January 2011 – 191 language hours

Well, the first month of the year is over already, and I’m pretty happy with my language-learning results. But first I want to briefly cover my sleep experiment.

This week, I’ve decided to drop off the Everyman schedule and go back to monophasic sleep. I’ve found that polyphasic sleep requires a lot of discipline during the adaptation phase, and that you can expect several weeks of being tired. At this point, I’m tired of being tired, and I don’t really like constantly constraining my sleep. I prefer to just wake up when it feels good to wake up.

I might try polyphasic again some time in the near future, now that I know what to expect. For now I just want to be well-rested for a little while. At the end of my experiment, I was mostly adapted, but there was still a lingering tiredness for 1 or two hours per day on average. If I made any mistakes in the schedule, then this would increase. Some days were better, some days were worse, but it seemed to only be slowly progressing.

When I try it again, I’m going to be much more exact with my sleeping times, and I’ll be sure not to switch programs in the middle. I’ll also make sure to be more vigilant about setting multiple alarms and getting up right away, to prevent oversleeps.

So, now on to language tasks. I’m rather happy with the amount of language work I accomplished this month, although I think it could be improved more. In total, I spent 191 hours on language activities, with 132.5 of that spent on Dutch. The remainder was mostly German reading and TV time. My personal best was January 19th where I reached 10 hours of Dutch time, and in that week I hit 49.5 worth of Dutch time altogether.

I’ve learned a couple important things. One is that the content of your learning material is really important; the more interest you have in the material, the easier it is to do it. Since Harry Potter was the only material I’ve had so far where the audiobook matches exactly with the Dutch ebook, and for which an English ebook was also present, then I felt constrained in my choices for beginner material. Sometimes it was a strain to get back to work. With German, on the other hand, I have DVDs of Star Trek: Voyager with German audio, and it’s the easiest thing in the world to just sit down and watch a couple hours of that with Chani (who’s spending her time learning German these days).

I’ve also found that it can be very tempting to spend too much time on the English half of my parallel texts rather than focusing on the Dutch. There were many moments where I caught myself reading ahead in the English and ignoring the Dutch audio. For this and other reasons, my recognition of printed Dutch is much higher than my ability to listen to it. I’ve had some gains in the past week, but I still need to work on it more.

Another thing I noticed sharply was the Pareto principle, where 20% of my time got me 80% of my comprehension in reading. I was able to get to recognition of more than 80% of the words on each page after less than about 30 hours of work, and ever since then I’ve been trudging through the “long tail”, trying to acquire that very important last 20% of the words. This means that for the first little while, you feel a great sense of progress as you zoom through the most frequent vocabulary, but then it feels like your progress is slowing to a crawl as you struggle to add a few more percent here and there.

The struggle is worth it, though. You’ll get a magnificent feeling of accomplishment once you get up to the high 90s, where you’ll be able to just sit down with a novel in your new language and enjoy reading it for fun. This should happen by the time you’ve already read 1 million words in your target language, which is about 10 regular sized novels, but you might get there with only half of that, depending on what other language activities you’re doing, and how much the language differs from what you know already.

So, ahead of me is the month of February. This is where I’ll be starting the active phase of my Dutch project. I’ve got a lot more work to do in the first week and a half to prepare. Then I’ve invited a couple of Belgian Couchsurfers to come stay with me for a few days, so it’ll be “sink or swim” time. After that, I’ve booked a plane ticket to Belgium to go to Talenfestival Leuven, which is a “language festival” for one day which includes short seminars on many different languages (all conducted in Dutch). Interestingly, the talk on Irish will be given in Esperanto, with Dutch translation.

I’m still continuing my reading and listening, but I’ll be spending some time practicing output on my own before the couchsurfers get here to put me to the test. I’ve got a phrasebook that I can run through to practice a lot of common phrases, and then I’ll work on some writing exercises to help me with coming up with my own Dutch ideas from scratch.

Just one more month of concentrated Dutch studying, and then I’ll be switching my main project to something else. At that point I hope to have good understanding of spoken and written Dutch, so it should be easy to put it on the backburner and just read the occasional novel or watch the TV news in order to keep things fresh. I’m looking forward to it!


