniques for memorizing vocabulary and actually putting that vocabulary in to your long-term memory.

It’s a short course, three days, its completely free. If you would like to sign up for it please go to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/freememorycourse.

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  • dandiprat

    I long for the days where I would get long breaks in between school semesters. I did get some good language study in during that time, particularly after I started being able to use the internet. I would recommend not sitting too long when you have lots of free time. Try to get some listening practice while walking. Another thing I would recommend is if you’re at a fairly advanced level try to read some books in your target languages, because when you’re working and have a family you might only have time to read articles and short stories every once in a while and can’t get into as much in-depth stuff.

    • My thoughts exactly… as much in-depth stuff as possible.

      • Luke Truman

        I have been listening to a lot of Luca Lamperiello and Steve Kauffmen recently and I am becoming more and more convinced reading is the way to go. Thinking about all the stuff I want to do in the language I would love to be able to read the four great Chinese novels, but it’s safe to say I am a few years away from that right now!!

        • It’s only the way to go if it works for you! With Chinese, you’ve got a BIG barrier ahead of you before you can do that, so what do you do in the meantime? Just a thought.

          • Luke Truman

            I just got back from my trip to Hong Kong where I didn’t speak any English for two weeks and that was really really cool. While I was there I picked up a few comic books and the little prince in spoken Cantonese as well as the text book wedding bells. There is also a ton of spoken Cantonese materials online which I managed to find.

            Right now I am going through Heisig (about 200 characters in) then I plan to go through the list of spoken Cantonese characters on Canto dict and try to read as much as I can. 3 months to go through Heisig then a few weeks to learn the spoken only ones. That’s the plan lets see if I stick to it or not!

          • dandiprat

            With Heisig, after a few hundred characters it gets much harder to advance (at least for me it did back in the day), so keep that in mind. Good luck with it. When you get more vocabulary your Cantonese will get much better.

          • Luke Truman

            oh wow really? What did you do when it became harder to advance? Was it just too much review time taking over or what?

            I have heard other people say the opposite, the more characters you know the easier it is to learn more because the components are all the same.

            Im curious what you started to struggle with so I can try and prepare for it?

          • dandiprat

            Early in the book they give you lots of help for remembering the characters but later in the book help is very minimal. I never quite got the whole way through the program, maybe halfway through, if I recall correctly. I just started reading a lot later in annotated readers and newspapers after a certain point and learned to recognize characters that way in context. But it was definitely great to get a foundation in about 1000 characters through Heisig. If you want to learn Japanese I would recommend book two of his program.
            I wasn’t really great at creating the stories to remember characters and remembering the stories like they say you can in the book. I’ve never been able to be very good at that kind of memory and I’ve tried many different programs. Reviewing definitely becomes harder the farther you get in the book. And yes, knowing the radicals does make it easier to learn characters, for sure.

          • Luke Truman

            Thanks so much for the tips, I had planned on going through both books I actually bought the second volume already but im just focusing 100% on volume 1 for now. I do want to learn Japanese at some point so it will definitely come in handy for sure.

            For a few of the stories I end up swapping out the mnemonic he does for more memorable ones to me and I think I am getting better a I go so hopefully I can handle the later stages of the book when he stops holding your hand! Thanks a lot for the tips, add oil!

          • dandiprat

            I guess I should be clear I used the Japanese version, not the Chinese version, so I’m not exactly sure how Heisig presents it for Chinese students, although I imagine it’s not too different.

          • Luke Truman

            I think its pretty much exactly the same, I had a quick look at the japanese one and starting out the characters and stories are identical. I think it just differs in what characters they put in for obvious reasons.

  • Sophia

    Hey Olly,

    You say, and so does Kaufmann and others, that it’s not adviseable to study multiple languages at the same time and learn them ‘well’. Do you not think Prof Arguelles learnt his languages well? In his half a decade or so of learning a load of languages, he said (in a HTAL forum post) that it wasn’t uncommon for him to study up to 30 languages a day in slots of 20 minutes (each and every day for a period of a few years).

    I know Moses learns multiple languages at the same time too, although his methodology is slightly different than the Prof’s. Has he not learnt his languages well either?

    I’m genuinely curious to know your thoughts on these two chaps and how they fit in with your model of effective language learning.

    Thanks again Olly. Always a pleasure listening to your podcasts.