Author Archives: perfektualanguageservices

003. Setting goals

Source: alibaba.com

Imagine that football was a game played without goals. Perhaps the players would just run on the field and kick the ball from to each other for the full 90 minutes. But what would be the point? If you were the team captain, coach or manager, how would you know that your team were improving? Or getting worse for that matter. So, in football, the goals are important; they give the players something to aim for, and they allow the players, fans, coaches, and managers to see how well (or not) the team are performing. Goals can be considered important for all manner of things: sports, studying, working, starting a business, travel, and many others besides.

Goals are also important for learning a language. I’ve heard many people say they want to learn a language and they buy the materials and make a good start. However, they usually give up pretty quickly. In my experience, it’s because proper goals have not been set. It’s the same with dieting – you won’t stick to a diet and lose the weight you want to if you don’t plan it and set proper goals.

Source: www.studyfrenchspanish.com/blog/language-learning-methods

Setting goals for learning a language learning but fortunately, if we set SMART goals, we can achieve a lot. The idea of SMART goals originally came from business, but they can be applied to just about anything, including language learning. Let’s consider each part of the SMART goal.

Specific

I want to learn [insert language here]’ is far too vague for a goal, just the same way as ‘I want to lose weight’ is.

It’s important to consider what you want to achieve in your language-learning endeavour. Do you want to…

Source: Albrecht et al (2001) Passwort Deutch 2
  • Learn the basics of a language for a holiday?
  • Learn a language because it’s part of your heritage?
  • Learn a language because you plan on moving to a country where the language is spoken?
  • Learn a language to read literature (either translated or original) in your target language?
  • Learn a language to understand songs, movies, or TV programmes?

These are just some of the reasons that people learn a language but there are many more. And of course, some people learn a language because they have learned other languages and they just really enjoy it. Whatever, your reason, it’s important to be specific about where you want to go and what you want to achieve.

Measurable

Source: marketingweek.com

Once you have decided why you want to learn a language and set your specific goal, it’s important to consider how you will know when you have achieved that goal. This is why measurable goals are important – you can’t achieve something if you can’t measure it. So, if we consider some of the reasons that people might be learning a language that we gave above, we will know that we have achieved one of our goals because we may be able to:

  • Greet people, ask for directions, and ask for food in a restaurant
  • Understand all the lyrics to a particular song in your target language
  • Read a chapter of a book in your target language without looking up the meanings of words.
  • Be able to have a full conversation using a variety of verb tenses with people in your community.

So think about how you will know that you have achieved your goal before you begin learning your language.

Achievable, Realistic, and Timely

I have put the three of these together because I feel that they are all interconnected. Once you have decided on your specific goals and how you will measure them, it’s important to consider whether or not they are achievable, whether they are realistic, and how long it will take you to achieve the goal.

Your language goals are only achievable and realistic if they are a little above your current ability. If your goal is too far above your current language ability, it’s unlikely you will achieve it. if the goal is too low or too easy, the chances are you won’t even try because you’ll know you can do it. Therefore, a realistic goal if you’re a beginner at learning Spanish would be to learn how to talk about things you like and dislike. Trying to read Love in the time of cholera by Gabriel García Marquéz in the original Spanish – not really achievable or realistic for a beginner but certainly possible for an advanced speaker who understand almost everything that he/she hears or reads.

Vivo por Ella by Andrea Bocelli and Marta Sánchez

Whether your goal focuses on the basics of a language or on understanding authentic language materials (e.g. books, songs, movies, TV programmes), it’s important to consider how long your goal will take to complete. This will naturally depend on your other commitments – such as work, family, etc. – and your own language-learning ability. So set a realistic timeframe for achieving your goal. Maybe you want to dedicate 6 months to reading Love in the time of cholera in the original Spanish. Or maybe you want to spend three months learning the basics of Spanish for communication. Parkinson’s Law states that a task will take whatever amount of time you dedicate to it – if you plan to spend 1 hour increasing the number of Spanish adjectives you know, or spend 3 days learning the words to Vivo por Ella by Marta Sánchez and Andrea Bocelli (click on the video above to hear this beautiful song), that’s how long it will take you. So think carefully about how long it will take you to achieve your goals and the steps you will take to achieve it.

