alternate learning activities

2010-02-25

I just wanted to drop a note here about an experience I had today. I was scanning a chapter from a Swedish book, and then I ran it through newocr.com to get a text version. It worked really well, and only had about two errors per page, mostly due to font weirdness for the letters “ft” and “fi”. The site is free, and it has the option for many different languages (which is exactly what I was looking for).

What I wanted to explain here is that this turned out to be a valuable language exercise for me. I put on my headphones and listened to the audiobook while I read my new digital copy of the text, and looked for errors. This way I had to inspect each word carefully as I listened, and I tried to match things up. It forced me to carefully read the text, and got me lots of exposure to new words.

Since I’ve been feeling a little burned out on such intensive study lately, it was refreshing to find out that I was able to really work hard on this alternate Swedish exercise. By doing something new, I was able to work longer and more intensely than I would have otherwise. It reminded me of the value of switching things up a bit and keeping some variety in your daily exercises.

Speaking of switching things up, I also want to reiterate the value of balancing your reading activities between “Intensive” and “Extensive” reading. Someone asked about this on HTLAL the other day and several people seemed to find my response useful, so I’ll repost it here.

I think you should try to do a little of both, but mainly go for whatever is more fun and keeps you moving. During my current Swedish studies, I divide my time about half and half between intensive and extensive reading. For the extensive portion, I like to listen to the corresponding audiobook if I have it available.

With a language like German, which is very similar to your native language (I’m assuming you speak English natively), then you’ll be able to get pretty quick benefits from extensive reading. It sounds like you already know all the really common words, so what I suggest is just keep on reading and skip over everything you don’t know. Just relax and try to sound out all the words to yourself, but just keep moving. You want to get yourself into a nice pattern of following along without thinking too much about each individual word.

If you see something really neat, then maybe highlight it for later. I try to keep my highlights down to maybe 1 or 2 per page, because too much highlighting interrupts the flow, and flow is important in this exercise. You want to be absorbed in the content of the book, not thinking too much about the theoretical details of the language too much. If you’re comfortably saying all the words to yourself, and occasionally making some realizations (“aha!”) about a small percentage of the words, then you’re doing well.

When I switch to intensive study, I tend to work mainly on vocab. I try to get every single vocab word in a certain page of a book, and then try to read over the sentences naturally while remembering the meaning of each word. I don’t really try to figure out the grammar too much, because if I know the meanings of the individual words then I can usually figure out the intended meaning from context. I use google translate a lot for this sort of exercise, as it saves me a lot of individual lookups and it comes up with half-decent translations usually. For Swedish and German it’s also quite forgiving of missing umlauts if you can’t type them on your keyboard.

After I’ve figured out all the words in a page, and figured out each sentence they’re in, then I turn on the audiobook version (if I have it) and listen to the whole thing again a few times just to try to catch each of the new vocab words in the text. If I don’t have an audiobook for it, then I just read it over fast myself and try not to stop on any words.

Doing some intensive work will give you more “aha”s when you switch to extensive, and doing more extensive will give you the exposure to many different forms and individual words so that when you see them in the intensive work they will “connect” easier. Memory is all about the different connections, so if you’ve already seen a word in context several times then it’ll stick much better when you look it up in your intensive work. More basic knowledge flavours your reading experience, and more reading experience makes basic knowledge easier to acquire. This is why both methods are complementary.


stress and attention

2010-02-04

Hi all, sorry for the lack of posts lately, but I’m pretty convinced that I shouldn’t try to write if I have nothing to say. I’ve seen plenty of blogs that seem to just keep spewing out garbage because they’ll lose their precious hit-counts if they don’t keep updating, but I’m not trying to make any money here.

The reason, however, that I haven’t had much to say is that I haven’t been doing much. Lately it’s been a struggle to stay focused. Now, those who know me may laugh at this, since I recognize that I have a strong tendency to bounce from topic to topic, but those bounces are usually on the scale of several months. Lately, I seem to be mostly unable to work on any project for more than a few minutes before I get side-tracked. The main symptom is that I seem to get a compulsion to seek newly updated information; I start browsing through all sorts of blogs, tweets, facebook posts, etc, looking for something new, and I get bored very easily and move on.

This has been pretty frustrating for me since I usually have quite an ability to sit down and get absorbed in something interesting like looking up a hundred new words in a language or something. What I realized lately is that this lack of attention is based on stress in my life. I hadn’t really realized before that there was a strong link between stress and attention-span.

Today, I happened to be watching my favourite news program, Democracy Now, and Amy Goodman (the host) was interviewing a guy from my home town (Vancouver, Canada) about drug addiction and harm reduction. In the interview, Dr. Gabor Maté discussed in detail about the effects of stress on infants, and how this can lead to things such as susceptibility to drug addiction, and to … Attention Deficit Disorder!

Now that I’ve made more of a connection between the current stress in my life, and these symptoms of reduced attention span and motivation, I’ll hopefully be able to focus more on relaxing and removing the stressful elements of my situation, rather than just trying to force myself to pay attention (which has probably just increased my stress, ironically).

I’ll probably come back with more commentary on this topic after I’ve read Dr. Maté’s book on the subject, but for now I’m just going to take it easy and maybe investigate some meditation techniques or something. Perhaps I should retreat back to German too, since I’ve noticed that it just feels soooo easy to read and listen to German, compared with the Swedish I’ve been working on. I know it’s just a matter of time until my Swedish comprehension improves, but it’s so nice to get that feeling of accomplishment from understanding German (although I still have lots of work to do there too).

Please leave me a note if you’ve experienced distraction from your studies, and how you deal with it 🙂