Focus On The Things You Can Change

I have to admit, I can get frustrated easily. Not necessarily when there’s a slew of bad things happening to me at once. That’s okay. I get frustrated when there’s a problem with a simple solution, or a problem that’s really important and people don’t attack it because of laziness or just plain stupidity. For me, the place where I constantly put up with this is at work.

 

I come across a mistake in a test, teaching material, etc, and I point it out to the manager. She thanks me for letting her know. Fast forward a couple months, I’m teaching the same level. I go over the same test I went over months ago and find the same mistakes unchanged. Again, I inform the manager and this time tell her that I’ll fix it, she just has to help pull up the file because I don’t have access to it. The response? I’m not allowed to because that’s not my job. Brilliant. The school tells us we are losing students and need to find ways of keeping them, yet do nothing when tons of students complain about mistakes in the books and tests, instead thinking adding a projector in each room will help solve the problem.

 

Accept What You Can’t Change

As frustrated as I get thinking about it, I stop for a moment and relax. I can’t change the lack of knowledge or initiative in the managers. I already tried. So then what can I do? Well, I can make sure I keep track of the materials that have mistakes and inform the kids of the mistakes. I can also make sure that I bring the highest level of teaching to my students that I can. Since the books don’t do a good job, I have to step up my own game.

 

To note, this does not just mean I throw away my own initiative. When the opportunity arises to do more, I still try to do it. Every time a mistake happens, I still ask to fix it. Just now, even if I can’t change it, I don’t fret over it. I just focus on what I can do.

 

What Are You Going to Do?

I take this from the stoics. The idea is essentially “Don’t worry about what you can’t control. Only focus on what you can control.” Funny enough, my dad had a saying about this: You are walking along a path, when all of a sudden, a giant boulder appears in your way. Now what are you doing to do? You can either get mad and beat your head against the boulder, or you can accept that the boulder is in your path and walk around it. The choice is yours.

 

There are a lot of things that happen in life that we have no control over. We just have to accept them. Think about it. Isn’t it more productive to just accept what happened and then find out what you can do about it? Why waste the small amount of time we have on Earth freaking out over what happens when you can use what happened as knowledge for you to plan your next move?

 

Find the Good

Sometimes it helps to see the silver lining. For me personally, I sometimes view it as a challenge. Teaching English? Too easy. Let’s see how well we can do if the teaching materials are flawed. That makes things more interesting. Didn’t get the job you wanted? Now you know what to expect and can get better accordingly. Running late for work because of traffic? Now you know what time not to leave at.

 

By looking at things in this way, we see the opportunity and good that comes out of each difficult situation. Practice this each time something difficult arises and soon you’ll realize that things aren’t as bad as they seem. Sometimes it’s in these tough situations where we learn and grow the most.

 

So the next time something bad happens or something doesn’t go the way you want, stop. Breathe. You didn’t get the desired outcome. It happens. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Don’t get mad. Find out what the next steps are, and then do those. It’ll save you time and energy in the long run.

 

When have you found opportunity in a bad/difficult situation?

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When Natives Only Speak English

The other day, I came across a question by an expat that lives in Taiwan saying how hard it is to get other Taiwanese people to talk to him in Chinese. He said wherever he goes, Taiwanese people always speak to him in English. Of course, he wanted to speak to them in Chinese, as well as wanted them to talk back to him in Chinese. His Chinese, from what it sounded, was still pretty basic, and he wanted to know what he should do to solve the problem.

 

Now for myself, I’ve run into this problem a lot. I go into conveniences stores and the clerks, if they have any English ability, talk to me in English. I’ve even had Taiwanese people try to become friends with me, only to have them leave because I spoke too much Chinese to them. Basically, they wanted free English lessons off of me.

 

I know how frustrating it can be when you are first learning a language, and you feel self-conscious about everything you’re saying. Despite this, you still muster up the courage to go talk to a native in their mother tongue, only to have them respond to you in English. When I first came to Taiwan, this problem was very common for me. Now, it’s something that still happens from time to time, but at a much lesser rate. There are a couple of reasons why this happens and why we shouldn’t be upset if it does happen.

