How To Read More Books Every Year Easily

If, like me, you use GoodReads’ annual Reading Challenge feature to track and record your reading goals, you may have noticed that many people are reading over 100 books a year.

That is very impressive and I’m more than a little envious of those numbers.  The reason is that I have a substantial number of books, fiction and non fiction, that I’m hoping to get through in my lifetime.

I say lifetime because at my current rate of 25 books a year there’s no way I could get through my entire TBR list.  I mentioned in a previous post – The Health Benefits of Reading – that I read every night before I go to bed.  The thing is, while I read every day, it’s not long enough to achieve the kind of volume of books I’d like.

Then I found Charles Chu’s article about how to read 200 books a year.  He describes how we can all read 200 books a year if we reallocated the time we spend on social media and watching TV to reading.  He bases his calculations on a reading rate of 400 words per minute and the average non fiction book word count of 50 000 words.

I decided I would look into this calculation for myself to determine the veracity of his claim and get some numbers that are also relevant to fiction readers.

Continue reading How To Read More Books Every Year Easily

Tips To Keep You Learning That New Language

You’ve decided to learn a new language. You’ve bought a book. After the initial excitement of exploring this new world begins to fade, page by page, you may begin to wonder what you’ve got yourself into.

Fear not, it always starts that way. It’s new, it’s foreign, and it’s confusing.

I’m from a country that has 11 national languages. Being bilingual is not an option but a requirement. After learning three additional languages, I can tell you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. You can get to the point of actually understanding and speaking a new language. You just have to set yourself up for success.

Continue reading Tips To Keep You Learning That New Language

Mapping Your Self Education in 5 Steps

Self education is a vital part of life. It’s learning on your own terms. You decide what you’ll spend time on and which resources to use. This is important if we hope to be innovative and creative in our lives and endeavours. Many start on a self education journey with a clear goal in mind; to learn a specific skill for their career, but we should also do it for ourselves – for personal expansion. Whatever you’re interested in or always wanted to learn — don’t wait — make yourself a map for your own self education journey. Here, you’ll find some guidelines to help you do that.

Autodidactism or self education is any self-directed learning on a subject in which you have no formal education. Malcolm Knowles in his 1975 book Self Directed Learning explains the process of self education:

“In its broadest meaning, self-directed learning describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.”

So if you want to teach yourself writing, coding, photography, Photoshop, or [insert any topic here], these are the steps to follow based on Knowles’ definition of self directed learning:

Define what you need or want to learn.

Is there something specific you are interested in learning? Is there a particular skill that you need to improve your skill set for your career? Are you looking to make a career change and now need to learn a completely new set of skills? Define exactly what it is you will be teaching yourself.

Define your learning goals.

You know what you will be learning but now you need to set goals. What level of learning do you need to achieve and, if necessary, by when? What tasks within your chosen area do you need to be able to complete to feel satisfied or to meet certain professional requirements? Do you want to be able to pass a proficiency exam? Define what you want to achieve.

Identify who or what resources can help you.

See if there is anyone in the area you are interested in who would be willing to help with your learning; someone who you could talk to, email with questions, or intern for. Seek out people who are learning the same subjects as you and exchange information and experience. Join a community if there is one or create one if there isn’t. Identify all the resources you will use to self educate. There are lot of resources available to you. One of the most important is books. List the books you will read. Go to the library, seek out the relevant literature, and have a look at university reading lists. Be sure to check for Further Reading lists at the back of books. The internet is also a rich resource but always check the veracity of your learning sources online. Find out what other people learning the same thing are reading and using.

Define your learning strategy.

What will your learning process be? How will you approach your learning? How will you combine theory and practical? What will your daily/weekly learning plan be? How much time will you dedicate to each resource? How do you plan to test your knowledge or skills?

Evaluate.

Evaluate the outcome of your learning. Were you successful, and why? Were you unsuccessful, and why? What could you improve on? What would you change about your process? What will you need to revisit?

