Memorising a textbook

Hola hipsteros,  it’s been a while but I’m back.

I have lots to report, but first up I wanted to let you know that I am attempting to memorise a textbook.  My 13-year-old son is learning Spanish in high school, and for various reasons that I will explore in another post, I think that the way his studies have been arranged, he is almost guaranteed to have the typical secondary high school language experience of at a least a year of study, followed by failure to be able to communicate, and the conclusion that learning a language is just too hard.

So, together we are studying, with the assistance of Anki, Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish.  We have been going through it for five weeks now and are almost at the end of Chapter 7.  There are 45 chapters in all, so we should well and truly finish it by the end of the school year here in the southern hemisphere.

I am doing this because he is interested in mythology, history, religions, art and science, and I can easily envisage him having to learn another language in the future in order to further his career.  When that time comes, I want him to believe that he is capable of learning another language.  And the best way I can think of doing that is to teach him an effective way of learning another language now.

I will report on our progress as we make our way through the course.

Is it going to rain?

Something that continues to surprise me is just how useful the phrases in your average phrasebook are, and how much knowing just a little bit of the language can add to the enjoyment of your trip.

One of my favourite places in the world is Kanumera Bay on the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia.

Kanumera Bay, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

If you arrive on the island via a cruise ship or ferry, you can walk there in 10 minutes or so.

Most of the beach is exposed to the wind, but if you keep walking to the far end, you will find the Oure Tera beach resort, which is protected from the wind by the headland.  There is a café right on the beach, and you can hire a kayak if you like.

If you take a snorkel and some reef shoes, you can walk into the water and snorkel above the coral reef, which is only 20 metres from the shore.  It is truly amazing – like swimming in an aquarium.


My family and I were doing exactly this.  We decided to stop for a break, and while we were doing so, there was a tropical deluge which lasted for half an hour.  We took shelter in our small portable beach tent (the blue one in the photo at the end of this post), other passengers on our cruise ship took shelter in the beachside café and ordered lunch.

Then the rain stopped.  And the dilemma became apparent.  Should we make our way back to the ship before it started raining again?  Or should we stay at the beach and hope that the storm clouds would clear?  If only we could ask someone who was familiar with the local weather conditions.

Nearly all of our fellow cruisers decided to walk back to the ship.  Then I spotted Tony, one of the resort’s staff.  After exchanging pleasantries in French, I was able to ask him Il fera pleuvoir encore aujourd’hui? (Is it going to rain again today?)

Tony. Don’t let his poker face fool you – he’s a very friendly guy.

He was adamant that it would not rain again, so we stayed at the beach for another hour or so, and had this little piece of paradise all to ourselves.


I managed to have quite a pleasant chat with Tony for five minutes or so, using only my phrasebook French.  C’etait magnifique!


01 Welcome


So, you want to learn a new language.  Well, I’m here to tell you that you can do it, it’s easy, it’s cheap and it’s fun, and that it doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive.

My method really does work and you can relax because I’m not selling anything.


Up and Back and Right on Track

'Remember to pace yourself!'
‘Remember to pace yourself!’

Studying every. single. day.

Since my last post, inspired by Nick in Denmark and a colleague of mine who is on a 155-day Duolingo streak and is acing her Spanish class as a result, I have tried to establish what Duolingo calls a streak – that is, I have tried to study my Anki flash cards every single day.

This is a bit of a change for me.  But I have to say that it works.  At the moment I’m on a 73-day steak.  I’m learning 15 new phrases each day, as well as revising the phrases that I have already learnt.

It works out at about 150 cards per day, and I’m consistently getting 90% of the answers right.  When I was trying to average 70 new words per week, and not studying on weekends, I was averaging about 80%.  Last year, when I tried learning 100 new words at a time, I had a 60% success rate.

It’s more fun when you’re getting most of the answers right, and by taking it one day at a time, I don’t get overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.

Furthermore, in the last 10 weeks I’ve learnt more vocabulary than I did last year.  I’ve finished memorising my Chinese phrasebook (more about that in another post), and have moved on to  the FSI Standard Chinese course – I’ve almost completed four units.

我的第一个中文的博客文章 / My first blog post in Chinese / Mi primer entrada en chino

(English translation below)
(En español abajo)




This is my first blog post in Chinese.

I have been studying Chinese for a year.
I memorized a phrasebook.
Every day I learnt 10 phrases.

My name is Deng Baorui (that’s my Chinese name).
I’m from Sydney, Australia.
My first language is English.
I also studied French and Spanish.

I only know some Chinese characters.

Este es mi primer blog post en chino.
Estoy estudiando chino por un año.
He memorizado un libro de frases.
Todas las dias he aprendado 10 frases.

Me llamo Deng Baorui (ese es mi nombre chino).
Vivo en Sydney, Australia.
Mi primer idioma es inglés.
Yo he estudiado francés y español tambien.

No conozco muchos caracteres chinos.





Sui generis and words that start with “uni”

Following on from yesterday’s post, I was reading an article in WA Today and came across the Latin phrase sui generis.

Literally, this means “of its own kind; unique”.  It was being used in a legal sense, so it means “when a special and unique interpretation of a case or authority is found to be necessary”. (Wikipedia).

sui = of itself

generis comes from genus = kind or type

“Unique” itself comes from Latin and means “the only one of its kind”.

Uni is a Latin prefix (letters added (or fixed) to the beginning of a word to change its meaning) that means “one”.

Other words that start with uni include;

unicellular – consisting of one cell

unicorn – one horn

unicycle – one wheel

uniform – one form, the same

unify – to make or become one

unilateral – from or to one side

union – two or more things joined into one

unison – literally “one sound”, unison means being together in harmony at the same time.


unite – to join together or combine into one.

unity – oneness, being one.

universe – the whole of creation, from the Latin universus which means “combined into one.”


Learning Chinese – One Year In



When I started memorizing my Spanish phrasebook, I picked an arbitrary number of phrases to learn each day – 10.  This seemed achievable to me, with the added benefit of being able to quickly calculate and track my progress.

This seemed to work well for me for the first three months, then I took a month or so off, then learnt 50-100 words per day for two weeks, before spending a week and a half revising my deck without learning any new words.

The problem with learning a lot of words or phrases quickly with Anki is that the number of cards to review also adds up very quickly, and before you know it you have to revise two or three hundred cards per day, with occasional spikes of five hundred cards in one day.  I call this problem The Wrath of Anki, and I’ve posted about it before here and here.

In his book Fast, Easy Way to Learn a Language Bill Handley states that in his opinion it is more effective to learn lots of words quickly and poorly rather a small amount of words slowly but surely.

I thought I’d try the Quickly and Poorly method with Chinese.  So I’d learn 100 new phrases in one session, then revise and revise until I had the number of cards I had to review down to a manageable level, then learn 100 more. Continue reading