Archive for the ‘2012’ Category

Target language study over this period: 17 hours
Total target language study this year: 115.5 hours

Irish Irish (9.6 hours)

TV/Film: 6 hours, 35 mins
Study: 1 hour, 57 mins
Review: 53 mins
Speaking: 6 mins
Writing: 5 mins

German German (7.4 hours)

TV/Film: 4 hours, 28 mins
Reading: 2 hours, 25 mins
Review: 30 mins

Wanderlust Wanderlust (6 hours, 47 mins – not included in my study totals)

Japanese: 2 hours, 10 mins (film + English subs, “Okuribito”)
French: 1 hour, 52 mins (film + English subs, “Intouchables”)
Norwegian: 1 hour, 40 mins (film + English subs, “Hodejegerne”)
Welsh: 30 mins (audio lesson, “Say Something in Welsh”)
Scots: 20 mins (YouTube, “The Scots Language”)
Ukrainian: 15 mins (audio lessons, “1 Minute Ukrainian”)

Notes Notes

This has been an incredible month for me personally, and also by far one of the craziest of the year! I have two major pieces of news to share…

First, I’m getting married in just a little over a week’s time. The preparations have been more stressful than anything I could have ever imagined (as I’m sure anyone who’s already gone through the wedding tenderiser will well understand). And if this wasn’t enough, I’ve fallen prey to flu and been largely stuck in bed these last couple of weeks, which has added to the overall pandemonium swirling around the big day. The main thing though is that my lovely partner in crime has conceded to walk down the aisle and make an honest man of me, so everything else is just background details really.

Second, my career dreams have finally come true – I’ve been offered a PhD assistantship in the US in second language acquisition studies, starting this Fall! The competition was tough, and I had to sit a 5 hour exam in London, in addition to submitting mountains of paperwork and interviewing for the position. However, I really wanted this more than anything, and I’m extremely interested in my supervisor’s research area, so I’m over the moon that they finally chose me. This is such an amazing opportunity and I hope to make the most of it, you can be sure of that! I’ll be dividing my time between teaching and researching in Honolulu, and will get paid for sharing my shameless passion for languages and language learning, whilst most likely boring everyone else half to death (lol).

So as you can well imagine, between Hawai’i, wedding preparations and being hit with flu, I’ve had to put most of my own language learning on hold during this period. This doesn’t mean however that I’ve been completely static either. On the contrary, I’ve reviewed a little German, indulged in some wanderlust, and already started studying Irish for the current 6 Week Challenge as well as part of my Irish Super Challenge (you can see my ongoing stats for Irish in the top right-hand corner of this blog). Hopefully, I’ll be able to get down to more study soon and start to make some real progress in Irish, once the confetti and rice settles…


Here’s to new beginnings! (image by Supportstorm, source: Wikipedia)


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Total language study over this period: 27 hours, 25 mins
Total language study this year: 97 hours, 12 mins

Russian Russian (27 hours, 25 mins)

Studying films: 23 hours, 56 mins
Checking film vocabulary: 1 hour, 51 mins
Listening and reading: 52 mins
Conversation: 26 mins
Reading test: 10 mins
Crosstalk: 10 mins

Notes Notes

Peter the Great monument

Hi ho, Peter!

I’m back from my 2 week full immersion holiday in Russia, and I’ve got to tell you with a big smile plastered all over my chops, I had an absolutely amazing time! I now have a suitcase full of the strangest stories and a mind buzzing with Russian sounds and images. It’s hard to put into words what it’s like to travel through the open countryside at break-neck speed in a beat-up Lada museum piece, held together with tape, rope and scattered icons, whilst cheesy 80s and 90s Russian pop tunes blare out the window and roadside babushki try to sell you jars of pickled gherkins at the traffic lights. And that’s just the first hour of my epic journey!

Church of Chirst the Saviour

You'll find beautiful churches and incredible architecture around every corner (even with the wonkiest of cameras).

