NYR 1905: “Be More Creative.” Part 3 – Gabriela, Julie, and Liz.

Warning: I’m feeling very grateful right now, and so there’s a good chance this post could get sappy. 

I’m grateful for a number of reasons. The girls went to bed easily; it’s a beautiful evening, and I’m out on my balcony writing as the sun sets lazily behind the building across the street.

OK, so immediately after writing that last sentence I heard something move behind me. I spun around and looked into my condo. There was my sweet 2-year-old daughter, standing pantless in our living room staring at me through the screen door for God know’s how long. Excuse me for a minute while I take her back to bed.

…She did it again. Give me a second.

Sorry, we recently switched her from a crib to a daybed and this is the first time she’s gotten out and explored. Liz is at the gym and I’m not sure what to do. I’ve got the monitor and right now I’m just watching her wander around her bedroom… aaand there she goes. Be right back.

This time she wanted a drink of water. Whatever, fine. I put her to bed and locked her in the bedroom. Technically I locked myself out of the bedroom but it’s pretty easy to unlock from the outside if you have a knife or a flat-head screwdriver. She’ll be fine. I’ll probably reverse the lock this weekend. It’s a miracle her sister has slept through all of this.

Where were we? Oh yes, as we wrap up this month’s series on creativity I’m feeling very grateful. I want to give a shout-out to three women specifically, and since I’m now well over 300 words in let’s get on with it:

  1. Gabriela Pereira (Instagram: @diymfa). Gabriela wrote this book, which caught my eye as I was browsing a New Year’s Resolutions kiosk (of course) at the library. I devoured this book. I took notes in a Google sheet which ended up having over 20 tabs. As I’m going through them now I’m thinking 1) I should probably organize my notes more thoughtfully, and 2) I should probably reread this book because she has a whole section on blogging and there are a lot of specifics that I may have glossed over when I first read it. My journey as a writer started with this book (and a little help from her Writer Igniter prompt generator). Gabriela, thank you for introducing me to writing in a way that was so welcoming and engaging. And thank you especially for the Commencement section at the end of the book. Simply put, you made me feel like I had permission to write.
  2. Julie Duffy (Instagram: @storyadaymay). Julie created this program, which I learned about when she was a guest on the DIY MFA podcast. I decided to participate, and I wrote a story a day, every day, for an entire month using her prompts. Thank you Julie, not just for the prompts but for your encouraging words in the comments section. Thank you for the incredibly supportive community you’ve built, and for publishing my first story. A few things I learned along the way:
    1. I have time to write. In May of 2018 we had a 1-year-old and a 1-month-old, and at one point our entire family had Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD). what’s that you say? You thought only toddlers contracted HFMD? Yeah, so did we. I still wrote, every day. Whenever I start to complain that I don’t have time to write I try to think back to that time in my life and stop making excuses.
    1. Execution matters more than the original idea. I would get really excited when I opened my email in the morning and saw the day’s prompt. But often I would feel deflated as soon as I read it. I would think, “how am I supposed to write a story about that?” Stop it. Go. Just start writing. Some of the most fun stories I wrote came from prompts that I initially thought were going to be the most challenging. Don’t spin your wheels trying to come up with an amazing idea. You can always change your mind as you go along, the key is to start writing.
    1. Action! Whenever my stories fell flat it was usually because nothing was happening. I remember one time I sat down to write, and the only idea I had was that I wanted to capture the beauty of watching a sunrise over the sea. So I started to write a story about a guy on a cruise ship who woke up early and did just that. It was terrible. The next day, I wrote another story about a guy on a cruise ship watching the sunrise, except this time it was in Antarctica; the ship was trapped in ice for days and people were starting to eat each other. Much better!
  3. Liz Wells (Instagram: @lizwells519). In addition to being my favorite person in the world, my wife Liz has read every single word that I have ever published. Not only that, but she does an amazing job blocking for me. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King wrote that your writing space “…really needs only one thing: a door which you are willing to shut.” I live in a condo with two-under-two and I can tell you that sometimes the doors aren’t all that effective (case in point this evening). Liz is my door. Remember the HFMD situation? She was the one watching the kids while I was scribbling away in my notebooks or typing away on my computer, drinking milkshake after milkshake from Potbelly’s because come on they’re pretty much all you can eat when you have HFMD. I’m grateful for the honest feedback she gives when I’ve written something bad, and the occasional promo she gives when I’ve written something good. So here’s to Liz: the best wife, friend, editor and social-media-influencer a guy could ask for.