 

Which Language is the Easiest for Comprehension?

When I first came to Taiwan, I understood close to nothing that the Taiwanese were telling me. This lack in understanding made it easier for the language of conversation to be English. Even if they didn’t exactly know how to convey the idea, it still was a lot easier for them to use English. In my own experience, it is much easier for native English speakers to understand butchered English than it is for native Chinese speakers to understand butchered Chinese. To make things worse, in Taiwan, there’s a stereotype that foreigners can’t speak Chinese at all, so every time a Taiwanese comes across a foreigner, they automatically try to use English.

 

The goal then becomes to make your conversation partner believe that the conversation will be easier in their native language.

 

Who Has the Strongest Ability?

Flash forward several months and now I’m at the airport. I’m going through customs to enter into Taiwan. I was in the normal visitor line because I was unaware that there was an expedited line for people with resident visas (Yeah I should’ve known. I live abroad, but I haven’t traveled much outside Taiwan). So, when I finally got to the counter, the lady asked me in English for my passport and for an immigration form they gave us on the plane. I told her in Chinese that I had a resident visa and asked if she needed it. She then told me yes, again in English. After doing the paperwork, she looked me in a nervous way, and then asked in Chinese if I spoke Chinese (they always ask foreigners this if the foreigner uses a little Chinese). When I said yes, she gave a sigh of relief and explained to me that people with resident visas could get into another line (which I originally confused with an EZ pass self-check-in kind of line). The funny thing though, was how  relieved she seemed to be when I told her I could speak Chinese before she explained all that to me. Others are just as nervous to use a foreign language as we are. After a long day of work, and trying to make sure they are understood, people will take the easier route of speaking their native tongue if you give them reason to believe it will be easier.

 

Some People Just Want to Practice.

Some people, regardless of how well they know you speak the language, will just want to practice speaking to you in English. In this case, there’s nothing you can do. The most practice you’ll get is just speaking practice. That’s fine though. Just keep talking. Remember, especially if you live in a foreign country, not everyone sees a native speaker of English every day, so when they do, it’s a chance for them to practice speaking English. They are essentially doing what you want to do.

 

Is there a chance that you’ll lose friends if you only speak your target language? Heck yeah. I’ve had a lot if Taiwanese friends stop talking to me because I mostly use Chinese. Now, I won’t ditch my own friends because of the language they choose to speak, but I try to find friends that can’t speak English. This way I know they want to talk to me for me, not for English. So my friends want to hang out with me because they like me and I hangout with my friends because I like them. Can language conversation partners make good friends? Yes, I’ve had that happen plenty of times. I just don’t recommend picking a friend simply because they speak a certain language. A shared language can help strengthen friendship, but it shouldn’t be the basis of it.

I hope this gave some insight to anyone that may have this problem. You just need to improve your own language abilities and not worry too much if people talk to you in English. Eventually, there reaches a point where one language is easier for discussing some topics than another language. It’s a good reason for you to expand your vocab and well was what subjects you can discuss. Happy speaking!

What do you do if natives only talk to you in your mother tongue?

Why I Read Everyday

I’ve mentioned before that habits are very important in order to have success in whatever we do. Not only is it important to have habits that help us get done what we need to get done, but there is another type of habit we must make sure we have: the habit of improving ourselves. We want to make sure we become the best version of ourselves possible as quickly as possible. What’s one simple way to do this? Read.

 

Now I know there’s a lot of types of things that people can read, such as online articles, but I noticed most articles don’t go that in-depth. For this reason (which will be explained later), the reading that I am talking about is book reading.

