Tips On How to Be an Independent Learner. Part 3

Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

See parts 1 and 2 here and here

  • Don’t be shy to ask your teacher if you have questions.
    • Asking questions is a sign that you accept responsibility for your learning, that you’re curious and interested in the subject – teachers love that!
  • If you need help, ask for it.
    • Life can get too busy and complicated for you to handle everything on your own. You may need help not only with your learning but also with other things, e.g. house chores, childminding etc. Feel free to ask your tutor, your family and friends, other students, online and offline.
    • You’ll be surprised how much people love helping others.
  • If you face a setback, ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and back in the saddle’ (Shakira)
    • Learning is not a linear process. You may expect it to be like a smooth upward curve but in reality it’s pretty messy with ups and downs and plateaus, twists and turns and even U-turns. So don’t despair when things aren’t going the way you’d like them too. To cheer yourself up, read success stories, listen to inspirational TED Talks, use the power of positive affirmations, or find people that motivate you to carry on.
    • Remember: if others succeeded, then you can too.
  • Enjoy your learning journey and have fun!

Tips On How to Be an Independent Learner. Part 2

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

See part 1 here

  • Create an inspiring study space
    • Regardless of whether you study space is a whole room or just a laptop on the kitchen table, set it up in a way that will bolster your motivation for learning.
    • Make sure it’s as comfortable and cosy as possible and that everything you need is to hand.
    • Eliminate distractions: put your mobile away for the entire duration of your study session (or better still, switch it off), ask your family members/flatmates to keep quiet so you can focus, even turn off your computer if you don’t need it.
    • I prefer to study in silence but some people find that some instrumental music in the background helps them concentrate and be more productive. Songs with lyrics are more likely to distract than to assist your learning.
  • Set study goals
    • Whatever it is that you’re learning, it’s a long journey and before you embark on it you need to know where you want to get and how to get there. That’s why you need to set goals. They’ll give your learning direction, allow you to evaluate your progress and course correct if necessary.
    • Set daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.
    • Make sure they’re challenging enough but at the same time achievable. (‘Watch English movies for 3 hours a day on a daily basis’ is not a realistic goal, is it?)
    • Don’t set too many goals at once. Start with one, and if you make good progress in a month or so, then add one more.
    • Think of a tool that’ll help you know when you’ve reached your goal or whether you need to re-think your study strategies. I personally like 30-day challenges (also a great way to create a new habit or get rid of an old one that no longer serves you) and lists with boxes to tick off.
    • And – probably the most important thing to bear in mind when it comes to goal setting – plan for obstacles. A road to success is not a straight one, but one full of twists and turns and even U-turns. So be prepared to face difficulties and get stuck at times, it’s okay. When it happens, have a rest, and then ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and back in the saddle’.
  • One (baby) step at a time
    • We live in a world obsessed with speed. We want everything ASAP whatever it takes. However, learning is not like buying stuff on Amazon – one click, and you’ve got it delivered a few hours later. Instead it’s like growing a tree. It takes time and effort, and there will be days, even weeks, when you’ll feel like no progress is being made.
    • So be patient, keep working and allow time for changes to happen. One day you’ll look back and be amazed how far you’ve got and how much you’ve achieved. So take the first step towards your goals today and keep walking.
  • Make the most of your study time
    • Before you get down to work, make sure you’ve eliminated distractions and time-wasters such as your mobile, email and social media.
    • If you struggle to concentrate, consider trying out the so-called Pomodoro Technique. This time-management tool was created back in the 1980s by France Cirillo, then a university student. To time himself, he used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato, or ‘pomodoro’ in Cirillo’s native language, Italian.
    • Here’s how it works: 1) choose ONE task to work on 2) set a timer for 25 minutes and work on your chosen task without interruptions 3) when the time’s up, take a five-minute break to move around or grab a bite; taking breaks is a MUST 4) repeat steps 1-3 until you’ve completed four tasks or until you’ve run out of study time on a particular day and then have a 30-minute break.
    • Needless to say, you’re free to play with the study/break ratio. See what works best for YOU.
  • Keep your study materials in good order
    • Whether it’s a notebook, a ring binder or folders on your computer, make sure you’ve got everything sorted out and easy to find and refer to when necessary. (Note that your idea of ‘good order’ is almost certainly different from other people’s, and that’s okay.)

To be continued…

Tips on how to be an independent learner . Part 1

Image by Kidaha from Pixabay

Here’s what I’ve learnt from years of self-study and extensive reading about how we learn.

