My language learning before and after – Half year review

At the beginning of June I’ve been busy meeting people: first, my boyfriend visiting from Sweden, then I went back to Italy to see Radiohead with a French friend I hadn’t met in a long time. Until half June I didn’t have any time for structured studies, but being with native speakers of my target languages I managed to fit studies in my fun time.

It felt good to finally be able to express myself in Swedish beyond Hej, hur mår du? and to have (clunky) simple conversations about everyday life.

I was also able to speak in French for a whole evening, dropping in an English word every now and then but all in all expressing myself quite clearly. I’ve been missing this language.

Lastly, I took contact with a Japanese friend after postponing for too long and it was so nice hearing from her. I am also still able to write without much struggle in Japanese which is reassuring.
In brief, language studies in June were mostly focused on socialising.

language learning before and after

Before & After – My language learning progress

After reading this inspiring post by Tiia I decided I wanted to give some thought to the achievements in my language learning life. It’s so easy to see the mistakes, to get frustrated when I don’t accomplish as much as I want, but I shouldn’t forget the big picture. That is when reflection gets necessary. I went a long way since I started tackling English in school until now. So here I am, celebrating the good stuff!


Before – About 10 years ago and before moving abroad I understood spoken and written English, but whenever I had to write a simple message I spent a lot of time looking for words. Still, the result was not always excellent. Also, I made many more mistakes while speaking. So much so that a friend once told me I should go and see my English teacher again…

After – Now, almost 5 years into living abroad (2 of which in London) I use English daily for work and in my private life. In the meantime, no one told me I better take some more English lessons, which is worth some serious self-high-five.


Before – When I moved to Japan to study the language, in 2012, I spent a few months in terror of speaking. In class, I was very good at grammar, kanji and exercises, but my conversations skills were lacking. Outside of the class, I would switch to English whenever I had the occasion, too scared of mistakes to even try.

After – Despite being rusty and not having practised for a long time I can still have a smooth conversation with a native speaker. I hope to have the chance to speak soon and get back to my best Japanese-speaking self, but until then it’s good to keep in mind that I made huge progress since I started.


Before – Last year I was working for a wine trading company and my colleagues were French. When they talked to each other about work-related issues I would reply to them, as I understood all they said, but every time I used English. I didn’t dare to speak in French, I couldn’t find the words to produce a sentence.

After – I mentioned I spent a few days in Italy with a friend from Rennes. I had decided to use the occasion for practice, as I would feel more at ease with someone I know well. I was able to speak in French with him for a whole evening and more, even understanding his jokes and making my own.


Before – I started being serious about Swedish studies at the beginning of this year. For a few months I just memorised vocabulary, studied grammar and set phrases, but I had the hardest time whenever I tried to formulate a sentence.

After – It seems like my silent period with Swedish has finally come to an end. I went from zero to small talk quite suddenly, as my knowledge solidified and I became confident enough to start opening my mouth. Once again feeling at ease with the person I’m talking to plays a huge role, but you have to start somewhere.

Looking back to the first half of 2017

Now that we are halfway through 2017 it’s time to review my yearly goals. They have changed quite a bit since I first set them. I have been focusing mainly on Swedish, while I’ve only been maintaining my French and well… trying not to forget too much Japanese. I reshaped my overall life plans during the past months: I started working as a teacher, launched my own online teaching business and promoting it takes much of my time at the moment. Also if everything goes according to plan – confession time! – I should be moving to Sweden next year, so I want to improve as much as possible by then.

Finally, I feel like I have enough basic knowledge to start using some monolingual material. In the past week, I made some additions to my tools: the Rivstart books and SFIpodd. These are absolutely perfect for where I am now and where I want to be next in my studies, I feel a renewed excitement towards learning.

Unlike many learners who are allergic to studying structures from a book, I am a bit of a grammar geek: I love learning rules, doing exercises, spotting it in authentic texts and then applying it. That’s why textbooks make me feel all safe and warm inside.

SFIpodd has real-life, real speed dialogues divided by level. The hosts will introduce a few new words and some grammar, and you have a script including a monolingual definition of new words. I love it, I’m so happy I found it.

Planning ahead

French and Japanese will remain in maintenance mode until further notice. I will use them anytime I have the chance in my free time through music, movies, Instagram Language Challenge and blog articles, but I won’t add any active study for now.

Swedish will get my full attention, and the plan for July is:

I like how words and expressions overlap among different resources and they seem to stick better. I find it very useful to go over the same topic with different tools.

  • Rivstart textbooks: I’m going through the first chapters quite fast as it’s vocabulary and grammar I already know, but I expect to have to slow down soon. I’m planning on having 2 sessions of study each week.
  • SFIPodd: this is finally the tool I’ve been looking for to improve my listening. I’ll do one or two lessons per week, using the dialogues also for dictations and shadowing.

