I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.
I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.
My Japan story: of how I went to Japan and jumped far away from my comfort zone: what I learnt, how I’ve changed and a new project to help you learn Japanese, one step at a time.View Post
I experienced immersion for the first time when I moved to Japan, almost six years ago.
All of a sudden, I was surrounded by words that meant nothing to me and by symbols that in my mind didn’t make any sense.
The excitement of being in a country I had dreamt of for years kept me going. Everything was new, everything was beautiful or crazy or weird and everything deserved a picture.
A basic knowledge of Japanese, together with my obsessive need to be organised, helped me through the bureaucracy at the start of my new adventure.
At the end of the day, though, I was exhausted. My brain went on strike and wouldn’t collaborate anymore. All I could do was listen to some music, speak to my friends back home in my native Italian, read a book, watch a silly video and go to sleep early.
Immersion in an almost new language for the whole day, not only when I was in school studying, was tiring. After a while, I felt the need to lock Japanese out for a bit.
Soon I met people from the whole world. Breaking the 日本語で話しましょう /nihongo de hanashimashou/, “let’s speak Japanese” rule, we started to use English to get to know each other outside of the class.
Part of me was feeling guilty: I came all the way to Kyoto to improve my Japanese and now I’m hanging out with Swedes and Italians? Shouldn’t I try to make only Japanese friends instead?
In hindsight, taking some time off from Japanese and investing it into making friends was one of the best decisions I took, back then. Without taking a break, finding support and sharing some good laughs, I would have burnt myself out.
Many language learners think of immersion as some sort of magical elixir that gives you effortless fluency. Just move to a country, breathe the same air as the natives and you’ll learn the language by osmosis.
The truth – you don’t say – is a bit more complex. Let’s first have a look at what immersion is, then we’ll try to understand why it’s not easy and finally how we can enjoy its benefits without getting overwhelmed.
Immersion means that you surround yourself with native-level language and you do everything you can in that language. You create for yourself an environment where you are constantly exposed to it, both actively and passively.
This can often happen when you live abroad, but moving to a country doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to immerse yourself. A lot of people live in the expat bubble and rarely leave it, learning barely a couple of sentences to get by.
It doesn’t mean that you need to be in another country to be in immersion, either. You can make friends (in real life or online), watch television and movies, read the news, write your journal or your shopping list in your target language. This creates an effective immersion environment where you can develop your skills.
It’s hard for a (text)bookworm like me to admit, but we can’t find all of the answers in our grammar exercises. We need to get out there and discover how the real language sounds like, too. This is when immersion comes in handy.
As I mentioned earlier, you won’t magically learn a language just by being in an immersion environment. While there are people who claim that long exposure to the language, whether you understand what you hear or not, will get you fluent, this is not going to work for most learners.
Immersion needs to go hand in hand with study and with a more traditional approach to language learning.
So what can you do to have a positive immersion experience and avoid burning yourself out?
Since I moved to Sweden, I’ve been getting exposure to my target language daily.
At home, we speak mostly English, so I can decide when to practice and when to chill. When I’m out, though, it’s impossible to pause the exposure.
Spending the day with my boyfriend’s family in a constant flux of Swedish conversation, for example, keeps my brain stimulated for the whole time. At night, I’m utterly drained.
In the enthusiasm of the first weeks, I’ve been gathering newspapers, binge-watching TV and tried to speak as much Swedish as possible. After a while, though, my head shuts down and won’t let any more information in.
So I started to reduce my immersion time in little bits.
We scheduled 2 days for Swedish at home. We try not to speak English and only watch movies or shows in Swedish.
Outside the house, I avoid English as much as possible. At the restaurant, the supermarket, shops or offices, I stick to Swedish.
With media, I tackle a little bit at a time. I don’t read the newspaper as I would in my native language. I go through the titles, pick one article or two I’m interested in, and try to read and understand only those. Also, I don’t binge-watch TV, but only one episode of a show at a time, then take a break to do something else.
As I get more comfortable with the language and to exposure to it, I increase the language dosage a bit. When my brain starts to go blurry, I take a break.