Putting it all together

At the moment, I’m focusing on keeping my Spanish knowledge as up-to-date as possible – even as a Spanish teacher, I’m constantly trying to learn the language. But I also want to learn Basque – something I wasn’t able to achieve when I lived in Bilbao. For Spanish and Basque, my goals currently look a little bit like this:

SpanishBasque
Goal 1: Be able to understand songs by my favourite Spanish groups/singers without having to check the words.

Already have a playlist of songs that I want to learn. (specific).

Will spend one week learning the lyrics to each song (timely)

Realistic as I already have a good knowledge of Spanish grammar, vocabulary, and can understand what I hear in conversations.

Achievable by sticking to the list of songs (though I can possibly add others)
Goal 1: Master Basque pronunciation.

I understand the rules of Basque pronunciation but need to become more comfortable at saying the words.

Will listen to recording and audio of Basque speakers and find websites and Youtube videos that explain and demonstrate the pronunciation (specific).

Will spend 2-3 hours (1 – 1.5 hours a day) working on this (time).

Achievable and realistic as I will be able to keep improving my pronunciation the more I practice and learn about the language.
Goal 2: Improve my knowledge of Spanish idioms

Buy a book that teaches specific Spanish idioms or get one from the library.

The book is divided into chapters so will focus one one new chapter every week (timely)

Maybe not realistic to use all of the idioms in the book so will focus on a few per chapter (ones that I would normally use their equivalents in English) and practice those.

Definitely achievable as I already have a good knowledge and understanding of Spanish vocabulary.
Goal 2: learn the present tense of the modal verbs

Specific as I have identified a particular grammatical feature of the language and have committed to studying it.

I am used to learning verb patterns from studying other languages so around one week should be enough to commit to memory (timely, realistic, achievable)
Goal 3: Improve my ability to use reported speech.

I find it difficult to use reported speech in Spanish and need to work on improving my knowledge of what “say” tenses match which other tenses (e.g. ‘He says that he’s going to Madrid, He said that he would do it’) This is specific as I know what knowledge I need to improve and how this will help me achieve my goal.

Spend 1 day creating a Mind Map showing the relationships between the tenses then a second day doing grammar drills on this topic (timely). Then, find ways to practice this in communicating with native speakers.

Achievable and realistic as I have enough knowledge of tense forms already and simply need to learn to combine the tenses correctly to make reported speech.
Goal 3: learn the basics for communication

Specifically, learn how to: introduce myself, ask for directions, order food and drink, how to buy tickets for travelling.

Most self-learning language books cover these topics so I will spend one week learning each topic (timely). It’s also realistic and achievable but Basque is very different from other languages so I may need to revisit this goal depending on how easy or difficult I find it.
Goal 4: Listen to more authentic content so that my comprehension does not become rusty.

Achievable and realistic as I already listen to Spanish music and can understand almost everything said in a conversation.

Will measure by checking what percentage of the content of a video/ interview I understand.

Will choose one Spanish Youtube video (such as an interview of about 5-10 minutes) and watch 1-2 each day depending on difficulty (timely and specific)

Hopefully, this helps you think about your goals. You can also see how I consider the different aspects of SMART goals. Feel free to use this as a template.

SMARTER goals

I discovered SMARTER goals in a book many years ago but unfortunately I can’t remember which one. I did, however, really like the idea. SMARTER goals combine the aspects we’ve already considered (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) and the following:

  • Exciting: life’s too short for boring goals so make sure they excite you. Whether you’re learning a language for travel, culture, or to improve your social life, make sure you’ll enjoy not only the outcome, but the process as well.
  • Revisit: to paraphrase Robert Burns, ‘even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry’. At times, you may not achieve the goal you set. It may be because of time or family commitments. Or maybe you underestimated the goal. Or maybe you just needed a break from your language learning. All of these reasons are perfectly valid ones for not achieving the goal you set. Don’t beat yourself up, just revisit the goal. Maybe you just need to give yourself more time, or find a different method. Unlike in football, you can change the goals in language-learning.

Conclusion

  • Create SMARTER goals before you begin learning your target language
  • You can use the template given above
  • We don’t always achieve the language-learning goals we set. That’s ok. You can revisit them.

Feel free to share your language-learning goals in the comments.

Michael

Pictures are taken by or for Perfektua Language Services unless other credit is given. Please contact us or visit the Services section of our website for more information about our language tuition, proofreading and essay-checking or academic writing support.