No matter whether you are learning for your own interests or working toward a particular goal, like an exam or an improved CV, following these steps not only helps you define your learning and narrow your goals. It immerses you in the topic, connects you with others, and gets you up to speed on all the on goings in the field.

Abraham Lincoln is one famous autodidact who said, “All I have learned, I learned from books”. Read as much as you can. Read as widely as you can. Read from varied opinions of a subject.

There are a great number of other notable autodidacts too, like’ Leonardo da Vinci, Henry Ford, Charles Darwin, Ernest Hemingway, William Blake, Karl Marx, Benjamin Franklin, and Frida Kahlo to mention just a few. No one is as finely attuned to your interests and needs as you are. This undoubtedly makes you the best guide for your own learning.

“All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.” — George Whitman

Further reading: Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything by Kio Stark

Review: The Art of Social Media by Guy Kawasaki

The Art of Social Media by Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick is a broad but short book on all social media platforms.  This book covers a lot quickly.  It is the Fast and Furious of social media guides.the art of social media guy kawasaki peg fitzpatrick

This book is for everyone one from bloggers to social media managers because it introduces you to all the ways you can use social media to your advantage.  The personal blogger learns how to effectively share content across a range of platforms and will provide you with details of ideal image sizes and strategy for each platform.  It is a great intro for those of us still deciding which platforms are best for our needs.

For the social media manager of a large company this book will jump start your engine and give you plenty of ways to go beyond sharing of content to driving marketing campaigns and accompanying events on social media platforms.  This book definitely has a lot for those looking for a more aggressive social media strategy across multiple platforms.

I think it is a great book for all who use social media.  It really opens your eyes to multitude of ways you can reach people.  It is definitely a must read for all who work in the area.  It may not teach you everything – it is a short book after all – but it will inspire you.  At the very least you will be totally blown away by the Peg Your Post section.

My personal strategy is to stick to a few platforms that I particularly enjoy using rather than try to spread myself across them all but even so I learned a great deal from this book.  I highly recommend it for those looking to up their social media game.

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

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Review: The Tao of Twitter by Mark Schaefer

This is the first book I have read about social media of any kind and I’m happy (and relieved) it was a good reading experience.  I suppose I was expecting a lot of jargon and details I wouldn’t understand let alone make use of.  The Tao of Twitter is a short and very useful book for everyone using Twitter, beginner or advanced user.  Whether you use Twitter for yourself, your blog, or for an organisation you will benefit from reading this book.the tao of twitter

If you’ve ever wondered what Twitter is all about and how to make the best use of it The Tao of Twitter has the very simple answers.  A lot of the information was reinforcement for me of a strategy I already use but there was also a great deal of clarification and ways to expand.

The most important takeaway for me as a blogger was to remember that Twitter isn’t a place where you can just broadcast your blog posts etc. it’s about connecting with people.  Getting the most out of Twitter involves following the 3 Taos of Twitter; connections, content, and helpfulness.

Schaefer is engaging and light in his explanations and there are many examples of real life stories of how Twitter works to help you get to grips with the power of Twitter and how to harness it for your own needs.  I highly recommend this book to Twitter users.

 

lilolia review rating 5 stars excellent

 

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Trello: A Content Creation & Management Tool

Creating a blog is exciting and it can be very uplifting.  We all have different goals for our blogs but one thing remains the same for us all if we have longevity in mind; post inspiration and organisation.

There are a lot of ways to organise your posts but Trello is the tool I use and love.  I adore using Trello for 4 main reasons:

  1. You can create lists.
  2. It also has a calendar.
  3. It has colour labels to help you categorise.
  4. It is accessible on all your devices and updates on them all when online.

Trello actually has loads more features than these so I recommend you check it out but I’m going to talk about why I use this tool for blogging and how it helps me not only stay organised but also helps me find inspiration for new content.