  • Accept responsibility for your own learning and success
    • It may be an uncomfortable truth for some but whether you achieve your learning goals or not depends mainly on you and the decisions you make. You’re free to make any decision you like but remember that every choice has its consequences and be prepared to face them. Plus researchers claim that students who feel that their achievements depend on factors within their control (e.g. the amount of effort put in or learning strategies used) are likely to have a stronger belief in their ability to achieve goals and change their lives as well as higher levels of motivation.
  • Develop a growth mindset
    • Some people are convinced that intelligence is like the shape of the ears you’re born with – you’ve got what you’ve got and that can’t be changed. In psychology, this belief is known as a fixed mindset. However, research has shown that you can boost your intelligence with hard work, the right study strategies, perseverance and self-belief.
  • Think positively about yourself and your learning
    • As humans, we tend to focus of the negative. And it makes total sense from the evolutionary point of view, as our ancestors stood a much better chance of surviving in a world full of predators if they were on a constant lookout for threats to their life. We no longer live in the wild but the ancient instinct is still with us. The good news is that we can harness it by consciously paying attention to the things that go right rather than wrong and feeling grateful for them.
  • Find your own ways of motivating yourself when you don’t feel like learning
    • Your motivation will go up and down, and that’s okay. For this reason, be kind to yourself but also discover how you can pump it up when it’s low. Motivation can be found not only in your future dreams, achievements and treats you’ve planned for yourself but also in what’s already there, be it an inspirational quote, a walk with your dog or a song that makes you sing your heart out (I just love Sia’s Unstoppable which never fails to empower me and make me feel good about myself). To sum up, don’t waste time waiting until you feel inspired to study – what if you never do? So just get down to work, and motivation will come in the process.

To be continued…

Using Internet Resources to Learn English on Your Own: Pros and Cons

It’s a popular belief these days that all you need to study a foreign language is access to the Internet. No need to spend money on textbooks or tutors, just find a YouTube channel/podcast/blog you like – and Bob’s your uncle (=used to say something will be easy to do)! Well then, why aren’t we all multilingual (=speaking many languages) yet? Because the truth is the Internet may be a wonderful source of information but it takes much more than that to learn a language.

I’m a self-taught learner by nature, and for most of the 30+ years I’ve been studying foreign languages I did so in the same way my parents had done. It involved a lot of reading, listening to tapes (which in turn involved a great deal of pausing and rewinding), keeping a vocabulary notebook, looking up unfamiliar words by finding the right page in a massive 1000-page dictionary, translating from English into Russian and vice versa.

To learn a foreign language that way was possible but it took a huge amount of willpower, determination and time. And it was anything but fun.

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

How things have changed since then! The Internet has given us 24/7 access to all sorts of language learning materials – from books, blogs and films to audiobooks, podcasts and online games. How come an average student of English/French/German etc. still struggles to achieve fluency and often gets stuck at the lower intermediate level?

Continue reading “Using Internet Resources to Learn English on Your Own: Pros and Cons”

Exclamations, or Less is more

I’m a strong advocate of the idea that less is more. It’s true for so many things in life including language. Never use two words where you can do with one – that’s an approach I wholeheartedly support. And nowhere else does it find its expression so fully as in exclamations!

An exclamation is a sound, word or short sentence that is charged with emotion. For this reason we use them whenever we need to communicate our feelings in a quick and expressive way.

Exclamations have to be short as emotions often catch us completely unawares and our first reaction is usually immediate and spontaneous.

Image from Pixabay

Let’s have a look at some of such expressions which Britons use a lot in their daily conversation.

Surprise, surprise!

You might have heard this one before as it’s found its way – both translated and untranslated – into Russian.

We use it in two ways:

1) with a great deal of irony or even sarcasm depending on the situation, to say that you expected something to happen or to be true (the actual meaning in this case is ‘unsurprisingly’)

As the number of covid cases surged, the government went back on its word and surprise, surprise reintroduced the restrictions.

2) when suddenly appearing in front of someone who wasn’t expecting to see you

Surprise, surprise! I’m back!

Continue reading “Exclamations, or Less is more”

Hocus-pocus: tricks or treats?

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Not that the word hocus-pocus (мошенничество, надувательство, обман) is very commonly used in English these days.

Though in Russia its equivalent фокус-покус is still regularly in use – whether it’s due to Russia’s being a land of magic or a place where a lot of deception (= the act of making people believe something that is not rrue) happens we’ll leave to our readers to guess.