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002. The hardest language to learn?

“What’s the hardest language to learn?

Japanese? That’s really hard.

Esperanto is so easy.

Finnish is the most impossible.

What’s easier to learn between xxx and yyy?”

I’m a member of various language-learning communities and groups, both online and in person. I frequently hear statements and am asked questions like the ones above.

If you were to ask a group of native English-speakers about this subject, it’s likely that Esperanto, French, Spanish, and Italian will feature among the so-called easiest languages because of the grammatical similarities and shared vocabulary. Languages like Polish and Greek may be considered a bit more difficult because the grammar is perceived as more difficult. Hungarian, Basque, Chinese, or Japanese will likely be considered among the most difficult languages to learn. This is largely because those languages have less similarities to English compared to Romance or Germanic languages. However, I’m going to tell you something important here: there is no hardest or easiest language to learn.

An example of a chart showing foreign languages from easiest – most difficult. Source: https://www.thecultureist.com/2014/05/27/spanish-korean-easiest-hardest-languages-learn-infographic/

You’re probably thinking, “What? That can’t be right!” Well, let me qualify my statement slightly: There is no objectively difficult language to learn. The perceived difficulty of a language is exactly that: perceived. It’s a subjective opinion and it’s based on a number of things. Let’s look at a few of them now.

Similarity to your native language

It probably seems common sense that it is easier to learn a language that is similar to your own. It’s probably why many native English-speakers find Spanish, Italian, and French among the easier languages to learn. Because all these languages have a great deal of Latin-based vocabulary in common with English, it certainly helps when it comes to learning any one of them.

However, similarity doesn’t always mean ease. Let’s look at Spanish and English. Spanish is considered relatively easy for English-speakers to learn: the spelling and pronunciation are highly regular, it has a lot of vocabulary in common with English, and the verb tenses are used in much the same way in English. That being said, Spanish has a lot of irregular verbs, and a lot more verb forms. Let’s look at the different forms of the verb do between the two languages (hacer in Spanish):

DoHacer
Do, does, did, donehago, haces, hace, hacemos, hacéis, hacen, hecho, haciendo, haré, harás, hará, haremos, haréis, harán, hice, hiciste, hizo, hicimos, hicisteís, hicieron, hacía, hacías, hacíamos, hacíais, hacían, haría, harías, haríamos, haríais, harían, haga, hagas, hagamos, hagáis, hagan, hiciera, hicieras, hiciéramos, hicierais, hicieran, hicieses, hiciese, hiciésemos, hicieseis, hiciesen, haz, haced.

That’s a lot more for learners of Spanish to memorise than for learners of English. Similarly, let’s take a look at a more exotic language: Mandarin. This is often cited as one of the most difficult languages to learn. It has 4 tones and if you say a word with the wrong tone, you can change the meaning of a word and possibly cause offence. There’s also little vocabulary in common with English. Despite that, Mandarin has no conjugations, no verb tenses, no gendered nouns, and no articles. All of this may make it easier for you to learn than Spanish, french, German, or any other European language.

Available resources

Go to your local library or search online and you’ll be inundated with results for the most common European languages: books, apps, Youtube videos, podcasts, and blogs aplenty. Some languages, however, do not have as much variety.

In the case of Basque (a language isolate spoken in the north of Spain and south of France – though very unrelated to Spanish or French), there are very few resources – physical or online – in English. In cases like this, the quality may also not be the best as there is very little competition. Some publishers (e.g. Teach Yourself, Colloquial) publish self-study textbooks in a wide variety of languages. However, you may find it difficult to achieve the level that the book advises without adequate practice from a native speaker.

Time

The DLIFLC (Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center) teaches foreign languages to US military and security personnel. They claim you can become fluent in one of its 17 languages somewhere between 47 and 61 weeks. How? Their trainees must study intensively (with little or no use of English) 7 hours a day for 5 weeks. Now, this would be my idea of heaven as a passionate language learner but in the real world, none of us have that availability (except maybe the very rich if they don’t have to work for their money). Nevertheless, the amount of time you can dedicate to your language practice each day (and each day is recommended) will greatly affect your progress.

Language familiarity

Is English really an easy language to learn? it’s debatable. As with Spanish and Mandarin that were discussed above, there are certain characteristics of the language that can make it both easy and difficult: there are few variations in verb conjugation and tense but spelling and punctuation are incredibly inconsistent.

