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A Visit to Nizwa Fort

A few days ago I was able to visit Nizwa Fort, which is located in the center of the older area of the city.  Around the fort is the Nizwa souq, which is known for its Friday morning goat and cattle market.  You can also buy things such as luban (frankincense), clothes, traditional pottery and crafts, and a variety of dates and honey that are locally produced at the souq. 

View of the minaret and dome of the Nizwa Fort Mosque.

 There’s also al-Qala’a Mosque (the mosque next to the fort that was probably the largest mosque in Nizwa until the Sultan Qaboos mosque opened its doors in 2015).

The Tower

Nizwa fort was built in the 1600s by Imam Sultan bin Saif al-Ya’rubi of the Ya’rubi dynasty.  This was the same dynasty that built Jibreen castle.  The fort was the main area of administration in Nizwa during that era. One of the first things you might notice when walking around the outside of the fort is the large circular tower.  This tower is about 30 meters high and has a diameter of approximately 36 meters.  

When you go inside the fort and enter the tower, it almost looks like a large courtyard. There are stairs that lead you to the top of tower, however these stairs are narrow.  If you have a fear of heights, you might not want to go up.  Or at least, if you go up, you probably shouldn’t look down.  From the top of the tower, you can see all of the surrounding area.  Local shops and homes, fields and fields of green palm trees, the city beyond; all of these stretch out before your eyes. 

A Heavily Fortified Fort

Nizwa Fort was made to withstand attacks from the outside and was built in a heavily fortified and well-protected way.  Upon entering Nizwa fort, you’ll find two canons guarding the front door.  Likewise, there were canons in the tower that overlooked the area around.  Essentially, they had a 360-degree view and guards and soldiers were capable of blowing away any attacking forces outside.  The doors of the fort are inches thick to protect against being battered or torn down.  There were also secret rooms in the fort.  

Entrance of Nizwa Fort with Canons.
Woman walking in front of Nizwa Fort entrance

Any invading foe that managed to get past canon fire, the massive doors, and soldiers who might have hid in the secret rooms would have to deal with narrow winding stairs.  

Not because of it being difficult to climb, but because some of these had removable steps. An enemy could easily find himself falling into a deep hole that he thought was a step and would meet certain death.  For the attacker who got past this, there was still the issue of the murder holes.  

Narrow stairs and an entry way

Murder Holes

If you visit Nizwa fort, you’ll find that there are some holes in the ground where the walls and floors meet.  These holes have a very special purpose, and it’s not to circulate air. As a way to defend themselves, those guarding Nizwa fort would pour boiling oil or water onto the attackers below.  If these weren’t available, they would use boiling date syrup, making their unlucky victim suffer greatly and most likely even die.  

A Stash of Food and Supplies

The builders prepared themselves for possible long lasting sieges. They maintained a large store of food (particularly dates) within the fort.  In fact, as you make your way through the fort, you’ll see some bags of dates in special storerooms.  On top of that, they also built Nizwa Fort over an underground water reservoir system. Anybody who found himself trapped in the fort would at least be able to hold out for a while. 

A traditional water jug for storage at the fort
A traditional water jug.

Visiting Nizwa Fort Today

Today, Nizwa Fort is one of the most visited places in all of Oman.  Although there’s a regular, steady stream of visitors, Fridays tend to be the busiest day since so many people come to see the goat and cattle market in the souq.

 The fort is great for a visit because of its historical importance and it’s also wonderful for photography.  On some days, you’ll find a group of men who are performing the traditional Omani swordfight.  If the opportunity arises, take some time to watch it.  The Nizwa Fort is open Saturdays-Thursday 8:00am-8:00pm and Fridays 8:00am-11:30am & 1:30pm-8:00pm.  The current price of admission is 5 Omani rials.    

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The top level of Jabrin Castle

In a previous post, I wrote about why it’s a good idea to take a staycation. If you haven’t read that post, go ahead and check it out here. Staying true to that idea, I decided to visit Jabrin Castle (also spelled Jabreen or Jibreen). Jabrin Castle is located in the Jabrin area of Oman about 25 minutes outside of Nizwa, Oman.

A musalah (prayer area) at Jabrin Castle.

Currently, Oman (along with other Gulf countries) is trying to expand its economy and rely less on oil. One way they’re planning to do this is by pushing for more tourism. In the not-so-distant past, Oman was more or less eclipsed by its neighbors in terms of tourism. Saudi Arabia had its share of tourism in the form of religious pilgrims. The UAE had the reputation of Dubai (and also Abu Dhabi) that brought people there. It was also an international hub in terms of flights. The same was true for Qatar as well.

However, in recent years, due to its stability and being a country that wasn’t oversaturated with tourists, Oman is now beginning to see a rise in visitors. People are curious and want to explore the Sultanate. Since I’m in the heart of all of this, I thought it would be a great idea to explore new places and to revisit the ones I haven’t been to in a while.