Last but not least, I recently rediscovered the pleasure of notebooks, which are not only cute but also a great way to learn according to research. At the end of each week, I will review my notes and practice building some sentence with what I learned.

When you are feeling insecure about your studies and your progress, try this exercise yourself. Think about the things that you struggled with before, and what you became able to do after. It’s a little reflection exercise that makes a big difference in your self-confidence.

Looking for ways to keep language learning in your life even on those days when anxiety won’t let go of you? Join this free 4-day email course and let’s discover together how to do just that.


I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I’m on a journey to help introverts and other quiet learners make language learning into a tool for self-care (and keep anxiety out of it).


  1. 29th June 2017 / 7:25 am

    Can you please let me borrow some of your love for grammar, Elena? I want to be a grammar geek too. 🙂

    It’s inspiring to read your before + after stories. Makes me feel that I need to start using my target languages more, maybe even start blogging in them. (Eeek!)

    • Elena
      29th June 2017 / 9:34 am

      Hi Katherine, sure, I have plenty of grammar love to share! 🙂
      I got the idea for the before + after post from lovely Tiia over at, I thought it would be good to see where I got in my studies. It’s definitely a good idea to blog in your target languages, or to use them in any activity you enjoy the most.

  2. 29th June 2017 / 12:36 pm

    Ammiro la tua buona volontà e come riesci a organizzare il tuo studio delle lingue 🙂 Io questo mese (luglio) ho in programma di tenermi in allenamento con inglese e giapponese e ricominciare a studiare francese. Le prime due le “conosco” da molti anni, ho l’N1 e un punteggio superiore al 100 nel Toefl, ma ho sempre qualche problema con la comprensione orale, i vocaboli (ne conosco sempre troppo pochi e faccio fatica a impararne di nuovi) e la produzione scritta (non scrivo male ma faccio fatica a usare costruzioni grammaticali o modi di dire che quando li trovo già scritti riconosco subito e mi sembrano perfettamente normali, ma quando devo usarli io mi passano completamente di mente; per cui fondamentalmente non scrivo male ma spesso in modo un po’ troppo semplice e con errori di grammatica). In questo caso, il mio problema credo sia soprattutto l’esercitarmi nella scrittura, visto che non mi sento mai motivata a scrivere cose a caso giusto per il gusto di scriverle in lingua…
    Per quanto riguarda il francese, lo avevo studiato alle superiori ma non lo parlo da almeno dieci anni, per cui ho deciso di riprenderlo in mano da zero e ristudiarlo come si deve: ho un libro, una grammatica, ho in progetto di usare Duolingo e Memrise e vorrei provare a cercare qualche blog o canale youtube interessante (una faticaccia!). Mi trovo però sempre un po’ in difficoltà nel coordinare le varie attività e vorrei trovare un modo (per il francese ma anche per le altre due lingue) per imparare tanti vocaboli e migliorare l’uso della grammatica. Leggo tanto, anche in lingua, mi segno le parole che non conosco e poi le studio con anki, però non riescono mai a entrarmi in testa 🙁 Stavo anche pensando di prendere un quaderno dove segnare, per ogni lingua, le correzioni grammaticali che mi vengono fatte quando ho l’occasione di mostrare quello che scrivo a qualche madrelingua (il che non è così frequente), ma poi temo che finirei con lo scriverle e lasciarle lì, e così non avrebbe una grande utilità; ma non mi sembra sarebbe così utile nemmeno rileggerle di tanto in tanto senza un reale motivo.
    Ah ah, oddio scusa lo sfogo, ma a volte mi sembra di studiare, studiare e non imparare niente, per cui credo di sbagliare qualcosa nel metodo di apprendimento. Vedo che tu utilizzi un ottimo metodo e sei molto organizzata, per cui pensavo che magari avresti potuto avere qualche consiglio da darmi, se non chiedo troppo. ^^’

    • Elena
      30th June 2017 / 9:30 am

      Ciao Mami, grazie per il commento!
      Capisco bene molte delle tue frustrazioni perché ci sono passata, o ci sono ancora dentro. Vediamo se riesco ad aiutarti 🙂

      Per migliorare la comprensione orale in inglese prova a dare un’occhiata a Leo Listening: , tutto specializzato sull’ascolto e proprio per chi come te ha un livello alto, ma magari fa un po’ fatica con la comprensione orale.

      Per quanto riguarda la produzione scritta anche io cado spesso nella tentazione di usare strutture semplici, credo che la chiave per imparare a usare grammatica e vocaboli più complessi sia farlo di proposito. Scegli una struttura e cerca di creare una frase o un breve testo utilizzandola, così un po’ alla volta la conoscenza passiva diventa attiva. Per scrivere e farti correggere da madrelingua prova Lang-8:
      Per trovare la motivazione potresti provare a partecipare a una sfida su Instagram! C’è più senso di comunità e ci sono altre persone che stanno facendo lo stesso. Per esempio io partecipo a #IGLC ( ogni mese, e #languagediarychallenge ( che inizia proprio domani e c’è anche un premio in palio! 🙂

      Duolingo e Memrise sono ottime per memorizzare vocaboli o frasi, io uso anche Babbel (è a pagamento, ma non costa un occhio della testa). Per trovare risorse per il francese guarda su, il sito è in inglese ma trovi un sacco di consigli per studiare francese.

