Memrise – Language Learning

Screen shot 2013-07-04 at 9.54.23 PM

Since I seem to love signing up to language learning websites and then never using them again, I signed up to Memrise ages ago, used it once and then never went back. After meeting up with a friend who now uses the site on a daily basis, I was persuaded to give it another go…and I’m pretty hooked!

So here’s how it works. You choose various courses that are split up into levels. Each course is a list of vocab that you will memorise – not with sentences though, like in Duolingo.

Screen shot 2013-07-04 at 9.54.46 PM

Each item of vocab is presented with various “mems” – prompts to remind you of the word. If you don’t like any of the mems already made, you can create your own, but I find that there are often really excellent ones already so there is no need to re-invent the wheel.

Screen shot 2013-07-04 at 9.55.01 PM

Here is another great example. When I learn languages I often use a similar method to remember vocab so this fits perfectly with my learning style.

Screen shot 2013-07-04 at 9.55.15 PM

After you have picked a mem and studied your vocab, you are given ways to input the words – by word selection and by typing the words out. Sadly caps and special letters are not taken into account so it’s easy to get a little lazy when typing the words in.

Screen shot 2013-07-04 at 9.56.22 PM

What I really like, though, is that if you get a word wrong, it makes you copy the word down so you can commit the spelling (or in my case, gender) to memory a lot better.

When you start to study a word, you “plant” it into your brain and are encouraged to water the plants on a regular basis. Then you can plant more and more words until you have turned the whole vocab list into a beautiful garden!

I’m finding this to be a great way to learn German vocab (as well as brush up on forgotten Japanese) while only spending 20 mins or so a day on it. Of course, if you get obsessed with the leaderboard then you have to spend a lot more time on there ;)

If there are any other Memrise users out there then add me as a friend – my username is Sherbet. Let me know what you think of the site if you have used it before!

Notes on German – Beating Myself Up


So as you may or may not know, I am pushing myself in German so that I can have a basic conversation by June. I have my weekly private lesson, not one but two exchange partners, am reading Greg’s Tagebuch, and force myself to go to a weekly Facebook meetup for German people.

I can feel myself getting better – it doesn’t take me 30 mins to read a page of text and I’m checking much fewer words than when I first started. But it only takes a little bump in my road to set me off course.

Last week I went to the Facebook meetup, walked in and looked around. I saw one guy I went on a date with once, but who has since ignored the couple of texts I sent him. He was talking to two girls. I went to the other side of the room, bought a beer and stood, as I usually do. Normally this is when someone else who is on their own comes over and starts to talk with me. I explain that I can’t speak German that well, but I want to practise. They say “sure, let’s do this” and we have a semi-butchered conversation.

But this didn’t happen this time. I stood awkwardly for 20 minutes.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t I just go up to someone and say “HI I’M HERE TALK TO ME”? Well, I know that my German is terrible. I know that Neu in Frankfurt is somewhat of a meat market and, like my past date, people have things other than talking to an awkward short British girl on their mind when they go there.

After a while, I joined a small group of girls. They were ok, but it was obvious that they would have preferred not to talk to me. I spent a total of one hour at the event before I just gave up and went home.

It’s almost a week since that meetup and I still feel crap. German friends have been trying to coax me into speaking in German with them but I just snapped back. Truth is, I know I’m so much better than I was even a month ago and when I go back to my German class tomorrow, my teacher will probably have some kind of comment on how much I’ve come along over Christmas. But I see friends who have been here a while just breeze through German conversations and I just stand there being awkward.

There are times when my language learning hits a plateaux, but in this case this isn’t the problem. One small hiccup creates so much negativity in me which in turn blocks my language learning progress.

I’ve been here before with Japanese, though not on this scale. I hope the feeling goes away soon, but I hope to overcome this phase by creating small goals for me in German. Small things like being able to go get an eye test and new glasses in German are real boosts for me. If I can push myself into more of these situations maybe it’ll coax me back into the Neu in Frankfurt group again.

Language learners! Have you ever experienced something like this? How do you overcome it?

That Awkward Moment When You’re Not Fluent

Back when I was an exchange student in Japan, I went to a small gathering at a friend’s house. The people there were a few Japanese girls, my Korean friend, and myself. I’d been dating a Japanese guy for a few months, so I was pretty good at conversation (if you don’t know the correlation, you’ve never tried dating someone from a different country ;) ) but I wasn’t fluent.