Some Information about Jabrin Castle

Jabrin Castle dates back to the 1670’s. It was built during the Ya’ruba dynasty under Imam Bil’Arab bin Sultan al-Ya’ruba who ruled from 1679-1692. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful (if not the most beautiful) forts/castles in Oman. Not only in terms of architecture, but because of the interior design as well.

The castle consists of three levels throughout. It contains sun and moon rooms along with meeting rooms for the ruler and his advisors, guests, etc. Rooms were made for visitors as well as study rooms. When you enter Jabrin Castle, you’ll immediately come across an interior courtyard with no roof at the top. This allows air to circulate throughout keeping things fresh and pleasant. It may not be air conditioning, but you can imagine the relief it would have brought centuries ago. Especially in the summers when temperatures may have been above 100 degrees (in Fahrenheit). As you go continue, you’ll also come across two small prisons, one for men, and one for women. Unfortunately for the prisoners, there was no courtyard breeze.

Roofless area to allow airflow.

What makes Jabrin Castle stand out from the other forts and castles in Oman is the decor inside. In guest rooms and majlis (meeting) areas, you’ll find carpets and colorful pillows to lean on. In the kitchen and supply areas, there are containers, cooking supplies and more. As you walk around the castle, you’ll get an idea of what life was like back then. The only thing that’s probably missing are actors to reenact a “day in the life” at Jabrin Castle scene.

A view toward the cooking area in Jabrin Castle.
A view toward a balcony made of wood.

Useful Information

As far as the interior of Oman goes, Nizwa and Bahla forts are usually the places people go to for tours. However, anyone who visits should add Jabrin to their itinerary. You can cover the whole place in under an hour and it’s worth visiting in my opinion. Currently, the price of admission is 500 baisas. With that, you’ll also receive a map/information guide as well as tour guide headphones that speak in different languages. As of this writing, Jabrin castle is open Saturdays-Thursdays from 9:00am-4:00pm and on Fridays from 8:00am-11:00am.

Hey everyone!  It’s been over a month since the 3-month language challenge began so I thought it would be a good time to share some updates.  This is language challenge update #1. If you’re new to the blog and you don’t know about the challenge, you can read about it here

Things have Become Easier with Time

One thing about having a language challenge is that it limits you.  There’s a time restriction that you have to work within. Because of that, you can’t procrastinate or leave things until another day.  Everyday that passes is a day closer to the end of the challenge. Every day of practice that is missed, is a day lost. At the start of this language challenge, it was a little difficult to be consistent.  I practiced and worked toward my goal, but it wasn’t always the easiest thing to do. With things being busy and fluctuating at work, I found my energy levels completely depleted once I went home for the day.  This was an almost daily fact for each weekday. Although language learning was important for me, I often had to drag myself to get going.  

Things are different now after more than a month.  Whether it’s reading, speaking, or listening, I find myself automatically gravitating toward Arabic.  Plans of what I want or need to do are already in my head. If there are no plans, the desire is still there to do something with Arabic each day.  It’s easier now to pick up a book, watch a show, or talk to someone than it was at the start.    

Increasing my Practice

At the outset, working with a teacher once a week was going to be a component of my learning strategy.  After a month of doing that, I decided to do it twice a week. One class is a 30 minute conversation session while the other is an hour long and focused on reading.  The reading course is to help me with pronunciation, building vocabulary, and reading comprehension. In addition to these two, I’ve started to attend weekly Arabic sessions that are sponsored by a local social group.  These social sessions enable me to use Arabic outside of a classroom context. All in all, I’m doing three sessions of Arabic each week. These sessions are in addition to reading each day and watching programs here and there throughout the week.  

A Reflection

Already, in the period of about a little more than a month, I’m seeing progress.  In fact, yesterday while reading, I realized how much my desire had increased to know this language.  I can honestly say that I was truly immersed while reading. On top of that, it was easier to understand the text that I was reading and make sense of it.  However, the progress that was made wasn’t only in terms of language abilities. It’s also related to how I’m approaching learning. I’m learning to slow down and enjoy the process.  This second month of the 3-month language challenge has me extremely excited for the possibilities ahead. I’m optimistic that by the end of this language challenge, I will reach my goal.  December 31, 2020 is only a stone’s throw away, but I’m walking toward it with determination.        

When you think about taking a vacation, what comes to mind?  Flying on a plane to an exotic location? Visiting Paris, New York, Tokyo, or another famous international city?  Traveling abroad is great and can open you up to so many new experiences. However, have you ever tried to take a staycation?  For those who don’t know, a staycation is basically a vacation, but in your local area. Instead of going to some faraway location, you take your vacation (or staycation) in a place not too far from the place you call home.  Maybe the idea of a staycation is a boring one to you. Maybe images of going to the mall, eating at a fast food joint, and catching a movie before returning home for the night are what come to mind when you hear the word “staycation”. 