The rest of the time, I visited beautiful museums and churches, went out on the town with my hosts, and walked off 3kg in -4 degrees whilst learning more about the country’s rich cultural heritage. I literally ate and drank the tastiest dacha cuisine you can imagine till I almost burst at the seams, and traversed the streets of poets and revolutionaries dressed in more layers than an onion till I almost dropped from sheer exhaustion.

St Petersburg in the snow

St Petersburg exudes exquisite beauty from every classic angle...even in a blizzard!

St Petersburg was as stunning as ever (I’d visited her back in 2009), and I got to see my first ever ballet performance, as well as attend my first ever Russian variety show (which was somewhat reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil…if you also happened to throw some magic mushrooms into the equation). I stayed with my girlfriend’s family, who were overwhelmingly warm and generous and treated me like a long-lost son, and I got to speak and immerse myself in Russian nearly 24-7.


Back in the...U...ahem, I mean...Russian Federation!

As a little thank you, I treated my newly adopted parents to a 2-day break in Moscow. Like me, they’d also never visited the capital before, and it was a fantastic getaway. Moscow’s architecture was much more modern than classical, as you you’d otherwise see in St Petersburg, and I simply couldn’t believe it when I finally got to stand back in awe and take in the scenery on Red Square (it’s something I never imagined I would be able to do as a kid back in the 80s without first becoming a double “00” agent). I didn’t get to visit Lenin in the mausoleum during my stay, due to closures, but I did retrace the steps of Homeless and the Devil from my favourite book “Master and Margarita”. And whilst I was at Patriarch’s Ponds the next morning with my girlfriend, reminiscing over the setting of the infamous conversation between the devil and Berlioz, something very bizarre happened…

Patriach's Ponds

Strange goings on were afoot at the Patriarch's Ponds...

An elderly bearded tramp (no, sorry to disappoint, that’s just beardless me in the pic) was sitting on a bench surrounded by a manslaughter of pidgeons one moment, I took a very quick photo in the other direction, and in the blink of an eye he was gone…исчез…I mean, he straight-up disappered along with over fifty pidgeons! I ran out of the park to the intersection of roads to see where he might have run off to but there was absolutly no trace of him anywhere, and this old guy certainly didn’t look like the speediest Gonzales on the block. Draw your own conclusions to our sobriety at the time, but I’m deeply suspicious that we may have indeed run into a cunningly disguised Кот Бегемот!!


Changing of the guard at Gatchina Palace...

On the way back home I was stopped twice in the airport and asked to empty my large suitcase destined for the cargo hold. The first time was because they found a skipping rope as I entered the airport and suspected I was some kind of Nikita-esque assassin, the second time was because they feared our 9 jars of homemade jam may be weapons of mass destruction. When I said to one of our smileophobic guardians that they were just варенье, she simply scowled and replied “Не верю!” and proceeded to personally examine every single jar. I was so tempted to offer her a spoon and slice of bread in the moment but feared that a sense of humour might not be permitted on the luggage list.


Taking revolutionary steps to improve my Russian! (and yes, that ship is indeed iced solid in the river)

During my stay I definitely levelled up my listening and speaking skills. Having watched lots of movies and tv prior to this holiday was a huge helping hand. I could understand so much more than at the start of this year, and was able to follow most of the fast colloquial conversations without too much struggle. Speaking, however, was a tougher nut to crack. I decided to speak only in Russian from my first minute at the airport, and in the words of my better half, it was a nightmare. However by the second day I was already much better, and although it was still very difficult to sound like I had even half a brain most the time, I found that after a week I was able to say whatever I wanted with a touch of creativity and circumnavigation around unknown words. Then I hit a crisis after the ballet (about 8 days into the holiday)…I just burned out and simply didn’t want to speak or listen to any more Russian. I guess the constant strain had just taken it’s toll and I needed a break, so I confess I spoke in a mixture of English and Russian for the next 2 days. After this, I felt much better, and made a concerted effort to communicate only in Russian again for the remainder of the stay…and you know what, I levelled up a little again! Now I estimate my listening level is around B2 (up from B1) and my speaking level is a more comfortable B1 or even B1+ on a good day (up from A2+ at the start of the year).