When people would aim conversations at me, I was ok and could answer. But when they spoke between themselves, I was lost and just shut off. Now this isn’t me saying my friends were bad – they weren’t. I had a lovely time, and they made a Japanese name for me (which is Sayuri), and taught me how to cook some Japanese food. But I just wasn’t quite at the level where I could be a proper member of the group. One girl next to me turned to me and said “I studied in London for a year. I can see the look on your face and I know that feeling. Don’t worry, you’ll get there.”

I mention this now, because I had the same feeling the other night. On Wednesday night, my German teacher put down the grammar book after half an hour, sat back and said “ok, let’s speak in German. Tell me about your week”. I spoke, in German, for the first time. Not just ordering a beer or some food, but actual conversation.

I don’t know if this is just me but I get a real rush from this. Speaking in another language… it’s just such a great feeling and I can’t describe it. So, naturally, I wanted more.

On Facebook I’m part of a number of Frankfurt groups, one of which is an all-German group. They had a meetup on Thursday, so I decided to go.

It’s one thing to click “I’ll join” on Facebook but it’s quite another to walk into a bar, see all these people you don’t know, speaking a language you don’t speak and just jump right in. I had a mini freak out inside, wondered what the hell I was doing, but then bought a massive beer and just stood at the side and looked awkward until two guys doing exactly the same started talking to me.

I did pretty well. I’m proud of myself. They didn’t realise I wasn’t German for quite a while, but that’s mainly because I answered with single words for a while until I got into the swing of it. But it was hard. I had to keep asking them to repeat stuff, and I got into the habit of repeating everything in English to make sure I had understood it before I answered. I didn’t initiate anything, because, quite frankly, I forgot how very tiring it was. But also because I felt so sorry for these two guys who got stuck with me. I wanted them to know they could escape at any point, so I kind of zoned out when they were talking to each other.

One guy left after a little while and the other sat down with me and we just spoke in English for the rest of the night. I’m pretty proud that I did such a long time in German. But it’s not a nice feeling to be a burden on someone in a conversation. I want to keep going to these meetups and trying again and again until I can speak German for real.

All German, All the Time, week 1


On Monday, I started doing “All German, All the Time” – where I only watch tv in German, only read books in German, and listen to as much German as possible. I have one more week of this.

Here are the resources I’ve been using -

1. Tv.

I’ve not got a tv here, so what I’ve been using is Filmon, which allows you watch streamed tv from a lot of European countries (also includes most British Freeview channels). Sadly, the German channels available are very limited, and aside from a channel that shows only infomercials and QVC, my only choice is RTL which shows horrendous dramas in the mornings. I was hoping for something like the BBC so I could watch the news.

2. Listening.

I use as well as my Michel Thomas course in the mornings on the way to work. Everyone knows how much I love Michel Thomas, but the Germanpop101 course isn’t that bad either. They base each lesson around a conversation, so it’s good because at the start I listen and think “oh crap, I don’t understand” but then by the end I get the ureka moment when I get what they’re saying. The only thing I would say against them is that the German girl and the American guy running these are about as interesting as a wet rag. The other courses in the “—pod101″ family that I’ve listened to have made sure that the people are quite charismatic. But these guys aren’t.

3. Reading.

I mentioned to a friend about my challenge to myself, and he said that he has some German comics – would I like to borrow them? I said yes, of course, and so he brought them into work for me. I joked and asked if the books are rude and have boobies in them, then looked down at the two books. One was the German translation of Paying For It, a pro-prostitution comic about a man who does the rounds with a long list of ladies of the night. The other was Black Hole, about teenagers who get mutilations from sexually transmitted diseases. So far, I’ve read a few pages of Paying For It, and it’s quite entertaining. But I can’t really take it out anywhere (the German title is “I Pay For Sex” in German) so I’m limited to reading it in the comfort of my own room… where I usually choose to sit and blog as opposed to sit and read.

How is it all going?

I think if I was a student and had much more time to dedicate to this, it would work a lot better. However, I don’t see the benefit of watching the tv since I don’t feel I’m getting much from it. The podcasts and books are much more useful – even from a few pages of the comic, I have a long list of things I want to ask my German teacher next week. I think this would be much easier with a language that has a vast range of media – like Japanese anime, or Japanese dramas – that you can get stuck into. It’s quite hard to get stuck into German when my resources and time (and motivation to a certain extent) is pretty limited.

One more week to go!

A Language Challenge

I feel that my language learning has become really stale recently. With Chinese, I’ve not been taking any lessons in a month because I’ve had my improv classes. With German, I’ve just not been that motivated recently.

