Deepening My Language Learning

I started using the Pimsleur method over two years ago.I’ve dabbled with Korean, Turkish, Hindi and Spanish; the bulk of my focus has been spent studying Mandarin, which has eluded me most of my life. Even though I speak Cantonese, I struggled to pick up or understand Mandarin. This was frustrating to my identity as a Chinese person; many of my relatives have picked it up informally or studied it in school.

So it wasn’t until 2013, when I started using the Pimsleur method, that the words finally started sinking in. The program primarily focuses listening and speaking short phrases and much more on grammar rather than vocabulary.

Last month, I finally finished unit 25 in phase 1. Mind you, completing this much in 30 or so months this doesn’t seem particularly fast. I wasn’t working particularly aggressively or fast through the units, since my focus was on other languages (i.e. acquiring Turkish when I visited Turkey and Hindi when I went to India with my sister). I took my time, slowly sipping in Mandarin here and there, sometimes taking a hiatus for several months. The other reason I wasn’t pushing as fast was that it’s simply not effective to work on more than one language at a time.

This morning, I started Phase 2 and did the first unit!

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I also decided to deepen my method of learning by practicing visual recognition of the Chinese characters**. I created a set of Quizlet flash cards to review vocabulary that I struggle to remember. I can have the app read the words aloud and it also solves the inconvenient problem of scrubbing* through the files in the Audible app.

Here’s the view of my words through the browser; you can access your card sets either through the app or from the main website:

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Ideally, I’d like to move faster through the second phase***, since I’m not learning any other languages at the moment. Maybe I’ll finish the next phase in half the time – in a year and a half? I feel that the app will increase my motivation to revisit lessons or terms more consistently, rather than having large gaps of time – weeks or months – in which I’m not practicing at all.

Either way, if I can get through at least one unit a month, I’ll be happy!

*As an alternative, Audible just realized Clips, a method of saving and sharing 45-second clips. I haven’t tried it out yet.

**I know about 70% of the characters already, but often recall the Cantonese pronunciation first. I’d like to be able to recall both Cantonese and Mandarin readily and this will strengthen visual recognition, something that I struggle with. I can read bits and pieces of a children’s book, but a newspaper is way too hard for me!

***Each phase has approximately 25 units, which are approximately 30 minutes long.


Doing All The Things That I Hate

One of the kicks I get out of my job is tricking people to enjoy a skill that they had a mental block about. This is the most rewarding part of my job. It means that, not only did I help them overcome a mental hurdle, but I’ve managed to show them they can actually enjoy something they previously believed they hated. I’ve turned around many students who thought they hated science or math.

We all have our own personal biases and often believe that we might never ever like something. So I suppose I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I am actually enjoying things in life that I previously thought … well, were completely stupid.

Here’s a short list of some of those things:

  1. Meditation – Really, how boring does this sound? Meditation is something that dreadlock-covered hippies do. What a waste of time! The question is, what won me over? A good ol’ TED Talk by Andy Puddicombe and the scientific proof of all the advantages that come with meditating. Having previously burned out once on a teaching job, I was also curious as how this would be good as preventative mental health care. It’s has done wonders for me in the past three months! Going too many days without it, I find I crave the feeling of zen after each session.
  2. Yoga – Back in university, a good friend, B., and I, started taking yoga classes out of curiously. It was new to us but it was boring in many ways. The movements were unusual and novel, but it didn’t make us sweat. Often, we’d fall asleep in savasana. Then heated yoga became all the rage at the time and we ended up paying waaay too money for the thrill of a heated room at the Moksha studios. And without any knowledge of Ashtanga or the 8 Limbs of Yoga, it continued to be a huuuuuge snore for the next 10 years. It wasn’t until I uncovered a secret world of arm balances and inversions on Instagram in 2014 that my practice became meaningful and has transformed my health.
  3. Weightlifting – For meatheads, boys and butch women. But whaaa … coming across hashtags like #fitchicks and #girlswholift, I couldn’t help but get curious. I also saw a few female friends begin to lift. And when I began plateauing in many of the yoga asanas, I realized I needed to increase my overall body strength. Having no one to guide me, I turned to Krissy Cagney on CodyApp for guidance, purchasing Beginner Strength. The thought of cardio? Like an embarrassing story you told about yourself as a naive teenager. The rest is history. This was a real life changer at the age of 32.
  4. Learning languages – This one blew me away. I always thought learning languages was immensely difficult and this is probably what stops a lot of people before they even make an attempt. I hadn’t found any effective way of quickly picking up a new language until a coworker, A., introduced me to the Pimsleur method. Then my friend B. asked me to go to Turkey with her. I didn’t even know where Turkey was, nor did I care at all about its culture! I actually didn’t know anyone who was of Turkish descent and I now realize how completely ignorant I was. Then, for fun, I studied Turkish for 3 months and found myself having a pretty good time making small talk on my trip. Wow, learning languages is a skill that you can  develop after your teens. Yes, we can. And yes, you can too!