      Per imparare vocabolario su Anki ti consiglierei di non aggiungere singole parole alle carte, ma frasi. In questo modo è più facile memorizzare ed è anche più semplice ricordare in che contesto usarle.

      Infine sì, ti consiglio assolutamente di usare un quaderno per i tuoi studi! Scrivere a mano aiuta la memoria molto più che scrivere al computer, per farti un’idea leggi questo articolo:

      Phew, un sacco di informazioni, spero di non averti sommersa troppo e che qualcosa nella lista ti possa essere utile. Fammi sapere se hai altre domande e in bocca al lupo!

      • 7th July 2017 / 9:40 am

        Wow! Grazie davvero per tutti i tuoi consigli, proverò senz’altro a dare un’occhiata ai vari link. Purtroppo mi sto rendendo conto di avere un problema con le lingue: le imparo sempre senza troppa fatica e abbastanza velocemente (sia a scuola che all’università sono sempre stata tra le migliori del corso), ma arrivo fino a un certo punto e poi mi blocco non riuscendo più a imparare nuove parole e costruzioni dei periodi e ripetendo sempre gli stessi errori grammaticali. Sono giunta alla conclusione che possa dipendere da pigrizia o da un metodo di studio sbagliato, perciò voglio provare qualcosa di nuovo e, soprattutto, a esercitarmi di più con la produzione orale e scritta, perché ho sempre imparato le lingue in modo passivo e questo forse non mi giova. Grazie davvero per tutti i tuoi consigli, speriamo di fare progressi 🙂

        • Elena
          10th July 2017 / 1:47 pm

          Di nulla!
          In realtà quello che descrivi è molto comune, c’è anche un nome per definirlo: è il plateau del livello intermedio, durante il quale i progressi sono più lenti e sembra di non imparare nulla. Spesso ci si sente demotivati quando succede, ma non preoccuparti, non è un problema che hai tu con le lingue, capita a tanti!
          Spero e sono sicura che i progressi arriveranno!

  3. 1st July 2017 / 11:12 pm

    I love these “before-after” stories. I felt the same lately. I’m struggling with Finnish and whenever I feel frustrated I remember that I used to not understand a thing in English or Italian, whereas now I can watch videos without subtitles. It’s so easy to sweat the small stuff and get lost in our frustrations ^^ yet looking at the whole picture makes it way more interesting and encouraging! Thank you for sharing your stories and good luck with your goals for this month!

    • Elena
      3rd July 2017 / 10:49 am

      Exactly! When we’re struggling with a new language it’s easy to forget we went a long way already and we will definitely improve again and reach our goals. It just takes some time and effort to work towards it.
      Thank you and good luck with your goals as well!

  4. 5th July 2017 / 5:54 am

    Hi again Elena 🙂

    It’s awesome that you did the before/after review. I like it a lot.
    It’s good to look back on the progress, rather than always looking forward on the remaining work. I’ll think of doing it too some day.

    I wish you the best for your goals in July 🙂

    • Elena
      10th July 2017 / 1:49 pm

      Hi Angel!
      Yes, we all deserve to give ourselves a good pat on the shoulder sometimes. Looking forward to reading your before/after. 🙂

      Good luck to you too!

  5. Anonymous
    6th July 2017 / 4:55 pm

    I love the before and after review – it’s so difficult to quantify progress in small chunks but seeing how far you’ve come over a longer period is quite motivationg!

    • Elena
      10th July 2017 / 1:50 pm

      Hi and thanks for your comment!
      Yes indeed, one has to look at the big picture sometimes!

    • Elena
      13th July 2017 / 1:50 pm

      Thank you Shannon! 🙂

  6. 16th July 2017 / 10:59 am

    Hi Elena! I loved your Before and After -list, thanks for sharing it! 🙂
    Wow, so exciting you might be moving to Sweden! Where in Sweden, do you know?
    Och jag är jätteglad att höra att det går så bra med svenska för dig. Lycka till!

    • Elena
      17th July 2017 / 9:05 am

      Hi Tiia! The before/after post was such a good idea I couldn’t help trying it myself 🙂
      I’m not sure yet where it will be, might be the Stockholm area or Lund. I will write more about it when things are decided.
      Tack så mycket! Ha en trevlig resa till Paris!

  7. 17th July 2017 / 1:37 pm

    Really nice goals. Best of luck for the month ahead 🙂

    • Elena
      18th July 2017 / 1:44 pm

      Thank you Sam! Good luck with your goals as well!