Flash Projects

In search of new horizons…
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 very few serious commitments along the way, being far more interested in how people learn languages rather than buckling down to the task at hand and sticking with it.

From mid-March 2019 [edit], I’d like to reboot this language blog and put what I’ve learned over the years into more consistent practice (health prevailing), and I’ve edited this post to reflect that change. From now on, I’ll approach language study as a series of short-term “flash” projects, pairing one advanced language with one non-advanced language each time. If I reach a high level of proficiency in at least one skill set for a language at the end of a project, I’ll count it thereafter as partially advanced.

For the majority of languages, my first big goal will most likely be to get to a position where I can start enjoying native level texts with minimal recourse to a dictionary. For me, this means independently comprehending at least 95% of the running text with a reading speed of 125 words per minute and a reasonably close approximation and appreciation of how it all sounds. I believe the trick to accomplishing this quickly is to proactively study the top “cream layers” of frequently occurring words in selected material, and follow this up with plenty of reading without a dictionary, building up speed and self-confidence over time.

Once more comfortable with reading, I’d like to advance a broader range of skill sets for each language, one supplementary project at a time (although not necessarily one straight after another), keeping a weather eye out for thematic gaps in vocabulary as well as formal gaps in grammar and language usage. In this way, I hope the successful completion of each new project will lay the groundwork for further projects and enhanced enjoyment of each language, leading to the eventual establishment of a safe harbor for all the languages I’ve chosen to make a part of my day-to-day life.

When I introduce a new language, I’ll add a link to it in the sidebar under Language study and will make a note of materials and progress in the Language resources and Webspiration sections from time to time. I’ll also label any new projects by language and number (not to be mistaken for sports scores 😉 ).

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.


struggling with Russian
source: pixabay.com (topi_pigula)

I flailed like a hapless beetle on its back through the first few unassisted chapters of “Ночной дозор” (ru), but glided blissfully through half a dozen more endearing chapters of “Das kleine Gespenst” (de). Oh what a joy it is to read German and encounter words like “Wasserspiegel”! It has to be said that my wife has casually threatened to cast my copy of “Ночной дозор” into the twilight several times now, but I’m a somewhat stubborn creature when it comes to personal challenges. And given that she bought this book for me as part of a hardback trilogy many years ago, most likely with high hopes for my Russian, I feel sentimentally inclined to finish all three novels. So to lighten the overall reading process when dealing with difficult material, and hopefully at the same time stay this sacrilegious tome’s day of execution, I’ll initially try reading in a dynamic combination of Russian and English [edit], at least until I reach a more advanced level of reading proficiency.

37 hours [edit]

Russian: 18h (13h study, 5h reading)
German: 11h (10h study, 1h reading)
Miscellaneous: 8h

Introducing German…

Neuschwanstein castle
source: pixabay.com (derwiki)

To change gears in 2019, and also feed what appears to be an incurable case of “polygluttony” (♫ Feed me, Seymour! ♫), I’ve chosen to study a wider variety of languages through a series of fortnightly projects starting from March [edit]. I’d still like to focus on advancing one particular language at a time (which I’ll indicate in the sidebar), but will keep another slot free for languages that are already at least partially advanced and I’d like to develop further.

Carrying on from where I left Russian in 2018, it’s time to also revisit German, and apply some WD-40 to the nuts, bolts, and hopefully-still-working mechanisms of both languages. As a brief background, I lived in Germany as an army brat for a few years, studied German throughout high school, and finally returned to Germany many years later from 2009 to 2010 in support of my wife’s career. Over the ensuing decade, I’ve only occasionally used the language, and my self-assessed level of proficiency in German is currently in the B2-C1 range.

Speaking: Looking back a decade ago, I miss speaking German. I was able to chat fluently with locals for several hours straight, especially when free drinks were involved ;), and still find it relatively natural and spontaneous to think (and even occasionally dream) in German, only reverting back to translating in my head when vocabulary fails me.