If you take a staycation, it could be those things, but it could be much more. Ultimately, it’s in your hands.  

Things you can do on a Staycation

Think like a Tourist

So you’ve decided to take a staycation.  Great decision. What can you do? First, change your mindset.  For the days that you take a staycation, forget that you’re a resident of the area.  To really get the experience of “traveling” while being local, you have to become a tourist.  If you were traveling to a different country, what things would you do? First, you’d probably look for different activities and recommendations.  Hiking, concerts, shows, museums, social events, etc. You’d probably also want to figure out how to get around town and see different sites and landmarks the place is famous for.  Of course, you’d have to eat during a vacation, so you might check out recommended restaurants that serve different cuisines. When you take a staycation, do the same thing. Sure you’re from the area and you know places that are popular with locals.  However, we usually tend to stick to things we already know. Instead of doing that, why not try to go somewhere different and try something new? Think like a tourist. Make use of travel guides and travel forums online. You can also check out local newspapers to see what’s happening around town.  

Visiting New Places

Part of a vacation is going to areas that are brand new for you.  Places that you’ve heard about and that you’ve seen pictures of. As it is with a vacation, so is it when you take a staycation.  What places are there in your city or state that people talk a lot about? What’s a place that you’ve wanted to visit for the longest time, but never had the chance to?  Add a few of these to your trip. Remember, you’re in tourist mode, it’s time to do touristy things. If the city that you’re in has a hop-on, hop-off bus, and you’re willing to spend the money, then take advantage of it and spend a day checking out the sites that the city has to offer.  You can also revisit places that you haven’t visited in a while.  

Venture Outside of your Neighborhood

If you take a staycation, don’t think that you’ll have to only stay on your street or in your neighborhood.  Escape from what is routine for you. The idea is to feel like you’re on vacation and to enjoy yourself. Do you have a car?  Do you have gasoline? Take a roadtrip. A drive that’s an hour or two outside of town is usually enough to put you in a new environment.  Road trips are great. While you’re on the journey to your destination, you have the chance to stop and check out small towns. You might even find some interesting souvenirs to take back home when you return.  Venturing outside of your neighborhood is when you truly begin to feel like a tourist. You become a stranger, you’re getting to meet new people, you have to ask for help, directions, and advice. All a part of the experience of tourism.  This is when you begin to realize that you really can become a tourist in your country, state, and even city if it’s large enough.

If you’re willing to splurge on some money, go ahead and make your trip one that lasts for at least a couple of days instead of simply a day trip.  Check into a hotel or a bed and breakfast and take advantage of the amenities that they have.       

Why should you take a staycation?

There are a lot of reasons why you should take a staycation.  First, it’ll usually be cheaper than foreign travel. You don’t have to pay for flights, visas, and other things like that.  It’s also convenient. Since you’re going to be vacationing somewhere not so far from home, a lot of planning won’t be required.  In fact, after reading this blog post, you could take a staycation either tonight or tomorrow. It’s much more convenient than the alternative.  Finally, and maybe the most important is when you take a staycation, it can give you a greater appreciation of what you have in your own neck of the woods.  Many of us have treasures in our very own backyard, but we’re oblivious to it. We often spend time exploring other areas, but when it comes to our own homes, we put it on hold.  Either we say something along the lines of “there’s nothing here” or “I’ll do it another time”. However, having a local vacation can be just as exciting, exhilarating, and enjoyable as traveling abroad. 

In ending

Whether you take a vacation internationally, domestically, or locally, you’re sure to find something worthwhile.  I’m not saying that one is better than the other. Each has its own benefits and you’re probably better off doing a mix of these.  An international vacation, another vacation domestically, and another locally. You don’t have to limit yourself and the experiences that you have.  You also don’t have to neglect your own hometown. Take advantage of what’s right in front of you.

I’ve completed the first week of the 3-Month language challenge and I want to reflect on the experience. First, for myself so I can clarify the experience in my mind and secondly for you readers out there. Some of you might be doing the challenge and others may be thinking of trying it one day. It doesn’t hurt to share these personal experiences of the journey. 

How was the first week overall? 

I’d say it wasn’t a success, but it also wasn’t a failure. I could have done a lot better and I’ll explain what happened. 

My plan  for the challenge was to work with Arabic on a daily basis each week. Unfortunately, last week, I only did this for four days.  The main reason was because I was under the weather and had no energy to do anything. Now I’m starting to feel better and hopefully I’ll feel completely back to normal for the remainder of this challenge.  If anything, I’d say that this first week has helped me to reconfirm my commitment to this challenge and I know that it’s something that I’d absolutely like to continue.  

Something new that I’ve learned

Toward the end of the week, I had an online lesson with one of my favorite Arabic teachers.  I asked her to help me with my pronunciation and the definition of new words in the novel that I’m currently reading.  That was very helpful since we were able to cover these much more quickly than I normally do when I use a dictionary or translator.  However, this session opened my eyes up to something. Something new that I learned is that my spoken Arabic has become absolute trash.  Words that I once knew, escaped me. Conjugating words took some time and overall, I was shocked by how much of the language I lost. I don’t think that I’ve spoken the language in a sustained way in probably 5 months.  It’s understandable why the level dropped so dramatically. As they say, use it, or lose it.  