You can create as many lists as you like.  You can create some for organisation and others for ideas or info.  I have a few main lists for organisation; my To Do list which includes all the posts I have planned that need to be written as well as ideas for posts that need to be fleshed out; my Scheduled list which includes the posts I’ve written and are scheduled for publication in WordPress; and my Published list which includes all the posts I’ve published.  You might be wondering why Trello is so special when you could write all this down but each item that you add to a list can be easily moved from one list to another (yay, no more crossing out!) and can be edited to include a date and a label.  The date places each item in the calendar so when you switch to calendar view all your list items/posts are organised so that you can see very clearly the distribution of your posts throughout the week, month, and year.

The calendar view can help you plan for the long term.  You can decide in advance to schedule certain posts belonging to specific categories to publish on a specific day of the week or month.  In this way you can publish your content in a well spaced and consistent way.  You won’t be bombarding your readers with one topic all month long only to switch to something completely different next month.  You can sprinkle different topics throughout the month. The calendar will help you achieve this easily with its ability to give you a visual overview.

The labels are another wonderful visual way of helping you see this topic distribution in both list and calendar view.  For each post type or category you can assign a label colour.  Every time you add an item to a list or the calendar you can assign it a colour to help you organise your content.

So, how does all this organisation help with inspiration?  Well, for me, it means that all the nitty gritty post planning and distribution is taken care of and it is done in such a way that I can now sit back and see very clearly what I’ve written about and how regularly.  Inspiration comes in when I can see what I should write more of and when so as to enhance the overall balance of my blog’s content.  You are now no longer pulling ideas from thin air but are guided to think about ideas within certain topics or categories.  I find this extremely helpful, motivating, and far less intimidating.

Trello is a fantastic creative and organisational tool.  Check it out and see if it’s for you.

6 Books for Aspiring Copyeditors

Having a working knowledge of copyediting can’t hurt; it can only make you a better writer.  With that in mind, this book list is for aspiring copyeditors, freelance or otherwise, but it is also for anyone in the world of words from publishers, editors, and proofreaders, to writers, authors, and bloggers.  It’s for anyone who writes and wants to improve; anyone who works in written communication.  Here are my 6 choices on copyediting with blurbs from GoodReads:

The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller

subversive copyeditor“Each year writers and editors submit over three thousand grammar and style questions to the Q&A page at The Chicago Manual of Style Online. Some are arcane, some simply hilarious—and one editor, Carol Fisher Saller, reads every single one of them. All too often she notes a classic author-editor standoff, wherein both parties refuse to compromise on the “rights” and “wrongs” of prose styling: “This author is giving me a fit.” “I wish that I could just DEMAND the use of the serial comma at all times.” “My author wants his preface to come at the end of the book. This just seems ridiculous to me. I mean, it’s not a post-face.”  In The Subversive Copy Editor, Saller casts aside this adversarial view and suggests new strategies for keeping the peace. Emphasizing habits of carefulness, transparency, and flexibility, she shows copy editors how to build an environment of trust and cooperation. One chapter takes on the difficult author; another speaks to writers themselves. Throughout, the focus is on serving the reader, even if it means breaking “rules” along the way. Saller’s own foibles and misadventures provide ample material: “I mess up all the time,” she confesses. “It’s how I know things.”  Writers, Saller acknowledges, are only half the challenge, as copy editors can also make trouble for themselves. (Does any other book have an index entry that says “terrorists. See copy editors”?) The book includes helpful sections on e-mail etiquette, work-flow management, prioritizing, and organizing computer files. One chapter even addresses the special concerns of freelance editors.  Saller’s emphasis on negotiation and flexibility will surprise many copy editors who have absorbed, along with the dos and don’ts of their stylebooks, an attitude that their way is the right way. In encouraging copy editors to banish their ignorance and disorganization, insecurities and compulsions, the Chicago Q&A presents itself as a kind of alter ego to the comparatively staid Manual of Style. In The Subversive Copy Editor, Saller continues her mission with audacity and good humor.” (GoodReads)

