Report from the Talenfestival in Leuven

2011-02-20

Yesterday we spent the day in Leuven at the “Talenfestival” (Language festival), organized by a group called “Esperanto 3000”. The idea of a language festival is to have an event where people can be introduced to many different world languages in a short period of time.

From what I can tell, the original Language Festival was a 4-day event in a city in Russia, about 12 hours’ train ride from Moscow. There’s a room for each language and you can just wander around attending talks about whatever language you’re interested in. The language festival we attended here in Belgium was a bit different; there were 4 1-hour sessions spread over a single afternoon, so you had to choose wisely.

There were about 6 to 8 different rooms active during the afternoon, each with a different language lecture. Only a couple of the languages were repeated, so you really had to choose well. There was a non-european languages track, so you could spend the afternoon learning about Tshiluba, Lingala and Swahili, and Sinhalese. Since it was anticipated that some people would be interested in several of these, they were timed so that they wouldn’t conflict with each other.

For my first choice, I went to a Polish course. It was all in Dutch, but I found it quite easy to understand, which was comforting. The intimidating part was when the instructor asked us to introduce ourselves first, and say why we were interested in Polish. I was 6th in line for that, so a had a few moments to prepare, but then got through it pretty easily. I also got many questions about my Dutch-learning methods later in the break, since people were quite interested in how I managed to learn so much in less than 2 months. I told them that Harry Potter is magic in more ways than one 😉

In the intermission, I went to grab a beer in the common room. As a Canadian, I’m still a bit amused at the situation, since I bought my beer from a teenager who was the drink selling volunteer for the event, and then it was assumed that I would naturally want to take my tasty Belgian beer with me to further lectures (which I did). In Canada, both of these things would be illegal…there’d have to be a tightly controlled area for beer drinking and selling where no one under 19 would be allowed, and you would never be allowed to walk to another room with your beer. It’s rather ridiculous. I love being treated like a rational adult here.

Next for me was a talk on Kurdish. I was rather disappointed with this one, since it started with a lame video with not much actual information on Kurdish. They had some video clips of kids being taught Kurdish in school, which is perhaps really important for the Kurds since their language is banned in Turkey if I remember correctly, but I wanted to actually learn something about the language instead of just watching a bunch of smiling kids in a class with a music track overlayed.

Things turned around when I went to the next talk though, which was about Lingala. It’s a Bantu language from Congo and the surrounding area, which is apparently expanding in usage because of the spread of Congolese music in the area. The talk was given in French, so I only understood the “technical” words that are common in many languages, but luckily there was a translation into Dutch so that gave me most of the nuances of the talk. Between the bits of French that I was able to grasp, and the concepts of Lingala that looked similar to those I had heard about Swahili already, and then the Dutch translation of it all, I managed to actually learn bits of both French and Lingala from the talk.

Lingala seems to share many Bantu features with Swahili, such as having many classes of nouns that are indicated by prefixes that must match with other words in the sentence. You can think of it like the European idea of word “genders”, but instead of two or three genders, you have more than 10, and each gender has a different way to indicate plurals. It’s mostly a spoken language, and there are many more people who speak it as a second language, using it for communication in the region.

Finally, I attended a talk on Czech. The instructor was an Esperanto speaker that I’d met before, who had actually studied for a while in Leuven, so he spoke pretty decent Dutch. He explained a lot of the basic structures of Czech, and I noticed that there were many close similarities with Polish from earlier in the day. This makes sense, since they’re both part of the Western Slavic language family.

It appears to me that Czech is probably easier than Polish, but as a language learner I’m drawn more to Polish because of the wide variety of resources available on the internet. Polish has a more difficult distinction between the “hard” and “soft” versions of several sounds, many of which I’m currently incapable of distinguishing, but I think I could remedy that with a lot of listening. I’ve met a lot of Esperantists from Slovakia and the Czech Republic, so I was interested in how much Polish would be understood by speakers of the other Western Slavic languages. Our instructor confirmed this by saying that through slow and careful speech, Czech speakers can make themselves understood by Polish speakers, and they have quite an easy time learning each others’ languages. This bodes well for my plan of entering the realm of Slavic languages through Polish.