Going forward

The original plans were good and those will stay the same for the most part. The only thing to change would be to add more speaking practice.  I want to focus on becoming a better speaker again and that comes from practice. Practice will happen during lessons with my teacher, but the effort will also be made toward talking with native speakers of the language.  Luckily, there are some security guards that I chat with here and there whenever I go to the local mall. It would be a good idea to move beyond the superficial and to have conversations that are a bit deeper or that force me out of my comfort zone.

Here’s hoping week number two turns out to be much better than the first!  

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If you’re interested in joining the language challenge, you can join here.

Just Around the Corner

The three month language challenge is just around the corner. On September 29, 2019 I’ll be starting my three month language challenge and I hope you’ll be joining me too. I’m excited for this chance to really push myself and become better. Three months is really a short amount of time and it’ll fly by quickly. Although it’s short, I’m certain that I’ll see a lot of improvements in my language skills.

Challenges Faced Together

Growing and improving on a journey is great in itself. However, going on that journey with other people is an even better experience. We often hear that learning another language is difficult, or we’ve even faced that problem. Although people often talk about the difficulty of language learning, it doesn’t need to be like that. When we face obstacles alone, they can be harder to overcome. When we face them knowing that others are in the same situation, the problem starts to look just a little bit smaller. By knowing that we’re a part of a three month language learning community, we’ll be more likely to reach our goals. If you’ve wanted to start learning a new language, but haven’t had the motivation to do so, now is a great time to start.

Getting Started

In a previous post, I mentioned why a language challenge is a great idea. I also wrote about what I plan to do in the three months. With less than a week left before the start of the three month language challenge, how can you get started? You don’t have to do anything too complex or difficult. It’s better to do something simple, but to do it regularly. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  1. Choose 2 or 3 materials that you want to learn from regularly. These can be anything. Netflix shows, books, etc.
  2. Make a list of people or places you can get help from when you need it. Friends, teachers, tutors, online, etc.
  3. Have a goal in mind of what you want to achieve by the end of the three month period. You can also make a goal for only the first month. Once you finish the first month, you can make a goal for the second, and later the third.

These three points are a great way to start the three month language journey.

Join the Challenge!

Interested in learning another language? Now is the time to start. Join me for the three month language journey. You can also sign up to receive regular newsletters filled with tips and advice during the three month challenge. Sign up here and you’ll receive a 3-month calendar and log that I’ve created for this challenge. These can help you to keep track of your activities during the three month period.

I hope that many of you reading this will join the three month language challenge and use it as a boost to reach your goals. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to like it, share it, and follow us here and on Facebook. It would be much appreciated!

Can you learn a language in 3 months? Yes, of course you can.  Can you become fluent in a language in 3 months starting from scratch?  Most likely not. Three months might not get you to fluency, but it can bring a drastic change in your foreign language abilities if you’re committed.  Because of this, I’ve decided to push myself to continue to learn a language in 3 months. Basically, I’m planning to do a 3 month language challenge. What’s a language challenge and why am I doing one?

Some background information

In the last few posts on this blog, I’ve discussed goals, why they’re important and why they should be clear.  I’ve also talked about why we should use the last few months of the year to recommit to the resolutions we made at the beginning of the year.  These weren’t simply random posts. The ideas in them had true meaning to me and in my life. At the start of 2019, I decided that I wanted to be at the C1 level of Arabic.  (C1 is a low advanced level on the language proficiency scale). For the longest time, I’ve been stuck at an intermediate plateau. I can learn vocabulary fairly easily, but grammar is another beast.  Speaking with the correct sentence structure has also been a big problem for me.

I decided this year would be the one for me to focus and get past the plateau stage. The focus for the earlier part of the year was on input.  Reading graded readers (these are books that are simplified for learners) and novels. TV shows translated into Arabic were another constant part of my efforts to escape the plateau zone. This year I was more consistent than I’ve probably ever been before.  Now, with the last 3 months of the year quickly approaching, it’s crunch time. It’s time to focus and to be dedicated to the task of acquiring the beautiful language of Arabic. This is where the 3-month language challenge comes in.   

The 3-month language challenge explained

Imagine you’re learning Dutch.  You take two 1-hour classes twice a week. In between classes, you study three days a week for half an hour at the most.  It’s a decent amount of time especially for a working adult or a student. However, it totals 3.5 hours per week at the most.  You might experience some development.

