Kwiziq is crowdfunding!

August 12th, 2015

I haven’t blogged much on here recently – our new language software service Kwiziq – the AI Language Coach, has been growing exponentially and taking up all our time. We’ve decided to raise money to accelerate. We’re equity crowdfunding so even small amounts can be invested. See details here:

https://www.crowdcube.com/kwiziq

As well equity (shares) in the business, investors rewards of various levels Premium Kwiziq access, up to lifetime free membership!

Check it out!

Gareth

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Test Your Halloween French!

October 31st, 2014

Joyeux Halloween!

pumpkin

We’ve created a fun (and quite challenging!) Halloween French Quiz for students of all levels over at French Test.

Find out how good your Halloween French is!

Gareth

 

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Get £25 off a French Immersion course in Pézenas

June 13th, 2014

One of the most effective ways to improve your French quickly is to study in an environment where you are completely immersed in French, preferably in France.

Well, now you can do that in a school that uses our smart testing technology and get double the benefit.  In fact, if you sign up for a French Immersions intensive course, you get 3 months’ unlimited access to French-test.com as part of the course.  Even better, you can get a £25 discount if you book before 31 July 2014 (the course can be after this date) - just just by telling them you’re a French Test member.

Get £25 off French Immersions Get £25 off French Immersions

Amanda Walden set up French Immersions in 2012 when she and her husband moved to the beautiful French commune Pézenas (in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France) and were looking for French lessons themselves.

I’ve taken intensive courses before myself, and I can tell you from personal experience they are one of the nicest and most effective ways to improve your French and they make really wonderful vacations too.

Pézenas is surrounded by ancient French villages steeped in history and surrounded by vineyards, as well as character-filled towns and cities such as Montpellier, Béziers, Narbonne and Carcassonne so you certainly won’t be short of things to do.

French Immersions offer half-time and full-time courses, either 15 hours per week with lessons in the morning, or 27.5 hours per week with morning and afternoon lessons.  All their teachers are native French speakers. For the duration of nearly all the classroom time only French is spoken so that students are really immersed in the language.   And if you’re coming in a ready-made group they can even provide a teacher to come to your holiday accommodation and teach you there.

Two things set them apart from other courses: their group size and the fantastic price. They keep the maximum number of people per group to 8.  This way everyone in the class is able to get quality time practising speaking French with a teacher present to correct them when needed.  They’ve also tried to keep our prices very competitive at £250 for 15 hours of teaching time (even better: £225 with your French Test discount).

Amanda and her husband moved to Pézenas in 2012 Amanda and her husband moved to Pézenas in 2012

As well as the teaching side of the things, Amanda can help you find accommodation in the area.  She’ll put people in touch with local property agents who have a range of accommodation to suit every holiday maker.

Unlike other courses, because you’ll have a 3 month subscription to our amazing French test technology, you’ll be able to really practise and consolidate everything you’ve learned on your holiday in the months that follow.

Here’s some of their students’ feedback:

We loved France. I wanted to thank you for the classes.  I liked all of the instructors.  They spoke French almost 100% of the time….that was what I was hoping for.”  – Phil Maas, United States

“The teacher was excellent, very good with children” – Monica Slater, Canada

Just to let you know I enjoyed the course, even as the weakest link in the class I felt I got a lot out of it hopefully I will remember what I learnt ,!! If in the future you are having any more let me know as I would definitely be interested. Thanks again” – Mairead Kennedy, Irish Ex pat, France

“We enjoyed our stay in an excellent villa and learnt a lot from our French teacher. We thought it was an excellent idea to mix holiday and learning” – Hilary Poley, UK

If you’re interested, check out the French Immersions website and contact Amanda.

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Wonder drug may help you learn French faster, but are risks worth it?

April 8th, 2014

I have a surprise in store for you: the April Fool’s post about a fish that can help you learn a language was only partly made up. In fact, the drug mentioned, Valproic Acid, is quite real but are the side-effects worth the benefits?

tricolor pills

Read the full article:

Can new miracle pill help you learn French faster?

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Amazon discovery helps adults learn languages as fast as children

April 1st, 2014

A fish discovered in the Amazon basin help restore ‘brain plasticity’ enabling adults to learn a new language as fast as children.

Read the full article here.

