Friday, 21 February 2014

4 unconventional language learning tips for fast results

Do  you want to study a new language? Remember: when it comes to language learning, the best advice comes from fellow language learners. This is because language learners will give practical advice. It’s one thing to understand the theory behind language learning and another thing to be able to use studying methods that work. That’s why I am going to give you a few unconventional learning tips that have helped me over the years learn languages faster. Are you ready?


It is true that grammar is not the be-all and end-all of communication. However, a good grasp of grammar will help you express yourself more accurately. Like it or not, grammar goes with the territory of language learning, and those who get down to the dirty job of learning the grammar at the very early stages of their learning, always find language learning more rewarding.

And why start with the verb system? First, since verbs are the basic element of any sentence, a sound knowledge of the verb system will help you understand more input. And second, a sound knowledge of the verb system will help you form more sentences that are very close to what you really want to say. Especially when it comes to writing, you will find yourself that you are able to express yourself far more easily with a wide range of verbs at your disposal. Remember that the verb system is more complex when it comes to declension, so better get it out of the way as soon as possible. Moreover, bear in mind that while you can get away with a noun that you always use in the nominative, a poor verb system will make you sound quite abrupt.


The words of a language are just the tip of the iceberg: a whole system of values, cultural traits and norms exists below (see also #7 in the 10 things language learning has taught me). Some of these elements are not completely understood even by the native speakers of the language. In other words, language is closely connected to this thing called ‘real life’, and it is through ‘real life’ that we have to tackle our language learning. And since there’s not a one to one correspondence between languages, we have to go through the real world once again in order to connect it afresh to the words of the new language we want to learn. When we are exposed to something new, this finds its way into our mind and memory. This means that the sooner the language learning steps out of the ‘book’ context into the ‘real context’, the better!

So, what do we have to do? We have to notice notice notice! Even a small chunk of language, a small advertisement or a newspaper headline, can become a much more important language input than a phrase in a book. Our brain marks it as a very important activity and pays more attention. Besides, this way we learn not just the meaning of the word, but something of its use, its connotations, its register, its collocational restrictions etc. And this saves us much time in the long run.


This is a method I used when I was studying for the entrance examinations in order to get into the University of Athens for my second degree in English Language and Literature (long story), when among other things I had to learn Latin from scratch. I found this was the quickest way to learn it. However, it is really really boring. But it works wonders.

In this method, you visit the same material again and again in order to grasp it totally. Before each learning session, ask yourself “what do I know about this particular language item?” and then study it and revise it immediately. Then wait for a couple of hours and revise it again. In fact there is a whole psychological theory behind this method which is based on how the human memory works. It is indeed very boring to go through the same material so often, but it makes you feel you have grasped it well, and this can give you confidence to go on.


When it comes to language learning, I believe you should try to do what works for you. Even if it doesn’t work, the mistake will be all yours and therefore you’ll learn from it. Well, you should always listen to what others have to say, but you should trust your instincts and do what seems logical to you. And by doing so, you learn how to learn, and that’s the most important of all. This is going to make a true language learner out of you. 

Do you know any language learning tip which might be considered ‘unconventional’? Please share it in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

5 ways a freelance translator can use the Internet in a more positive manner

It  was back in early 1998 when I was first introduced to the Internet: there was this friend of mine who was telling me again and again how you can find everything online (“Wanna come upstairs to show you my Internet?” seemed to be the perfect pick-up line for the nerdy gal I was in those days).

So, what was the first thing I wanted to look up on the Internet?

Song lyrics! There were so many English songs I was absolutely curious to look up and find out at last their exact lyrics. It was obvious from the very first moment that I wanted to use this new medium in a way that was meaningful and relevant to me.

But it is not always easy to do so.

Sometimes I find it quite hard to balance my online presence and my regular life. I am using the Internet in a way that is not always meaningful and relevant: it is becoming a burden.

So I decided to sit down and reflect upon what had possibly gone wrong.

First I realised that my relationship with the Internet these past few years has somewhat changed. Now I use it also as a professional tool. As a freelancer I am interested in networking with fellow professionals as well as with potential clients. And that’s the main reason I use social media, too.

And it was then that it came to me: if I am to use the Internet more positively, I have to re-examine the way I use it on a professional level. And that’s exactly what I did. So now I’d like to share my thoughts with you and give you a few tips I came up with in order to use the Internet in a more positive way. Hope they can help you as much as they helped me!


One of the first thoughts I had was that I was objectifying myself on the Internet. I was doing it mainly through comparing and contrasting myself with the other professionals. But we are not just a part of the machine: each of us has their own special value as a person and as a professional. And we obviously are a lot more than the sum total of our qualifications: our true essence as human beings can never be reduced to an online profile. Yet when we see the abundance of professionals out there it’s easy to imagine that clients are able to pick and choose. That’s not always true. We are not interchangeable. Each of us is special and worthy in our own way.


The Internet is so vast it can become a total time waster. Unless you have a good compass that helps you find your way. For me this compass is my personal goal. When I try to avoid causes that are irrelevant to my goal I use the Internet more effectively. Besides, my goal helps me beat procrastination because this way I become more focused on what I want to do. But most importantly, sticking to my goal has helped me meet people that share my interests. Again, the advice that works is to always use the Internet in a way that is relevant and meaningful to you!


I came to the conclusion that we should schedule our time online because I had a feeling that the Internet is taking over my life. And why was that so? Partly because I felt compelled to answer every single email or message immediately. The Internet gives us the feeling we are living in a total ‘present’, that’s why while we are online we tend to forget about the future and we want to do everything right now. Maybe it will work for you to make a deal with yourself and check what’s happening on the online world every thirty, sixty, or ninety minutes (I am not able to make this deal yet. But I will try). In any case you should never forget that our time online needs to be scheduled because otherwise it can get easily out of hand. 


Sometimes the client does not see us translators as complete people with own life and needs. For example, when we respond almost immediately to an email or to a DM, clients tend to assume that we are always available. We should NEVER identify with this image. Rather, we need to balance our professional with our personal lives. And if there are some freelancers who work constantly, without even a small break, and who are always available for everyone, that’s very fine (for us, obviously not for them). It is impossible to compete in these terms. Forget about it and move on.


For me, but I believe for others as well, the Internet has started to give me the uncanny feeling that it is ‘unreal’. I don’t know how to explain this. I’ll just say that sometimes I feel the Internet is somehow disconnected from real life, as if it’d got a life of its own. So I decided to do the following: I thought about real people and tried to imagine a fictitious online profile for each of them. And then I suddenly realised that an online profile, however detailed, would never do these people justice. It would always somehow ‘reduce’ them. Why? Because online presence acts just as an appendix to our real life. Yet we sometimes forget. Sometimes we even use our real life to enhance our media presence! The Internet should supplement real life, not the other way round. If you feel you are spending too much time online, that certainly means something. Think whether you’re not satisfied with your regular life, and if not, try to do something about it. Finally, do not waste your time on creating the 'perfect' profile. In any case, it will not do you justice. Instead, try to interact more with fellow professionals and potential clients with the aim of meeting them at some point in real life (but always in a safe context). That’s what I am going to do from now on! What about you?

Thanks for reading!