Georgian restaurant

Whilst studying a menu at a Georgian restaurant, I became acutely suspicious I was being watched!

My plan now for the next few months is to really get down to some serious study and hit all three of my planned study languages for this year simultaneously: so this spells out lots of Irish, Russian and German from here on out. My priority will be on getting my Irish listening and reading from A1 to B2, and then the rest of the time will be split between brushing up my German and progressing further in Russian.

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Total language learning over this period: 19 hours, 27 mins
Total language learning this year: 69 hours, 47 mins

Russian Russian (19 hours, 27 mins)

Studying films: 16 hours, 37 mins
Checking film vocabulary: 1 hour, 33 mins
Conversation: 50 mins
Listening and reading: 17 mins
Emails: 10 mins

Notes Notes

The first week went quite well and I managed to bag almost 20 hours of study. By Thursday (23rd February), I’d already noticed a big improvement in my overall listening comprehension: namely, a shift from understanding short phrases…to the occasional longer double sentence! This might not seem like much but it was a big jump for me. It’s the first time I’ve ever experienced this level of continuity whilst listening to fast spoken Russian in films and tv, and it marks a small but significant epiphany moment in my studies. 🙂

However, even before the second week hit, I’d already succumbed to the temptation of completely rewriting the algorithms I’m using to help me study (an inevitable consequence of sampling soup and playing around with the salt and the pepper). The upside of this is that the new version is now at least one Michelin star ahead of the original software, and I can’t wait to start using it tomorrow. The downside, of course, is that I haven’t done anything apart from programming in every spare hour thrown my way over the last week and a half! Hopefully it will all be worth it in the end though…

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Total language learning this week: 24 hours, 13 mins
Total language learning this year: 50 hours, 20 mins

Russian Russian (23 hours, 53 mins)

Studying films: 21 hours, 14 mins
Checking film vocabulary: 1 hour, 34 mins
Conversation: 1 hour, 15 mins

German German (20 mins)

Watching TV: 20 mins (German channel in hotel – bonus!)

Notes Notes

I’ve managed to put in more study hours this week and risen from 47th to 10th place in the 6 Week Challenge…rockets away! I’m still trying to settle into a good routine but this is at least a move in the right direction. With exposure to a variety of interesting films and series, I’m becoming ever more absorbed in Russian culture, and already take great delight in recognising several well-known themes, sayings and characters across different films and genres. And according to my girlfriend (who I ashamedly try to cajole into assessing my Russian each week), I seem to have much faster and easier access to words during conversation now and my overall speed has noticeably increased (although that’s not saying much if you knew how embarrassing I sounded before lol!).

In terms of listening skills, I’m still a bit of a distance away from understanding the gist (and by this I mean at least 80% of the meaning) of fast colloquial dialogue throughout an entire film. And even when I do understand most of the words in a sentence, misunderstanding or failing to catch just one word can make all the difference in comprehension. Even so, as I learn to adapt more to a variety of contexts and different people’s voices and way of saying things in Russian, I find I spend less time translating words in my head and more time thinking about the overall meaning. As a result, I definitely recognise far more words and phrases than I ever did before and my progress in this area over the last week has been particularly encouraging.

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Total language learning for this period: 26 hours, 7 mins
Total language learning this year: 26 hours, 7 mins

Russian Russian (20 hours, 37 mins)

Studying films: 15 hours, 11 mins
Checking film vocabulary: 4 hours, 4 mins
Conversation: 25 mins
Crosstalk: 25 mins
Grammar test: 22 mins
Active listening: 10 mins

German German (3 hours, 25 mins)

Studying films: 2 hours, 25 mins
Checking film vocabulary: 1 hour

Irish Irish (25 mins)

Study and click: 25 mins
– Buntús Cainte 1.1-3

Wanderlust Wanderlust (1 hour, 40 mins)

Assimil: 1 hour, 40 minutes
– Egyptian Hieroglyphics 1-6

Notes Notes

With so many other things on my plate, it’s been a less-than-galactic start to 2012. Yet I’ve still managed to score a few hours this February and am rapidly climbing up the charts like a retro re-release in the first 6 week challenge (6WC) of the year. This is made all the easier by my team mates over on the HTLAL forum, a phenomenal bunch of language learners who light up the TAC scene with bags of enthusiasm and abundant support. So I really want to do them and my Russian girlfriend proud and reach a half-decent level in Russian this year.