Pronunciation: It was always fun to ask Germans where they thought I was from…and to this day, no-one has yet replied Engländer! When I initially moved back to Germany, some people thought I was Dutch or Belgian at first, so I worked a bit on softening my /ç/ sound and confused them even more. I’d love to be soberly mistaken for a native speaker one day…at least just once…but I can’t imagine that happening in my lifetime as there are probably still so many telltale signs that give me away.

Listening: I’ve watched several German movies and series over the years, and enjoy playing computer games in the language on occasion. I’m not saying I understand every single word and phrase, but I nearly always get the gist, along with most of the finer details when dialogues are clearly spoken and closer to Hochdeutsch. I particularly love quirky German series like “Der Tatortreiniger” but falter in places where the discourse becomes more dialectal, full of slang, slurs, and obscure idiomatic expressions. This was a particular issue for me in larger groups and noisy busy environments where locals tended to revert back to strong Hessisch.

Reading: Using Hesse’s “Der Steppenwolf” (which happens to be on my bookshelf but I haven’t read yet), I knew over 97% of the running words across a few random passages when I tested myself just now, and my reading speed was in the 150-200 wpm range (although this was under considerably less than optimal reading conditions). This is decent enough for me to pick up a novel and start reading for pleasure, looking up the occasional word here and there.

Writing: I’ve written some essays in the far distant past, and more recently brushed up on some advanced aspects of grammar. However there’s still so much work to be done. Grammar gremlins aside, the real trick is to develop an intuitive feel for native-like syntax, which will hopefully only strengthen over time following further generous helpings of language immersion and attentive practice.

Russian and German 2018

gone fishing
source: pixabay.com (publicdomainpictures)

Weeks 13-14 (Oct 15-28)
– 2h study (ru)

Other issues (namely health) got in the way again. So this is me just touching base for now, harboring hopes for a more productive fortnight to follow.

Russian and German 2018

source: pixabay.com (harutmovsisyan)

Week 11 (Oct 1-7)
– 26h study (24h ru, 1h de, 1h multilingual)

Having completed my first 50 hours of Russian since starting Green Flash Projects, I find that words and phrases are starting to fit into place and feel more natural than ever. It’s as though I’m beginning to develop a more intuitive feeling for Russian morphology, and as an encouraging consequence, fewer passages come across as impenetrably foreign at first sight. I first noticed this change on Tuesday, having put 6-7 hours into studying Russian the day before and then sleeping on it. I also woke up thinking in Russian following a similar amount of study on Thursday, which I don’t recall having ever happened before. I suspect there may be a magic number of hours per day, given the right combination of study and practice, that leads more noticeably to breakthroughs and quantum leaps in language development. For me, this number seems to be about 5-6 hours.

On a happy note of relief more than anything else, I finished reading and listening to the final book in the Рассказ trilogy (Рассказ-канонизация), and let me say that while I clearly made gains through the experience, the road to get there was far from royal. The story was tedious but forgivable given the challenging task of writing intermediate level material for second language learners. However the accompanying audio literally kept me wincing throughout the second half of the book, especially the narrator’s excruciating impersonations and scores of tone-deaf ditties throughout…sorry if that sounds harsh but I’m simply being honest.

Week 12 (Oct 8-14)
– 20h study (16h ru, 2h de, 2h multilingual)

This week started off much slower due to work and family commitments, but I’m enjoying the materials and process much more. I also usually wake with random Russian words moshing about in my head first thing in the morning or straight after a stolen siesta. Having just about made it through my contrived readers in one piece over the last month, I couldn’t wait to finally grab some native (or at least more natural) resources and let the healing process begin. For starters, I wolfed down all 33 Easy Russian videos to date, which turns out to be an excellent resource for everyday spoken vocabulary and expressions (super useful and something I’d like to revisit!) Then I turned my hand to tackling a fantasy novel that’s been taunting me from the bookshelf (and given me wedgies on multiple random reading tests) for years and whose time has finally come (yes, Ночной дозор – no more mocking my reading vocabulary levels – one of us is going down in this round and I don’t intend it to be me!)