Now, imagine that you commit to learning Dutch for 3 months. You say that you’re going to work with the language for at least one hour per day.  If you stick to that, your total will be at least seven hours of time spent with the language per week. Already, you’ve at least doubled your hours with Dutch. With the 3-month language challenge you’re not haphazardly dealing with the language that you want to acquire.  Purposefully, you’re going toward it, and you have a goal in mind. The goal can be anything that you want. In my case, I want to speak coherently, develop my grammar, and build a stronger lexical (vocabulary) base. Put succinctly, I hope to be at the C1 level of Arabic once the 3-month period is up.  

My plan (to continue to) learn a language in 3 months  

Everyone has their own ideas when it comes to doing a 3-month language challenge.  As they become more advanced in their target language (the language they’re learning), they become more aware of what they’re lacking.  Once that’s known, they’ll know how to approach learning the language in 3 months. In my case: 

Reading

I’ll continue to read novels each day to build my vocabulary.  Reading will also allow me to be exposed to a variety of examples of sentence structure.  I plan to spend at least an hour per day reading. I know that I have problems with pronunciation of new words.  In the majority of books, there are no vowel markings. As a result, I’ll be adding an audio component to the books that I’ll be reading.  Thankfully, I came across an app called Kitab Sawti. It’s an audiobook app much like Audible, but for Arabic books. I have the Hunger Games books in Arabic and Kitab Sawti has that available as well, so I’ll be reading while listening.   

Listening 

To help with listening, I’ll be making use of YouTube or any other source to watch TV shows.  I’ll be watching a TV show in Arabic daily. On average, it should be about 30 minutes per day, give or take.  I prefer to watch cartoons translated from English and especially from the 80’s or 90’s. Since I’ll probably already know the topic, I’ll have an aid in understanding what’s happening.   If I have an idea of the story, I’ll more readily catch new words. There are a lot of shows such as Smurfs, X-Men, Recess, and even Courage the Cowardly Dog that are now available in Arabic.  Entertaining shows in their own right, a healthy dose of nostalgia, and full of comedy.  Enjoying yourself while learning enhances the learning process and, thankfully, shows like these are very enjoyable.  

Smurfs in Arabic
Recess, a classic show from the 90s is has been translated into Arabic
One of the BEST cartoons of the 90s that most people don’t know about, Exosquad. It’s also available in Arabic.

I prefer to watch TV shows over movies because of two main reasons.  First, TV shows are more easily digestible. A show’s runtime can range anywhere from 25 minutes to one hour.  Compared to a movie that’s two hours or longer, I’ll have less of a chance of suffering from fatigue. The second reason is that TV shows have many episodes.  Once you understand the characters, locations, and general plot of the first four or five episodes, it becomes easier to understand the future episodes. Movies are one offs and even with sequels, the topics may be so different that it would leave a language learner lost.

Writing

Writing is something that will happen twice a week.  Just a short essay of about 3 paragraphs or so. For writing, I’ll be working with a tutor so I can get feedback on what I’ve put together.  The main reason I’ll be writing is to work on my sentence structure and to ensure that there’s coherence. I’ve read that writing is a great help when it comes to speaking, so I hope to see the effect of it over time.  In English, writing is a piece of cake (I’ve been doing it long enough after all). In Arabic however, it’s a different story. For just 3 paragraphs, I’ll probably need at least 45 minutes. Over time, I’ll hopefully be able to reduce the amount of time it takes for me to compose something.  

Speaking 

Speaking will also happen with a tutor.  I’ll be working with a tutor once a week for one hour to increase my speaking abilities.  Speaking abilities includes fluency, accuracy, and expanded spoken vocabulary. My hope is to make use of the vocabulary and structures that I’ve learned through the other three skills (reading, listening, writing).  

Grammar

If there are grammatical areas where I’m weak and repeatedly making mistakes, I’ll ask my tutor to point these out and I’ll try to work on them.  Improvement is the name of the game.  

The big picture

I’ll be averaging about 13 hours per week of working with the language.  Working a full time job at the same time, it won’t be easy, but I’ll have to continually remind myself that it’s only for 3-months.  Also, it’s not a class or a chore, this is a hobby for me, so I should approach it in that way. I’m sure that if I stay committed to this, I’ll be able to successfully exit the plateau that I’m in by the end of the three months.  

Minimal action

There are some days that are extremely busy.  Some days are bad. Some days are exhausting. I think on days like these, there should be some kind of minimal action.  If you’re doing a 3-month language challenge and there’s a day or even a week where you’re just out of it, there should be something that you can do at the very minimum.  For me, I’ve decided that watching a program will be that (or listening to an audiobook). These can be done while eating, laying down, etc. So, if I find that I don’t want to do anything after a long day at work, I’ll at least listen for 20 or 30 minutes to something in Arabic and leave it at that.  

In ending

There you have it, my plan to (continue to) learn a language in 3 months.  I’ll be starting on Sunday, September 29th and continuing until the end of December.  It’s the perfect way to end 2019 and to begin 2020 on a high note. I’ll be leaving updates on here about my progress and experience with this project of mine.  If you’ve read this far, I applaud you.  