“Apistogramma nijsseni” or Poisson d’Avril can help adults learn French as fast a children (source)
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Having New Month’s Resolutions Can Help You Learn a Language…

February 7th, 2014

It’s February and already your New Year’s Resolutions are very likely to be toast.  I came up with a new strategy for achieving sticking to New Year’s Resolutions taking inspiration from how software development has improved over the years.  It’s working brilliantly so far.

Instead of making New Year’s Resolutions, this year I’m making New Month’s Resolutions.  It’s much easier to stick to something if you shorten the timeframe, and make sure to review progress every month – learning from what worked and what didn’t.  So, my challenge to you is: what are you going to resolve to do in February to make your life (or someone else’s) better?  Specifically, what can you resolve to do to improve your language skills in whatever language you are learning?

As well as making a simple commitment around improving my French (which was to watch a specific episode of The Returned – in fact I watched three it was so good), I made a whole raft of actions in various areas in my life from Health and Fitness through to my business goals.  I made a worksheet to help with this:

Download: Gruff’s Agile Approach to Resolutions

A template for goal setting and sticking to new year's resolutions

It really helps to declare your intentions to someone else who can help hold you accountable.  If you use this, or something similar, don’t just fill it in and then put it in a drawer. Instead, pin it up somewhere you’ll see it every day so you can check if you’re on track.

Here’s mine for February (signature blurred for obvious reasons):

An example of Gruff's New Month's Resolution sheet for learning languages

As you can see, my goal this month is to learn a text in Spanish.  I’m building on an idea I had a long time ago to use film to help learning (see How to Learn a Language Matrix-style).  I broke this task into subtasks and worked out reasonable dates within February that I could achieve, starting with finding a suitable Spanish monologue to learn.  I have several Spanish plays by Lorca and a translation of Nabakov play, but the language of Lorca is slightly old-fashioned and the Nabakov play has no audio.  I’ve plumped instead for the opening scene of Almodóvar’s wonderful film La Mala Educación (Bad Education), since this is a film I can capture the audio to listen to; this ensures my pronunciation will be correct but also will help me learn the lines because I can listen to it on the go.  (This is quite a demanding challenge, so if you would like try this with shorter pieces, of course our Bitesized Daily Emails are perfect for this and they come with audio already.)

Now, the real gem here is the final goal: how do you prove you’ve learned it?

My goal is to record myself delivering the monologue to camera – probably my webcam – without referring to the text.  (I’d love to take credit for this idea, but I have to thank my friend Duncan Kenworthy for giving me it.)

I plan to learn a lot more of the dialogue, so I went to the expense of buying the film script for this in Spanish for my Kindle.  It was expensive for a book, but a real time saver, so worth it.

I used Goldwave to capture the audio of the first scene and I made a second version of it slowing the sound down to half speed whilst preserving the pitch – something Goldwave can do very well.  This is quite important because Spanish speakers tend to speak very quickly.  I’ll work up to full speed over time but when practising at the beginning it’s really important to speak slowly to get the pronunciation correct.

I Googled for the text in English and found that here.  It’s quite a loose translation, so the last few days I’ve been looking up various words and expressions to determine their meaning and origin.

Learning a text so well that you can deliver it from memory is a wonderful way to improve your speaking skills. It’s a real challenge.  If you’ve never acted before and had to learn lines, there are a few things you need to know about this process, because it’s even harder in a foreign language than it is in your mother tongue:

  1. This type of memory (procedural memory) forms over several days (5-7 in fact).  It’s not like episodic memory where you can just recall something you’ve seen (unless you’re unusually gifted).  Don’t expect miracles overnight. Have faith in your brain.
  2. Read SLOWLY.  Focus on pronouncing the words correctly.  Save speeding up to later on.
  3. Sleep is vital to the learning process.  Even a ten-minute nap has been shown to improve recall.
  4. Instead of trying to remember the words, try to mean them when you say them. This technique from acting is called Active Experiencing by psychologists Helga Tony Noice (Indiana State University) and has been shown to dramatically improve recall.
  5. Look up any word or phrase you don’t understand and make sure you understand them in detail. Going beyond the context of the text will also help you embed the language well.
  6. Read and listen. Listen and read. Take every opportunity to go over the text. Don’t try to learn more than half a page of A4 at a time.
  7. Practise daily.  It will take a week probably before the text goes in, and when it does it’ll feel a bit magical. Overnight you’ll suddenly go from the frustration of not recalling it to fluent recall.  Once you can recite the whole text, you can start to work on your speed.