So what makes English one of the most widely-spoken languages? It may be partly to do with the fact that people all over the world get exposed to it via English movies, music, books, and TV programmes. This isn’t always the case, however, but people in the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries have a reputation for speaking English like native speakers and the TV channels in those countries tend to show English-language programmes or films in the original language as opposed to dubbing them into the local one. By contrast, Spain and Italy tend to dub foreign-language programmes and movies into their own language and their reputation for English-language ability is not as strong as Scandinavian countries.

Perhaps another reason that the whole world seems to learn English with relative ease that people have a passion or a reason for learning it because of the all-pervasive English culture. You automatically have a motivation to learn English if you want to be able to understand the songs by your favourite group, or all the Avengers films, for example. Similarly, people might be motivated to learn Japanese to understand anime or manga. At any rate, the more familiar you are with a language before or during your learning it, the easier it will be.

Conclusion

So, to finish up:

  • There is no objectively hard language; the ease or difficulty of a language is subjective.
  • Even languages that are perceived as easy have characteristics that can present difficulties to people learning them. Similarly, languages that are perceived as difficult have features that make them easy.
  • Whether you find a language easy or difficult depends on many factors such as similarity to your mother tongue, the availability and quality of learning resources, the amount of time you can dedicate to practicing, and how familiar you are with the language.

Feel free to leave any comments and share your own experiences of languages you have found easy or difficult to learn. What was it about the language you found easy or difficult?

Michael

*All photos taken by or for Perfektua Language Services unless otherwise stated.

001. Introduction

Welcome!

Welcome to our very first blog post. This post serves as an introduction and explains more about who we are, the purpose and content of the blog, and how the blog relates to the upcoming podcast.

Who we are

Perfektua Language Services is based in Scotland and was started in October 2017 by me, Michael Robertson. I have been a keen language learner for as long as I can remember. My mum was my first foreign-language teacher; when I was around 3, she used to teach me Italian phrases from a phrasebook she had. I also used to like learning French from my sister (who is 4 years older than me) and was learning it at school. I have also been very lucky because I have always had very gifted, passionate language teachers.

Languages have always been one of my strengths (unlike maths or science – I’m hopeless at them). I have learned (to various degrees of fluency) French, Italian, Latin, Spanish, and Greek. Besides English (which is my native language), Spanish is my strongest language. At the moment, I am working on my ability to communicate in the other languages. I also hope to learn Dutch, Portuguese, and Basque. The Basque Country (located in the north of Spain near the French border) has a special place in my heart as I spent eight months living there, teaching English, and learning Spanish.

Perfektua Language Services offers language tuition (English as a foreign language, Spanish, and French), proofreading and essay-checking services, and academic writing support. You can find out more about each of these services by clicking on the appropriate tab in the Services section of the main menu.

Perfektua Language Services strives to offer flexible, accessible language tuition as well as high-quality, affordable proofreading services. You can find out more about our mission, aims, and values here.

We are also planning how to grow our business. This will include considerations such as offering online language lessons, increasing our online presence via blogs, podcasts, videos, and social media. More details about this will be added to the About Us section of the website in due course.

Purpose and content of the blog

The purpose of the blog is to discuss issues relating to the learning and teaching of foreign languages (with a specific focus on EFL, French, and Spanish) and English writing. While this is not an exhaustive list, some of the topics that will be featured on our blog include the following:

  • Advice and tips for learning a language
  • Advice and tips for writing well in English (especially academic writing)
  • A review of different language-learning resources
  • A monthly summary of the daily vocabulary posts featured on our social media pages
  • Discussions about topics in language learning and teaching
  • Answers to questions asked by you.

The aim is to publish two blogs per week and two podcasts per month.

Podcast

|In addition to the blog, we will also be developing a podcast. As stated above, we aim to produce two podcasts per month as well as the 2 blogs per week.

The subjects featured on the podcast will be similar to those featured on the blog (listed above) but with various different combinations of the topic.

Suggestions

We are open to hearing your suggestions for podcast or blog post ideas. We also welcome any positive or constructive feedback you may have. If you wish to ask a question, provide an idea, or give feedback, you can email us at perfektua.languageservices@gmail.com or by using the Contact Us form.