 

Learn From Someone Else

Reading is a great way to get more information. Each book offers insight into the author’s own thought process and experience. Often times, these tidbits of information in each book are incredibly useful and serve as a shortcut to success for us. We don’t have to make the same mistakes other people did; we can read what happened to them and thus make more informed decisions ourselves. By seeing a person’s experience as an outsider, we can find out how to be successful in a similar vein. We not only see what worked and what didn’t, but also how to tweak some processes to improve success or reduce failure. Think about it. Saving time and money by listening to (read: reading) someone else’s experience? I know I’d rather do that.

 

Expand Your Thinking

Reading also expands our thinking. Seeing how someone else thinks or an insight in a book can get the gears in our heads turning in a way they haven’t before, which in turn can help us figure out a problem that might have been bothering us, or even help us approach tasks in a new way. Sometimes it just adds another tool in the toolbox that will be useful in the future. It’s like giving your brain an update: faster and more productive.

 

Knowledge Carries Over

A lot of knowledge is interconnected. I’ve had a book on philosophy help shape my teaching methodology in class. I’ve had a marriage counseling book help refine my own learning strategies. Some management books have carried over to controlling kids in class. The more you read, and the more knowledge you gain. You slowly overtime see some patterns in what you read. Eventually, you will reach a point where something you read gives insight to a problem that is seemingly completely unrelated. So don’t immediately dismiss a book just because you aren’t 100% sure it’ll be useful to you. Chances are, down the line it will.

 

Stay Motivated

Another benefit we get from reading is that it can help us stay productive and motivated. Maybe it’s just me, but after I read a book on getting things done, or a book that gives me greater understanding of a problem I’m facing in life, I feel pumped and ready to take on the day. It’s as if you have daily exposure to a coach telling you to keep moving forward. Just like they say you are the average of the five people you hangout with most, I think a book can act like a person in this way. Think about it. Reading a book is essentially having someone tell you something. While yes, the book is a one way dialogue that can’t respond to you, you can still think about what the book said and make your own opinions about what you read. Going through this process at least 30 minutes a day gives you 3.5 hours a week of “conversation,” not even including if you take time to discuss what you read with someone else.

 

I know for myself if I go for a couple weeks without reading, I don’t have as much motivation. Without reading I lose that daily “friend” cheering me on to do more. Which is why I also press for reading books vs articles online. Sure, both are useful, but for me, just having the longer length of a book as well as the usual deeper level discussion of ideas in books helps me internalize the material better. So whereas an article online might give me 5 minutes of reading time and thus not much exposure to the idea (meaning everything I read will not stick as long), a book provides hours of exposure to the topics within which ensures that I have a greater understanding of the ideas. This greater understanding and prolonged exposure helps these ideas stay in my head and become a part of my thinking. With online articles, I have to find a really thought provoking post in order to get a similar effect. Think about like cliff notes: when you read the cliff notes, you know what happened, but don’t have a good understanding as to why. Thus you forget the information much faster than if you read the book.

 

What Should We Read? 

So then what types of books should we read? Honestly, this is depends on the person. Read what interests you. Read about subjects you enjoy and slowly expand from there. Try something new every so often. As for what I do, I read whatever catches my eye. Often times, I see a book, think to myself “this could be useful one day” and then buy it. I’ve read marketing books, self-help, management/leadership, psychology, philosophy, economics, personal finance and even marriage counseling (I’m not married, but you never know when something like that might be useful). Why do I read such a wide range? Like I stated before, gaining knowledge in one area of your life can help you in a totally different area. Maybe the knowledge isn’t applicable right now, but you never know when you’ll need it. I’ve gone back to almost all of my books at one time or another.

What books have either helped you grow as a person or solve a problem you were facing?

 

Can A Foreign BF/GF Help You Learn A Language?

I’ve been recently asked by a couple of my Taiwanese friends if they think having a Taiwanese girlfriend was the main reason I learned Chinese. These friends also happened to be the ones having a hard time studying English and thought maybe a foreign bf/gf would help them. After all, if you are dating someone who speaks your target language, you can always speak to them in another language, ask them questions, and they’ll always be so happy to help you, right? It must be a fantastic way to learn another language. However, this isn’t always the case. For anyone thinking of getting a significant other that can speak a language you want to learn, I offer you my thoughts.