After 4 sessions, the festival came to an end. We had a final beer and found more Esperanto speakers to chat with before heading out to find food. We went to a nice Indian restaurant (which actually gave me decently spicy food) and proceeded to have an amusing multilingual conversation. Most of it was in Dutch and Esperanto, but there were some brief interludes in English too. The most interesting of which was a joke that required all three languages to understand. To understand, you need to know first that the Dutch word for “to breed animals” is “fokken”, which always amuses me when I see it. This means a breeder of animals is then a “fokker”. The other word you need is “paarden” which is “horses” in Dutch.

So, the joke starts out with an Esperanto speaker asking “Kion vi faras?” (What do you do?). A Dutch speaker wants to try out his English skills, so he mistakenly responds “I fok horses”. An English speaker is appropriately shocked by this statement, and exclaims “Pardon???”, to which the Dutch speaker confirms “Ja, paarden!”. I found it extra amusing trying to explain all this in German to the guy next to me who didn’t catch all of it the first time. Needless to say, it was a wonderfully multilingual evening.

It’s now Sunday, and we’re having a relaxing day back in Brussels. I think we’ll take one more opportunity to drink some beer before we by some extra chocolate to take home, and then we fly back to Berlin this evening, carrying our heavy load of new Dutch books home with us. All in all, a successful trip, and I hope to come back here again at some point. Until then, I have tons of reading to do 😉

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Belgium day 2: a visit to Antwerp and some Esperanto practice

2011-02-18

Today we set off to Antwerp to get a taste of a true Flemish city to get some language practice. We took the train from Brussels and got there quite quickly.

Antwerp was just as beautiful as Brussels, with lots of great architecture, and beautiful little streets. The train station was particularly beautiful inside. We got some lunch first, before starting to explore. As we fumbled our way through ordering things, I realized that this is a huge weak-point in my Dutch, since I’ve just never encountered that sort of situation in any of my learning materials. I don’t know any of the common everyday expressions that happen in regular business transactions.

After lunch, we went straight to a bookstore that we had researched. It was better than we expected; much better selection and prices than the Dutch bookstore in Brussels. I first picked up 3 novels for €10 on the sale shelf (nice and cheap compared with the €20 novels in Brussels). Then I found a big fat fantasy book that’ll take me a while to work through, but looks fun. As I wandered through the other sections of the store, I also found a book on Anarchism in Spain (by a Dutch author), so I’ll get my fill of political and philosophical sorts of words, to broaden my vocabulary. After hauling my bag of treasures out of the store, I felt great knowing that I have a new pile of books that I really want to read, rather than my previous materials that were just whatever I could find at the time that happened to be in Dutch.

Next we hung out in a cafe for a while, reading books and sipping coffees, then beers. We had arranged to go to an Esperanto club meeting in the evening, so we had some time to kill.

The Esperanto meeting was quite fun too. It was at a building in downtown owned by the Flemish Esperanto League (FEL), and they put on a big dinner. There were probably 30 people there for dinner, anywhere from beginners to advanced. I actually got to practice my Dutch a lot with some friends of attendees, who didn’t really know that much Esperanto. They were a bit reluctant to speak Dutch in front of the foreign guests at an Esperanto event, but we assured them that we understood Dutch too.

It was an interesting experience, since my Esperanto now seems to flow reasonably well. I chatted away to some people in Esperanto for a bit about various topics, but then decided to push Dutch a bit more with the others. They were quite happy to help me out, and nobody tried to switch to English at all. I was able to get my ideas across in Dutch without too much trouble, which was very gratifying.

So, now we’re back at our hosts’ apartment in Brussels, speaking Esperanto yet again. Tomorrow is the big day of the Language Festival in the neighbouring city of Leuven, which we’re all looking forward too. I’m now quite confident that I’ll be able to enjoy the talks in Dutch, and that I’ll be able to converse with people there. It should be a blast.

