green flash
source: sdnews.com (Jim Grant)

I’ve studied a lot of languages to a basic or intermediate level over the years, and for the large part, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these linguistic flirtations and affairs. However I feel I’ve spread myself a little thin and made few serious commitments along the way. Indeed, I think a change is long overdue. So from now on, I’d like to focus on raising old and new languages up to a more advanced level, one at a time, with a view to making each one I select a more permanent home in my day-to-day life. Using a regular British traffic light as a simple analogy, my languages currently fall into, and will hopefully progress through, three distinct phases on this journey:

RED (languages I’ve studied in the past or have lined up and are currently on hold)
AMBER (the next language I’d like to study and advance up the ranks)
GREEN (languages with a solid vocabulary base that I’d like to develop further or maintain and mature over time)

There are many ways I could try to advance each language, but my current line of thinking is to:

  • study and review phrases from L1 to L2 using a selection of (mainly native) resources that offer corresponding text and audio,
  • work on pronunciation or grammar for 10 minutes a day (which will continue through to the green phase in a more analytical form),
  • switch my focus to developing core language skills, once I’m able to read around 95% of the words in an average adult novel. [edit: this criteria may well change again along the way!]

All together, I hope the initial groundwork in the amber phase will be enough at least to serve as a foundation for more extensive and immersive activities during the later green phase.

When I start a new project (i.e., switch my study focus to a new language), I’ll add a link to its introductory post in the sidebar under Green Flash projects. I’ll also try to keep a track of my materials and progress in the Language resources and Webspiration sections from time to time.

I extend a warm welcome to anyone kind or curious enough to follow my linguistic escapades and peccadillos here, and wish you all pōmaikaʻi (good luck) in your own language adventures.

Ke aloha, T.


source: wiktionary.org (with modification)

Russian: Week 1 (Jul 23-29)
– 18h study (8h ru, 10h de)

I managed to meet my initial target of an hour of intensive Russian study a day alongside an additional hour or two of German. Things would have probably gone more smoothly if I’d spread my studies throughout the day in more palatable 10 minute bites (as originally planned), but the truth is my studies rolled haphazardly into less-than-idealistic mossy clumps, as and when when I found the time and the fancy took me.

Russian: Week 2 (Jul 30-Aug 05)
– 2h study (1h ru, 1 de)

With domestic issues eating into my time like ravenous mogwai after midnight, I all but completely sidelined my studies the following week. I was all too ready to beat myself up over dropping the ball so soon into the project, but my wife wisely put me straight, “you don’t need to catch up…you just need to get back on the train”. And besides, the second week didn’t turn out to be a total loss after all, as I made a new (although somewhat unpleasant) discovery – the second locative (hmm…as though 6 cases weren’t enough in Russian…*gentle silent rocking*) – this is something even my wife had never heard of before! I discovered this uninvited guest while trying to ascertain the correct stress placement for the phrase “к двери”, something that raised its head while reading “Колобок” to my daughter one evening (a repetitive story much like “The Gingerbread Man”). In this case, the stress resolved to двери (in the dative), but when I looked at the declension table for this word (see image above), I initially thought I’d miscounted the cases. Sigh…it seems even the simplest of children’s books can reveal all shades of linguistic devilry.

source: biobreak.wordpress.com (screenshot from “Space Quest II” by Sierra)

Just a quick note here to let you know I haven’t absconded or been abducted by aliens threatening to overthrow the world with insurance salesmen, but have been taking care of more mundane issues first in order to clear a small runway for setting off in Russian.

I’d ideally like to spend at least a couple of hours a day on language learning: an hour of intensive activities for my current “amber light” language (e.g., Russian), and an hour of extensive activities for maintaining and developing my current “green light” languages (e.g., German). From time to time, however, I may chose to include some intensive activities for “green light” languages in order to work on a specific weakness or gap in my knowledge.

Intensive activities will include selecting and reviewing phrases taken from four different sets of listening and reading materials (studying a different set each day), preferably spread in 10 minute sessions throughout the day to help minimize interference and retain motivation. I’ll also reserve 10 minutes a day for some light grammar review or pronunciation training.

Extensive activities will include watching tv, reading novels, and producing at least 10 minutes of output in the language chosen for that day. With regards to how I’d like to divide my time between “green light” languages (once they hopefully start to accumulate), I aim to focus 50% of my energies on developing the most recent addition to the group, and split the remainder of my time equally between the other languages.

source: pixabay.com (Katya36)

My first new project in this blog will be to focus on breaking through to an advanced level of vocabulary (C1-C2 on the CEFR scale) in Russian. To establish a personal baseline for Russian, I’ll start with a little background here. I use English, Russian, and NZSL (New Zealand Sign Language) at home with my family on a more or less daily basis. The vast majority of my communication is in English, but I do speak a little Russian with my wife every day (usually short phrases and predictable domestic dialogue), as well as read aloud snippets of Russian children’s stories to my daughter most days. My current (admittedly self-assessed) level of proficiency in Russian is slap bang in the middle of intermediate (somewhere in the B1-B2 range), and can be broken down further into the following traditional skill sets:

Speaking: At this stage, I can communicate with other native speakers at a basic conversational level and use an estimated 3,000-4,000 word families in the process. What I do know, I know well, however I’m still missing a lot of key vocabulary necessary for discussing more sophisticated topics, and this continues to have a huge impact on both my overall proficiency and fluency in the language. All in all, speaking in Russian for any length of time, given regular and reluctant recourse to circumlocution to work around frequent gaps in my vocabulary, leaves me feeling frustrated, demotivated, and exhausted.