I’ve thought a lot about how I’ll approach studying my target languages over the last week, and have reconsidered my intial notion of studying all 3 at once. Therefore Irish and German will have to take a back seat over the next month or so, and I’ll instead focus on getting to grips with Russian first. This may even help increase my odds of a high score in the 6WC (lol…yeah right), for which I did very little in the 1st week and fell far behind, but the main reason is that I’d like to make swifter progress, as there’s a good chance I might be travelling to Russia again soon.

So far, I’m really enjoying studying Russian films as my central methodology (it’s even more fun than my mariachi escapades with Spanish back in 2010!). I can’t honestly say that I’ve noticed any quantum leaps in overall comprehension yet but I guess it’s only early days and things may move much more quickly once I establish a consistent schedule and get into the zone.

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I’m finally free of exams and other key preparations, and poised to embark on a whole new parade of crazy language projects to get the creative juices flowing in 2012!

I’ll be balancing this with other projects and part-time work, so I know the road ahead will be far from easy. However, if I can settle into a steady routine and avoid distractions, the next 3 months should prove very interesting…

First of all, I’d like to apologise to my team cosmo-comrades. I’ve been virtually so run off my feet this month that I’m probably far behind on all the recent forum news and any specific developments within our team (e.g. follow-up Skype meetings). And it looks like our team numbers have almost doubled in my absence too – I’ve already lost count (lol). So a big welcome to all new members of Team Sputnik – добро пожаловать на борт!!

It’s also great to see so much initial enthusiasm bubbling forth for Russian, German and Irish in the HTLAL TAC this year, with several plots of blossoming blogs out there pushing their way up like snowdrops through the late winter frost with renewed and encouraging vitality. With all that’s going on, I can’t help but feel that this year is really going to reveal some amazing progress by its conclusion.

So now swiftly on to my language goals and what I hope to busy myself with in any spare time over the next 3 months…

Russian Project 1: Russian

I aim to actively watch films with the aid of some software I wrote last year called Subento, and make a note of any progress in my Russian abilities along the way, particularly in terms of overal listening comprehension and vocabulary.

My ideal would be to watch a new film with Subento at the end of every working day (i.e. Monday to Friday), but this will largely depend on being able to get hold of enough suitable and interesting titles. I already have a reasonable-sized library of Russian dvds, so this is an excellent head start.

Estimated levels in Russian at the start of this experiment (taking into consideration that I’ve been largely inactive for several months): Listening: B1; Reading: B1+; Speaking: A2+; Writing: A2

German Project 2: German

The aim here is much the same as in experiment 1, except I’ll be starting with a higher level of vocabulary recognition and overall listening comprehension (approx. B2). By comparing any progress in German with my progress in Russian, I hope to develop a clearer picture of how initial comprehension levels and familiarity with a language can impact on my overall performance and progress with Subento across 3 months.

Estimated levels in German at the start of this experiment (again taking into consideration that I’ve been largely inactive for 1-2 years): Listening: B2; Reading: B2; Speaking: B1+; Writing: B1

Irish Project 3: Irish

I joined the Líofa Campaign last year, along with another 1300 potential learners, as a public commitment to try and reach fluency in Irish by 2015 (“líofa” incidentally means “fluent” in Irish). So now there’s no more excuse for resting on my laurels, and I’m committed to turning this dream into a reality within the next 3 years.