I’ve learned that just because I’m not into something at first glance doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable.

What are hobbies or skills that you initially weren’t interested in, but later discovered that it was fun?

Monthly Goals: October

Not any big goals this month, but not too bad.

  • Squat and bench press (1/5): As the plan to have a squat partner didn’t work out, I ended up getting a Cody plan to follow … doh, I only went once. It’s not my favourite thing to do; I need to push myself harder!  
  • Try two new recipes (4/5): Made yolos from Oh She Glows! by Angela Liddon. They are pureed dates wrapped in chocolate. Pretty good as a post-workout snack, but I need to use better quality chocolate next time. Also tried a sesame-tahini salad dressing from the same cookbook and learned how to make a London fog. Was also in Montreal for a week so I didn’t cook as much.
  • Complete 10-day mediation intro (5/5): Completed the free “Take 10” program on the app Headspace. I ended up continuing it and paying for a year-long subscription for approximately $100 CAD.
  • Research a new credit card (3/5): Looked for a new Visa but wasn’t quite happy with what was out there, so I am keeping my TD Visa Rewards Rebate card, even though the return isn’t quite so rewarding anymore. Canceled my old American Express and replaced it with a American Express Gold through the Ontario College of Teachers’ perks program. This will officially be my first charge card; in the first year, the annual fee is waived. With the bonus Amex points, I can cash in approximately $175 worth of gas cards. In subsequent years, instead of paying an annual fee of $150/year, I pay $100/year. So the card pays for itself for nearly the first 3 years. Travel points can be cashed out to other rewards systems and aren’t necessarily tied to specific programs like Aeroplan.
  • Increase donation amount (5/5): Increased my monthly donation from $15 to $20 a month with Plan Canada.
  • Download credit report (5/5): My one year free membership for Equifax ended! So I downloaded my credit score and it’s still floating around 800.
  • Cancel Audible membership (5/5): I will not renew my Platinum membership ($230). I’ve had the same membership plan for two years now and really enjoyed it but have not had enough time to listen to all my books. There are about 10 audiobooks just waiting for me!
Professional Development
  • Work on Mandarin (3/5): I reviewed 22 of Pimsleur Mandarin Chinese, which I’ve probably done three times now! Completed unit 23 but will need to review it before I go onto 24. Purchased units 1 through 15 of Phase 2 for the upcoming year! I am committed to learning more Mandarin!
  • Complete workshop (5/5): I ran my second workshop, Fixed vs. Growth Mindset, for my school board. It was very successful; there were 30 people in attendance  and people loved it! They stayed engaged the whole time, there was a lot of discussion and no one was playing on their cellphones (this is now a common problem in workshops). Not only that, but I was paid $250 for it, which wasn’t too bad! Never been paid to do a workshop before. I didn’t think I would be paid so that was a pleasant surprise.
  • Explore Digital Tools (1/5): Played around briefly with Asana but have no current need to use it. Didn’t review any other tools.

Late Night Thoughts

Got back to Waskaganish on Saturday night.

Things have been good. I am happy to get back to the rhythm of my life here. Been prepping and planning the past few days, while also spending time reconnecting with J. Been catching up on lots of sleep the past four nights … well, except tonight. The reason being was that we had a nap earlier this evening and now I can’t sleep. Sigghhhhh.

Learning languages: I got tired of practicing languages just before I went to India in December 2014. Not sure if my brain wasn’t digging the Hindi, or if I was just craving something new. Either way, I’ve been on an 8-month hiatus from Pimsleur. I finally got back into it earlier this month. Worked on Mandarin units 21 and 22 both a couple of times; should be ready to start 23 next week. If I move at a decent pace, I might be able to get to 30 by the end of the year.