Pronunciation: When I first met my wife, I had just a few well-honed phrases from Mr Pimsleur under my belt. However my wife’s friends and colleagues (who I must also point out were sober at the time) were convinced I hailed from one of the Baltic States, which means my pronunciation mustn’t have been too shabby. Although my better half rates me around 7 or 8 out of 10 on the Russian accent scale (and I must keep in mind that perhaps she’s just being kind and hearing me through a rose-tinted ear trumpet here), I’m fully aware that there are numerous non-native features of my accent that make me still stand out as a foreigner.

Listening: Despite having watched hundreds of hours of cartoons, series, and movies in Russian (both with and without subtitles), as well as having listened to tonnes of music (not to mention my wife speaking to our little daughter or relatives in the background), listening still remains for me the most elusive aspect of the Russian language. I can usually follow the gist of a show or conversation, but I’m often plunged back into a world of oblivion where I have to make up the remainder of the plot with the sole aid of visual clues and lucky guesses. This problem is compounded when I find myself in groups of native speakers or subject to “noisy channel” conditions (e.g., I’m often totally lost while trying to understand my Russian in-laws speaking at breakneck speed over one another through a bad Skype connection).

Reading: My lexical coverage (i.e., the number of words I can understand in a given section of text) largely depends upon the material and topic domain. For example, I can score in the 90-95% range in the middle of a news article on a good day, yet barely scrape 80% in the initial ornate chapters of a contemporary novel on a bad day! Either way, my current lack and wanting diversity of vocabulary renders extensive reading far from comfortable or pleasurable.

Writing: While I can string basic sentences together with some degree of fluidity in writing, my grammar still has much left to be desired. This is largely due to having rarely studied grammar formally through a Russian textbook (I’ve mainly just used textbooks in the past to mine vocabulary or look up an occasional grammar note here and there). My ongoing studies will therefore include some light grammar study to fill in some of the larger gaps. And once my Russian hits green and my vocabulary gains a surer foothold, I’d like to attempt more free writing in order to analyze corrections and feedback from a native Russian speaker (i.e., I’ve roped in my lovely and ever-patient wife to assist me later). This will hopefully allow me to keep track of my developing interlanguage(s), and help me iron out and redress some of my more recurrent and glaring stubborn grammatical blunders.

Ka upane! 2017.8

Mahalo everyone who sent me their good wishes, it means a lot to me; this year has been very tough all round so far. Unfortunately, the new biologic struck out, but I’m at least feeling a little better now and hopefully one step on the road to recuperation. One way or another, I’ll have to wait and see, but will try to stay obstinately positive, whatever life throws at me …

I look forward to getting back on track with my PhD and own language studies soon, fingers crossed that no more insurmountable obstacles fall across my path or jump from under bridges to demand golden trinkets in the coming months. From this point on, I’ve decided to change things slightly around and focus 50% of my study time on my current primary language (ru), and the other half on learning and maintaining half a dozen other secondary languages (ha, ga, nzs, ja, fr, de).

Ka upane! 2017.7

I’m very ill at the moment, so I’ve asked my wife to type up a quick message for my monthly update. I’d like to let you guys know that I’ll be back as soon as I can, once I regain some basic mobility. Long story short, I suffer from a very rare autoimmune disease, and my last biologic stopped working just a couple of months ago. God willing, the new daily biologic I’ve started today will help relieve the immense pains and let me get back to the joy of learning and discussing languages soon. In the meantime, I wish all my readers and friends here a big aloha (and hey, no slacking while I’m away).

Ka upane! 2017.6

source: negativespace.co

June has been a total washout for me with regards to learning or maintaining any languages. My hands, and any other parts of the body that offer purchase or utility, have simply been fully occupied or otherwise engaged in the process of looking after my nīele a ʻeleu loa (haw: very active and curious) little daughter around the clock. And to make matters all the more challenging, I experienced a full relapse in health too…nice timing, body!

I was cheered up, however, to discover that they aired a sixth season of Der Tatortreiniger (something I was keeping my fingers crossed for last year). The first episode was delightfully crazy, and I’m looking forward to watching the remaining two episodes in some stolen quiet moments while my little пиратка dreams of sticking her feet in daddy’s mouth in the middle of conversations and chewing on forbidden household treasures beyond the toy box. Ho brah…no can monku though…too cute da keiki!