As Irish language films are few and far between for the purposes of testing Subento, I’ve decided instead to try and review my complete set of Buntús Cainte books and accompanying CDs over the next few months. The full course comprises 195 fun and quirky lessons and 3 CDs of audio, and I’ll be using study-and-click as my only method to study these texts. The idea here is to acquire a solid foundation of passive Irish vocabulary on which to build subsequently 3 months later using other Irish multimedia resources and techniques. Another goal is to see how study-and-click performs over a longer sustained period of time, given shorter bursts of study with a beginner-intermediate course, and then compare my findings with the data gathered from briefer experiments in 2010 with Spanish and Swedish.

Despite having amassed an impressive cache of Irish resources, and even being half-Irish myself, I sadly know very little of my heritage language, and estimate all of my skills as lying a hair’s breadth away from that of a total beginner.

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Sputnik 1

Artistic impression of Sputnik 1 (image by Gregory R Todd, source: Wikipedia)

Interesting resources – check.
Immersion support systems – check.
Killer methods and an amazing team of fellow linguanauts – check.
All systems are confirmed “go” for Teango in Team Sputnik (HTLAL forum), repeat, all systems are “go”.
T-minus 10 seconds and counting…10..9..8..7..6..5..4..3..2..hang on a minute…abort, abort! I haven’t said anything about my language goals for 2012 yet…
(proficiency levels based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, CEFR)

Russian Primary goals: Russian (from beginner to basic fluency)

I’ve ducked and dived in Russian over the last few years, but always seem to fall flat on my face. With the Olympics coming to London in 2012, what better time to come out of the corner fighting like a crazed Cossack, and prove the pundits wrong by coming home with the triglot title belt held high!

Listening: B1 –> B2
Reading: B1+ –> B2
Speaking: A2+ –> B2

Irish Secondary goals: Irish (from beginner to elementary)

I’ve amassed several shelffuls of books and CDs over the last year, and can’t wait to get stuck into TG4 (Ireland’s Irish language tv channel). I’ll be starting this language almost from scratch, and being half Irish, I just hope I don’t let the folks down.

Listening: A0 –> A2
Reading: A0 –> A2
Speaking: A0 –> A2

German Maintenance goals: German (maintain basic fluency)

Time to make amends for neglecting my German for well over a year, and letting it rust away shamefully outside in the rain like an old garden trowel. I have several audiobooks and films waiting in the ranks to help me get back on track, and a bottle of Riesling to launch my studies. 😉

Listening: B2 –> B2
Reading: B2 –> B2
Speaking: B1+ –> B2


This is my third year of language blogging, and I have a really lucky feeling about 2012. It’s finally time for me to stop floundering in my language studies and raise my game to a whole new level. I can’t wait to try out several new ideas that I’ve been developing over the past few months, and need to organise my time in and around work even more than ever. With exams in January, I anticipate a particularly busy start to the year. However, once my spare time frees up again, I hope to take off like a firework finale.

With my inevitable susceptibility to wanderlust, and depending on how my plans pan out over 2012, who knows…I might even try my hand at some other languages too (French, Japanese, Hawaiian and Finnish are all quite alluring contenders for a short-term challenge). 😉

And last but not least…a proud and hearty “Привет!” to my fellow TAC linguanauts (Aloysius, Drsarvo, Ellsworth, Fabriciocarraro, Isabliss_27, Lynxrunner, M. Medialis, Ruskivyetr, Senor smile, Solfrid Cristin, Tecktight and Woodsei). I’m looking forward to tracking Team Sputnik’s upward trajectory on the language radar this year, and watching our foreign language skills soar into the stratosphere. Good luck and welcome to the space race, comrades! 🙂

Edit – I’ve amended my initial estimated levels and goals to more accurately reflect my current skills, following a period of 4 months’ inactivity in Russian (just a few passive films in December, as far as I recall), and 1-2 years of inactivity in German (I must be getting very rusty by now). I will also be starting Irish much closer to a complete beginner than anywhere near A1, and have indicated this with A0.

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