Do You Keep a Language Journal?

A journal is like a letter that your present self writes to your future self. I wish I had started one when I started my language lessons. But I guess is better late than never!

When I kept a paper journal, I wrote down a mix of everyday details and bigger ideas, conversations, and discoveries. I want to do the same on, with a mix of new grammar and vocabulary (like the time I learned that English’s “bookworm” is German’s “Leseratte” — a completely different animal!) and bigger thoughts on language learning. Learning a new language changes a person, and it is the changes in my life that I really want to remember . . . and to share with others!

If you are also an introvert, you probably already have a journal. And it definitely records your inner life as closely as your outer life. Had I begun earlier, old posts would include the following developments, both inner and outer . . .

The inspiration I like most

My favorite language blogger is Khatzumoto of All Japanese, All the Time, who has forever changed the way I learn languages. His best advice is to stop thinking of your target language as a foreign language. Instead, think of it as your new native language — a bigger part of your identity than your former native language. (See his post: Identity and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy)

It is very radical advice, and I confess that I modified it to suit myself. Instead of one new identity, I imagined dual identities. Or to be specific, twin identities. Identical twins who were separated at birth and meet as adults are more similar than fraternal twins who were raised together. (Source) So I made up a long-lost identical twin who was raised in Germany, and started looking for her favorite song, her favorite book, her favorite TV series, her favorite movie, and even her favorite political party.

And I have found the English and German sides well balanced. For example, the English-speaking twin loves Daydream Believer, while the German-speaking twin’s Lieblingslied is Ich wollte nie erwachsen sein. Both songs are bittersweet ballads about simpler times that may never be recovered . . . only remembered. And both can make me cry.

The little changes I have made

Many Filipinos start counting on their fingers with the pinky. Most Germans seem to start with the thumb. So I started counting on my thumb . . . and saying the numbers in German. Eins, zwei, drei, und so weiter . . .

I would also tell my journal about a Swiss girl I met a few months ago. She is learning Tagalog and now counts on her fingers “Filipino style,” starting with the pinky!

Then there is the way we count seconds. In English the most common way seems to be: “One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand . . .” There is also a simpler version for children that goes: “One locomotive, two locomotives, three locomotives . . .” According to my Austrian friend, the German way is: “Einsundzwanzig, zweiundzwanzig, dreiundzwanzig . . .” If there is also a child-friendly version, I will have to find it in the future!

The times I still doubt myself

If I had known three years ago what I know today, I might not have picked German. I chose it because I wanted a nice mental challenge. (Read the whole story in Extraverts Need Motivation; Introverts Need INSPIRATION)

One of my closest friends believes I should have just returned to French when she did. Years later, I admit that so many coincidences in my life would have made French a fantastic choice. For instance, I worked for a multinational company for over two years, where I had to speak to French clients every day. Then I became part of a Latin Mass Community full of French speakers who liked lending each other French books. (In contrast, I can count the number of German speakers or learners I have met outside the classroom, on the fingers of one hand.)

Like other introverts, I often wonder about the paths I did not take and imagine how my life could have been different. That is, how I could have been different. If inspiration and learning techniques are “day,” then these thoughts are “night.” By day, I am tempted to relax and must keep up the momentum; by night, I am tempted to regret and must learn to be happy with what I have.

The advice I would give my past self

If the past self writes the letters, can the future self answer them? Something else I learned from Khatzumoto is to imagine how you will feel¬†six months from now, if you don’t use your time wisely today. I add that one way to predict that future is to look at how you now judge yourself from six months ago.¬† And I confess that I’m a little disappointed by how often my past self gave up on German when it felt too hard. I wish I could tell myself: “Drop the hard resource and find something easier. But just keep doing German!”

I would also like to boast a little. In the last six months, I’ve made more progress than I thought I would be able to. If I had known this, the work might not have felt so difficult. Every time I feel like giving up, I shall imagine my future self boasting to me: “Look what we will be able to do soon!”

There are also many practical tips I wish I had known back then. I will be sharing those in future posts!

Do you keep a language journal?

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