Helen Rivers

Language Tutor
I am a native English teacher who has taught French, German and Spanish as a foreign language in schools for 18 years. I now teach English, French and Spanish online.

Imposter syndrome and procrastination

So about 8 or so years ago I stopped teaching German as they removed it from the curriculum in my school. I didn't use it in any other part of my daily life so ended up reluctantly taking a break from it. 
When I came back to wanting to focus on my German, I felt really daunted.  Would I be good enough? I didn't think so. Had I forgotten everything?  I thought I had had too long without using the language to get it back to the level it was at. Major imposter syndrome. In fact that imposter syndrome was why I procrastinated for so long and put off getting back into using and learning German.
When I jumped in at the deepend what I found was quite different though. Yes, I had lost a lot of vocabulary as well as my grammatical accuracy but slowly and with practice that has come back. What shocked me though, was that I was still able to communicate my thoughts perfectly well. I was still "fluent" but sometimes got the grammar wrong although not in a sense that made me difficult to understand. And I had lost my range of vocabulary but I still had skills that helped me get round that, like paraphrasing etc.  
Has anyone else experienced this procratination at getting back into a language after time away from it? I'm guessing so but it's good to share experiences and realise that we're more than possible to overcome them. 
OK I'm not back to my original level of German but I'm feeling a LOT more confident and know I CAN do this.
 Don't you just hate imposter syndrome and procrastination though??? 
Like Comment

Increasing your range of vocabulary and structures

Hi there,

Today I decided to take a look at some of my old books and resources and found some great ones that I had forgotten about.

I'm continually trying to sound more natural and also improve my range of vocabulary and structures so I found these two books that I'd forgotten about that I think will really help me with that. 

Sometimes, I find myself getting frustrated with the fact that I reuse the same verbs and vocab over and over and, whilst I can say what I want to communicate, I sometimes feel like my structures can become a little samey and I worry I sound boring.

Today, I have set myself the challenge of learning 1 idiom per week AND putting it into practice.  I will also try to use 1 new synonym per day too, again putting it into practice.  I'm so fed up of the word "interesante" so it will be really nice to shake my vocab up a bit too.

One of these books is 20 years old but I think they'll still be invaluable to me. What are you doing / have you done in the past (that worked or didn't work) to increase your range of ocabulary ans structures? 
Like Comment

Improving your memory!

Hi everyone. I'm just wondering what techniques you all use to imprive your memory, if any.

As language learners, it helps to be able to retain a lot of information including vocabulry, grammar, various skills etc in our memories until they become embedded and more natural. Personally, I struggle with my memory in my daily life and have brain fog a fair amount of the time.  Obviously this isn't very helpful when learning a language.

It occurred to me that maybe my brain fog affects me less than it would affect me if I hadn't learnt languages because all my life I've learnt and used techniques that help me improve my memory.  These techniques aren't ones I've used specifically for languages but they definitely help me with learning vocabulary etc etc.

Some of the things I use are 
* to do / remember lists
* linking what I'm trying to remember to a picture, place or feeling or connecting it with something else in some other way like "memory palaces"
* repeating things
*reusing what I have learnt
* spaced repetition
* lots of other techniques (I could go on for a while here but I wont 😝 )

There are areas I need to improve to improve my memory though, like exercise, getting enough sleep etc

What techniques do you use to improve your memory and which ones do you need to work on more?
Like Comment

VARK Learning

OK so there are various teaching theories out there.  Some great, some not so much.  One of them is the VARK strategy and I'm curious to know which you think you are.  Here's a very basic overview of what it is.

So what is VARK?

V stands for visual.  Visual learners like to see what they are learning.  They find images and videos etc help them as well as body language, flashcards, diagrams etc.  

A stands for auditory.  Auditory learners learn through hearing things.  They need to hear the sound of the language and learn through discussions, tone of voice, pitch etc.  They learn more from hearing a text read out loud than seeing it in written form and repeating things out loud often helps most.

R stands for reading / writing.  Reading / writing learners learn most through reading or producting written work.  An obvious one, I know.

