Irish in Dublin

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When I was in Dublin I was really enjoying all the Irish Gaelic that was about. Once upon a time, I did actually try to learn how to speak Gaelic but then when I didn’t have to any more I dropped it like it was a pipping hot, rotting potato that smells like it’s make of teenage boys’ socks.

But that’s not to say I don’t think it’s a beautiful language!! Here is a small sample of the Irish language I came across in Dublin.

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Memrise – Language Learning

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Making Friends Abroad – Germany

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A few weeks ago I wrote a post about finding a partner in Japan, but today I’d like to write a little about how to make friends – focussing on doing so whilst in Germany.

Making friends abroad is probably one of the hardest things I have done. In Japan, I felt very lonely; it took me a long time to find people I really connected with and then once I found these people I couldn’t see them until the weekend – often every other weekend. Now in Germany, once I started to see the pangs of loneliness in myself, I knew exactly how to get myself a social circle.

I’d like to point out now that all these methods require effort, patience and a lot of guts. When looking for new friends you will find yourself being forced out of your comfort zone, into a group of people you don’t know, maybe in a language you don’t speak, with people you don’t know you’ll even like and repeating the same conversations over and over and over. “How long have you been here?” “Did you come here for work?” “Do you like it here?” If you go to a meeting and come away with one phone number of one person with whom you meet up with occasionally, you’ve been successful. If you don’t, then don’t worry. If you don’t find someone who meets your friendship requirements to a tee, then that’s ok.

In a certain sense, you need to drop your friendship standards somewhat when you’re abroad. Most of the people I’m closest to here are people I have very very little in common with. But at the end of the day, they are amazing people and I love them very much. You need to let go of the idea that you’ll find your BFF at these meetings and focus instead on finding someone who will go to the cinema with you at the drop of a hat, someone who will try out that new restaurant with you, someone who will sit and listen when your boyfriend has been a wombat yet again. This is what’s important. So, let’s jump right in to finding friends….

Once I knew I was going to be in Germany, I soon found the online forum Toytown Germany. Being a forum, it is of course full of grumpy people, people who only want to argue, people who are mean and unhelpful. However, there are also lots of really good points and pieces of information for living in Germany. (Pro tip, unless you are looking to get shouted at by the long-timers there, you should always do a search of what information you are looking for before you start a new topic of conversation).

Within this forum, you can find people new to the area who want to meet up, and also long standing groups of people who meet more regularly. I joined one women’s dinner group once and met one girl who I became very good friends with, so it was a good success for me. I also go to a few of the meetups when I have time.

A step up from this would be Couchsurfing.org. I joined it after a good friend of mine mentioned how he has made a lot of friends from that site. On the surface it’s a place where you can find somewhere to stay for free when you are traveling. But it is so much more than this – from weekly meetings to random messages from people wanting to meet up, it is a hotbed of people wanting friendship. Within a week of joining, I saw a message from a lovely French couple who wanted to invite people to their house to play boardgames. It sounded right up my street so I went along and managed to befriend not only the lovely couple but also a person I consider to be a close friend. Aside from that time, I have also been to a massive brunch meetup and a handful of Christmas market spontaneous meetups. The thing that makes Couchsurfing different is that all the members are explorers. They are people who have been places and know what it’s like to be on your own in a place away from home. The website has changed for the worst in recent weeks in an effort to make money from the site and now the helpful forums are replaced with Facebook style pages, where one has to almost call out in order to connect with people. I’ve lost the details of the people I was to meet up with in Paris, as well as those in Goa and have to repeatedly write on the pages of these places, asking if anyone will be in those areas at the same time as me. Bewelcome.com seems to be the next Couchsurfing so be sure to check that one out as well.

Though mainly a dating site, Okcupid.com is also a good place to make friends. I like to call it a social network rather than a dating site. I have made one guy friend and one girl friend from this site. It might be a little scary for some people to venture into but I do say it’s well worth at least making a profile and seeing what kind of messages come.

Speaking of social networks, Facebook is the king as usual. Try to see if there are groups for your area – for Frankfurt I am a member of the English Speaking, Neu im Frankfurt, Photography, Friday Night Drinks Club, Drinkstag, International groups and many, many more. With these groups, I can go to a meeting pretty much every single day, meeting new people. The hardest one of these is the German Stammtisch events I go to with Neu im Frankfurt.

Other websites worth a mention are My Language Exchange and Shared Talk which are primarily language exchange partner websites, but I have actually made friends through them as well.

If you have any more links to great friend making websites, please link them in the comments!