The Copy Editing And Headline Handbook by Barbara G. Ellis

copyediting and headline handbook“Everyone in the newsroom agrees that copy editors are the unsung heroes in the business who, until now, have never had a succinct and authoritative guide for on-the-job use. From counting the headline to line breaks, from decks to jumps, from editing numbers and photo captions to editing for organization, The Copy Editing and Headline Handbook is the complete source of essential information for the copy editor. Whether copy editing on a computer or on the printed page, for a newspaper or for a magazine, Barbara Ellis shows how to clean, organize, and proof copy like a pro. With special sections on libel, captions, forbidden words, job hazards, and head counts, as well as a section of the most commonly used symbols in copy editing and proofreading, the Handbook is essential for every copy editor’s bookshelf.” (GoodReads)

The Fine Art of Copyediting by Elsie Myers Stainton

fine art of copyediting“Many stylebooks and manuals explain writing, but before the release ten years ago of Elsie Myers Stainton’s “The Fine Art of Copyediting, ” few addressed the practices and problems of editing. This handbook has guided users through the editing process for books and journals, with tips on how to be diplomatic when recommending changes, how to edit notes and bibliographies, how to check proofs, and how to negotiate the ethical, intellectual, and emotional problems characteristic of the editorial profession. Now featuring solid advice on computer editing and a new chapter on style, as well as more information on references, bibliographies, indexing, and bias-free writing.  Complete with helpful checklists for the manuscript, proof, and index stages of book production, as well as an excellent bibliography of reference works useful to the copyeditor, “The Fine Art of Copyediting, Second Edition” is an indispensable desk reference for writers and editors confronting a host of questions each day. Why use the word “people” instead of “persons?” What precautions are necessary for publishers to avoid libel suits? How can an editor win an author’s trust? What type fonts facilitate the copyediting process? How does computer editing work? For experienced and novice copyeditors, writers and students, this is the source for detailed, step-by-step guidance to the entire editorial process.” (GoodReads)

Butcher’s Copy-Editing by Judith Butcher

Butcher's copyediting“Since its first publication in 1975, Judith Butcher’s Copy-editing has become firmly established as a classic reference guide. This fourth edition has been comprehensively revised to provide an up-to-date and clearly presented source of information for all those involved in preparing typescripts and illustrations for publication. From the basics of how to prepare text and illustrations for the designer and typesetter, through the ground rules of house style, to how to read and correct proofs, Copy-editing covers all aspects of the editorial process. New and revised features: up-to-date advice on indexes, inclusive language, reference systems and preliminary pages a chapter devoted to on-screen copy-editing guidance on digital coding and publishing in other media such as e-books updated to take account of modern typesetting and printing technology an expanded section on law books an essential tool for new and experienced copy-editors, working freelance or in-house” (GoodReads)

The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn

copyeditors handbook“The Copyeditor’s Handbook is a lively, practical manual for newcomers to publishing and for experienced editors who want to fine-tune their skills or broaden their understanding of the craft. Addressed to copyeditors in book publishing and corporate communications, this thoughtful handbook explains what copyeditors do, what they look for when they edit a manuscript, and how they develop the editorial judgment needed to make sound decisions.  This revised edition reflects the most recent editions of The Chicago Manual of Style (15th ed.), the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.), and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.).” (GoodReads)

Developmental Editing by Scott Norton

developmental editing“Editing is a tricky business. It requires analytical flair and creative panache, the patience of a saint and the vision of a writer. Transforming a manuscript into a book that edifies, inspires, and sells? That’s the job of the developmental editor, whose desk is the first stop for many manuscripts on the road to bookdom—a route ably mapped out in the pages of Developmental Editing.  Author Scott Norton has worked with a diverse range of authors, editors, and publishers, and his handbook provides an approach to developmental editing that is logical, collaborative, humorous, and realistic. He starts with the core tasks of shaping the proposal, finding the hook, and building the narrative or argument, and then turns to the hard work of executing the plan and establishing a style.  Developmental Editing includes detailed case studies featuring a variety of nonfiction books—election-year polemic, popular science, memoir, travel guide—and authors ranging from first-timer to veteran, journalist to scholar. Handy sidebars offer advice on how to become a developmental editor, create effective illustration programs, and adapt sophisticated fiction techniques (such as point of view, suspense, plotting, character, and setting) to nonfiction writing.  Norton’s book also provides freelance copyeditors with a way to earn higher fees while introducing more creativity into their work lives. It gives acquisitions, marketing, and production staff a vocabulary for diagnosing a manuscript’s flaws and techniques for transforming it into a bestseller. And perhaps most importantly, Developmental Editing equips authors with the concrete tools they need to reach their audiences.” (GoodReads)