 

Before going any further though, I’ll start of by saying that the majority of the foreign languages I’ve learned were learned without having a girlfriend that spoke the language. So, for anyone looking for a straight answer, learning another language is just as hard dating someone as it is without dating.

 

 

Lots of People Have Foreign Bfs/Gfs.

I’ve met several Westerners in Taiwan dating a Taiwanese. Surprisingly (to me at least), most of the relationships involve the Taiwanese person speaking English with a Westerner that can barely speak Chinese. What’s also interesting is that the Taiwanese usually had a high level of English before dating the Westerner.  Most Taiwanese have had exposure to English for a long time, since being a kid in elementary school. Plus, they have constantly had the idea of “English provides a better job” idea hammered into their head. They have a lot of motivation to learn English.

 

Either way, what we end up with is a Westerner who didn’t learn Chinese and a Taiwanese who learned English outside of their lover. So clearly having a significant other doesn’t make much of a difference. There is an advantage to a foreign bf/gf though if you know how to take it.

 

 

More Opportunities.

Having a Taiwanese girlfriend has helped give me tons of opportunities to practice Chinese. It’s like having a friend that always wants to talk to you. Not only do I text her a lot but I also see her on the weekends. So, I pretty much get a solid 48 hours of practice time. That’s a lot of talking.

 

I also meet her friends and family, who in turn mostly use Chinese, meaning that I have more contacts to talk to, which turns into more practice. It adds up very quickly.

 

Now of course just having a lot of Taiwanese friends can give me the same opportunities to talk to a lot of people in Chinese. So, I wouldn’t need to rely on a girlfriend to practice speaking.

 

A Walking Dictionary?

Some people think having a girlfriend is like having a walking dictionary. I can say one thing for sure, while a significant other may have more patience for correcting your blunders than a friend might, they will still have their own limit. While in context you can ask questions that make sense, but if you keep forgetting what they teach you, you will annoy them. I learned this the hard way. Like I mentioned in a previous post, just talking won’t help. You also need to pay attention to the corrections and words being told to you.

 

Battle of the Languages

Just like talking to some natives can cause a battle between which language you will talk in, you can have that same dynamic in a relationship. Sometimes both parties want to practice the other’s language. This can be a problem for someone wanting to practice speaking, as then you end up just using your native language instead of practicing your target language. The one with the strongest will wins.

 

Some people I know have a schedule when they use certain languages. One person I know speaks Chinese with his wife Monday through Friday, only speaking English on the weekends. Some people switch daily. Maybe you just speak whatever language you feel like speaking.  It’s all up to you.

 

Date Someone that Can’t Speak Your Native Language.

Now one way to avoid the problem of which language to speak is by dating someone that can’t speak your native language. Depending on where you live, you may or may not be able to pull this off. However, this comes with its own set of problems, primarily for your relationship.

 

If your speaking and listening levels aren’t that good, or you are just overall new to the language, you will have a hard time communicating to your significant other. It’s easy for you to have the normal small talk you’ve had 500 times with other people. Anything more than that though, and you soon find yourself out of your depth speaking your target language. While this can be a great opportunity for you to learn more and improve, there will be times where the last thing you want to do is use the language, but you have to. You have to because your girlfriend is mad at you for being late for a date because you misunderstood where you were meeting/the time/not doing X errand/etc. Trying to argue with someone who can barely understand you or whom you barely understand is a great first step towards future relationship problems. Not always the most fun. Learn quickly though, and this is no longer a problem. (You will still have misunderstandings at times. It’s just natural)

 

So Should You Find a Foreign Gf/Bf?

Now would I recommend you get a significant other just for practicing a foreign language?  No. Get a language exchange buddy for that. Don’t date someone just cause they speak a language you want to learn. It’s not a good idea.