Workouts: My abs hurt. That’s a good thing. I had started in the summer during my math course, but didn’t have a chance to continue Patrick Beach’s Next Level Core. Only on Day 3, so I need to get back on the wagon and keep going with the plan. I’m also tempted to start Jacquelyn Umof’s Barre Sculpt, which I picked up on sale in July, but I know that I can’t put too much on my plate. The priority, therefore, is as follows:

  • Patrick Beach’s Next Level Core
  • Cardio via group fitness class at the Gathering Place
  • Weight-lifting using the StrongLifts 5×5 app
  • Jacquelyn Umof’s Barre Sculpt (if I finish the three priorities first)

Gut health: My mom and I flipped through some library books during the summer and we have concluded I do not have IBS. I should reduce the amount of processed food I eat though. Trying to get back into eating oatmeal daily during the work week. When I was living at my mom’s and working as a temp, I did it every day for about 2 years; it was a good routine and I’d like to go back to it.

Work: Been great to finally have my own classroom, after being in the science lab for the past two years! I also have a newer Smartboard, which I feel I deserve, considering I am one of the few teachers who actually use interactive lessons throughout the year (and not just as a projector to watch films). We also have some new teachers in; new blood is always refreshing. Met N. today, the new Grade 8 teacher. She said she’d be happy to teach me how to crochet! And perhaps, new gym buddy?

Monthly Goals: Dark December


  • Handstands (3/5): Be able to hold up to 30 seconds. Currently, the longest I’ve held is 21 seconds so far.
  • Learn sun salutations A and B with Sanskrit count (1/5): I am trying to incorporate this as part of my workouts. I started in November and forgot about it. I can only count up to three. I’m not going to intentionally continue this goal.
  • Bakasana (4/5): Finally hit the 5-second mark! I also tried doing toe taps, but they are difficult. Instead, I’ve been lifting yoga blocks with my toes and I’ve gotten to a count of 5. Funny to think just last month I was feeling rather anxious about this pose.
  • Do regular warm-ups (3/5): Use foam roller and exercises suggested by Hybrid Perspective. I’ve not been doing this regularly, but since I’m following Cody App classes, warm-ups are always included. A few times I slacked off though and just jumped into asana practice.

Professional Development

  • Languages (0/5): Unfortunately I’ve dropped the ball on this one. I’m just not feeling passionate about Hindi, even though I’m traveling to India. I finished unit 4 but didn’t go farther.
  • Set up BEP (2/5): Get a behavioural plan set up for two students. Did it for one student so far.
  • Cover math curriculum (0/5): Was suppose to go over chapter 5 over the holidays. Really didn’t bother with this. Surprise.

Snowshoeing After Work

I’ve never really liked snowshoeing.

And although I wasn’t in the mood to go skiing, I pulled out my snowshoes and followed J. out to the water intake plant, off the Rupert River. It’s a few kilometers out of town, but it’s our favourite spot to go skiing. He took off for a 45-minute circuit, while I absentmindedly padded around muttering through my Pimsleur Digital Turkish lessons. Officially I have finished unit 7; just three more to go and 24 more days to go!

There is also some bad news; my Nikon D40X has decided it no longer works outdoor, even if I keep the battery warm under my jacket. The motor does not like the cold and has been boycotting winter since January. It’s been a while since I’ve shared any photos, so I made it a point to take a few grainy photos on the iPad.

For all you southerners – just to show you how deep the snow, is at the end of March, I took my snowshoe off and my right leg instantly sank to mid-thigh!

Photo 2014-03-27, 5 57 24 PM Photo 2014-03-27, 5 57 45 PMPhoto 2014-03-27, 6 19 58 PMPhoto 2014-03-27, 5 58 55 PM

Learning a New Language

I’d been planning on learning Spanish for a long time. Two years ago, I even have a Teach Yourself Spanish kit. Unfortunately, it sits at home, covered in a film of dust.

Which brings me to my old roommate in, A., who has been learning Turkish the past month. She just graduated from teacher’s college and took a middle-school teaching position in Turkey for the next year. The school sent her CDs to learn Turkish and she has been walking around the house muttering to herself. The program, called ‘The Pimsleur Method’, is based on repeating short phrases. You need to master at least 80% of each 30-minute segment before you can move to the next one. The program actually discourages the use of paper and pencil; instead, it focuses on gaining mastery orally.

I decided that, with my free credit from Audible, I was going to finally get started! It would be a mini summer project, to keep my brain going. I ended up buying The Pimsleur Method: Digital Spanish, units 1-5.

Yesterday, as I was in the car, riding back to Toronto, I listened to the second unit. I plan on finishing this in the next week and moving onto the more comprehensive Teach Yourself program.