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 I’ve enjoyed these linguistic flirtations and affairs. However I feel I’ve spread myself a little thin and sidelined serious commitments along the way, being far more interested in how people learn languages rather than buckling down to the task of learning them to a higher level. From the second half of 2019, I’d like to reboot this language log and put what I’ve learned over the years into more practice (health prevailing).

Approaching language learning as a series of shorter-term can-do “flash projects”, rather than flash in the pan fiascos, my overarching goal will be to advance a skill set in each language to the point where I can genuinely start enjoying authentic native-level materials or activities, with minimal recourse to supplementary notes or translation. I believe that the best way to accomplish this is to study useful words and expressions and put them into good use as soon as possible.

I’d also like to hold on to what I’ve learned and build on what I know. So I plan to rotate through and advance a broader range of skill sets over the long-term, keeping a weather eye out for thematic gaps in vocabulary as well as reoccurring issues in grammar and language usage.

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 harbour for all the languages I’ve chosen to make a part of my day-to-day life. And when I introduce a new language, I’ll add a link to it in the sidebar under Flash projects and will make a note of 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.



Status: p. 65/326 (20%)

Flash update: After a total of 22 hours, I’ve scored my first 95% in a reading test using Ночной дозор!


llittle prickly cactus reading a book
source: pixabay.com (klimkin)

Status: p. 60/326 (18%); 20h in July (11h study, 9h reading)

Starting this project afresh in July, I think I’ve already made significant progress…

My lexical coverage in Ночной дозор has rocketed from 82% to 92% within 20 hours, which is roughly half a working week. And my ability to second-guess new words in context has apparently transferred over to other materials and skills as well.

For instance, when I sat down to read random news articles in Russian, as well as several passages taken from a selection of novels and tv transcripts, I was able to correctly identify the meaning of many new words on my own and comfortably get the gist. Flicking through a couple of Red Kalinka graded readers I’d purchased years ago but never opened, formally described as written for B2 and C1 CEFR levels, I either hit or came close to understanding 100% of all the words in the passages I read (and I asked my wife to sit next to me and check, to be sure, as I read and translated aloud). Should I be able to do this already?

I also noticed on several occasions that my Russian listening comprehension has improved too, at least to the point where I can follow most of the dialogue in children’s cartoons. I know this doesn’t sound like much, but if you tasked me with watching these animations a month ago, a lot of the dialogue would have flown over my head or been swiftly relegated to background noise. Now words stand out more clearly and I can focus on piecing together what I know, rather than worrying about what I don’t understand.

And a final note on Ночной дозор… Much more lyrical and esoteric than first anticipated, this novel has been a real thorn in my side and has KO’d in the first round more creative language methods than I care to remember. My wife has told me to give up on it dozens of times and to pick something shorter or easier in its stead, which would of course have been the wisest course of action in this case. But my stubbornness has prevailed, and now I’m looking forward to where this infernal novel leads me, albeit slowly page by page, and am actually enjoying the overall reading process. I feel as though Goliath has finally met his David, or at least, Creed his tenacious Rocky!

Altogether, a productive 20 hours of Russian. 🙂

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 all the endearing chapters of “Das kleine Gespenst” (de). Oh what a joy it is to read German and encounter words like “der 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 and stay this sacrilegious tome’s day of execution [edit].

93 hours [edit]

Russian: 37h (27h study, 10h reading)
German: 27h (22h study, 5h reading)
Miscellaneous: 29h

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 shorter-term projects. 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 …