 

In conclusion, while having a foreign significant other can help with learning a language. It does not offer anything you can’t get having several friends that speak the target language. In some ways, it can actually make things more difficult. It all depends on how you interact in your relationship. So, don’t worry, you don’t need to find some foreign dude/gal to help you learn that language.

 

Do you think it’s easier to learn a language with a foreign significant other?

Teaching English in Taiwan: Overview

In about a month it’ll be a year that I’ve lived in Taiwan and so I figured I would write about making money in Taiwan. For me, that’s by teaching English at a cram school.  Some people may be interested in moving abroad. Some may be traveling and want to make some extra money. Teaching English in Taiwan is a good way to make money. There’s a lot of information so I will break it up into a few posts. For anyone interested in getting a general idea of teaching English in Taiwan, I’ll address the basics of it in this post to start off.

Most people work at a 補習班, buxiban, or a cram school. Usually the schools are for teaching kids. Depending on the school, the experience can range to an after-school class to a glorified babysitting service. If you are teaching the adults, the class environment can range from “I’m seriously here to learn English for work/my own interest” to “I just want to hang out with people.” I have had the experience of teaching both adults and children. While I enjoy teaching adults more, the money (read: more stable livelihood) is in teaching children.

What to Expect: Requirements

First off, the legal requirements. If you want to teach English in Taiwan, there are a couple of requirements that you’ll need to satisfy. Keep in mind I’m listing the ones needed to teach at a cram school. The most basic requirements are 1) be 20 years old or older, 2) have a bachelor’s degree, 3) have a passport of a country where English is the official language. If you meet these 3 requirements, you too can teach English in Taiwan. Some people get one of those TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificates. while not required, it may help you find a job, although don’t expect it to boost your pay.

 

What to Expect: Non-teaching Responsibilities

From my experience interviewing with different companies and talking to other teachers, a lot of cram schools require you to come into work early, usually 30 minutes. This time is spent on lesson preparation or meetings and is unpaid. A couple cram schools I’ve seen require you to be at the school upwards of five hours a week to do things related to lesson planning, helping the Taiwanese teachers with any work they have, or anything the else the cram school needs from you. Of course, this time is also unpaid.

 

Sometimes there are also events/ test practices that you have to attend. This depends on your school as to if you get paid. Some schools I’ve seen require you to come to these with no pay, while others will pay you. Ask if it is not specified in your contract.

 

What to Expect: Pay

Typically, the starting pay for a foreigner is 600NTD/hour. If you work a typical 28 hour week, you will earn about 60,000NTD a month, which is over twice the average salary of most Taiwanese people. It allows comfortable living, ample social life, while still having some left over to put away. The cost of living is low in Taiwan. To put it in perspective, most street vendors sell meals for 60-80NTD, and an apartment can cost you about 7,500-15,000NTD/month. It’s a decent salary.

 

Of course, as stated earlier, a lot of the time you spend on work related items is not paid. You usually only get paid for the hours you are in class teaching. Anything else is essentially free labor for the company unless otherwise stated in your contract.

 

What to Expect: Teaching

To be honest, the experience you have can range widely depending on the cram school you go to. I’ve worked in schools that ranged from pleasant to wickedly horrible. In some schools you might just be expected to entertain the kids, playing games and having fun. Other schools are a bit more serious, having their own teaching materials and you are expected to cover all those each class with any leftover time being spent reviewing. Still, there are other schools that have a few materials, and once you cover those materials you are free to spend the remainder of time in class as you please.

 

What to Expect: Working Multiple Jobs

One aspect of teaching in Taiwan that may catch your interest is how so many people have more than one job. Depending on where you work, you may get a job that provides 14 hours a week. While the monthly income is livable (most Taiwanese live on that much despite working so many more hours), it is less than ideal. What most people end up doing is going someplace else in addition to their main job. I’ve met several people that teach kindergarten (which is a gray area in terms of legality) in the morning and then work at another cram school in the afternoon/evening. Other people choose to do private tutoring.