If you decide to have a go yourself, let me know how you get on!

Gruff

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The secret to sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions…

February 6th, 2014

[Original post on french-test.com]

(This is my improved process for achieving personal goals. I’ve worked through an example of using it to help Learning French but this will work for any goals you have for yourself.)

Every year I make resolutions and set goals and whilst I always get a lot done, each year my ambitions always seem to outstrip my achievements. When I look back at the end of the year at what I said I’d do, despite my successes, there’s always this nagging sense of failure. 

Why set goals at all?

Goal setting is one of the best (proven) ways to help with language learning.  If you don’t set learning goals, you’re statistically much less likely to make progress learning French.

Last year, I decided to take a look and see what I could do improve my own processes and structures for achieving what I want. I realised there was huge room for improvement. It’s great having goals, but unless you do things to keep them present in your life, they soon fade from memory and focus… along with your chances of achieving them.  I came up with this improved process for achieving New Year’s Resolutions.

My new process was definitely an improvement on previous years: I managed to stick with it for the first six months (instead of the first month), arguably a 600% improvement.

This year, I’m revising my system again, learning from what did and didn’t work last year.

My inspiration for 2014 comes from software development (which we do a lot of).  Years ago, most companies developed software using something called the Waterfall Methodology. Nowadays, most companies use something called Agile instead, and it’s a huge improvement.

I realised the same lessons can be applied New Year’s Resolutions and life goals.

The Waterfall Design Process looks like this:

An image representing the stages of The Waterfall Methodology for software design The Waterfall Methodology for software design, largely abandoned

The reason people have abandoned it, is because when you try to design something competely up-front, by the time you finished building it (a year or more later), you realise it isn’t what you really need at all.

 The Agile approach uses small iterations instead, where you constantly make “course corrections” based on feedback so you end up with much better products.

An image representing the stages of The Agile Methodology for software design The Agile Methodology for software design results in better software

I realised my anual goal setting exercises are very much like the Waterfall method: deciding a whole year in advance what you want is simply too much to chew off. It’s fine to have vague goals a year ahead, but the problem with vague goals is they’re very hard to pin down into actual actions. My 2013 goals were great, but by half way through the year, I gave up on them because I realised they weren’t working but structure was too rigid to adapt.

An Agile approach to making New Year’s Resolutions

So, I’m being Agile about my New Year’s Resolutions.  The secret behind Agile’s success is higher time resolution in the development cycle.  The same secret applies to personal goals: higher-resolution Resolutions!

 I’m not making New Year’s Resolutions!  Instead, I’m making New Month’s Resolutions.

This actually gives me the freedom to set more vague yearly goals (you do need to know the rough direction you’re going to go), but my resolutions are at a “higher resolution” than a year.

I’m making resolutions monthly and only one month at a time.

This month I made January resolutions (smaller, actionable things I can complete by the end of January) and then in February, I can see how that went and make appropriate course corrections.  This is a way better approach than New Year’s Resolutions.

There are good and bad ways to set goals, the usual advice applies (so-called S.M.A.R.T. goals):

  • Be Specific: how do achieve something vague?
  • Measurable: how will you know when you’ve done it?
  • Achieveable/Realistic: very important that you don’t set yourself up to fail.
  • Timebound: deadlines make goals easier to achieve.

Overarching goals are allowed to be vague: e.g. “Improve my French” is fine for the year because it’s really a context not a goal; but your Agile Monthly Goal you should set out a few small, achievable, specific things that will move you forward: e.g. “Watch a French film” or “Master Le Présent tense in French” (if you’re a beginner, say).

Now, I’m going to ask myself, are these goals really SMART?  Hmm. No, actually they’re not.

“a French film” is more specific than “a film” but which film? How about “Watch Les Intouchables” instead? That’s more specific, and more likely to happen because I now know exactly what I have to do. (In fact, my goal is to watch episode 1 of Series One of the French supernatural drama, The Returned, Channel 4).

Now, mastering a whole tense is, I know from experience, really far too vague. French verbs split into three categories (-er, -ir, and -re) and then irregular and semi-regular verbs, and sometimes there are further complexities such as “être” and “avoir” auxiliary verbs. But even if I make this goal more specific, “master -er verbs in the present tense” it still isn’t really a measurable action I can take. How will I know when I’ve mastered them?