Anyway, it’s a word with an interesting history which I’d like to share with you.

The origins of hocus-pocus are still debated. According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, it dates back to the seventeenth-century mock (= only pretending to be real) Latin phrase hax pax max Deus adimax used by conjurors (=a person who does magic tricks to entertain people) as a magical formula capable of putting a white rabbit into a previously empty top hat.

However, I personally prefer the alternative version. In the ceremony of Mass ( = the most important religious service in some Christian churches), the faithful ( = believers) are shown a piece of bread and a glass of wine which the priest proclaims ( = to say publicly that something is true) the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

In the past, all religious services were carried out in Latin, the language only the few initiated ( =those in the know) knew.

To the illiterate ( = those who can’t read or write) masses gathered around the God’s representative on earth, the sacramental blessing Hoc est corpus meum – ‘This is my body!’ – made no sense whatsoever, and due to their lacking knowledge of Latin got garbled ( =mixed up) into Hocus pocus!

Born as a magic formula, over time hocus pocus widened its meaning to any words or activities designed to trick someone or hide what is going on.

Example: In her opinion, homeopathy is nothing but a lot of hocus-pocus.

Hope you found this story interesting and added a few new words to you vocabulary!

Vocabulary: How Many Words Do You Need to Know?

In this post I’d like to look at the vocabulary aspect of language learning.

If we liken speech to a house, then words are the bricks and grammar is the binding agent that joins them together. Both are important. However, it is possible – at least in theory – to build a house with bricks only, though it won’t be safe to live in, whereas cement on its own is good for nothing (though here I may not be quite right as I’m not a builder, but you got the idea).

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Now, how many words do you need to know to be able to effectively communicate in a language? Well, let’s first make a distinction between active and passive vocabulary. Passive vocabulary includes those lexical items (words, idioms, collocations etc.) you recognise and understand when you come across them in text or speech. Active vocabulary as you might have already guessed is what you can actually use in your speaking and writing. No prizes for guessing which one is bigger.

Continue reading “Vocabulary: How Many Words Do You Need to Know?”

British Christmas: how we celebrate it and vocabulary we use to talk about it

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Christmas is round the corner (=very near in place or time), so let’s see how twenty-first-century Britons celebrate it.

These days the festive season (=the period around Christmas) starts ridiculously early. Christmas-themed shop-window displays make their appearance at the beginning of November, as soon as Halloween is over, or even earlier. Naturally, they go hand in hand (=together) with the arrival of Christmas decorations and posters promoting the idea that it’s time to shop for the main holiday of the year.

Christmas shop-window display at Selfridges in London in 2016
(C) Anastassia Sakharova

Christmas office parties start early too. I remember a few years ago my husband’s employer arranged one in November when it’s cheaper to rent a venue (=place) for the occasion (=event). At my husband’s work Christmas lunch (we’ll talk about it later) is traditionally served in the canteen in the run-up to (=before) the holiday to get the employees in the festive spirit I guess.

Another thing that makes for the Christmas atmosphere is Christmas cards. Despite the advent (=coming) of electronic ones, Britons still send lots and lots of paper ones keeping The Royal Mail (=the British organization which is responsible for collecting and delivering letters and parcels)busy and prosperous. It’s customary to put them on display on the mantelpiece (=a wooden or stone shelf which is the top part of a frame surrounding a fireplace) and other horizontal surfaces or on a piece of string like bunting (=small flags on strings, used to decorate buildings and streets on special occasions).

A Christmas card display

In the UK, Christmas, often shortened to Xmas, has now lost most of its original religious meaning and like other public holidays has been massively commercialized. Christmas Mass (=an important church ceremony)which is celebrated on the night of Christmas Eve (24th December) is often attended by those who otherwise don’t go to church as a sort of entertainment rather than in reverence (=great respect and admiration)for the birth of Jesus Christ. It is though much more common to spend Christmas Eve making the last preparations for the day ahead.

Christmas Day (25th December) is not only the most joyous day of the year in the UK, it’s also the quietest as public transport is not running and pretty much everything is shut (though some pubs and restaurants remain open to serve Christmas lunch as well as some small shops whose owners either don’t celebrate Christmas or don’t want to miss the opportunity to make some extra money while all other stores are closed).