I warned you this could get sappy.

See you next week!

NYR 1905: “Be More Creative.” Part 2 – How To Become A Writer.

How does one become a writer?

As I try to come up with my answer to this question, I keep thinking about this interview with Tim Ferriss, one of my favorite bloggers/podcasters, and Terry Crews of Brooklyn Nine-Nine fame.

During the interview, Terry makes the argument that with any aspiration–fitness, financial success, writing– you have to be it now. 

And I agree. In order to have, you have to do. In order to do, you have to be. In his words:

You are what you are now. There is only now. This is all you have. It’s like… if you were trying to get to LA, and you didn’t know you were already here, you just keep walking. You keep going. You be all over the place, until, finally, you realize, wait a minute, I’m here.

But that’s kind of the way fitness, success, any goal, any aspiration, you must be it now. That book, the thing you want to write, or that thing you want to accomplish, you have to be it now. You are an author. So, now, what do authors do? Authors write. And when authors write, they have a book. And I’m telling you, it sounds really, really simple. But once you get it, forever, you will never think of anything the same way again.

So if you truly aspire to be a writer, congratulations! I’ve got great news: you are a writer.

It may sound like I’m handing out elementary school “Honor Student” awards here. If all you have to do to be writer is aspire to be a writer, then what’s the point? Nobody wins if everyone gets a prize.

But the problem with this reasoning is that it assumes being a writer is some sort of competition. As Tim points out later in the interview, competition is actually the opposite of creativity; focusing too much on beating the competition actually prevents you from thinking creatively.

If you truly aspire to be a writer, then there you are. You might have stretch goals–getting published, seeing your name in print, becoming a New York Times bestselling author–but the difference is that you haven’t attached these goals to your idea of what it means to be a writer. They aren’t prerequisites; you recognize that being a writer is an identity, a mindset that isn’t governed by accolades or accomplishments. And once you truly have that mindset, you can’t help but do the one thing that writer’s are known for:

Write.

Take me for example. I’m writing this post at 5:00 in the morning on Sunday, May 19th. It’s my wife’s birthday; we’re about to wrap up an amazing vacation in Charleston (without kids!) and she’s happily snoozing in the bed beside me as I type these words.

Let’s think about this for a minute: we’re on vacation, sans kids. In the parenting game, sleep is a precious commodity. She’s sleeping and I’m not, which is INSANE. I wish I was sleeping, but I can’t. I woke up around 4:30 feeling restless, and needed to write.

Because unfortunately, I made the mistake of thinking this post would write itself. I’ve out it off all week; honestly at one point I considered just having the post read, “How to become a writer: write.”

But the truth is I spent years wanting to be a writer and never getting started. Now I realize that being a writer was within my grasp the whole time, I just had to recognize it. It’s a simple truth, although it’s not always convenient (I really wish I was sleeping right now).

I wanted to write this post to help other people get to that point. In order to become a writer, you must write, plain and simple. But if you’re still not there yet, and the idea of a blank page is still intimidating and you’re finding it impossible to get started, that’s OK. I’m offering you an out.

If you feel you can’t write, at least read. More specifically, read this:

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Now, reading is great, but it can also be a form of procrastination. Reading about writing is no substitute for actually writing, but this book is a little different. It’s a 12-week course designed to help readers work through and gain artistic inspiration. It had a profound affect on me; among other things, it’s what gave me the idea for this blog which is why you’re reading this word right now and also this one. If you’re feeling stuck, I guarantee this book will unstuck you.

Please don’t waste any more time trying to figure out what you need to do to “become a writer.” Instead, accept the idea that are a writer, and act accordingly.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m I’ve hit my word count and I’m feeling tired. My eyes are getting heavy; the birds are starting to chirp outside but I think I can power through that and sleep for at least a half-hour or so.

Shutting down – see you next week!

NYR 1905: “Be More Creative.” Part 1 – The Elevator.

I’m sitting on our balcony, distracted by the cars and the laughter and the other sounds of the street in the evening. The sun has set and my wife has gone inside, complaining that the mosquitoes were eating her alive. I don’t feel them.

I’ve sat down to write and, for the moment, I’m feeling isolated. This happens sometimes, and normally I don’t mind being alone. The problem is… I’m not alone.