14 Responses to January 2011 – 191 language hours

  1. A talk on Irish in Esperanto and I’ll miss it! Drats!
    Glad to see you getting active with Dutch. Have fun with the Couchsurfers!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Vera Surkova, Pete Lypkie. Pete Lypkie said: January 2011 – 191 language hours: http://wp.me/psO8l-ag […]

  3. Aaron says:

    Are you really actively studying/working with Dutch at an average of over six hours every day? I think you wrote about your daily schedule a bit in an earlier post, but do you find lots of little chunks more affective or a few long stretches more affective? I into small chunks – as many as I can get in a day – because life with kids and work dictates that. If I waited for a free full hour, it’d never come. Cheers and press on.

    • doviende says:

      Yes, I’m keeping strict records. I work in half-hour chunks, and usually do several of them in sequence before taking a longer break. I typically get 2 hours done before lunch, some in the afternoon, and then I spend the whole evening on it.

      If your life is busy, I suggest keeping an MP3 player running all day. Sometimes you might listen, other times something else might occupy your attention, but it’ll be there running whenever you have a spare moment to pay attention.

  4. Ammon says:

    I’ve recently discovered your blog and I enjoy it a lot. Reading and listening to a book that I was familiar with in a language similar to one that I already knew (ie. Portuguese – Spanish) really helped me to get a feel for the language and produce output more naturally. Oh, and I absolutely think that the pareto principle applies when learning languages. Thanks for sharing your results. Keep it up!

  5. Andrew says:

    Yup, I’ve started in on my Spanish translation of The Bourne Identity (El Caso Bourne) and I’ve noticed I have a nasty habit of getting engrossed in the novel (because it’s precisely the sort of thing I enjoy reading) and then reading far ahead in the English version, and I have to scold myself and go back to the Spanish.

    I’m using your technique of highlighting words I don’t recognize to look up later instead of looking them up on the spot, I much prefer that. It seems I end up looking up maybe half a dozen words or so per page, which isn’t really bad at all. Anything else I don’t understand the English translation handily explains for me. I’ll make sure to start measuring comprehension levels and such like you’ve done so I can keep track of my progress.


  6. Jakob says:

    Good job! Just wondering what you had in mind for writing excercises. I’m always looking for new ways to improve my writing. I find I spend more time thinking of what to write than actually writing. 🙂

    • doviende says:

      I think Chani’s right, it doesn’t really matter what I write. For Esperanto, I started editing Esperanto Wikipedia, so I was writing about all sorts of weird topics. I think for Dutch I’ll start a Dutch-content blog and just write about anything that comes to mind, getting corrections from Lang-8.

  7. 6 hours a day is a big amount of time !
    Good job !

    To improve your writing skills, you could just listen to your book and write what you hear…

  8. Chani says:

    jakob: I dunno about second languages, but a good way to cure that in english is to just sit down and write for 5 minutes straight. even if all you’re writing is “I have no idea what to write” or “blah blah blah”, keep the pencil moving. 🙂

    heck, that probably *is* a good idea for other languages. little kids say random stuff or repeat words a lot, they don’t worry about whether what they’re saying makes sense. 🙂

  9. Teango says:

    What a fantastic start out of the blocks this year with Dutch! You’ve been dedicated and focused throughout, and your informative logs always leave me nodding and smiling in agreement. I’m looking forward to hearing how you get on with your active phase next, and wish you the very best for trailblazing into February and swimming with Belgian coachsurfers. 🙂

  10. Johano says:

    I have come to the conclusion that polyphasic sleep only works for a very few people (Steve Pavlina is the only success story I know of)—see http://www.supermemo.com/articles/polyphasic.htm.

    On the other hand, I have noticed that getting to bed by 9:30 works wonders in productivity and sleep.

    • doviende says:

      A lot of people have mentioned the supermemo/Wozniak article, but I think it’s total BS.
      I’ve heard several first-hand success stories about polyphasic sleep, and I think it would work for me if I was a bit more disciplined with it. Everything that happened worked according to the principles stated, and I progressed as expected according to how strict I was…I was almost there, but not quite. OTOH, the Wozniak article is bunk. I love what he says about Spaced Repetition learning, but for sleep patterns he’s just a wacko.

  11. Jordan Chark says:

    Have you already put together Dutch/German-English parallel texts for Harry Potter? I know you probably wouldn’t want to post them anywhere, but they would be incredibly useful to me and I’d appreciate it if you could send them to me.

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