I’ve also been reading through my new books, and I find that I can actually read them pretty easily. I’m finally reaching the level of reading skill that feels very satisfying. I can read novels and non-fiction without too much trouble in Dutch now, so I just need to work on my vocab and reading speed a bit more. I’m nowhere near “done”, whatever that may mean, but I’m very happy with my level so far.

I still need more practice speaking, and that’s my goal for the next while. I don’t think I could really pass my “fun bar conversation” test yet, so I’ll have to search out some Dutch speakers in Berlin once I get back so I can practice more. I suspect I’ll be able to speak fairly well before I leave Europe, though.

Time for sleep now. I’ll report more after the Language Festival tomorrow 🙂


Learning Dutch while traveling: first impressions of Belgium

2011-02-17

I’ve just spent my first day in Belgium, in the capitol city of Brussels. I’m here with two friends from Berlin in order to attend a “language festival” on Saturday in Leuven. For the next few days, we’ll be staying with some Esperanto-speaking friends here in Brussels while we explore the surrounding area.

Today we wandered around downtown Brussels. We joked to each other that pretty much every store here has either a) waffles, b) chocolate, c) fries, or d) beer. It’s not totally true, but nearly. Unfortunately (for us), the majority of the people in Brussels speak French, even though it’s in the northern part of Belgium that is majority Dutch-speaking. Apparently it’s a large exception in the area.

Brussels is a very beautiful city. Lots of small streets, beautiful old architecture mixed with a lot of modern buildings too. It would be fun to have more time to explore around and try out all the local beers, and see more of the city. One thing that surprised me, though, was that the “Grand Place / Grote Markt” (a big square in the middle of town) seemed to be quite littered with trash and empty beer bottles, and was full of beer-swilling rowdies.

My friends and I began searching out bookstores (naturally ;), and found a decent-sized Dutch bookstore. It seems that book prices are quite high here, mostly around €20 for a novel. I managed to find “De Da Vinci Code” in Dutch for €5 though, so I have something new to read. Speaking of prices, I find food quite expensive here too, compared to Berlin anyway…although Berlin is widely known as a very cheap city.

We’ve been staying with some Esperanto speakers, one from Croatia and one from Slovenia, who met each other at an Esperanto event. It’s been quite fun practicing Esperanto with them. Tomorrow we’re heading to Antwerp where we’ll meet up with more Esperanto speakers, although we’ll be focusing on practicing our Dutch with them.

Saturday is the Language Festival in Leuven, where we’ll be attending several 1-hr seminars about various languages. I think I signed up for Polish, Lingala (from central Africa), and two others. All of the seminars will be given in Dutch, so it should be interesting to see how much I understand.

More soon, when I get some spare time 🙂


JES journal, Dec 27

2010-12-29

Monday afternoon we caught a train from Berlin to Cottbus. The train was quite comfy (unlike the crowded train I took from Bratislava to Prague in the summer). We chatted the whole way in Esperanto, since there were 10 of us on board in total. I was kinda hoping that someone would ask us what language we were speaking, but nobody even looked at us.

When we got to Cottbus, we had to run across the station to catch our bus, but we made it with about 1 minute to spare. At that point, we realized that about 20 other Esperantists were waiting for the bus too, and it became a happy reunion for many.

The bus slowly made its way through Cottbus in the direction of Burg, our destination. Burg is a small town in the Spreewald (the forest along the river Spree, which eventually flows through Berlin). It’s sort of a resort town, known for its spa complex and forest surroundings. On the bus, I sat beside a Danish fellow named Kimo, who apparently was a musician of some sort.

We arrived in Burg and trudged through the snow to the youth hostel, and signed in. Soon afterwards it was dinner time, and the official opening event, attended by around 50 people, since not everyone would be arriving for another day or two. During the opening, we heard a couple greetings issued by local politicians who had come to say hi. Their slowly-delivered German speeches were filled with the expected ceremonial pleasantries, which were faithfully translated to Esperanto for the crowd.

