Language learning resolutions for 2013

It's never too late to have New Year's resolutions, although mine won't be heralded by fireworks.

It’s never too late to have New Year’s resolutions, although mine won’t be heralded by fireworks.

As it’s nearly February, I figured I should probably get some New Year’s resolutions. These are of course all to do with languages, but this time I’m taking a new approach to learning. The test is going to be to see how well it works.

It was only when I started at university that I realised how much free time I had at school. I taught myself a lot of languages back then, while travelling to and from school, sometimes in my free periods, during the holidays, and it all built up and I made a lot of progress. Nowadays I barely have time to breathe, and as a result when I started here two and a half years ago my language learning came to an abrupt halt. I have been able to learn Russian and start studying Yiddish, but I’m worried that my other languages are suffering. This summer I’m going travelling – I’m spending a month in Israel doing a Yiddish course, and then month travelling the Balkans. I’m going to have to fit in plenty of study-time for those languages too. So here is my plan:


I’ve always really liked Hebrew, although I get very few chances to practise it. My Hebrew’s resting awkwardly between an intermediate and advanced level, and I feel like it’s the kind of language that I would really like to feel more fluent in. I taught myself Hebrew with Routledge’s Colloquial Hebrew, and I got just over half way through the course in about a year of on/off studying. Although the course is fantastic and I thoroughly recommend it, at the moment I just don’t have the time or motivation to keep studying it on my own.

With this online course, I will be learning with teachers in Jerusalem, from my bedroom in Oxford.

With this online course, I will be learning with teachers in Jerusalem, from my bedroom in Oxford.

So I’m trying something a little different. I’ve talked about different ways of learning languages in the past and their various advantages and disadvantages, and now I’ve found this exciting new method so I am going to give it a try. I’ve enrolled in an online Hebrew course run by the University of Jerusalem. It was not cheap, at £600 including student discount which I can pay in six installments, but I get nine months of tuition, and forcing myself to pay that amount of money has kicked me into feeling very motivated. I’m sure that I’m going to make the most of the resources it gives me. I start on Sunday, and have been placed in group 5 (1 being complete beginners, 8 being experts). Everything is online – so no need to go venturing off in the pouring rain to a dingy evening class, you can access everything from your computer at home – and I will be sitting in a virtual classroom for 3 hours a week: 2 hours of class following a textbook-based course, and an hour a week of conversation. On the website you can view recordings of past lessons (so you also never need to worry about missing anything), and I’ve been having a little look and it all seems fantastic. The teacher is very enthusiastic, speaks only in Hebrew, has a whiteboard-type thing that she writes vocabulary on and draws pictures to avoid having to use English, and everybody else is already at a much higher level of spoken Hebrew than I am. I feel like this is going to take my Hebrew through to a very advanced level by the end of the nine months, and I will certainly be blogging about this again in the future.

It's time to revive my French.

It’s time to revive my French.


I’ve always neglected French, which I’m not very proud of. I think because it was one of the very first languages I ever learnt, I became a bit complacent about it. However this is going to change, as I think French is a beautiful language and really important in the modern world. I got some ideas from Richard Simcott’s most recent video, where he and Amir talk about keeping languages going, even by just doing the bare minimum. Therefore my plan is once a week to read a few articles from the French news, at Le Monde or France 24 or wherever, then make a list of vocabulary that I didn’t know – say, maybe, 20 or 30 words. Then for the rest of the week I’ll look over the vocabulary once a day until I’ve learnt it all, and then do it again the following week. I don’t want to spend more than 10-15 minutes a day on this, but I know that I’ll see an improvement after a while. Ideally I’d like to be able to be speaking it again within a few months.

New Languages – Croatian/Serbian/Bosnian and Turkish

Turkish is next on the list

Turkish and Croatian are both next on the list

In the midst of all this I’m going to have to bring in some new languages. As I said, I’m travelling from Zagreb to Istanbul this summer with a friend, and I am not going to be resorting to “Govorite li vi engleski?”/”İngilizce biliyor musun?”. I’ve looked at these languages before, but although I’ve been able to learn quite a lot quite quickly, just as quickly I’ve always forgotten it all. The task this time is to learn and retain. I’m flying out to Zagreb in late July, and will arrive in Istanbul in mid-August, so I think I have enough time to get comfortable with them. I’m not aiming for any miraculous fluency here, I just need to be able to get around and make myself understood as a tourist. This is how I started with Hebrew though, so maybe my interest  will take me further. I’m going to adopt a model similar to the one for French, although with much more learning involved.

So there are my plans! I’ll be updating my blog between now and the summer about how I’m getting on, and who knows, maybe at some point there’ll even be a YouTube video