But learning languages is one of those things that if you look at it from the outside, you can’t find the energy to do it. But if you just jump into it anyway, every small success makes you crave more.

SO I have decided to give myself a challenge. I know of this website called All Japanese, All the Time. The guy writing it is a little cocky/patronising/ugh sometimes but basically, he taught himself Japanese in 18 months by doing everything he wanted to do in Japanese. Books, music, tv, games… the lot.

I have been wonde

ring if I should do this with German and Chinese… and even Japanese, too. I can’t do all of them at the same time, so I might try one of them, for a 2 week period.

I’m going to start this with German (since it’s the easiest!!) from Monday. Wish me luck! I’ll be posting about my progress often, of course!

Language Learning – Duolingo


Most people here are at least trying to learn German – some take full on classes, some carry phrase books. It’s always a common topic for us and has become a social thing – whether it’s arguing whether we really need to learn the genders of animals over learning how to construct sentences, or talking about how the woman on the Michel Thomas tapes is really pretty stupid and needs to have her ears cleaned.

As we were talking about German a few months ago, someone recommended the site Duolingo to me. It’s a pretty new site, and is free (yippee!) I’ll go into more detail, but its learning method is great for the way I like to learn – I like to DO, not STUDY. It has very very little grammatical explanation, you just type what you hear, or see into the other language. I’ve been told that it is very similar to the Rosetta Stone method.

The reason why this amazing site is free is that you give back – in return for language skills, you use those skills to translate the web. From Amazon reviews to blog posts, you are given articles within your ability level to translate.


Lessons come in small bitesize chucks on topics like animals, food, accusative, plurals… and can be completed in a few days if used for the recommended time each day. In each practice you listen and read the German and write English, and also vice versa too. You can also give the answers verbally but I have that turned off most of the time.

There are also multiple choice questions like the one above.


When you get a new word, it lets you know. At any point (except in the tests) you can hover over a word to be reminded of the English.


A downside to this site is that it sometimes has really random example sentences. I guess that’s the fun of learning languages… It also learns from its users, so sometimes it has mistakes in the corrections, too. There is a questions section in each lesson where people can bring these mistakes up.


So you can see I got this one wrong – and it asks if maybe I was still correct. It’s still a pretty new website, so they are open to suggestions and corrections.


So in return for the lessons, you are given articles like the one above. You can still hover over the words to get reminders.

With only 10 mins a day, I can really improve my German ability. It’s a really great method for learning and it has a social aspect, too as you gain points and there are leader boards and so on. I am currently the only person out of my group who is (semi…) regularly using the site but I have a long way to go before I beat two of my friends from work!

Downsides include, as I said above, that it’s not a perfect programme and that the sentences are often repetitive or completely random sometimes. But also you can’t choose what you study so right now I’m stuck trying to pass through animals to get to the next level which would probably be more useful.

You can get Duolingo in German, French and Spanish. It’s free! So try it out! And if you do join, add me as a friend – my username is Kotoko!

On Learning German

I’ve been in Germany almost a whole year now. I came here being able to say “hello” in German. That is all. I didn’t take GCSE German (though in hindsight I should have because if you took both French and German you didn’t have to take as many PE lessons…). For a while I took German lessons on Skype. They were pretty good (if anyone is interested, I can pass on the details of the teacher as she’s really good) but with the breakup and so on, since the spring I’ve not really had the energy or motivation to learn.

Finally I’m back on track and I signed up for (gasp!) real life German lessons at the same school where I study Chinese - A-Viva (which I can also highly recommend).

The thing with German is that it’s very grammar heavy. With Japanese, and even Chinese, there’s not much grammar to deal with. As long as you’ve mastered the “te-form” in Japanese and can switch between dictionary forms and “masu” forms, you’re pretty much set. Chinese is even easier still. It’s a language of building blocks.

But German… (sigh). I bought a grammar book for it and the first 10 pages were lists of rules for knowing when words are masculine, feminine or neutral. I put the book on the shelf and there it has sat for the rest of the year. It’s just not nice, or motivating to go into a language wanting to learn how to communicate and to be met with a wall of rules.

As I’m a teacher myself (my degree was half TESOL) I can now see how exactly I want to study. The ways in which I want to learn don’t suit everyone – I have friends who would eat my grammar book for breakfast – but they suit me. I like to learn languages as blocks, and learn grammar intrinsically as opposed to memorising grammar lists. It was the same with Japanese. I don’t even think I knew the “te-form” perfectly before I went to study in Japan. But when I did go, and I had Japanese around me all the time, my brain just absorbed it and I could do it all.