Next came the musical act, which was Kimo from the bus. He busted out an accordion and started to crank out some catchy songs in Esperanto. Apparently he’s somewhat of a celebrity amongst the Esperanto community, because everyone seemed to know all his songs and sing along. He’s quite a lively character too, demonstrating his very youthful spirit, despite his gray hair and trimmed beard. As he introduced himself, he mentioned that he grew up speaking Esperanto with his parents, making him one of the small group of native speakers. Coincidentally, the stage lighting was being controlled by a computer programmer from England that I know, who also happens to be a native Esperanto speaker.

A while later, we went over to the Trinkejo (“drinking-place”) for a beer, and tried out some slovakian hard liquor that someone had brought along. Quite tasty, and also very smooth, despite having an alcohol percentage that made it suitable for use as boat-gas.

I the played a rather poor game of Go with a friend, and retired for the night, eager to see what would happen the following day.


Fun with Esperanto Wikipedia

2010-12-27

As you read this on Monday, I’ll be on the train to a week-long Esperanto new years party called JES. Stay tuned for more from me when I get back in January and start working on Dutch!

Lately I’ve been puzzling over new ways to practice active language skills. Over the past few years I’ve become much more skilled at acquiring passive language skills (reading / listening / understanding), but I haven’t really gotten the hang of the active part as much as I hoped.

When I arrived in Germany, it was extremely easy for me to understand what everyone was saying and what was on all the signs and menus, because I had already read a dozen full books in German, watched hundreds of hours of TV, and listened to a lot of audiobooks, all while I was working full time back in Canada to save up for the trip. As I started trying to speak to people, my active skills developed at a reasonable pace, proportional to how much speaking I did, and it was greatly helped by my ability to understand everything my other conversation partners were saying in return.

Esperanto, on the other hand, has been somewhat of a different story. I learned the basics through some step-by-step lessons in about 35 hours, and then I was able to read a lot of sites I found on the internet somewhat successfully (like an article from some Japanese antiwar activists who were writing, in Esperanto, about their country’s unconstitutional contributions to the Iraq War). I didn’t do that much reading in it at all, although I did a bit of listening to the Radio Verda podcasts, which are, incidentally, produced by two people in my home town of Vancouver (although I haven’t yet met them).

With Esperanto, I didn’t have as much of the intuitive sense of the language that I had with German, and I felt rather frustrated in my attempts to speak it. I had heard a lot of other people saying that Esperanto was the language that they felt most at home with, other than their native language, but I didn’t feel this at all.

I realized that the unique feature of Esperanto that comes into play here, is that the grammar is completely regular, which allows you to follow your intuitions and know that you’ll always be right, despite not being a native speaker. There’s no need to spend years receiving the input required to learn all the annoying exceptions that occur in the other languages.

With that in mind, I set out to pursue an output-oriented activity in Esperanto: I started editing articles in the Esperanto Wikipedia. My plan was to pick some Esperanto articles that need a bit of work, and then look for a larger article in the English Wikipedia and translate a section to add back to the Esperanto side.

It turns out that Esperanto Wikipedia is quite a fun project on its own. It already has around 138000 articles currently, which puts it among the top ranks in terms of size, compared to all the other languages. Compared to the estimated 1M – 2M speakers of Esperanto (very few of whom are natives), this is an exceptionally high ratio of articles to speakers. To make things more interesting, there’s also a system to show the List of 1000 articles every Wikipedia should have, which ranks the different Wikipedias according to the size of their verions of these 1000 articles. Stubs (less than 10kB) are worth 1, medium articles (10kB – 30kB) are worth 4, and large articles are worth 9 (more than 30kB). The overall score is then normalized to a score out of a possible 100, by dividing the total by 90.

If you look at the resuls of this “quality” metric, it’s interesting to note that Catalan is in the top position, above English. English has far more articles than Catalan, but of those important 1000 articles, Catalan has more detail. It appears that there’s some group of Catalan speakers who are quite dedicated to ensuring that their wikipedia is of high quality (which I think is a rather good idea, considering that the language was suppressed in various areas of public life under the Franco dictatorship, until his death in 1975) . In this ranking, Esperanto is in 33rd place, lacking none of the 1000 articles, but with only 57 of those in the “large” category.

