Sake, sushi and a kiss

The title of the post can make you think I will be writing about a recent visit to a Japanese restaurant. Or a poem. Or a movie script.
Well, I might. Bear with me and read on.


A week ago I started to learn Japanese. There’s nothing to feel extremely proud of yet, I haven’t learnt even half of Hiragana syllabary. But I can read something, I can draw some symbols, and I remember these three words very well.
I learnt German at the university – and gave it up. I started to learn Italian, twice – and gave it up. It’s not much of statistics but could probably lead to a thought that I still have chances to fail. Indeed, perseverance without a distinct, articulate, Big Thing purpose is not my story. That is why I like to hope that this time I’ll do better, and not only because I’ve got the Purpose and I’ve exposed my baby-learner status. I am not alone, and I am aware.
More findings of this last week below:

(1) Having the Purpose is helpful but in the long run it can be a little intimidating. When I started to study German my aim sounded something like “I want to read Remarque in original”. This is a bit of a delusion for a beginner in any language. Aspiration, yes, but not too good a goal. At the moment my micro-goals in Japanese include having a decent 15-minute daily lesson and being focused on what I’m learning. That means sitting down at the desk and writing. During the day I try to liven up my long metro commute and study more with the help of two or three apps.

Moral I’m taking out of this for my students: little aim is a useful aim. Be realistic about what you can do, then do it and stay pleased with yourself, not frustrated at your inability to come up to your own expectations.

(2) During this week I have come to see very clearly one truth about learning a language that I have always known (and it’s nothing revolutionary, you all know it, it’s just nice to think of it from another angle). Language learning does not happen in a linear way. Getting pieces of a language system together comes as a gradual consequence of a chain of tiny discoveries of every single learning moment, of every given (and taken) learning opportunity. My examples:
– I downloaded several apps both for iPhone and iPad and try to use them occasionally, on both devices. One of the apps constitutes my basic “syllabus” of learning to write, pronounce and read hiragana syllables. A couple of others work on different levels (a basic grammar guide, busuu, dictionary, study cards from that hiragana app).
– There is a notebook to practise writing kana (symbols) and simple examples, all coming from the app.
– There is a notebook to record vocabulary I come across (which for now is all mostly passive). In the same notebook I started a Week Recap section, where I basically sum up all I’ve learnt about Japanese from different sources during the week of study.
– I printed out Hiragana syllabary and look at it. (Very useful, give it a try, looking at something)
– I created a photo album in my iPhone for all pics and screenshots connected with studying Japanese. Look at them)
– I downloaded an app which enables me to “sketch” on the phone. So I practise writing on my way. Then I may post a screenshot of some word I like in my Instagram account as my #wordoftheday. I am sure followers, especially the majority of my Russian friends, think I’m nuts.)
– I visited my sister at the weekend and stayed with my 7-year old niece. We practiced learning together. For example, I drew a symbol (like き) and pronounced it (ki), she had to write it in Russian. That was fun.
– There is this good friend (thank you!), who can sometimes be seen online wearing a hat, following newly-born movements (see P.S.) and writing excellent posts, who is not bothered (or is bothered but too kind to say so) to throw in some really tough but real life examples, that is words for me to read. Or I’d say lines of symbols to decipher. These are then supplied with comments of how/ why/ what for that happens in the language. This is all terribly exciting and challenging, too. (Tip for the students – have somebody teach you, who is not formally your teacher, and who will supply you with bits of information about the language in a (yes! Again) non-linear way.)

Moral I’m taking out of this for my students: think 360 degrees, 24 hours and other dimensions. Use your imagination.

(3) First time in the two years of my geeky teacher life I’ve started to use Quizlet. I don’t know most vocabulary items I’ve put there. Words out of context and out of a bigger scheme of understanding of how the language works don’t sink in. Obviously except for those, which are either beautiful, or short, or are sake, sushi and kiss.

Moral I’m taking out of this for my students: before suggesting to your students some method or tool for learning a language, try it out for yourself. It’s interesting that last week I showed Quizlet to three of my students. One of them got off it immediately, the other two are still holding to it. The teenage girl went crazy about it, needed no explanation at all how to manage the sets, how to add words and study and play games. Fun!

Whether I fail or make a little progress is not a question. At the moment I perceive these studies as a process I enjoy. Every day I rush home imagining how I will take the pen and start writing these beautiful kana, line after line, like my niece is doing with the Russian letters and syllables. How I’ll combine them, try to give them their sound. Try again.
And there’s more to come.

Here’s a picture with the only aim to be shown as a thumbnail image of this post.


P.S. The Glorious #FlashmobELT Movement.