Why You Shouldn’t Speak Your Learning Language With Anyone Other Than Native Speakers

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As I’ve mentioned previously, I am giving myself the challenge of being able to have a proper conversation in German before the summer. In order to boost myself in this, I go to German Facebook meetup every week. Forcing myself to speak German with these people (or, more often than not, forcing people to suffer my German) helps me get the chance to use the language I learn whilst studying. I am ridiculously bad at German. I can barely string a sentence together. But it helps.

However, there is one guy there who is not German. He’s a very nice guy, very welcoming and friendly. But he stands in the way of my German learning, and here is why. When you are pretty good at a language, and you meet someone else also studying that language, then you feel the need to take them under your wing. When I speak with him he’ll use a range of expressions to try to stretch my learning experience. At my level, this isn’t really helpful. With a native speaker, their aim would not be to nurture you, but to have a conversation with you and to be understood by you. Helpful Non-Native’s aim is to show you just how much they know, and try to pave the path of your linguistic learning. But all it ends up doing (to me, at least) is frustrate me as it’s not natural, it’s not helping me and it’s a little off-putting since they are showing off so much I feel lost in my own abysmal level.

If you are a learner who is pretty good at the language, Helpful Non-Native turns into Competitive Non-Native. I find this happens A LOT with Japanese. When you meet someone new in Japan, people like to size you up and see where you are on the scale, to see if you are better or worse than them at Japanese. When I was at uni, I was ridiculously competitive, to the point that I turned into a not very nice person. But once I got into JET, I chilled out a bit. But I noticed the competitive streak in other people I met… they’d mention some Japanese just to test out how much I knew, or even worse, just come out and speak Japanese to me straight off. I don’t know about other languages but it is a real faux pas to speak in Japanese to non-Japanese people unless there is a good reason, ie it’s at a language event or if there’s a Japanese person who can’t speak English there.

So for someone who is learning a language, having someone who is trying to push you along, show how much they know, someone who is trying to show their superiority is not going to be helpful in your quest to learn a language – whether they mean it or not. A native speaker has no hidden agenda, and won’t throw you linguistic blue shells to try and trip you up, either. You’re not distracted by their level because they’re a native speaker and you’re not aiming to be like them any time soon, either.

Does anyone else feel this too? In other languages is there a competitive feeling when meeting a new person?

This is a “write thoughts down” kind of blog post so let’s see if we can get some kind of discussion going!

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.

Being in my 20s

I just read an awesome post that was advertised on WordPress’ main page, about the troubles the writer experiences from being in their 20s. It was a really good post but I could only relate to so much. I am so lucky and grateful for the events that have lead up to me being able to have my own apartment, my own well paid job and my own adventure in a different country. But I do still feel – as is natural, I guess – that the 20s are a particularly tricky age to be. Thanks to social media like Facebook, a lot of people now experience FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I know I really do. I go on Facebook and see this person has a shiny new job in Korea, this other person just started on their masters, and, probably the most troublesome, this person got married and is now pregnant. Now, I’m just a simple girl. I like going out and being adventurous but if I was given a week to do whatever I wanted, I’d probably do nothing more than walk around, take photos with my big camera, then sit in bed and edit them, and blog, and read books. But with all these people doing all these wonderful things, I get anxious. What am I meant to be doing? I’m 25 already. My mum was married by the time she was this age. Am I meant to settle down now? Am I ready?

It wasn’t necessarily FOMO but I felt really awkward the other day when I looked on Facebook and saw photos of a girl I used to sit next to in high school, with her new born baby. This girl and I used to sit and giggle and make up silly names for each other. And now she’s all grown up. How can this baby faced girl I used to have laughing fits with be grown up enough to have her own baby, and I can’t even keep a potted plant healthy?

Academically, I feel pressured too. In studying linguistics, one of the most interesting topics for me was when I studied how children acquire their mother tongue. Within this topic, however, I learnt that when we reach 30, our brains change and we become much less able to learn languages. The chances are, a language picked up from scratch after the age of 30 will never be mastered.

Like I said, I’m 25 now. I know Japanese. But I want the whole set – Korean and Chinese too. Why? Why not! They are all amazingly interesting and quirky in their own ways. But I feel I need to rush and get them done right away, before time runs out. I’m sure it’s not like Cinderella and as the clock stikes midnight and as I turn 30 my brain turns into a pumpkin, but I would still like to master all three well. And it scares me that I might leave it too late.