 

This is just a basic bare bones post of teaching English. I will make another post going more in-depth on teaching.

Has any one had a similar or different experience teaching abroad?

 

Learn A Language Faster By Changing Your Mindset

Whenever I am talking about language learning with someone, one of the topics that always comes up is how weird some languages are because they aren’t like English/Chinese (depending on the nationality of the person I am talking to).
“Japanese is backwards” they say. “I just don’t understand why they don’t do it like English.”
Still I get others who say “English is so hard. Why isn’t it easy like Chinese?”
Because Japanese isn’t English and English isn’t Chinese!
The language you are learning will have its differences to your mother tongue. You just have to accept that. If you try to speak Russian using English grammar, you won’t be understood by a Russian. Use Arabic to speak Chinese and watch how no one understands. You can’t just speak one language using a word for word translation from another language. You have to be able to use the language like native speaker would. But if we are beginners in our target language, how can we do this when we don’t yet understand the language?
Embrace the language.
When you learn the grammar of another language, you will usually see some differences from your own native tongue. Depending on your learning style, comparing the differences from the target language to your native language might help you: the contrast may make it stand out and help you remember. On the other hand, it may not. You might end up becoming frustrated at how different it is. Don’t get frustrated. Embrace it. Forget the rules of your native language. It doesn’t exist anymore. All that matters is the new language.
Think about it like a board game. If you tried using the rules of Chess to play Monopoly, you’d get completely lost. Each time you play a new game (video game or board game) you realize that each game has it’s own set of rules, and each video game has it’s own layout for the buttons. Some things are similar from game to game, yes, but I don’t hear people getting mad at Call Of Duty because it’s not the same as Halo (or getting mad at Monopoly for not being Chess). Despite not caring about games having different rules, people openly get mad at one language for not being similar to another, saying “that’s stupid” or “why would anyone talk like that?” You openly accept that each new game has it’s own rules, so likewise, you need to accept the new rules that each language has.
Listen to native speakers.
After living in Taiwan for almost a year, I’ve learned that most of the time it’s my English mindset that’s holding me back when it comes to speaking Chinese. What’s interesting is that sometimes I will say something in Chinese that if another English speaker studying Chinese hears, he will understand, but a typical Taiwanese person does not. This is because me and the other English speaker are both using English as the lens to see the world, thus we both understand the “English” Chinese whereas a Chinese speaker does not.
How do we fix this? Start paying attention to how native speakers speak and notice what usually happens when they speak. For example, if you have a word that you are using incorrectly or never seem to understand what exactly that expression means, you need to pay attention to when natives use it. Listen to how they use the expression and what usually follows in terms of meaning after they say it. If you go to use the expression and someone corrects you, make sure to pay attention to how they tell you to say it. Sometimes the translation does not always match what you want to say or even has a different meaning in your native language, but you have to trust it and say it anyway. I have been given Chinese corrections that made me feel uncomfortable saying them because the translation didn’t have the same nuance I’d hoped to convey, but that’s language and culture. Sometimes they don’t differentiate between those nuances.  And even if you are given the wrong thing to say, what’s the worse that could happen? You walk away learning more!
What helps you accept the differences in another language?

Know Yourself To Do Things Better

One of my favorite lines from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is the line that talks about knowing yourself and your enemy. Basically, know yourself and your enemy, and you don’t need to worry about fighting a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not your enemy, you’ll lose one battle for every one battle fought. If you know neither yourself, nor your enemy, you’re basically screwed (I took creative liberty with that translation). After reading this, I realized how this thinking can be applied to learning so that we get the most out of our time. I feel that the first step then, is to know oneself.

 

How does knowing ourselves help us learn better?

I know that whenever I give someone specific advice, at least 50% of the time, the person will not find it helpful. What works for me doesn’t always work for other people. That’s why I usually try to give the big ideas that can be applied in many ways, or if I give details, I show how the task can be done in different ways. So even though the way I say works for me might not work for others, maybe, just maybe giving other ways of doing it will help someone think of a way that works for them.

