September 1, 2013 | Review Period

A New(ish) Chapter

In which I plot my next steps, linguistically speaking.

This project has gotten way out of hand. I was supposed to be done in late June 2010, then late June 2011, and now here I am, on the verge of Labor Day of 2013, still going. To be honest, I cannot imagine stopping.

Me, with Just a Couple of Language-Learning Products to Review

Me, with Just a Couple of Language-Learning Products to Review

But what to do? My brain is at a dead end for new languages right now. I need to go back and revisit ones I’ve explored previously or I might lose my mind. There is pleasure in remembering, and pain in forgetting, and life—as well as happiness—requires a certain harmonious balance between the two, I believe.

One thing I discovered during my Yiddish unit, as I have mentioned, is that I remembered more than I expected I would of Hebrew. In a similar vein, what I have found for more familiar languages such as Italian, German, French, and Spanish is that each time I return to them, I more quickly reanimate what I have learned before. I hope I will find that to be true for other languages I have explored in this joyful and rewarding and addictive 4.17-year adventure.

Time will tell.

As I look ahead at the future of this website, these are some of my dreams for it.

First of all, I will continue to blog, just as I have for the past several years, but my subjects will not necessarily be confined to a particular language for several weeks or months at a time. I will take more of a free-range approach, I expect.

Second, I plan to dramatically expand and improve the reviews section for products. This means adding more products within existing languages, and implementing better and more advanced functionality so that people can quickly find just the tools they need. I will be examining products from publishers such as Collins, Dover, Berlitz, Wiley, McGraw-Hill, Visual Education, Routledge, Rocket, Hippocrene, BarCharts, and more. Additional suggestions are (greedily!) welcome.

Down the road I expect there will be more languages, but there is first much to be done within ones already visited.

Right now I am extremely drawn to the idea of getting my five best European languages to the highest level I can—simultaneously, I mean—so at the outset of this new phase, I will be focusing on those. I hope you won’t mind a lot of German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian over the next two months.

My New Scarf, Fashioned from Dover Publications Packing Materials

My New Scarf, Fashioned from Dover Publications Packing Materials

In the future, I want to develop a much more global view of the language-learning market, testing more products from other countries than I have in the past. There is much good material out there that I haven’t yet uncovered, and with technological advances, new learning tools are appearing all the time. I have contacted publishing companies in England and New Zealand and Hong Kong and other faraway places (far away from me, in any case).

I am also interested in products not geared towards native English speakers. To that end, I have approached the French company Assimil, which offers foreign-language training based in multiple languages. You can study German in French, Spanish in Italian, Italian in German, and so on. They have English-based products, too, but at present I’m pretty obsessed with the idea of studying Italian in German!

Effectiveness is my top priority for products I use. And effectiveness requires, among other things, fun. What is fun for me isn’t always fun for someone else—not everyone grooves on grammar guides—so I will try to keep that in mind as I evaluate books and other materials. 

Making a truly effective teach-yourself language-learning product is not easy, and I feel that many products out there are not as good as they could be. I want to find what works, use those things for my own selfish language-learning purposes (sinister, I know!), and then describe them for others so that they can use them, too.

Comments (15)

Neha Suneja • Posted on Thu, September 05, 2013 - 5:22 am EST

Oh my god! you are such an inspiration. I am currently learning German in India and I want to die knowing more than 5 languages! Now I know which site to go to, when I start learning new one!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, September 05, 2013 - 10:08 am EST

Thank you so much, Neha! What a nice comment to wake up to. :)

I would be interested in knowing what you are using to learn German in India. A class? Self-study materials? If so, which ones?

Ken • Posted on Thu, September 05, 2013 - 1:44 pm EST

Looking forward, Ellen!  I’ll never forget studying Hebrew in Portuguese in Brazil.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, September 05, 2013 - 1:50 pm EST

That sounds really cool, Ken. I need to try that.

Ken • Posted on Thu, September 05, 2013 - 1:55 pm EST

Another good practice is to watch a film in a language you don’t speak, with another language’s subtitles, obviously a language you’re learning.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, September 05, 2013 - 2:00 pm EST

Ken! Fun! Any suggestions on where I might find that kind of thing here would be welcome. (I suspect it would be a bit easier if I were living in another country.)

Ken • Posted on Thu, September 05, 2013 - 2:09 pm EST

I don’t see how to reply to your post for threading purposes, but here’s your answer. :)  I would think that foreign language films on DVD would have the option for subtitles in multiple languages.  Or even some English language DVDs should have options to be dubbed in one language with subtitles in another.  Animated movies should be good for stuff like this.  I’d recommend checking out Spirited Away.  Great movie.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, September 05, 2013 - 2:36 pm EST

Threading? Yeah, I don’t think I’ve quite gotten to that yet. Maybe that can be part of my “new(ish) chapter.” Thank you for the suggestions, Ken!

Neha Suneja • Posted on Thu, September 05, 2013 - 11:41 pm EST

I am currently learning German from Goethe-Institut since the last 2 years. It has been a great journey till now. They have such nice activities to learn the language.
I just need more tips from you on how to expand your vocabulary.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, September 05, 2013 - 11:55 pm EST

I love the Goethe-Institut.

Vocabulary acquisition preferences vary a lot from person to person. I happen to like traditional drills and flashcards and repetition. Here are a few vocabulary product reviews: .