Have any other recommendations for us?  I’d love to hear them.

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6 Reading Picks for Bloggers

Today is the 6th Anniversary of my blog, Lilolia!  I created Lilolia after having just moved to a new country where they speak a different language and I needed a creative outlet.  A book blog was a natural choice for me since I’ve always loved reading but I also have a tendency to dive deep into reading when times get a bit stressful.  To put all this reading to good use I embarked on blogging.  It has been a wonderful learning experience.  My content has ebbed and flowed over the years but to all of you who read my words and to those that even return for more, THANK YOU!

I’ve put together a list of 6 books for bloggers and those looking to start blogging.  There’s a little something on writing, on my favourite social media, the mechanics of blogging, and creating content.  As always, if you have any other books to add I would love to hear about them.  All blurbs are from GoodReads.

Blog Inc by Joy Deangdeelert Cho & Meg Mateo Llaso

Blog, Inc.: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community joy cho

“With roughly 95,000 blogs launched worldwide every 24 hours (BlogPulse), making a fledgling site stand out isn’t easy. This authoritative handbook gives creative hopefuls a leg up. Joy Cho, of the award-winning Oh Joy!, offers expert advice on starting and growing a blog, from design and finance to overcoming blogger’s block, attracting readers, and more. With a foreword from Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge plus expert interviews, this book will fine-tune what the next generation of bloggers shares with the world.”

GoodReads

Born to Blog by Mark Schaeffer

Born to Blog: Building Your Blog for Personal and Business Success One Post at a Time

“Launch a business and ignite a movement with a powerhouse blog! “Born to Blog” is filled with practical, street-smart techniques and ideas to help you create and manage a winning business blog. Learn how to attract a loyal following, promote your blog, and write powerful content that generates new business.”

GoodReads

The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

“Why is so much writing so bad, and how can we make it better? Is the English language being corrupted by texting and social media? Do the kids today even care about good writing? Why should any of us care?  In The Sense of Style, the bestselling linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker answers these questions and more. Rethinking the usage guide for the twenty-first century, Pinker doesn’t carp about the decline of language or recycle pet peeves from the rulebooks of a century ago. Instead, he applies insights from the sciences of language and mind to the challenge of crafting clear, coherent, and stylish prose.  In this short, cheerful, and eminently practical book, Pinker shows how writing depends on imagination, empathy, coherence, grammatical know-how, and an ability to savor and reverse engineer the good prose of others. He replaces dogma about usage with reason and evidence, allowing writers and editors to apply the guidelines judiciously, rather than robotically, being mindful of what they are designed to accomplish.  Filled with examples of great and gruesome prose, Pinker shows us how the art of writing can be a form of pleasurable mastery and a fascinating intellectual topic in its own right.”

GoodReads

The Impact Equation by Chris Brogan

The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise?

“Anyone can write a blog post, but not everyone can get it liked thirty-five thousand times, and not everyone can get seventy-five thousand subscribers. But the reason we’ve done these things isn’t because we’re special. It’s because we tried and failed, the same way you learn to ride a bike. We tried again and again, and now we have an idea how to get from point A to point B faster because of it.”  Three short years ago, when Chris Brogan and Julien Smith wrote their bestseller, Trust Agents, being interesting and human on the Web was enough to build a significant audience. But now, everybody has a platform. The problem is that most of them are just making noise.  In The Impact Equation, Brogan and Smith show that to make people truly care about what you have to say, you need more than just a good idea, trust among your audience, or a certain number of fol­lowers. You need a potent mix of all of the above and more.  Use the Impact Equation to figure out what you’re doing right and wrong. Apply it to a blog, a tweet, a video, or a mainstream-media advertising cam­paign. Use it to explain why a feature in a national newspaper that reaches millions might have less impact than a blog post that reaches a thousand passionate subscribers.”