For those learning in an immersion environment you created at home, limiting it is not going to be difficult. But also those living abroad can give themselves time off by taking a nap, watching a few videos, listening to some music or reading in their native language. Or even dancing through their room like crazy and singing along to their favourite song. This is also a way for introverts to get some quality, refreshing me-time.
Knowing your limits is key. You surely are committed to making progress and the best way to do so is to keep your motivation and enthusiasm alive. Killing them through exhaustion would only make you want to break up with this language.
On Instagram, @aspoonfuloflanguage used an effective analogy: even professional athletes don’t train 24/7. They take time to stretch, rest, nourish their bodies. And we should do the same with our brains to be able to keep strengthening our language learning muscles.
Don’t feel guilty for taking time off. Actually, set yourself reminders to do so.
Nourishing your mind and being kind to yourself is the first step to take for a successful, effective and satisfying immersion experience that won’t break you.
Have you ever learnt a language through immersion, whether abroad or at home? What are the benefits and the limits you noticed? Do you have any tips to deal with the overwhelm that might come with it? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Soundtrack: Optimistic – Radiohead
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
“I’d like to start practising more, but I don’t have time right now”.
“Maybe next month I’ll be able to dedicate some time to speaking”.
“Work is killing me this week, but next week I’ll definitely book a lesson with my teacher”.
When something feels uncomfortable, we find all sort of excuses to postpone it or avoid it altogether. And “not having time” is one of the most common and most widely accepted excuses. We all know it, we all love to say it and to proudly wear it like a badge: we’re so busy, busy, busy with work, life, family… we just can’t find a second for that, not now.
Alright, then. If not now, when?
Will you quit your day job to dedicate all of your time to language learning next month? Or will your whole family go on a 2-week holiday and leave you plenty of time for yourself? Maybe you’ll win the lottery and you’ll be able to pay someone to take care of everything in your house?
Not so likely, is it?
Next week, next month, next year, you’ll still be as busy. The time won’t be any more “right”.
Now is the best possible time to start building a habit, practising a new skill, to begin to learn a language or to take lessons. Just start right now, as slowly and as small as you need to.
In March, I decided to take part in the 30-Day Speaking Challenge organised by Jonathan Huggins. I had read about it on other language blogs, but “never had time” to look into it.
When I finally checked Jonathan’s page, his words resonated with me.
“Speaking your target language doesn’t have to be stressful and nerve-wracking. Many people think that the only way to practice is by speaking with a language partner or a teacher, but you don’t necessarily have to interact with a native speaker directly to gain confidence or to develop your speaking strategies. It’s actually possible to get lots of speaking practice by making recordings by yourself and sharing them to get feedback.
The 30-Day Speaking Challenge encourages you to work on your solo speaking practice on a daily basis. If you can commit to recording yourself for a few minutes every day, little by little you will start to make small improvements that gradually add up. Regular, daily practice helps bring about transformative and noticeable progress.”
Just by reading these words I could say the challenge is introvert-friendly, anxiety-free and that it builds on the principle of working slowly and steadily. That is, it matches with all of my language learning beliefs.
I was intrigued, but still, the sirens in my brain went off and reminded me: you’ll be super busy in March!
And that was undoubtedly true. On the 4th of March, I moved countries again and I arrived in Sweden, to an apartment that needed furnishing and a whole new life. I knew I would have things to do, and in fact, I still have, after almost a month, a lot of stuff to fix.
I had my excuse ready and nicely wrapped, but I didn’t use it. Instead, I subscribed to the challenge and I announced it on social media as well: it was official, I was going to do it.
In March I’m trying the 30-day Speaking Challenge by @jhugsint while being busy moving to Sweden. A challenge, indeed! But if you wait until it’s the “perfect time” to do something you’re never going to do it, right?
Want to join? https://t.co/1lpgQwSDXu #languagelearning
— Elena Gabrielli (@hitoritabi_lang) February 28, 2018
As I said before, I don’t think there will ever be a perfect, magical moment when everything in life goes smoothly and I can dedicate all the time I want to language learning.
And yes, March was probably not the easiest month for me to dive in a new challenge. I knew, though, that postponing it once would have made it almost automatic to postpone it twice, then three times.
I told myself: now – when I feel enthusiastic, curious, looking forward to starting – is the right time.