For me, this means great fun! There’s a high score list, and anyone can help increase the greater glory of Esperanto ;). So I started picking some articles that sounded interesting, and read their Esperanto versions. Then I picked a section of the English version that looked easy to translate, and started working on it, trying to get my chosen article up past the 10kB mark into the realm of “medium” articles, which increases its worth from 1 to 4 points out of a possible 9.

At first, I was going quite slowly. I had to look up a lot of words, and I had to ask for a lot of help in formulating the sentences to convey the exact meaning I was looking for. If I were just chatting on the street, I probably would have been close enough for the other person to figure out what I meant, but it was harder to get the precision that I wanted for Wikipedia.

I spent most of this past week hacking away on various articles. The hard work paid off, though. My production speed has greatly increased, and now I can much more easily spot errors in other people’s writing. I can compose things from scratch, and I can translate with ease. I’ve also solidified the basic vocabulary much more, and learned a lot of rather obscure words too. Most importantly, the task was fun to do, which allowed me to continue for several hours each day without feeling like it was “work”.

So, I’m now feeling quite ready to spend the next week speaking nothing but Esperanto with friends and new acquaintances at JES, which will be held in a small town called Burg in the Spree forest just south of Berlin. Among the more than 300 attendees will be Chuck Smith, the founder of the Esperanto Wikipedia, who currently writes at the Transparent Language Esperanto blog, and is good friend of mine here in Berlin. Also a very good friend, the very experienced polyglot known to some of you on HTLAL as Sprachprofi will be coming, as well as globe-trotting polyglot Benny Lewis.

See you in January 🙂


(eo) legu unu milionon da vortoj

2010-12-20

This post is an experiment in practicing my writing in various languages. I’ve taken an old post from almost 2 years ago, and I’m translating it into Esperanto. I plan to do more posts like this, with other languages.

I heard about an interesting idea last week. It’s sort of a mental game, suggested by someone from Japan who was learning English. The idea is that if you read a million words, then you’ll be quite good at reading that language. simple enough.

En la antaŭa semajno, mi aŭdis interesan ideon. Estas tipo de mensa ludo, kiun japano, kiu lernantis la anglan, proponis. La ideo estas ke se vi legus unu milionon da vortojn en la lingvo, kiun vi studis, do vi legos bone en tiu lingvo. Sufiĉe facila, ĉu ne?

The rules are as follows:

  1. No dictionaries
  2. When you don’t know a word, just keep going
  3. Read a total of a million words.

La reguloj de la ludo estas la jenaj:
1) ne uzu vortaron.
2) se vi vorton ne komprenas, simple kontinuu.
3) legu entute unu milionon da vortoj.

With something as simple as this, it’s hard to go wrong. There are several ideas that I take away from this game. One is that you should read for enjoyment and read for understanding the story, not just for “sentence mining”. Previously I had trouble getting anywhere in my reading because I was always trying to precisely understand every word in every sentence, and always on the first time that I saw it. This kills the natural ability of my brain to figure things out via multiple exposures.

Kun simplaĵoj kiel ĉi tiuj, estas malfacile erari. Mi akceptas diversajn ideojn de tiu ludo. La unua estas ke oni devas legi por ĝui la rakonton kaj por kompreni la rakonton, ne por vortokolektado. Antaŭe mi havis problemojn legi ĉar mi provadis precize unuafoje kompreni ĉiujn vortojn. Tio ĉi malhelpas la naturan kapablecon de via cerbo kompreni per multaj eksponoj.

I used to try and add tons of sentences to anki just because I didn’t know a word in them, and I was always using the dictionary compulsively, but it just slowed me down. What I actually need is better reading speed and more content (ie more input). I don’t need to memorize every word in the order that I see them. If it’s a common word, I’ll see it again soon anyway. No need to worry right now.