GoodReads

What the Plus! Google+ For the Rest of Us by Guy Kawasaki

What the Plus! Google+ for the Rest of Us

“You are ninety minutes and $2.99 away from mastering Google+. That’s all it takes. But don’t take Guy’s word for it. Here’s what three experts have to say about What the Plus! Google+ for the Rest of Us:
“We didn’t expect over 100,000,000 people to join Google+ so quickly. If we had, we might have written a tutorial like this one. Lucky for us, Guy has written this wonderful introduction to Google+. Highly recommended!” Vic Gundotra, Senior Vice-President, Social, Google
“What The Plus is the G+ motherlode! Guy’s book will make you fall madly in love with Google+ and never look back!” Mari Smith, author The New Relationship Marketing and coauthor Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day
“People ask me why I like Google+ better. I struggle to find the words, but Guy Kawasaki not only figured it out but shows you how to get the most out of this new social network.” Robert Scoble, Rackspace videoblogger”

GoodReads

The Tao of Twitter by Mark Schaeffer

The Tao of Twitter, Revised and Expanded New Edition: Changing Your Life and Business 140 Characters at a Time

“You’re busy and you don’t have time to decipher the confusing world of Twitter. In less than two hours, Mark Schaefer’s bestselling book will show you how to connect and start creating meaningful business and personal benefits right away!  Behind every Twitter triumph is a well-defined success formula. This is “The Tao of Twitter” a path that holds the potential to improve your daily life at work and at home . . . if you know the way.  Through real-life examples and easy-to-follow steps, acclaimed marketing expert Mark Schaefer teaches you: Secrets to building influence on Twitter The formula behind every Twitter business success 22 ways to build an audience who wants to connect with you Content strategies, time savers, and useful tips 20 ways to use Twitter as a competitive advantage.”

GoodReads

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Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

An absolutely great book all introverts should read.  This book is written in such a way that extroverts will enjoy it too and even understand themselves a bit better.  I found this book personally very self-affirming and it gave me hope and power.  Cain describes the world of an introvert, the different kinds of introverts, and how we live in a world geared towards extroverts.  Since one third of all people are introverts, this book is for everyone wanting to understand andQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking bring out the best in introverts who bring a lot to the table with a different kind of power than the one that is generally accepted.

Here is the blurb from GoodReads:

“At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.  In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.”

The biggest take away from this book for me (besides the immense self-affirmation) is that introverts and extroverts are like yin and yang.  They are opposites but belong together.  The best teams are not made up of one or the other but a mixture of both.  We support and uplift one another if both are catered for living and working environments.  Cain talks about the world as celebrating an extroverted way of being which I completely agree with.  This book will bring to light all the advantages of quiet power and why introverts are the way they are and how they get stuff done.  Reading this book was like being in an interesting conversation with a well spoken and knowledgable person who understands the world of introverts intimately and who makes reference to interesting case studies and research along the way.

I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to introverts, parents and spouses of introverts, and anyone who manages people in the working environment.  In general, this is a book for everyone though because we will all find ourselves understanding the people around us a little better for having read it.

lilolia review rating 5 stars excellent

 

Learning a Romance Language? 6 Tips on Where to Focus First

There has never been a better time to learn languages.  The world has become much smaller with the internet connecting us to eachother and so we are coming into closer contact with content in other languages.  There are a number of reasons people choose to learn another language; whether for business or for personal growth the challenge remains the same.  It can be daunting trying to figure out where to start especially if you are learning mostly on your own.  I’ve taught at a well known English language school and I’ve also attended language courses for my own language studies.  From my experience both teaching and learning I know that a huge part of becoming proficient in a language DSC_0077web compresshas to do with the work you put into it personally on your own.  It can be the make or break factor. After Chinese and English, the romance languages, particularly Spanish, Portuguese, and French are popular languages to learn.  Not only is a lot of business conducted in these languages but there is also a wealth of literature that can be enjoyed if we are able to read in them.  Once we’ve made the decision to dedicate time to learning one of the romance languages you may wonder where to start or, if you’ve attended a beginner course, where to focus for improvement.