Are you also interested in doing the 3-month language challenge? If you are, click here to subscribe. You’ll also receive a free language learning log and a 3-month calendar to keep track of your progress. Be sure to share this with your friends and others who might also be interested.

Until next time! 

We’re quickly approaching the last three months of 2019.  Before we know it, a new year will be upon us and along with that, resolutions.  Some of us make New Year’s resolutions at the start of each year… then we fail to follow through.  When that happens, we decide to wait until the next year to make resolutions again. This time around, instead of waiting for a new year, why don’t we take advantage of what’s left of the current year?  We’re at the finish line of 2019. Let’s start where we left off (or maybe even never began) and finish the year off strongly with a 3-month challenge. Did you plan to lose weight? Gain muscle? Read more? Make new friends? Learn a new language?  If you did, but fell off the wagon, now is the time for you to get back on and to focus on your goal for the next three months.

MY NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION (AT THE END OF THE YEAR)

In my case, I’ll be doing a 3-month language challenge. Currently, I’m at an intermediate level of Arabic and I want to improve on that.  My new year’s resolution (at the end of the year) is to focus on building my language skills and to hopefully reach an advanced level.

JOIN ME FOR THE 3-MONTH CHALLENGE

If you want to work on learning a language in these last months of 2019, join me. I’m starting on Sunday, September 29th and will continue until December 29th, 2019.   The more people that join, the better. If you’d like to join, sign up here, so you can stay up to date. You’ll also receive PDFs of a reflection log and a 3-month learning calendar to help you keep track of your goal. I hope you’ll join me and we’ll all experience growth for the remainder of the year.

You’ve probably set a goal once or twice in your life.  Many of us tend to go on a goal setting spree at the start of a new year.  With each new year comes a new resolution. Yet inevitably, after a month or two (if we’re lucky) we fall off the bandwagon.  Our goals take a back seat. What things have you wanted to do in the past and failed to accomplish? Why haven’t you achieved your goals?

THE ROAD MAP. 

“If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail”.

Whether it’s saving money, traveling a bit more, learning a language, or something else, most of us have something that we want to achieve.  In our minds we create a goal phrase. For example, you might say, “This year, I want to learn German”. Some of us might even write it down to remind ourselves of our goal. Then we haphazardly do some activities that are supposed to help us achieve our goals.  Our excitement begins to fizzle out after a short while and eventually our goal is forgotten about. Although people often fail to remain committed to their goals, this isn’t something that has to be inevitable. By making plans with clarity and direction, your ambitions can become a reality.  Two useful methods that can help you strategize more effectively are having SMART goals and making use of the GROW method.

SMART Goals.

Having a goal is one thing, but setting SMART goals can bring you closer to accomplishing what you want in life. What does SMART mean?

S- Specific. When setting your goals, they should be clear and specific. 

M- Measurable. The goal should be measurable, you should be able to count or measure your progress toward the goal that you’ve set for yourself.

A- Actionable. What steps (actions) are you going to take to reach your goal?

R- Relevant. Is your goal important to you? Does it have a place in your life? If the goal doesn’t have some kind of importance for you and no real value in your life, it’ll be harder for you to achieve. 

T- Time bound. Your goal has to be limited by a certain amount of time. If you leave your goal open-ended in terms of time, there’ll be no sense of urgency. By placing restraints on your goal, you’ll know that you have a limited amount of time to reach your goals. That can push you to work hard and steadily toward what you want to reach.

Let’s make an example goal using the SMART method. Earlier, I wrote the goal phrase “This year, I want to learn German”.  That is a goal, but it’s not specific enough. What does “learn German” mean? How will I know when I’ve “learned” German? How much German do I want to learn? To make a more specific goal, we might say something like “This year, I want to learn German and reach an intermediate level in the language within 6 months. I will spend an hour each day learning by working with a teacher, build my vocabulary through reading and Netflix, or doing an audio program”

GROW Model

Another option that can help you reach your goal is the GROW model. Similar to SMART, GROW is an acronym and stands for the following.

G- Goal. What’s your goal? What do you want to achieve (be sure it’s clear!)?

R- Reality. What’s your current reality? In relation to your goal, what is your situation here and now?

O- Options/Obstacles. What choices are available for you to meet your goal? What obstacles stand in your way and what could you do to overcome them? 

W- Way forward. What are you going to do and when will you do it?

Looking back at the example I gave earlier about learning German, let’s apply the GROW model to it. Goal: To learn German to an intermediate level. Reality: I am an absolute beginner in German and have no knowledge of the language. I’m also not in a German speaking country and I have no Germans around me. Options: I can look for a school that teaches German or find classes online. Obstacles: I may not have a lot of opportunities to practice speaking the language and it might be hard for me to find books in German.  Way forward: I’ll find some audio programs to start learning from and try to learn some new words next week. I’ll also look for easy articles online for learners of German. In a month, I’ll find a teacher online to begin working with.