 

When we know ourselves, we know the best way for us to achieve a goal or task. We understand our strengths and weaknesses. To give a concrete example, learning for school. I had a friend who had a long two hour commute to college. That’s a huge chunk of time each day spent in the car. Of course, having a lot of homework, he didn’t want to spend his few hours of free time at home doing homework. So, he got audio versions of his textbooks and listened to those during his commute. By the time he got home, he did all the assigned reading for the day. This worked for him. Other people said they tried listening before but they just didn’t retain any of the information. They had to read it, to see it. Then they could learn it. Audio was a strength for my friend. For the other people, it was a weakness. Now each knows how they can go about learning.

 

Let’s look at other examples.

Take reading in another language. Some people like books, some people like online articles, some people like newspapers. All these are very different. I can’t tell you to read a newspaper every day in another language and expect you to stick with it if you find newspapers boring. You have to know which form of reading works best for you. Only then will you apt to stick with it.

 

Let’s look at working out now. Some people have a gym they use at home and that works just fine for them. Other’s might go easy on themselves at home and so go to a public gym where being seen by others gives them that motivation to push themselves. Some people need a gym buddy to motivate them. Others just waste time chatting with the gym buddy when they should be pumping iron. Again, different ways for different people.

 

Maybe you want to learn painting. Some people need to take a class with others to have motivation to learn. Others learn by themselves. Still, we have other people that want to have a class but more in a one-on-one kind of way. See the theme here?

 

My point is that we all learn differently, we all like different things. We all have our own ways of completing tasks. You need to find out what motivates you, what ways you like learning best. Sometimes, in order to find out what’s best for you, you have to try a variety of different things, and then you start to get a feel for what you like. Take note of it. If the way you do things seems weird, then guess what? Who cares? In the end, you can not only achieve your goals faster, but also in a way that is more fun for you. Once you know yourself, you then know how to proceed and worry about your enemy.

 

What are the ways you like to learn/get things done?

Why Speaking Won’t Help You Learn A Language

A lot of people (myself included) mention that speaking as much as possible is a very important thing to do in order to learn a foreign language. Unfortunately, some people take that to mean that all they need to do is casually chat with friends and after a couple weeks they will magically be fluent in their target language. However, this kind of speaking is not what will help you learn (at least until you get to a higher level).

 

See, while talking with friends there are some words and some grammar patterns that we can learn, but this type learning by itself isn’t always efficient. Yes, while talking to my friends I have been taught many words and I have had my sentences corrected many times, but I have also forgotten most of those words and corrections. And similarly, many of my Taiwanese friends to whom I have taught new words and given corrections have also forgotten what I taught them and make the same mistakes. Just like studying lists of vocab by itself won’t help you speak better, chatting by itself won’t help you boost your vocab or grammar that much.

 

So what should you do?  Treat words that you learn during your conversations like any other word you would study! I never understood why some people think just because a friend teaches you something, you will remember it with amazing accuracy. Sorry, that usually doesn’t happen. Write down the word and study it with the rest of the words you learn during normal study sessions. Any corrections you get by your friends should also be marked down and reviewed to make sure in the future you say it the right way. It may seem like one or two new flashcards each time you talk won’t make a difference but I can say two things. 1. The cards add up quickly. 2. You will annoy your friends if you constantly ask them the same word once every time you talk.

 

Think about it like this: If I put you in a room by yourself with no access to the outside world, no books, no dictionary, and you were only allowed to have thoughts in a foreign language, all you have now is your current knowledge. So, by practicing using your foreign language like this will only help you be able to more quickly use what you know. But there’s nothing to help you learn new vocab, and nothing to help correct you when you make mistakes. By basically ignoring/ not paying attention to any new words and corrections you get during your conversations, you essentially wind up in a situation like this, only you get some listening practice too.