The challenge required a daily commitment, however small, that I wasn’t sure I could actually maintain. Still, if I recorded myself speaking only on 5 days out of 30, it would be 5 times more than the previous month.
A little bit is still better than nothing. Trying and failing, even if it hurts, is more useful than giving up before any attempt at doing something.
So I went for it.
When you join the challenge, you’ll receive daily speaking prompts and motivational emails. Then, when you submit your recording, native speakers can leave feedback and corrections for you. Unfortunately, Swedish is a relatively small language so there was only one native speaker who could give me some feedback.
As expected, I didn’t manage to record myself daily. A few days into the challenge I had to admit that, after hours spent building Ikea furniture, I didn’t have the energy to turn on my computer and do my speaking homework. In the end, I completed about one-third of the tasks.
At the same time, having moved to the country where my target language is spoken, I did have the chance to speak almost every day.
I also managed to stay on top of my studies, to regularly dedicate some time to learning using authentic materials, to do the homework for the lessons with my online Swedish teacher.
For one time, I was probably a bit optimistic about the hours of study I could accomplish this month. I had set for myself an ambitious goal, knowing from the start it would have been hard to stick to it.
Joining the challenge has been a positive experience for me.
It gave me the motivation to record myself speaking for the very first time. The intelligent, well-thought prompts helped me learn new useful vocabulary and expressions. And at my own pace, I’ll go through all of the prompts and work on them, even if I don’t make it in time for the actual challenge. On top of that, I realised that I am actually able to speak about a wide range of topics and that gave me confidence.
There is also one more precious lesson I’d like to share with you.
This time, I wanted to head towards a possible failure and to prove to myself it’s not a major drama. It is, in fact, one step closer to a future success.
I didn’t learn as much as I would have by completing the challenge, but I learnt something.
I fought the irrational fear of recording myself speaking and I shared my imperfect recordings with others.
In other words, I stepped out of my comfort zone. Doing so, I stretched and expanded it a little bit. There are a few more things that I can do without feeling discomfort and a few more that are just a couple of steps away now.
Looking at things in this perspective one wouldn’t call it a failure, right?
So if you’re thinking about joining a language challenge but you’re not quite sure it’s the right time… You can try the best you can. The best you can is good enough.
When is one time things didn’t go as expected for you in language learning? What did you learn from that experience?
It’s been 10 days now since I’ve moved to Sweden, and there are still boxes and bags to sort out in most rooms of the house.
Every day I need something that I don’t have yet: a pair of scissors, a broom, a couple of batteries.
The day when I was supposed to leave, a big snow storm covered Bologna’s airport and they cancelled my flight. I had to wait a few more days before I could finally step into my new home.
But now I finally have my own desk and I sorted my notebooks and textbooks in drawers and bookshelves. The busy days are not over, but I feel like I learnt some small lessons from this new move abroad. And it’s something that you can apply to language learning, too.
I like to stay organised. Well, I more than like it: I’m a bit obsessed with lists and planning stuff. It’s one of my ways to cope with anxiety: creating the illusion that I have everything under control.
Especially when I have something big coming on – something like a move – I plan and write all the steps to take, one by one.
After years of living abroad, there’s one painful truth I keep rejecting with every cell of my body. No matter how precisely I schedule things, no matter how neatly I write them in my diary in pretty colours, some things won’t go as expected.
Just like the big snow storm that hit Bologna in March and stopped my flight.
Tons of stuff can go in unexpected ways in and around language learning as well. Learning a new writing system can be harder than you thought. You can struggle with more complicated grammar structures while going from beginner to intermediate level. You might get stuck on a learning plateau and feel like you’re not making progress.
Maybe your primary source of motivation disappears, or you lose your notebook somewhere. Perhaps you fall head over feet in love with another language or life simply gets in the way.
All of this is normal. You can’t avoid unexpected things to happen, but you can learn how to work your way around them.
First, accept the glitch and acknowledge the way it makes you feel. Then think of the best way to move on from there.
In time you’ll realise that accidents along your learning way can be a blessing. While moving through and around obstacles you’ll grow resilience, patience and creativity.
Every time I move countries comes the sorrowful moment when I need to decide which books to leave behind. They’re one of my most beloved possessions and still, I can’t bring them all with me at once.
