Monday, January 6, 2014

Russian by the Numbers: 2014 Goals

Happy 2014!! : ) Meanwhile, the holidays go on in Ukraine. I asked D this morning if it was time to take all the decorations down. "No way!" he said, "Tomorrow is Christmas!" Tomorrow is indeed Orthodox Christmas (Jan 7th)- he's actually got the day off work. Then there's Orthodox New Year (Jan 14th), so the decorations will have to stay for a little bit longer, I suppose.

In the meantime, the beginning of January means goal-setting time. Some people aren't into this much, but it's one of my favorite times of the year- a new start, a new planner, a reset button on bad habits. I already picked out a brand new planner (2 to be honest, couldn't choose!) and have been mulling over some things. Are you the New-Year's-resolution-setting type? What are your dreams for this new year?

Stephanie over at To Be Fluent shared her language-learning goals in an awesome post and really got my wheels turning. 2013 was not a good language year for me. There were a lot of starts... and corresponding stops. Lots of trials. Lots of errors.


One thing that worked well is realizing that human willpower is limited and I'm more likely to continue doing something if it's enjoyable (ie, multiple attempts to read The 12 Chairs all failed by page 4. Watching Season 1 of Russia's Next Top Model = success! [but oh, I'm so shamed to admit watching it! :p ])

One thing that didn't go so well was my tracking system. In 2013 I decided to track language-studying by time, which was cool at first but eventually meant that no goals were ever set. Instead, I'd study in small chunks of time but it felt like I never achieved anything big. Looking back at last year's planner, what exactly does "April 22-28, 90 minutes" mean? What result came out of that 90 minutes?

So I'm following Stephanie's lead and measuring goals not by time this year but rather by concrete things: newspapers, conversations, songs, etc.

One other thing I realized this year: in real life, people don't always correct your mistakes. Think of the last time you encountered a stranger who didn't speak your own language perfectly- did you correct them? Probably not. What this means to the language learner is that they can't rely only on immersion to fix their mistakes. No one is going to correct my grammar when I'm at the grocery store, instead the cashier will just carry on with her business whether I declined that noun or not... and I'll probably never even realize if I made a mistake. That's what those "25 planned conversations" at the top of the page are all about, a chance to sit down with someone and have them correct my mistakes. The other advantage is that in such a conversation you can discuss something other than the usual 5 things that you spend 90% of your time speaking about in random encounters (prices, directions, your home country, etc).

For 2014 I'll also keep building up Street Russian since it's great for vocab and I enjoy working on it.


Two ways to look at this.

1) Hardly learned anything.


2) Learned more than I learned in 2012.

Living in Kharkiv, it's easy to get by without Ukrainian (Don't jump down my throat, internet world! It's true!). The little I've learned have come from two places: the metro and the movie theater.

On the metro I read whatever ads are around. On a productive day I'll even write down any new words and look them up later on Google Translate. Thus, if you want to talk about a) pawn shops, b) loans till payday, or c) sales at the mall, we're good to go!

In the theater I sit and hmm and hah my way through the films, which are all dubbed in Ukrainian. The languages are similar enough that sometimes I can kinda figure things out, until wham! out of nowhere comes something I've never heard and can't be guessed. For a while we were going to movies pretty regularly and I'd always try to memorize one new word and get a definition later.

Honestly, I'm not sure how much I'll be able to use Ukrainian in the future. It's a beautiful language to be sure, but I don't see myself ever speaking it very well. For this year I'm setting modest goals:
  • learn 100 new words 
  • try speaking to a Ukrainian-speaking friend on Skype several times

Okay, your turn!
Are you setting any language-learning goals for 2014? If so, what are they?


  1. I'm all for bad TV in foreign languages. I tried watching French crime dramas and US ones dubbed into French but I just couldn't get into them. I ended up watching a Korean drama in Korean (which I don't speak) with French subtitles. I was interested enough to look up words as I went along. A great way to learn French? Not really but it's better than nothing!

    Yes, it's best to have a mix of general conversations and more controlled practice where you'll get feedback (like a language exchange or a class) if you're wanting to improve. I get quite a bit of feedback through writing but an essay is different to conversation so maybe I should think more about that... Though I guess when I start online classes I'll get some feedback from a teacher.

    Good luck for your 2014 goals!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Ruth Elisabeth! You're right- bad TV is totally better than nothing.

      I'm still kicking around the Vietnamese idea too. Haven't seen the neighbors much recently but hear them all the time (they've been singing karaoke for about 4 hours this afternoon! and the daughters now take piano lessons) and they gave me a kid's writing book to practice writing some basic words. I saw your FB post about Tết, maybe that will be a good time to visit with them : ) Hope 2014 is a good year for your studies!

    2. I'm not sure how Tết is celebrated outside of Vietnam but you could consider giving lucky money called lì xì (usually crisp notes in an envelope, it doesn't have to be much but enough to buy something small) to the children.

  2. Ohh, I also love those ideas of having concrete language-learning goals! I may have to put this in place, too.

    Also, Happy New Year!!

  3. Great goals! I'm so glad that you found my post helpful! :)

    1. Thanks again, Stephanie : ) You have a great idea!

  4. I'm glad I'm not the only one who used Russia's Next Top Model as a learning tool!

    I love the layout of that concrete goals sheet - I may also give it a try. Thanks for passing it along!