I am also soon going to be reviewing these two things for the site:

- (an inexpensive vocabulary book)
-®-German-English-Level/dp/B002B2PX7A (there are two additional levels of this product, which like this one are available as MP3 downloads)

trnka • Posted on Sun, September 08, 2013 - 9:10 am EST

I ran into your blog by accident when I was looking for online games for Yiddish. Your project is absolutely awesome!

I’m having so much fun reading your older blog entries, especially of the languages I’ve studied myself. I find myself chuckling a lot and nodding my head—I’ve struggled with very similar problems in, say, Polish and Russian as you have, despite coming from a totally different language background (Finnish, that is).

I completely understand getting addicted on languages. I’m right now starting with Yiddish as my 13th foreign language, so I’m definitely an addict myself, too!

I’ve also noticed the languages I thought I had forgotten about come back fast once I start working on them again or am thrown into a situation where I must use them. Like when I’m about to get ripped off in Prague by a taxi driver. The human brain is a marvellous thing. :)

I’ll be following your updates. You really are an inspiration!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sun, September 08, 2013 - 9:55 am EST

Thank you so much for your kind words, trnka. Well, you ARE addicted! ;) That is really interesting. I would love to know if you attribute that to any particular factors. By the way, have you read Michael Erard’s book? If no.t, I think you would love it. Among other things, he talks about traits of hyperpolyglots (environmental, genetic, medical, etc.).

Also interesting is that you are a native Finnish speaker! I don’t think I would recognize it if I heard it, but it sure is famous! Not every language can claim that many noun cases. Is it 14? 15? Formidable! Russian and Polish must have been a breeze for you in that sense.

I used a Yiddish app that was kind of cute and that I haven’t written up yet. Have you seen this one: I’m still adding to the reviews section for that language; there’s usually a delay after I finish a language before I then finish and post all the product reviews. So I do hope you’ll check back at

I don’t think scurrilous cab drivers would revive dormant language skills for me, but as I think about it, I haven’t really faced that type of high-stress situation during this project in a foreign language. That’s fascinating! Someone should do a study: make someone study a language, then forget it, then endure a series of high-stress situations and see how they do. There would be lots of takers, I’m sure! ;)

trnka • Posted on Sun, September 08, 2013 - 1:30 pm EST

I noticed that app, but don’t have it, at least not yet. I’m on an actual Yiddish class, so I’ll have to see where it goes to see what material I’m going to use for my own studying. The book we’re using is Kahn’s Colloquial Yiddish.

I haven’t read Babel No More, thanks for the suggestion! I’ll try to get my hands onto it soon, seems really interesting.

I don’t consider myself a polyglot. Most of the languages I have studied are now on a basic conversation level (levels A2-B1, if you’re familiar with the EU scale), and I’m quite happy with it. The only foreign language I feel totally comfortable with is English.

As to why I’m addicted to languages, I think it’s because I’ve always been too nosey and wanted to know everything. When I was around 7, my brother and sister, both quite a bit older than me, once spoke in Swedish to annoy me, because they knew I couldn’t understand it. I wasn’t going to have any of it and told my mom that one day I’m going to learn every language there is so that no one can speak in front of me without me understanding what’s going on. :D

I’ve also always loved logic puzzles and I’ve seen languages like gigantic logic puzzles that can be cracked if I just gather enough clues. That’s also a part of the reason why I collect languages (as I call my little addiction) instead of learning them to a higher level: once I crack the code, so to speak, once I start to understand how a language functions, I want to move forward to a new puzzle. And the more I learn languages, the easier it gets to see behind the structures, and the easier it gets to learn new ones.

On top of that I’ve been blessed to be able to take many languages in school. So far I’ve never even attempted to study a language on my own (except for some basic phrases of Latvian and Farsi), because I haven’t had to. I studied 6 languages in high school, 4 more at the university and then lived abroad in 2 countries. Without these opportunities my language list would look very different, no doubt.

Soon I’ll graduate and I’ll have to start learning on my own, so blogs like yours work as great motivators and treasure chests for resources. :)

It’d be interesting to see you take up Finnish. :) The cases are abundant, yes (and unfortutely didn’t really make learning the Polish cases much easier—the concept was familiar but learning the paradigms was just as big a pain as it was for you), but Finnish is fairly regular. And no gender, no articles, no perfective/imperfective verbs!

Adrianna • Posted on Fri, September 20, 2013 - 3:31 pm EST

Hello Ellen! I really love your blog and I am genuinely impressed with your accomplishments.  I am looking forward to reviews of language learning materials.

Soon I will be studying Mongolian and Tibetan in German and as a native Polish speaker I find it both hilarious and scary. Time will show, if it was a good idea ;-) If you ever need recommendation of Mongolian/Tibetan textbooks, I will be glad to help!

Keep it up!


Kris L. • Posted on Sun, September 29, 2013 - 2:56 pm EST

So, so, so GLAD you are back to blogging…it doesn’t matter that you do another language, and glad that you are reviewing the others.

I also love the idea of learning with a language different than English.  Just as learning another language with English, you find yourself learning something about English too….this is a great way to gain insights into two foreign language.  If you have something you can recommend between German and Spanish, that would be great.  Everyday I put in at least 30 minutes in each of them, and some extra time with Spanish.

Thanks for bloggin’ again!


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