So I look through my bookshelves for the ones that I will actually want to read in the next months. Next time I visit my family, I’ll grab a few more. Some of the ones I used to love as a child but I never read again will stay there, in my parents’ house.
I wish I could have all of my books with me, but I’m forced to prioritise and make decisions.
The same can happen with languages.
You might love French, but you need Spanish for your work so you need to dedicate more time to it. You’ve just started learning Korean, but you’re about to move to Berlin and you need to make some more progress in German.
Of course, many things that are not language-related can come up, too.
A university exam, a crazy month at the office, a newborn child, a move to a new house, can all absorb most of your time and energy for a while.
In this situation, there are a couple of possible ways to follow.
You could try to load your days with an ungodly amount of activities, take hours away from sleep, hack time and be extra-productive.
Eventually, you’ll get so anxious over time and lack of it, that your brain will sink into a deep fog.
Or you could prioritise something, slow down or put on hold something else for a little while.
It’s better to do one or two things well than to attempt to do 10 things and fail at all of them while ruining your mental balance.
Through the packing and unpacking, I strived to stay consistent with my Swedish learning and my yoga and journaling habits. I would tick off a box in my diary for each of these activities and feel good about myself.
In the last days at home, though, spending half an hour more with my parents to chat about this and that felt like the most valuable way to use my hours.
After a whole day cleaning, moving weights, filling boxes, my body demanded rest.
So I skipped a few days of study on my textbook. The same happened in my first week in Lund, when we had to unpack, build IKEA desks and move furniture around.
We’ve all been through this: having a million tasks to take care of, and still feeling guilty for not forcing some language learning in our days.
Learning while exhausted, or while your mind is wandering in all different directions, won’t help you much. You’ll likely forget most of the information you assimilate during those study sessions, and on top of that, you’ll get one step closer to a breakdown.
Don’t feel bad for watching a silly show or for hiding your nose behind a novel instead of studying on a particularly tough day.
Taking a break is an act of kindness towards yourself and the best way to recover and go back to learning at the top of your strength.
I used to think that writing one tiny sentence on Instagram wasn’t proper study. Recording it as such was some sort of language learning cheating.
The only study that mattered was made of solid 30-minute sessions on my grammar book or a full-length text.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by language learning if you think like this.
In fact, making a mini contact with your target language daily is more effective than studying once a week in long sessions. When having the language as a part of your days becomes a habit, you’ll find it natural to get back to it regularly.
On stressful periods, dedicating 5-10 minutes a day to your target language is an accomplishment to be proud of. And it’s good enough.
A few ideas for quick learning activities to fit into a busy life:
The one thing to remember is: don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have all the time you’d like to dedicate to studies right now. There are things in life that need to be taken care of and doing a bit every day is plenty.
When under pressure, we often have the tendency to believe that the things we love are only a distraction from the “important” stuff. Like a little hindrance we spoil ourselves with that takes part of our valuable time.
We forget that our passions and loves are the fuel that keeps us going. Even more so when the going gets tough.
Taking one hour away from the “real work” and putting it into something that gives us joy is the best way to go back to business more motivated than before.
With language learning, this works both ways.
You might want to take some time away from household works and dedicate it to study. Or you might prefer reading a novel instead of learning, for a day. It all depends on your priorities and what makes you the happiest.
Be honest and kind to yourself. Don’t push and struggle to the breaking point, when you’ll be forced to stop all activities because you can’t take it anymore.
Big changes are going to happen in the lives of all of us, and they’ll demand attention and drain energy.
Acknowledging that you’re not a superhero and you need to slow down on something is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself.
You’ll get to the point when you can create a new routine and fit into it your daily tasks, your passions and your language learning. Until then, take a big breath and accept you’re human.
When was the last time you had so many things to do and you felt like you couldn’t be everywhere at once? How did you handle your language learning then? What is the one thing you don’t want to give up to, even in frantic times?
Let me know in the comments!
When I started to teach myself Swedish, I thought that it literally meant I should do everything by myself.
I can make it on my own, I told myself. I studied other languages before, I’m quick at understanding rules. I’ll buy a textbook and go through it by myself – how can going through it with someone else help me?