Christmas is a family holiday and in my husband’s family it gets really busy when all his siblings (=brothers and sisters)with their spouses (=husbands and wives) and kids get together. It also means an awful lot of cooking for the hostess, though these days you can order your Christmas food online and have it delivered to your door. Starters and puddings usually come ready to eat, mains require (=need) a little bit more work on your side – you need to pop them in the oven before serving.

Typical Christmas lunch (roast meat and veg, sprouts, balls of stuffing and gravy). Image by Lesley Negus from Pixabay

Britons are amazingly conservative when it comes to Christmas lunch. They don’t mind having the same things year after year – beats me (=I can’t understand or explain it)! There’s some variety in starters, but the mains are pretty much invariably the same – roast meat (more often than not turkey, but beef, lamb, pork, venison (=deer meat), and goose are popular alternatives too), vegetables (roast potatoes, carrots and parsnips, sprouts (=a small green vegetable like a very small cabbage), peas), stuffing (=the stuff you normally put inside the turkey but often served on the side) and gravy (=a sauce made from the juice that comes from meat as it cooks, mixed with flour and water). You put a bit of everything on your plate but somehow always end up absolutely stuffed (=so full that you can’t eat any more) so the pudding (the most popular one is probably trifle – a cold British sweet dish made of layers of cake, fruit, jelly, custard, and cream) is often left untouched.

Trifle, a popular Christmas pudding

At 3pm on Christmas Day the Queen’s speech is broadcast but having lived in the UK for ten years I haven’t seen anyone watch it once, which I think is a shame.

Christmas stockings waiting to be emptied

26th December is Boxing Day. Originally it was the day when the rich gave gifts (=presents) to the poor. The gifts were packed in boxes, hence the name. These days people still exchange presents (or, informally, pressies) at Christmas, though no one can be bothered to wait till Boxing Day. In my husband’s family the presents are done after Christmas lunch. The kids, however, start ahead of everyone else with their Christmas stockings filled with sweets and little things. Sadly, they are often inundated (=get too many) with presents and don’t seem to have much appreciation (=a feeling of being grateful)for what they get. Adults often choose not to waste money of Christmas presents for several reasons: firstly, these days in the West most people have everything they need and even more and therefore see no practical reason to stick with (=continue) the tradition; secondly, more often than not Christmas presents turn out to be a disappointment rather than a delight and end up either in the bin or a charity shop more or less right away; and last but not least, some people, in accordance with the true spirit of Christmas, prefer to give the money they could otherwise spend on presents to charitable (=relating to giving help to those in need)causes instead.

This is what British Xmas is like in this day and age. Hope you’ve learnt something new from this post. I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a joyful and prosperous New Year.

Body Parts as Verbs

Body parts are among the first words English learners are taught, which is perfectly understandable given that we use our bodies and talk about them a lot.

However, as is often the case in English, many of the nouns describing different parts of the human body are also verbs, and useful ones for that. More often than not students are left to discover them one by one on their own while reading or watching videos.

I decided to make it easier for you and give you a more or less complete list of such verbs in today’s post. (A quick disclaimer: most of the verbs below have multiple meanings; I’ll be looking only at those an average person is most likely to need in their day-to-day speaking – for others you can always consult a good dictionary.)

Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay

Starting from the top, our first verb is to head. It has several meanings:

1) to hit the ball with your head, especially in football

Don’t head the ball unless you know how to avoid injury.

2) to travel in a particular direction and often in a deliberate way

We headed out of town early in the morning to avoid traffic.

3) to be in charge, or, in other words, to be the head (=leader, the most important person) of a team, company etc.

Michael heads (up) the London branch of the company.

4) to be at the top of a group of people or things – just like the head is at the top of the body

The book heads the shortlist for the Booker Prize.

Continue reading “Body Parts as Verbs”

Al fresco: a useful summertime word

British summers can be very disappointing, as it has been this year, but when it’s warm enough, sunny and dry, we just love eating and drinking al fresco, that is in the fresh air, be it in a pavement café, a beer garden at a local pub or the privacy of your own back garden or patio.

I had an al fresco lunch with my colleagues in Hyde Park.

Image by Hands off my tags! Michael Gaida from Pixabay

The phrase was adopted from Italian in mid-eighteenth century and has been in use ever since.

Funny enough, in its original Italian al fresco is a slang term meaning ‘in prison’, like the English phrase ‘in the cooler’. So if one day you find yourself in Italy in need of a table outside, to avoid confusion ask for one all’aperto. Unless you speak Italian, of course.