50 hours Summary after 50 more hours of Russian (also added to ongoing Progress tracker):

  • activities: I’ve completed a beginner-intermediate level textbook; read and listened to 3 beginner-intermediate level novels (pp. 400-500); watched and studied 33 “Easy Russian” videos.
  • progress: my reading vocabulary has increased by 2-6% depending on the overall difficulty of the text (e.g., a big leap from 92% to 98% in a political news article from pravda.ru, a small bunny-hop from 91% to 93% in a passage from a children’s book like “Алиса и крестоносцы”, and a more lugubrious lumber from 80% to 83% in a particularly challenging passage taken from “Ночной дозор”); I’ve started thinking in Russian upon waking on occasion; words and phrases feel more natural and less foreign.

Russian and German 2018

poorly teddy
source: pixabay.com (steinchen) and ozon.ru with modification

Week 9 (Sep 17-23)
– 0h study

very ill (fever, meds, rest)

Week 10 (Sep 24-30)
– 4h study (ru)

Despite feeling like death warmed up, I watched an episode of Oрёл и решка, worked a bit on pronouncing hard л, and channeled my inner Elvis on the weekend and summoned up enough mojo to shodan flare-kick the second book in the Рассказ trilogy off stage. Just one more Guadeloupean misadventure left to go …

Russian and German 2018

chocolate covered broccoli
source: balcomsblog.blogspot.com

Week 7 (Sep 3-9)
– 11h study (9h ru, 2h de)

While out shopping for presents this weekend, I made an impulse purchase of my own and bagged Langenscheidt’s “German Grammar in a Nutshell”. My rationale was that refreshing explicit knowledge of German grammar between dalliances with Orwell’s “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” would help me nod off quicker at night. So far, this is working like a charm. I also completed my first book in the Рассказ–сенсация trilogy, although it looks increasingly likely that I’m just not a fan of stories tailored or adapted to the needs of second language learners. For as much as I appreciate the effort to repeat vocabulary throughout a story and bridge the gap between textbooks and native-level reading, these educationally fun results just so often end up tasting like chocolate-dipped broccoli (both being ingredients I love, but just not together).

Week 8 (Sep 10-16)
– 4h study (de)

I was delighted to discover my daughter picked up some new words in daycare this week. These included greetings and colors in Japanese and Hawaiian, and different types of food in ASL. The most amusing new development, however, is that she often begins her replies to questions with あの… (well/er/um…). Papa here, on the other hand, has simply kept the engine ticking over with regards to reviewing new words and stepping through my little yellow German grammar (which I completed by the end of the week!)…あの…not much else to report for now.

Russian and German 2018

source: flickr.com (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Week 5 (Aug 20-26)
– 1h study (multilingual)

With a category 5 cyclone initially on a collision course with my little oceanfront cubbyhole, week 5 ended up being a bit of a wipeout. My family spent most of the week battening down the hatches, readying ourselves to ride it out in the bathroom with a windup flashlight and a wall of tinned soup. Thankfully some meteorological, divine, or otherwise unseen benevolent force threw a friendly shaka into the path of Hurricane Lane at the last minute, causing her to simmer down and bugger off elsewhere (note: Big Island was still hit pretty hard with flooding, and Maui suffered major brush fires!) All in all, with Homer pressing the wrong button and sending islanders into blind panic earlier this year, our ongoing deluge of tsunami near misses (cowabunga dude!), and Tūtū Pele being in a particularly cranky mood this year (most likely exacerbated by the sacrilegious development of Mauna Kea), 2018 continues to keep Hawaiʻi’s residents on their toes.

Week 6 (Aug 27-Sep 02)
– 13h study (8h ru, 4h de, 1h multilingual)

Урааа…now that this bizarrely-named threat has passed, I can unpack all my books again! 🙂 I know it’s only early days, but having completed a handful of simple reading tests (revisiting articles and novels I’d used to test my vocabulary a year or two ago), I’m pleased to report that my scores for German now fall more consistently in the 95-98% range, while my Russian vocabulary is fast approaching the 90-95% mark (a goal which has always eluded me in the past). Now I just need to learn the Russian words for another dozen types of mushroom I’ve never seen before and I’ll really seal the deal!