The Take Away

Think about the goals that you’ve had in the past. Why haven’t you achieved your goals? Everyone can achieve a goal even though it sometimes seems like it’s impossible. Through being clear about your goal, careful planning, and being determined, you can accomplish the things that you want to. Next time you have a goal, try using the SMART method or the GROW model and see how that works for you.  When it’s all said and done, you might be pleasantly surprised. Good luck in reaching your goals!  

On today’s show, we’ll be reviewing the book Unlimited Memory by Kevin Horsley. If want to improve your memory, tune in to today’s show. If you would like to buy the book, you can do so on Amazon at this link:

Please note, the Amazon link is an affiliate link. This means that as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, but at no extra cost to you.

***In full disclosure, I have placed some affiliate links in this article. As an Amazon associate I make a commission based on recommendations that are purchased, but at absolutely no extra cost to you.***

As we’ve mentioned before on this blog, learning a language can be a rewarding endeavor.  There are many benefits that you can get from learning a new language.  Let’s say you already agree with this idea and you want to start learning a new language.  How can you start?  Maybe you can register for a course at a school.  You also could find a teacher online to help you out.  Or, you could join a language study group that meets at your local café or library.  I’m going to take a different position and suggest you don’t do any of these.   Instead, I think you should start learning a new language by yourself.  Yes, you’re reading that correctly.  I think you should start learning a new language by yourself.  I know that learning languages is a social affair and it gives you the chance to meet new people.  You’ll also have a teacher who can correct you.  Perhaps even classmates who’ll encourage and motivate you to keep pushing through, perhaps… However, let me give you give you some reasons why it’s better to start learning a language by yourself instead of in a classroom.  If you keep reading after these reasons, I’ll even give you some ways to make it happen.  

Why should you start learning a language by yourself?   

It’s cheaper

Unless you’re learning a language with volunteer teachers, or you have a scholarship, your courses are going to cost money. Depending on the language, it can cost a lot of money.  If you learn independently, you can get away with doing it for free, but if you want quality, you should expect to pay some money.  However, you won’t be paying per hour.  Many of the materials you’ll be using will be yours to own, or at least you’ll have unlimited access to them. Why pay an arm and a leg just to learn basic vocabulary and to conjugate them from the present to the past?  Save that money for a higher-level class where you’ll get more bang for your buck.  This leads us to our next point.   

Enter at a higher level

If you start learning a new language by yourself, you may end up being exposed to richer materials and more words than you would in a traditional classroom.  You won’t be constrained by a curriculum (for the most part).  There won’t be limitations because of your classmates.  You might also be willing to push yourself more than you would in a class.  The topics you expose yourself to will (hopefully) be interesting and that will pull you more deeply into the language.  The more interest you have, the more the likelihood of increased exposure. The more exposure you get, the more growth you’ll experience.  Once you have the basics down, a solid set of vocabulary, and you’re able to communicate to some extent, you’ll be ready to enter into a classroom environment with some tools at your disposal.   

A stronger foundation

Having a stronger foundation in the language you’re learning, you’ll be able to bring more to the classroom.  Now, you’ll be able to understand more of what your teacher has to say.  You’ll also have the ability to communicate more readily.  You decided to start learning a new language by yourself, and while you have grown, there are some things that aren’t very clear to you. You’ll come to class with curiosity, filled with many questions to ask your teacher about those unclear parts of the language.  This will lead to a richer experience in the classroom environment compared to if you had entered as just a blank slate.  Your foundation is solid, and now your role and that of your teacher is to build on what you already know.  The two of you can now work on pushing you to the next level of your language journey. 

How can you start learning a new language yourself?

If you decide to start learning a new language by yourself, what products or materials are available to help?  There’s a plethora of YouTube channels available.  There are also an endless numberof blogs out there.  None of these will be recommended because for the most part, they’re limiting. Unless you don’t mind spending 15 minutes to learn how to say a single word or to say “good morning”.  (Note:  I’m talking about channels and blogs dedicated to learning specific languages. When it comes to the topic of language learning in general, there are many extremely useful ones out there.)  Below, I’ll give you four ways to start learning a new language by yourself.  