K stand for kinaesthetic. Kinaesthetic learners learn by moving, whether that be by sorting things into piles, like say sorting words on cards into positive and negative statements or putting a cut up text into the right order.  They also learn by moving themselves around for example putting postit notes around the kitchen with the vocabulary on to learn kitchen vocabulary.

You might intuitively think you know which you are but there are also a range of questionnaires out there on the internet that will tell you what you are.  Do you even want to know??? IF you decide to do one or if you think you already know let me know which one you are.  Do you think there's a value in knowing?  
Like Comment

What activities inspire you to keep learning a language?

OK, so for me, learning through text books DOES have its place.  That's how we are taught to learn at school, right? But for me they now have a very limited place in my learning. And I think, in general text books tend to be a one size fits all kind of thing, that just don't work for everyone. They're great to get clarification of grammar (if tht's what you're looking for), but there's so much information online now, that you can find this information online.  I still have my favourite grammar books but they just serve as a reference as and when I need them really.

Instead, I find it more motivational to learning in a variety of more interesting ways. But what interests me, won't interest someone else.  I have zero interest in football so there's no way I'm going to sit and watch a football match in Spanish or German, or any language. I'd rather copy out the whole German - Spanish dictionary 😂

Having said that, for someone else, who IS interested in football, that might be a fantastic learning opportunity.  We're all different so we all need unique approaches to finding ways to learn.

For me, finding motivational ways to learn a language means mainly learning through the culture, my hobbies and interacting with people from other cultures.  So I LOVE to learn a language through cultural things like cooking (especially spanish recipes), music, art and history.  Or also through my personal hobbies like... cooking, crafts, genealogy, gardening, journaling, web development, castles etc etc.

So what about you?  Do You learn from books? Or do you learn through culture and hobbies too?  Are there any other ways you learn that really inspire you?
Like Comment

Online Dictionaries

So... I still use physical dictionaries but mine are now very old and falling apart from over use.  They're the ones I used when studying languages at university and are very well loved but... I tend to use online dictionaries more now.  They are easier and quicker to access but tend not to be as detailed as my mammoth sized hard back dictionaries.  

Which online dictionaries do you like to use?

Personally I tend to stick to wordreference.com.  It doesn't just give one or two translations and it shows the words in context too, which I think is really important.  What I like most about it, mainly for my students, is that they can also hear how the word is pronounced in different accents too, which helps with both their listening and speaking as well as their knowledge of vocabulary.

In all honesty, I haven't tried out many other online dictionaries so I'd be interested to see what other ones you all use.  Or do you prefer just to stick to google translate?  Why? 
Like Comment

Why is speaking so daunting and how do we overcome it?

Speaking seems to be the skill that language learners struggle with the most and we tend to assume that to be good at languages, we have to be fluent at speaking. For most of us, our first opportunity to practice speaking a language happens at school. It did for me, anyway. Our experience at school has a massive impact on how we feel about our ability to speak and sadly, I think many language learners leave school thinking “languages are hard”, “I’m no good at languages” because they don’t feel confident to speak. I just don’t believe that though. No one is by nature a “bad” language learner. No one.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying that it’s our teacher’s fault we don’t feel capable in languages. Sure, a teacher can have a massive impact but the school environment just isn’t the ideal one for teaching speaking skills for so many reasons. 

The way see it, the main thing we need to improve when it comes to speaking is confidence, not ability. Ability will come naturally (with time and effort) if we have the confidence to give speaking a go. On the other hand, no matter how able we are, if we don’t have the confidence to speak, our speaking skills will never improve.

Some of the most common issues that affect our confidence in to speak are:

·        Not getting enough / frequent enough practice
·        Not having (or thinking we don’t have) a wide enough range of vocabulary or structures
·        Worrying about making mistakes (which has been covered in another post here)
·        Being worried that we won’t understand a question when asked one
·        Being daunted by how quickly native speakers speak as well as their accents
·        Not having the confidence to cope with the unexpected
·        Lack of thinking time in comparison to reading and writing practice
·        Not being confident in our pronunciation

What strategies do you use to overcome these issues?  What other issues affect your confidence to speak?  I’ll post some of my ideas below later but would love to hear your thoughts too.
Like Comment