P.P.S. Here are links to the three blogs of teachers/ teacher trainers learning a language, writing about their journeys. Their journeys have been much more exciting (and longer) than mine, they’re definitely worth a read.

Vicky Loras on opening her eyes and starting to study German.
Ken Wilson and his series “Diary of a language learner”
Scott Thornbury’s “(De-)Fossilization Diaries

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20 thoughts on “Sake, sushi and a kiss

  1. Good for you! Your students will find you inspiring!

    • annloseva says:

      Thank you, Naomi! They might, or they might not, but I will benefit from this experience as a teacher for sure.

  2. Ken Wilson says:

    Seriously good set of principles for realistic-aim learning. Love the idea of the phone sketch app that allows you to practise characters/symbols. Can you also save them?

    • annloseva says:

      Thank you, Ken. I appreciate you taking the time to read this and leave a comment in the first place! I am also going to add a couple of links to this post later today, to the blogs of the people I know who were/are/ have been studying languages and writing about it. May I include your German series?;)
      As for sketches, yes, you can save them. There are numerous apps with the same kind of idea. I use two, unimaginatively called “Sketch” and “Sketches”.:)

  3. mikecorea says:

    Hello A-Chan,

    “Spaciba” for the great post and “otsukaresama desu” for your effort so far. I found this post to be a nice mix of inspirational and practical. Even more so as I am considering working on another language which is something I haven’t done in a very long time. So you have given me both ideas and inspiration. Thanks very much for that.

    I feel I must mention, however, that when you wrote about your language learning, you didn’t mention that you are writing this blog (so eloquently) in English!

    Thanks again, take care and see you around.

    • annloseva says:



      That is *hopefully* thank you, Mike.
      I think I’ve accidentally hit the right spot with this post if it gives both good tips and some general good feeling.
      “Another language” sounds intriguing! Anticipating something interesting)

      I appreciate that you think of my writing as eloquent. No, I didn’t mention it, but I now feel more inclined to do so in my future, bolder posts.)

      Good to see you on my blog.
      Glorious time.

  4. pmateini says:

    Great post and Inspiring to Ann! Well, as teachers we know that to learn a 3rd or 4th language is demanding as well, it requires time and patience, principally because it is a different language system! i never tried Japonese or Mandarin!! it’s quite challenging!! Congrats!

    • annloseva says:

      Thanks a lot.
      I can’t imagine doing it in other circumstances than those I have now) it is very demanding, you’re right.
      The most (de)pressing, and at the same time thrilling, fact is that there’s SO much to learn. Like everything. And it feels at the moment that I’ll never be able to learn it to a level similar to my English. Which is a bit disappointing)

      Anyways I’m enjoying it a lot! Now.:)

  5. Vicky Loras says:

    Dear Ann,

    You cannot imagine how much I admire you for what you are doing – your enthusiasm and passion are conducive not only to your own language learning, but to all of us who want to learn something new, be it a language or a skill, as well as to your students.

    When I started learning German, it was only then that I realised how my students approach learning, what their difficulties are – up to then, my blingualism in English and Greek did not allow me to do that – I was stuck to preaching to my students in Greece “do not translate from Greek into English, think in English!” How could I have done that to them? I can’t remember for the life of me who said it, but they said that if the student could think in L2, they wouldn’t need to learn it anymore, as they would have already mastered it : )

    I love how you share the ways in which you are learning – I love your enthusiasm!

    • annloseva says:


      Thanks for your love for my enthusiasm!)) I think it is one of the factors that pushes me forward! Sharing might help me be more responsible and consistent in the process. And support and nudge play their part, too.)
      You are so right about students. It’s interesting, now that I approach learning this new language seriously I keep my students in mind all the time and analyse my attempts through the prism of being a teacher. I also think I’m doing it in a nerdy way.)

      How’s your German going now??

      • Vicky Loras says:

        It’s going really well so far – I am super-motivated by a variety of things. Our teacher is absolutely amazing! She brings us a great range if things to class, things she thinks will interest us and builds on those lessons – she sees what we are strong or weak at, and prepares each class along the way.

        I want to read books in German. I want to write in German. I am learning with my sister, which is great – we try to give each other motivation and strength!

        I feel for the first time in four years that I know what I know (if that makes sense) and I know that I know quite a lot! I want to learn even more : )

      • annloseva says:

        That sounds very optimistic and inspiring for me! You’ve actually expressed something which I think is key for my own learning now – a strong desire to write Japanese and also having somebody who can give me motivation and strength while accompanying me on the way. Luckily there are friends who speak both Japanese and German in our PLN, huh?!)
        I know I will need to join some more formal classes soon and it scares me. I really don’t want to. I am afraid the teacher will not be up to the level I want him/her to be.. It sounds vain maybe, but I guess it is also one of the excuses)) I will have to take that step anyway..I’ll be thinking of your optimism when I go for it!!))
        “A variety of things” – YES!
        And I want to learn more and more. And we both will!))