Pimsleur  

Although in recent years Pimsleur has started to promote their “premium program” which includes things like reading lessons, digital flash cards, and games, I’ll be talking about their classic program.  The Pimsleur audio program has 30 lessons that are around 30 minutes in length.  The lesson starts off with two people having a conversation in the language that you’re learning.  Then, step-by-step, you’re introduced to new words and phrases. You’ll be asked “how do you say ‘xyz’” and you’ll have to answer out loud.  By the end of the lesson, you’ll be having a conversation with the recording.  You’ll also be able to understand the conversation that you couldn’t understand at the start of the lesson.  Using Pimsleur as you start learning a new language by yourself does many things.  First, it helps to build your vocabulary.  You’ll be exposed to common words and phrases and that’s a great thing for your lexical foundation.  Second, your listening skills will develop and improve over time. Since the program is a strictly audio one and has nothing to do with writing or reading, you’re forced to listen. Finally, your speaking skills will improve as well.  Maybe you won’t be fluent, but you’ll be able to communicate to a degree.  Many people who have used it (myself included) have had the experience of people saying that their pronunciation is great and very clear.  The take away.  The classic Pimsleur program will have you speaking from the very beginning.  You’ll gain vocabulary and your listening skills will develop as well.  Whether you’re at home, driving, walking, or doing anything else, you’ll be able to use the program.  Currently, there are more than 50 languages and language varieties available.  Some languages only have one level available, while other more popular languages (such as French, German, and Spanish) have 5 levels.  Stick with the program and follow the learning instructions and you’ll be sure to see some progress.  The Pimsleur program is available on their website as well as on audible.com.  I’m not sure about other countries, but in the United States, many public libraries have the program available.  If your local branch doesn’t, you can ask them if they can have it sent from another branch.  

Reading*    

Reading is one of my favorite ways to start learning a language.  By reading, you can become exposed to vocabulary, sentence structures, and more. Through books or novels, you’ll experience repeated exposure and repetition will help things to stick. 

So how does this work?  Let’s assume that you’ve already done two levels of the Pimsleur program. Now you have some vocabulary under your belt.  You can now try to increase your vocabulary by getting your hands on a very easy book. There are two kinds of books that you can look for.  The first are children’s books.  If there are illustrations in the book, that would be even better to help with comprehension.  The second (and my preferred kind) are graded readers.  These books are novels that have been simplified and made specifically for language learners.  I enjoy them because they’re repetitive (again, more exposure) and they also give you a gauge of your language level.  Graded readers are generally available from level 1 (absolute beginners) to level 6 (advanced learners).  

*If you’re learning a language that uses a different writing script than you’re used to, you’ll first need to find a book or instructional guide that can show you how to read and write the script of your language.

Podcasts and Cartoons

So you’ve completed some levels of Pimsleur and you’ve completed some books.  Now what? You can move on to podcasts and cartoons.  Both of these are free for the most part and you’ll get a lot of exposure and listening practice.  Cartoons are great because the characters will generally speak with a clear voice. If the cartoons are popular, there’ll be many episodes and seasons available to watch.  That gives you a continuing storyline and with enough time, you’ll know the characters, the situations, and what’s happening in each show. The more episodes you watch, the more you’ll be able to pick up with time.  Additionally, many cartoons have been translated into different languages. Are there cartoons that you enjoyed watching as a child? Search for them and see if they’re available in the language that you’re learning.  Podcasts are also similar and they can help you to learn about the culture and ideas of the people who speak the language that you’re learning.  You’ll get a lot of insight from them. 

Practice Makes Perfect

You’ve spent some time building your vocabulary and speaking skills with Pimsleur.  You’ve been reading books.  You have your favorite cartoons and podcasts to help you with listening and understanding. Now you might want to work a little bit on your writing and grammar.  The book series Practice Makes Perfect is great for that.  They have books that give you explanations for grammar points followed by pages upon pages of exercises.  You can practice on and solidify your understanding of things like tenses, subject-verb agreement, and more.    

Concluding thoughts

It’s not impossible to start learning a new language by yourself.  In fact, you can accomplish a lot by starting on your own.  To sum up the above information, you can begin your own independent learning program by doing the following:

  1. Pimsleur audio program (Months 1-2 [or up to 5])
  2. Reading (Months 2-5)
  3. Listening to podcasts and watching cartoons (Months 3-5)
  4. Practice Makes Perfect for grammar and writing skills (Months 3-5)

Just to make it clear, if I were to start learning Spanish in the year 2020, here’s what I would do.  From January until May, I would work with Pimsleur.  In February, I would start reading short, easy books.  I would continue reading until May.  In March, I would start listening to podcasts and watching cartoons.  I’d also start working with grammar or exercise books.  All of this would be done until May.  The grammar books, I’d work with only once a week, but everything else, I’d try to do daily if possible.  Pimsleur would absolutely have to be a daily activity because that’s a requirement of the program. Once May came around, I’d begin to work with a teacher to iron out any mistakes I’m making, but also to push me to the next level and closer to fluency.  

After four or five months of consistent practice and learning, if you decide to take more formal lessons in a classroom setting, you’ll see that you’re no longer a beginner.  Now you’ll be able to continue with your language learning journey and at a much higher level than if you had joined a class at the very basic level. If you want to start learning a new language, you should start.  Don’t let an absence of schools or native speakers stop you from reaching your goal and pursuing your desire.  

On today’s podcast, we’ll be talking about friendship, the importance of it, and how to make it happen even when you’re away from home. In the second part of this episode, we’ll talk with a special guest who will tell us her experience with friendship while living in a new environment. Join us for episode 3 of the Words and Bridges podcast!