With German I started off with Michel Thomas (who I’ve written about before here). The method is great because there is no grammar to be learnt, just building blocks. Just 10 minutes a day and within a week you’ll be able to say things and communicate with people!

I try to explain all this to my German teacher but she still gave me a stack of printed goods to go away and memorise… (cry). I guess I have to put my back into it sooner or later. However, in her lessons it’s pretty surprising how much grammar I have picked up by not studying grammar. I told her that I’ve never studied German grammar at all, but I was able to describe picture prompt cards in the past, present and future. Look at me go. And my level is at that wonderful level where every breakthrough is a Eureka Moment and I feel such a rush.

Language learning is really really fun. And I hope that people can see that it’s not that hard – even with German. One of the most frustrating things about language learning is that we are taught at school to sit down and do boring drills and tests which take all the fun out of it. Japanese elementary students are by far the best English speakers in the whole of Japan because they can learn English in a relaxed setting, focus on communication and don’t have to worry about tests. We should learn from them. In this day and age, there are so many ways to learn languages without trying. I hope that anyone reading this who is thinking “ah, I’d like to pick up such and such language” will take my lead and leap into Language Lagoon. Because it’s awesome. Ok?

Website Round-Up

I like clicking on thing. Maybe some of the things I have clicked on might interest you! Here are some of the things I have clicked on this month.

Spotted By Locals – This website is pretty awesome, actually. Had reviews of shops, cafes, bars and so on, written by a few handpicked people working for the site. Their Frankfurt page is updated regularly so there are plenty of new places to go to. I would have liked to be a “Spotter” for them but you need to know German, so I cannot. Similar to this is of course Qype. I think that between the two it should be easy for you to find somewhere to go to spend an afternoon in Frankfurt!

Lingq – I joined this language learning site a month or so back and I’ve not really put much effort into using it. The main appeal of it for me is that you do some reading in the language you are learning, but get to highlight words that you are not sure of, so that you can use them as flash cards later. It’s great for picking up words. There are also sections where you can submit some writing to a native speaker to correct (but I don’t need that as I am an avid fan of Lang-8) or arrange for a native speaker to speak with you on Skype. I’d like to have the time to dedicate myself to doing the reading section a bit more, but for some reason this website hasn’t really stuck with me. I don’t know if it’s the constant bugging for money and upgrades or something like that…

Bon Iver Erotic Stories – Completely safe for work! And not very erotic. But SO funny. I have Danni from Sparrow and Dove to thank for this gem. Now I am no longer able to concentrate at work…

That’s it for this month!

Language Learning – Pimsleur Korean

I’m back from Japan and slowly working my way through my photos. Once I have sorted them, I’ll do a write up but until then, there’s time for something different :-)

A while back I mentioned that I had the Pimsleur Korean cds waiting to be used. A week or so before I went to Japan I gave them a go, and here are my findings!

I had heard that the Pimsleur method is similar to the Michel Thomas method – in that they work on building blocks of language as opposed to grammar and so on. I guess in that way they are a little similar, but sadly they were not nearly as effective as I had hoped.

I used the cds as I did the Michel Thomas ones – on the way to work. As I set off out my door, I’m told to listen to a Korean conversation. I’m then told that in minutes I’ll be able to understand it all. I think they do this to try and daunt you, then make you feel like you’ve achieved something, like “oh, that daunting conversation is now so easy to me!”

I’m off down the street and I’m told that the conversation is between an American man who sat down next to a Korean woman and wants to have a conversation with her. GROAN. Oh, come on. Really? Ok, ok, I’ll stick with it.

Where Michel Thomas has students repeating and constructing sentences, Pimsleur has you repeating after the native speakers. They break down words so you can say them clearly. I’m not sure why this method didn’t stick with me, but by the time they’d finished one word and moved onto the next, I’d forgotten the previous word. It just wasn’t as effective as the constant questions that Michel Thomas asks of you and the two dummy students.

I stuck it out until I got to the main station, and to the end of that lesson. Usually with Michel Thomas, by that time I would have a few new words and would feel confident in making a handful of new sentences. With Pimsleur I could barely remember the 4 or so new words they had taught me. I have experience in Korean before, so it wasn’t new to me at all. Yet I didn’t feel confident in the new phrases I had learnt.

I think if you yourself are in a class that has this method, it’s probably a good thing. But for me, the cds just didn’t work. It could just be me though – a friend of mine said that he really finds the method useful and effective.

I wonder if anyone out there has any thoughts on these two learning methods? I’d love to hear other opinions.