If I have a doubt, I’ll Google it. Even better, I’ll just ask my Swedish boyfriend to explain it to me.
The point I missed, here, was subtle. Oh, I did learn a lot of things by myself… but I didn’t know it. It took a teacher who told me I was better than I thought to give me some self-confidence.
My insecurities and my perfectionism have often hindered my learning process.
And of course, if you have a native speaker for a partner you get more chances to practice. Unless they’re a teacher, though, they might not be the best person to clarify confusing grammar or the nuances of a word.
When it comes to online language learning, there are still fears and myths that may stop you from trying.
Sure, it’s getting common, but it’s still relatively recent and it encounters some resistance.
After all, every revolution met obstacles on its way.
As I said, before trying it for myself and realising how magical it is, I had lots of doubts, too.
So, I understand if you think this is not for you.
Sometimes it’s about the money, sometimes we’re too proud to ask for help. Often, we’re just scared to try and accomplish our goals for real. Because what if we try as hard as we can, and then we fail?
Have you been wondering “Is getting an online tutor right for me?” and always postponed your decision?
Then let’s look into some common fears about online language learning and let’s see why there isn’t much to be feared.
Of course, you can. A consistent and balanced study routine will definitely make you progress.
There are also times when you feel stuck, or you need to work towards a deadline. Sometimes you want to find your weak spots and work on them, and it can be tricky to identify them on your own.
These are some of the situations when a tutor can make a difference.
The best tutors don’t “teach” you, they make you better at learning on your own.
They add some grammar-nerdy explanations you won’t find in your textbook or a witty tip to remember a tricky rule. They recommend you a resource that fits your learning style and they introduce some new vocabulary while chatting about your favourite hobby.
When you learn with a teacher, you still do most of the work by yourself and you’ll have a compass to guide you through your learning journey.
Well yes… and no.
You won’t meet your teacher in person. You won’t have to leave the house or to have someone visit you. If you ask an introvert, this is pure bliss.
Instead, you’ll meet virtually while you’re in the safe environment of your house, with the protection of a screen between you. This is one of the things that make online learning particularly comfortable for shy and anxious students.
And while feeling more comfortable, you’ll likely open more and be yourself without making an effort. Often, connecting to others through a screen reduces the distance between people and helps them bond faster.
You get the best of both worlds.
Don’t worry, online language learning doesn’t mean big technological fireworks and fancy complicated software. Most of the time, all you need is Skype or a similar video chat.
Google Drive is another common resource for online lessons. If you ask me, it’s such a brilliant and useful one, you should be using it for your language learning already!
Whatever tool your teacher uses for the lessons, they’ll make sure you are comfortable with it. Online teachers are used to showing students how to use their resources, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
At least 90% of this depends on you.
The biggest myth to debunk is that you learn the language during your 1:1 sessions.
The bad news is, you’ll almost surely fail your goals if you plan on studying only one hour a week during the lesson.
The good news is you’ll learn lots if you complete your assignments and study a bit every day.
You can ask your teacher for advice on how to create a study plan and then stick to it.
To progress faster, try doing extra homework. For example, you can expand on the exercises you got from your teacher or study a couple more pages on your own.
If you don’t want to dedicate time to your assignments in between lessons, but only want to speak during the 1:1 time, then consider looking for a conversation partner instead of a teacher.
Money is the most common objection to online learning. The internet has taught us that we can get most stuff for free, one way or another. Then, why should you pay?
Well, maybe you shouldn’t.
When you really want something, then you’re ready to spend money on it. It might be a trip abroad, a Netflix subscription, a yoga course – anything you love and makes you feel good.
Language learning isn’t different. When getting past a study obstacle, daring to open your mouth, or passing a written test will become a priority, then you’ll feel like it’s worth the investment.
Until that time, keep staying consistent in your daily practice and enjoying language learning on your own.
I understand you! At first, the thought of buying an expensive package of lessons was terrifying.
The taster includes:
Your investment to find out if online learning is for you is 30€.
The Taster is for beginner learners of Japanese and beginner to upper-intermediate learners of Italian.
What is your number 1 reason why you aren’t sure about online learning? What is stopping you from trying it?