I’ll need to test myself (and pass the tests, of course).

Better actions would be:

Notice these are both specific things that I can CHECK A BOX to mark complete. They’re now specific and measurable.

There are two more things I do to help ensure I achieve things: I promise someone else that I’ll do it.  I’m too easy on myself so I find it helpful to ask someone for help holding me accountable. Social pressure works for me.

The other thing I’ve found important to pay attention to is identifying obstacles to action and removing them.  Life will always throw things in the way of what you want, sometimes in a predictable way.  For example, if you have kids, just being a parent eats up most of your time.  So knowing this, and (say) booking a weekly baby-sitter (or asking a relative) to free up one evening a week for some “me time” is an action you can take to help remove obstacles to action.

I’ve created a little printable template as a structure to help set New Month’s Resolutions. If you want to give it a try, you can download the PDF and print it out.  Every month, look at what worked, think about how to improve the next months goals and repeat the process.  It looks like this:

Download: Gruff’s Agile Approach to Resolutions

A template for goal setting and sticking to new year's resolutions

 

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Learning Languages over Christmas…

December 20th, 2013

(We’ve run Bitesized Languages since 2006 and we’ve never charged a penny to anyone. We’ve been busy building a new language tool which is proving popular – we’d be enormously grateful if you would consider liking us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kwiziq – thank you )

If you’re winding down for Christmas over the next few days, maybe you can sneak in some additional language learning with the help of these posts.

The Twelve Days of Christmas in French

Since my last post was so popular (the servers crashed – not kidding), I was tempted give this another horribly misleading time-based title over-promising how much French you can learn in just twelve days, but I’ve opted for a more honest The Twelve…

Can you learn (but not master) French, Tim Ferris-style, in an hour?

I do admire Tim Ferris – he’s exceptionally bright but he’s also adventurous beyond belief, unconventional and always looking for ways to do things smarter.  When I first came across his outrageously-titled blog post How to Learn (But Not Master)…

How to stay motivated learning French

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” ― Leonardo da Vinci I know what you all really want for… 

 

If you have any tips for learning languages or learning generally, do send them to me or post a comment on any of our articles.

Merry Christmas and wishing you a very Happy New Year!

Gruff, Simon and the BSL team

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Supercharge your learning: Top tips for learning about learning

November 28th, 2013

I’ve been blogging rather a lot about learning on our “cousin” site french-test.com so I thought I’d do a little round up of the articles here too since they’re relevant to learning any language.

Learn French online: Memory tips to improve your recall by at least 300%…

You need to know this if you’re learning anything frankly: learning and then revising something is not the most effective way to learn.  Old learning methods are being overturned by new research. Scientific studies are shedding new light on the most effective learning methods… this article contain top tips for improving recall.

Learning French? Know your Learning Stages…

There is a myth that learning languages is too hard for most people, and whilst it isn’t true this myth didn’t arise from nowhere.  Anyone who’s had the experience learning a language at school is likely to share this belief.  It isn’t hard, it’s just isn’t taught properly (through no fault of the teachers), knowing a bit about the stages of learning can help you be a better student.

French Learning superpowers – language blindspots

In this article, I show you how you can take learning a language (especially French) to a whole new level by explaining learning blind spots, how they can cripple your progress and and how to find and eliminate them.

If you have any tips for learning languages or learning generally, do send them to me or post a comment on any of our articles.
Gruff

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It’s the Language Show 2013 this weekend…

October 16th, 2013

This year’s Language Show runs from Friday 18th to Sunday 20th October and will be held at London’s Olympia - and, as usual, I’ll be attending.

Graphic of the 2013 Language Show

I usually go with a video camera in hand to tell you about the developments happening in the world of languages.  This year, I can’t promise I’ll be doing that since it takes a lot of time to edit and we have so much exciting stuff happening ourselves here with kwiziq and french-test.com but if anything really wonderful sticks out, I’ll be sure to report it.

It’s free to attend if you register in advance, so you’re in or near London and have an interest in languages, I highly recommend a visit.

There are lots of presentations, seminars, lessons and products and services to explore and other linguists to meet.

See you there?

Gruff

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