 

Now why have I mentioned that at a higher level you can learn more chatting with friends? This is because when you are just starting out or don’t have much experience having a conversation in a foreign language, you spend so much effort just trying to understand the words you do know. You’re spending 75%-90% of your energy just trying to understand the 500 vocab words you do know, the most basic tenses you’ve learn, as well as just adjusting to the person’s accent. This does not leave much energy left to try to figure out other words/grammar you may be hearing.

 

Now this flips when you’re level is higher. At the more advanced stage you have a much easier time understanding the fundamental grammar and vocab used in most conversations. So now you are spending about 5% effort to understand what you are hearing, leaving much more energy to be spent on figuring out any new words you hear. At this point too, since you are conditioned to the language (meaning you are just used to using it), you naturally will be able to pick up more vocab. After three years of intensive French studying, I was able to learn new words only after seeing them a couple of times, compared to the several days studying words when I first started learning French. It’s just because French slowly became like English to me, I just learned new words like I learned new words in English. The same holds true with my Chinese. I now more easily remember new words when I come across them, but there are still sometimes I need to sit down and review the words I learn.

 

So, while speaking does have many benefits for learning a language, there’s still more work to be done than just “chatting in the language.” Is it a lot of work? Yes indeed, but once you can effortlessly talk in your target language, you will be glad you put in all the work.

 

What do you do to help with your speaking skills?

 

How To Win Your Day With A Morning Routine

How do we win our day? How do we make sure that by the end of the day when we are lying in bed thinking about our day, we are happy with how we lived it? We only live each day once, so we want to make sure we don’t waste it. Oftentimes, I think one of the best ways to make sure we are successful each day is to make sure we have a great start. Morning routines can help with this.

 

Think about working out. If you just start working out without warming up, you could not only hurt yourself, but you usually don’t perform as well as you could’ve had you warmed up. You probably won’t hurt yourself if you forgo a morning routine, but by having one, you can set yourself up for a great day and achieve your full potential, every day.

 

Having a consistent routine to your morning prepares you for the rest of the day. It’s building good habits (and we know how important habits are). If every day, you spend some time doing things (read: morning routine) that get you physically and mentally pumped about your day, you save a lot of time and energy in the long run. Having the routine allows you to innately know what you are doing next. You don’t need to think about or make decisions about what to do next, you just naturally do it. This in turn saves us some willpower that we can use later. When your routine includes some steps to help motivate you, you build momentum to continue getting things done throughout the day.

 

What can you do in your morning routine? Well that depends on you and what you like. I’ve had different morning routines depending on my schedule and I’ve experimented a lot. Here’s what works best for me.

 

  1. Wake up
  2. Drink some water
  3. Workout and post workout smoothie
  4. Shower
  5. Read for 30 minutes
  6. Breakfast
  7. Meditate for 10-15 minutes
  8. Work

 

I always liked starting my day off working out. I get it out of the way and I don’t need to worry about it for the rest of the day. It also helps me keep my energy levels up. Of course, afterwards I need the protein smoothie I make.

 

After I shower, I like to read. It helps me learn more, expand my mind, as well as keeps me motivated. It’s a vital part of the routine.

 

After I’m done reading I start to feel hungry so then I go eat a healthy breakfast so that I don’t do work on an empty stomach (and then I’m just thinking about food until the next meal). When I finished eating breakfast I meditate to get me in the right mindset. Afterwards, I get to work!

 

Now I know my routine is pretty long, and that’s because each part on this list is what helps me stay motivated. It feels good to knock out the workout. It feels good to know I’m expanding my thinking when I read. It feels good to have that calm, yet intensely focused mind that comes with meditation.

 

Now not everyone will want a morning routine that long, opting for one or two steps instead. Some people might not want a full workout. That’s okay, maybe some light calisthenics to wake you up. Maybe you’ll have a cup of coffee in the morning and read some articles online. Everyone is different. Experiment with what you like and see what works for you.

 

Do you have a morning routine? How do you like to start off your day?