Mi antaŭe aldonis multajn frazojn al Anki nur ĉar mi ne komprenis unu vortoj de tiu, kaj mi devige uzadis la vortaro, sed fari tion malrapidigis min. Tio, kion mi vere bezonas, estas plibonigi la legrapideco kaj pli legindaĵoj (pli enigo por mia cerbo). Mi ne bezonas parkeri ĉiujn vortojn laŭ la ordo en kiu mi vidis tion. Se ĝi estas ordinara vorto, mi ĝin baldaŭ vidos denove. ne zorgu pri tio nun.

This way, I can focus on which words are particularly awesome…something I really want to learn. Hopefully I’ve seen it a couple times already so it has partially sunk into my brain via text, and then I can use anki to fully insert it.

Tiel mi povas koncentriĝi je bonegaj vortoj…tiuj, kiujn mi vere volas lerni. Espereble mi jam vidis ĝin kelkfoje dume, do ĝi pro legado ensinkis en mian cerbon, kaj post tio mi povas uzi Anki enigi ĝin.

This method is also supposed to be somewhat of a long-term method. Don’t pretend that you’re going to learn a language super-fast overnight, because you’re not. But I think you can actually read a million words in a reasonable amount of time…like several months. This is the proper length of time for your language learning goals. If you expect to see awesome results on the order of days or weeks, then you’re doing it wrong. You will see the BIG results on the order of months, so I think this game is good for that.

Ĉi tio metodo devas esti longe uzota. pensado ke ĝi rapidege lernigus lingvon estas eraro, sed mi pensas ke vi fakte povas legi unu milionon da vortoj dum modera tempo…eble malmultaj monatoj. Tiom da tempo estas deca tempo por via lingvolerna celoj. Se vi atendus bonegajn rezultatojn post nur tagoj aŭ semajnoj, do vi eraras. Vi vidos rezultategojn post monatoj, do mi pensas ĉi tiu ludo decas por tiu celo.

In the short term, just read and enjoy reading. Reading is fun! In the long term, it’ll make you awesome. If you can just avoid interrupting your reading to make notes or look up things in the dictionary, you’ll actually get more practice reading and become faster and better at it.

Mallongtempe, nur legu kaj ĝuu vian legadon. Legi amuzas! Longtempe, legi bonegiĝos vin. Se vi nur povas eviti interrompi vian legadon por fari komentojn aŭ uzi la vortaron, vi vere ekzercitiĝos pri legado kaj rapidiĝos kaj boniĝos.


dealing with variety

2010-08-01

Home, sweet home. Berlin feels so comfortable and easy now. I’m back, after a brief trip over to Copenhagen. Although I had a good time there and in Malmö, I still want to work full-time on German. I have some great opportunities to study German intensively here with some expert instruction. What makes me hesitate is that I usually just focus on one topic, but right now I’m trying an experiment by juggling several.

I just unpacked a big stack of books that I brought back with me from Sweden and Denmark. I love books, and I sometimes seem to gather them faster than I can read them. Now that I have a solid place to stay for a while in Berlin, the books are already starting to pile up. Right now I have 2 novels, a comic book, and a book about beermaking in Esperanto; 5 novels in Swedish (plus various audiobooks and ebooks); 1 German novel, but soon to be more; also 3 novels in Danish (yes, I’ll be expanding to another language soon).

So how do I plan to deal with all of these while I’m “supposed” to be studying German here in Berlin? After some advice from one of my language-learning pals here in Berlin (thanks, Judith!), I’ve decided to try to moderate my excesses a bit, and try to do a little bit of many things. My normal pattern is to work intensively on only one thing until I burn out and get wanderlust, or sometimes I just flit from subject to subject with no focus at all. Now I’m going to try finding a nice middle ground.

German is still my primary task right now, but I’m allowing myself to also do some work on Swedish and Esperanto every week, in order to keep progressing in them. This gives me one thing where I’m quite good, and two where I’m sort of mediocre. They each feel different when I’m studying them because of my different skill levels.