Whats more, I feel increasingly jealous of the people around me who are much older, and have taken the time to do amazing things. Not only Mister, who has had so many adventures and I love nothing more than sitting down and listening to him tell me stories from them, but also people at work. There are people with master degrees, people who speak more languages than I could ever hope to learn, people who have gone off and taking years studying lots of different things all over the world. I would love to just take a year out and study in China or Korea. Is time ticking on me being able to do this? I have no idea but I am not about to give up everything I have here to do so. Not just yet.

But I still want to be like them. I want to be able to start a story about something cool I did that doesn’t start with “in Japan…” or “when I was an ALT…”

Within the blog post above, the thing I identified with the most is how the 20s feel like you’re stuck in limbo – not at uni anymore, not yet a fully fledged adult. Living with Facebook and snapshots into our highschool friends’ lives is quite an unhealthy way to determine whether we are on the right tracks or not. But we still feel pressurised and compare ourselves. I guess this is the new norm in our generation.

Learning Languages – Michel Thomas

When I was living in Japan, time and time again I met (usually male) people who had lived in Japan for years and years and yet could not function in even basic Japanese. I really didn’t understand how they could be in a country for so long and not make the effort to learn the language.

Then I met German. It’s a challenge but I seem to be doing well with my lessons and also with the Michel Thomas tapes. I started with him in German and then I got the Chinese too.

His method is really good because he doesn’t teach grammar, but building blocks. So within 30 minutes of listening to his cd I was able to make a good number of sentences by myself. He starts with “Can you..” and “Would you like to..” and then builds up from there. It’s not just him talking to you, he is teaching two students at the time, and you can answer with them and feel like you are in a classroom setting. It’s funny because often I’ll make the same mistakes students, so it’s like Michel is correcting me.

With the German cd there is both a male and a female student. I’m not sure but I think he chose people who are purposefully a little dippy to make the listener feel better about themselves. The guy forgets words all the time (like he’ll forget the “now” in “can you bring me that now”) but I’m fine with that because I often forget the same things. I’m at the start of the second cd right now and he sounds really tired and pissed off, almost like a grumpy teenager. Michel is getting increasingly frustrated at how he messes up “mir” and “mich” all the time and there is a beautiful rant he has I think in the first track of the second cd where he says “DID I SAY TO ME?! NO! Then DON’T use MIR!!!”

The woman I think is a little deaf. She is really terrible at repeating things that are said to her. Her “nicht” grates on my nerves in particular, “ni h ku tuh” every single time. Again, Michel rants at her too, with her pronunciation of “haben”, where he says “haaaaaaaben” to which she replies “haiben”.

But enough bitching about the students, haha.

It’s an excellent course for German and I have found it really helpful in conjunction with my lessons. It really gave me confidence when I first got here that I was able to make so many sentences so early.

Unfortunately, I can’t really say the same about the Chinese cds. It’s not Michel Thomas doing them, but some American guy. It might be the same woman student again because her 想 sounds like a cat “shiiiiaaaaaaannnng”.

The American dude has a long winded and complex story for every single new word introduced. I am all for using stories to remember words (for example, lecture in Japanese is 講義 – kougi, which sounds like corgi. So, to remind myself I think of The Queen sitting in a lecture with all her dogs sat around her). But these stories are just embarrassingly long winded and cheesy. It’s also a shame they have the native speaker to back him up – it would be nice if they had a Chinese person who is able to teach well in the method. It’s a little complicated having the four voices going round.

I use the Chinese ones on the way to my classes on Fridays when I’m on the tram to get me in the Chinese mood. But I wouldn’t use them in the same way as I do the German ones since they simply are just not as effective.

Michel Thomas sadly doesn’t do Korean but I have the Pinsular cds for that. Maybe when I have some time I’ll sit down and listen to those too so I can compare and contrast.

German in Frankfurt

I have been in Frankfurt for almost 6 months now, and one of the things that makes me sad is that there is little to no chance to practice German here.

When I was in Japan, I used to get so angry when I met someone who had lived there for hears and years but couldn’t speak the language well, so I made sure that when I came to Germany, I would learn German. I take lessons online via Skype (my teacher is *excellent* – message me if you would like contact details!) and I’m getting to a stage where I can make simple sentences. But whenever I try and do anything in German, like order some food or a coffee or whatever, people always reply in English! :-(

BUT something cool happened. When I was in Japan I was taking Chinese lessons, and since I’ve been in Germany I’ve not studied at all. A friend of mine is studying Japanese here at a language school, so I decided to sign up for Chinese lessons. The teacher knows little to no English, and so I have to do things like translate from German to Chinese. EXCELLENT for my German skills, and studying Chinese at the same time!

I have my second lesson tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to it a lot. Yay for challenges in language!