Here are my 6 tips for moving beyond beginner level in the romance languages:

  • Get used to the idea of all nouns being either feminine or masculine
  • Know your definite & indefinite articles (the, a , an)
  • Master a few common nouns to build your vocabulary
  • Study the verbs like a demon
  • Keep a vocabulary notebook
  • Love your dictionary

All nouns in the romance languages are either feminine or masculine so they will generally end in either an ‘a’ for feminine or ‘o’ for masculine.  There are exceptions to the rule but there really aren’t that many.

Next you’ll want to get to know your articles (the, a, an).  Because of the gender of nouns you’ll have noticed that there are also both feminine and masculine versions of the definite and indefinite articles to match the nouns.  I have found it a good idea to learn new words together with their definite article to help you remember gender.  For example: la casa, el gato in Spanish or a casa, o gato in Portuguese.crop 1 webcompress

An incredibly valuable resource for your learning journey is your vocabulary notebook.  Be vigilant about writing down every new word you come across and writing its English equivalent next to it.  This notebook will become your bible.  The process of writing down the new word and looking up its translation is in itself helping you to solidify this new information in your mind.  Later, it is the place you return to to recap your vocabulary and also serves as a fantastic reminder of how far you’ve come.  I highly recommend studying using a vocabulary notebook.

You will obviously need to look up the meanings of all these new words so a good dictionary is essential.  While I was teaching there was debate about how much or how little beginner students should use dictionaries.  My opinion is that you should get one and use it regularly.  I say this simply because when I was a beginner my dictionary was my best friend.  I’m all for immersion but you won’t get anywhere in the beginning without being able to look up the words you are hearing and seeing around you.

The next big hurdle that must be overcome are the verbs.  They look scary to English speakers because of their many forms but fear not!  To begin let’s talk about why each verb in each tense has so many forms compared to English.  For this let’s take a look at our personal pronouns to see all the different perspectives crop2web compressfrom which action takes place.  There is ‘I’ 1st person singular, ‘You’ 2nd person singular, ‘He, She, It’ 3rd person singular, ‘We’ 1st person plural, ‘You’ 2nd person plural, and ‘They’ 3rd person plural.  In English the form of our verb only changes in the 3rd person singular:  I walk, you walk, she walks, they walk. Easy.  The only difference in the romance languages is that for every person the verb changes.  It does initially seem like a lot to remember but look closely and you’ll see there is a pattern to those changes that you can learn by heart.  And herein lies the important advice I give to beginners who truly want to be proficient.  Don’t shy away from learning those verbs.  Take the bull by the horns and write them out, study the endings for the pattern of change, and keep doing it until you know those verbs inside out.  Start with the present simple tense and when you know those by heart move on to the past tenses.  The most important verbs to learn to conjugate at first are: ser, estar, tener, and ir which are your ‘to be’, ‘to have’, and ‘to go’ verbs in Spanish.  All stem verbs in Spanish and Portuguese end in ‘-ar’, ‘-er’, or ‘-ir’.  Each one of these stem verb endings has its own pattern which dictates how the verb will change to match the personal pronouns I mentioned above.  So choose one verb for each of the endings (hablarto speak, comerto eat, salirto go out) and learn the pattern of the verb changes for each and then apply those to other verbs with the same ending.  In addition to dictionaries you can also buy dedicated verb books which take verb by verb and give you all the changes in all the tenses.  A super reference tool! What has been your experience with beginning language learning?