Learning languages…online?

Languages are wonderful – right up there on the list of my favourite things 🙂

I’m drafting this email (Oct, 2016) in Georgia – the country in the Caucuses not the US State, where I am putting my Russian skills to good use on a daily basis. Although tensions are tight between Georgia and Russia (understandably given recent history), many people speak Russian here, especially our age and older. One of the perks of traveling in the former Soviet block is that Russian is understood and spoken by many and after my year in Kyrgyzstan way back in 2000, I’m realising the Russian I learnt there, although a little rusty now, is super handy.

If neither of us spoke Russian we could surely travel easily enough and find what we want, but having a common language really opens doors. We can get to know people we meet in a deeper way, have more interesting conversations, appreciate what people value and their sense of humour. It enables a better insight into the country and culture. I enjoyed the conversation we had in the barber shop with the old guy waiting for his haircut. ‘What is it like in New Zealand?’ Oh it is a beautiful country I reply. ‘Yes, yes, but what is it like? Do young people have jobs? Is it a good country?’

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At the hairdresser, Kutaisi, Georgia

We can understand the jokes the driver made when taking us on a day trip in Georgia. Like when I asked if he’d been to the place we were headed a lot, he replied ‘I have been there so many times I could close my eyes and the car would drive itself there’. We had a chuckle.

Antony with our driver from Akhaltsikhe, Georgia.

Antony with our good-humoured driver from Akhaltsikhe, Georgia.

When wandering in village streets and the locals offer you fruit, you can talk with them and understand their invitation to come inside and try their wine too!

Friendly Georgians offering us fruit, Sanavardo.

Friendly Georgians offering us fruit, Sanavardo.

With this experience of a common language being so handy and the knowledge of spending most of December & January in Spain, I decided to sign up for an online Spanish course with babbel.com. Normally I learn languages best by being immersed in them. Typically I live in the country, preferably with people who will speak the target language at home and I try and copy what I hear, give things a go, make mistakes, have a laugh and eventually pick the language up, not grammatically perfect, but enough to communicate. Sometimes this happens in combination with a few language lessons.

So…this is the first time I am trying to learn from an online programme. Hopefully it gives me some basic understanding of sentence structure, tenses and a bit of vocab that I can then use when in Spain and hopefully build on.

I’m only a few lessons in to the Babbel programme but am enjoying it so far. The programme is a mix of speaking, listening, reading and writing Spanish. Small amounts of vocab are targeted each lesson and there are quite a few grammar lessons for the pronouns and matching verb endings etc. I’m finding this stuff quite hard to remember. The way the lessons are structured means you get exposed in written form to the new learning, and hear it. Then you have to do a match up task with the English translations. After this there might be a listening task where you hear the word and have to spell/ write it. Also a dialogue where you hear and see things in context (including with unfamiliar words) and have to fill in the gaps. At the end of a lesson it gives you the opportunity to repeat any of the questions you got wrong in any of the tasks. You can keep repeating these until you get them right. Vocab or grammar knowledge learnt is utilised in future lessons so it’s not a one off. Every 3 lessons there is a review lesson looking back and checking you have retained the previous lessons’ learning.

Right… now it’s November and a few weeks after I began drafting this post. Have not been consistent with the babbel lessons 🙁 In fact have not done any for 2 weeks. Naughty naughty. It doesn’t take long to do (10-20 mins for a lesson) and is quite enjoyable and certainly do-able. But it comes down to habit I think. And when you are on the road in different countries and doing something different every day it is a bit more challenging finding that routine. I will set myself a goal to do it daily for the next week. Might do it at breakfast time so it doesn’t get forgotten…

Not going so well with that goal. Now it’s December. Lessons completed since writing the above = 0. Completely forgot all about it after drafting the rest of this post. Right… with only 10 days before we hit Spain I am going to publish the post and try hard to do more of these lessons. Hopefully what I’ve learned already has not been forgotten!!

Lesson 9 here I come..

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