      • Vicky Loras says:

        I know how you feel about more formal classes…that is why it took me so long to “join” one, let’s say – I am sure you will do it much more easily. My first German teacher was okay, but she was discouraging me from using Swiss German – and she did it so insistently, that it started to become annoying, because, I could get my point acrooss, couldn’t I? Then I felt demotivated and discouraged, and sometimes I did not even want to go to class, because of her constant correction – which got too much and I sometimes lost my train of thought. I am not saying a teacher should not correct, my present one does now too, but she doesn’t demotivate me in the process. She also explains why I can’t say what I said. So now I am a happy student!

      • annloseva says:

        You have mentioned something that struck me – constant correction. It’s interesting that sometimes when I teach I remember to keep my comments to a later stage, but there are times when I do exactly this – break into the sentence. Make students lose their train of thought. Good time to think about it again. Thank you for bringing it up!

        I want my students to be happy students and I want myself to be a happy student, too.:)

      • Vicky Loras says:

        And a million thanks for mentioning my post!!!

  6. swisssirja says:

    Yes, yes and yes!!!! Beautiful post.
    And I absolutely agree that for a language teacher learning a foreign language can only be beneficial! The discoveries you make don’t only guide and support you on your journey, but will aid your students in so many ways. How lucky they are!
    I wish I had time to start learning something new too! But for the moment my life is all about survival, simple let’s keep the head above water survival.
    Enjoy your journey, dear Ann!
    Hugs from the Alps

    • annloseva says:

      Thank you, Sirja! There’s time for everything, I’m sure. There will be my time for survival and your time for learning something new.
      Thanks for being around and keeping it positive!

  7. Daria Ter-Minasova says:

    Dear Ann, you are doing a great job both in teaching and learning a foreign language!

    About 4 years ago I took up Lithuanian and that was absolutely unexpected both for me and my friends, who kept asking questions like ‘why’ and ‘what for’. Their argumentation was absolutely plain – very few people speak it, and those who do are fluent in Russian or English, so why care? To this I could say only that I visited Lithuania, fell in love with the country and the people, wanted to have at least a glimpse of understanding the place from the inside. Like you, I learnt French at school and Spanish in a uni, enjoyed both and… Completely forgot both the moment I passed my exams. Was I motivated when I studied them? I was, indeed. But something happened afterwards and I didn’t feel I had to continue.

    With Lithuanian it turned the other way round. I met absolutely wonderful teachers here in Moscow, and their love and dedication inspired me to study hard. I basically lived with textbooks doing homework, reading, writing on every occasion. Then I decided to take up a summer course in Lithuania, and was amazed to see that I managed to succeed. I came back in a year and aspired to a higher level – and succeeded again! I had no illusions about myself and, being a teacher, kept criticising, but the result spoke for itself.

    Apart from academic results, I met wonderful people, teachers, researchers, who changed me as a person. I reconsidered my style and manners of teaching, I became more tolerantant and devoted. I started to notice many things that before seemed unimportant. In one word, I began to pay attention and I believe that only sitting at the other side of the desk again made it possible.

    I no longer have classes of Lithuanian, just practice it (every day) not to forget what I learnt. I want to enroll to summer school again, as I still have more levels to complete (C1 this time). But guess what? – I took up Spanish again. It was hard at first, as I kept thinking that I should remember everything. This kind of motivation brought me nowhere else, but to the feeling of self-incompetence. So I changed my motivation – not to ask too much from myself and learn little by little – and out of the corner of my memory things started to come back. As if now I deserved them 🙂

    So, keep going! Enjoy what you’re doing and you will definitely benefit from it in every respect 🙂


    • annloseva says:

      Hi Daria,

      I’m terrible at keeping up with the pace of my commenters recently..hope you’ll excuse me for that.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment and with such a beautiful story! I appreciate this. I do believe that sharing such stories and also lessons we are taking from them as learners is incredibly important for our students. Because it makes the language learning experience ..more real maybe?

      I am impressed with your diligence and will. Way to go! I wish you best of luck on this way you’ve chosen for yourself!

      Thanks for the kind words.
      See you at the Forum?)

      • Daria Ter-Minasova says:

        Hi Anna,
        My turn to thank you for the reply and such warm words!
        See you soon at the Forum )

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