To help me moderate the time I spend, I’ve created a new sort of spreadsheet to track my effort. Some of you may recall my previous spreadsheet style, which was to track my time and effort day by day, which was summarized in weekly and monthly totals. I’m changing that now, so that I only track weekly amounts.

The reason for this was that I used to want to fill in every box for every day, which indicated that I’d done something for every daily task and gave me a sense of progress….but now I don’t really have “daily” tasks anymore. I have a whole pile of tasks, and I may not feel like working on all of them in every day. The focus is now weeks, and on using any small bit of time effectively.

Each week will have a sort of laundry list of things I could do. I have certain goals for each week, but nothing is nailed down to a specific day. Instead, it provides me with a list of things that I am allowed to work on whenever I have time (which is often). For each language, I have three tasks: Reading, Listening, and New Anki Cards.

Reading is from my stack of books, which I’m eager to work through, and is tracked by the estimated number of words read (by multiplying the pages read times the estimated words per page for that particular book, to account for the differences between books). Generally I want to read as much as possible, but I also have some weekly goals that I hope not to go under. Some of this reading will also be done as “Listening-Reading” if I have the appropriate audiobook to simultaneously listen to.

Listening includes many activities. It could be watching a movie in that language, or listening actively to the radio, or doing some simultaneous Listening-Reading with an audiobook and a novel. Listening by itself is handy, since I can also do it while I wash dishes or buy groceries, etc.

Lastly, making new Anki cards refers to my favourite “Spaced Repetition System”, which shows me flashcards at calculated times in order to efficiently stimulate my long-term memory production. Whenever I take the time to look up a new word or phrase from one of my novels, I usually add it to my flashcard system as a full example sentence. The system will then show it to me at increasing intervals over time, in order to keep that new knowledge fresh in my mind until it sticks for the long-term. This way, I know I’m making certain progress in the language, and I don’t have to worry about reviewing what I’ve learned because the computer will automatically show me the right things at the right time.

Besides these three categories for each of my three languages, I also have some columns in my new spreadsheet for other non-linguistic activities. I want to improve my abilities in the strategy game called Go, or Wei qi depending on whether you use the Japanese or Chinese name for it. To that end, I want to do a certain number of practice problems each week. I’m also tracking a couple of fitness exercises such as pushups and crunches. These things don’t take that much time to do, and I’d like to do them on a consistent basis over time, so they’re getting tracked in the spreadsheet too.

Having all of these things in my list gives me the variety that I like. Any time I have the opportunity to work on something, I can choose from dozens of different activities, and if I get bored of one activity then I can easily switch to another. If I’m only choosing from this list, however, then I’m still targeting all of my current goals, and not getting sidetracked on other things. By looking at the weekly totals, I can help direct myself toward my weaker areas too, so that I don’t overconcentrate on one task.

Speaking of getting sidetracked, what about those Danish books I mentioned? I should have known that spending time in Copenhagen would leave me with an interest in Danish. There are several Esperanto events in Denmark scheduled for next year, so I wouldn’t mind starting on Danish in January maybe, so that I’m prepared.

This is also serving as extra motivation for Swedish though. I’m not allowing myself to start on Danish until I reach a sufficient level in Swedish. This is both an encouragement to keep improving my Swedish, and also a way of indirectly working on Danish. The two languages are very similar in the written form (and I could already read the Danish menus in Copenhagen restaurants, for example), so the better I am at Swedish, the faster I’ll be able to learn Danish once I eventually start. Therefore, the Danish books will sit quietly on my bookshelf until at least January, and they’ll serve as a steady reminder that there are many reasons for me to continue working on my Swedish goals.

So, that’s pretty much the current state of things for me. My spreadsheet has a row for each week of the remainder of the year, and the columns are the different tasks. When I do any part of a task in that week, then I put a number in the box and color the box blue. If I surpass the weekly goal for that task, then the box changes to green. The plan for the rest of the year is to color in the entire grid, hopefully in green, but blue would be enough.

I’ll be sure to post some updates about this in a few weeks.