Doubt is here, looking over my shoulder, his face glowing silver in the light of my computer screen as he whispers in my ear:

Just close your laptop, go inside. You have more important things to do. The dishwasher needs to be unloaded and the laundry needs to be folded and put away. You have work in the morning, it’s getting late and you barely got any sleep last night. Your daughter was up at 3:00 and you couldn’t get her down until 4:30 because she was scared.

I’m scared too. Not about dragons or yetis or whatever else my two-year-old daughter conjured up in her tiny head last night. I’m scared to start this blog series.

Because I know that in order to do it properly I have to admit something to my friends, my family, my readers. It’s a secret I’ve kept from everyone my entire life, even from myself until very recently. And I’ve kept it hidden so well that I almost forgot about it. But it’s there, and the only way to confront it is to get it out in the open. So here it goes:

I’m trying.

I am trying. At life, at being a husband, at being a father, at work, at the gym, and yes, at writing. I am trying really, really hard.

And that’s tough for me to admit. Somewhere along the way, I learned that trying is not something to be proud of. I learned that admiration comes from effortless success. That “making it look easy” is more important than making it happen. As a result, I’ve gravitated towards things that came easily to me and haven’t taken many risks. And I’m not complaining; it’s made for a fairly comfortable, no-fuss lifestyle.

But I wanted more.  

I wanted to express myself. I wanted to think, to learn, to entertain, to inspire. I had thoughts swimming in my head and I figured if I could just find the time I could sit down and get those thoughts on paper. If I spent enough years writing alone in the dark I would eventually create something so magnificent that I could show it to somebody and they would be amazed and it would lead to instant fame and success and I would never have to endure that most terrible consequence of trying: failure.

Maybe that’s how it works for some people, but not for me. I guess when push came to shove, impatience overcame fear and I took that first step. My New Year’s Resolution for 2019 was to start a blog, which I did just seconds after the ball dropped.

And now I’m a writer.

I am a writer. I don’t think I’ve ever actually written that sentence before. I like it, but I don’t have time to dwell on it. I’m a writer now, and writer’s must write. But that’s not all.

I stumbled upon the following quote a few years ago:

“No matter how successful you get, always send the elevator back down.”

-Jack Lemmon

…and here comes Doubt again:

Wait a second. Are you seriously about to compare yourself to Jack-freaking-Lemmon? Are you suggesting that just because you started a blog and have written some posts over the past few months that you now have the right, the OBLIGATION to help other people be more creative?

Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

The first part of the quote reads “No matter how successful you get… always send the elevator back down.”

A writer’s a writer, no matter how small. And I’ve read enough books, browsed enough forums and listened to enough podcasts to learn that the most common question in writing is: how do I get started?

And I can help you with that. I’m in the building, and I’m standing in front of the elevator right now. I can send it back down.

Granted, it’s a BIG building. And I’m not exactly sure what floor I’m on. Right now I feel like I’m on four. On some days I might feel like I’m on five, maybe six if I’m highly caffeinated. Other days I feel like I’m stumbling around in the underground parking garage.

But if you’re reading these words and you’ve ever wanted to start writing and just don’t know how to get started, I’d love for you to join me up here on four. It’s got a nice view, infinitely better than the ground.

I realize it’s just a few floors up and you could probably take the stairs. But who knows? Maybe you’re in a hurry, or you have small children with you, or you’re carrying something heavy. Maybe you’re just tired.

If so, read on – over the next few weeks, I’ll do my best to send the elevator back down.

See you next week!

“Dear Me.”

To: David Wells, 2009

From: David Wells, 2019

Hey man,

I know you’re going through a lot right now. Trust me, I remember. But if you have a second, and you’re feeling up to it, hear me out.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month. I know… who knew that was even a thing?

It is a thing, and it’s important. Because people are suffering, just like you, and they think they’re alone. And I know you don’t like talking about it; you think it’s embarrassing and you’re ashamed and it makes you feel weak. That’s ok – I’ll do all the talking. I’m going to tell you everything I wish I’d known when I was going through what you’re going through right now.

The first thing I want you to remember is this:

You don’t need a “good reason” to feel depressed.

People are going to notice (let’s be honest, you’re not great at hiding it). And they’re going to ask, “what’s wrong?” They mean well, but a lot of times this question just makes things worse.

Because nothing’s wrong. That’s the whole point.

I mean, if you were to try and answer truthfully, what would you even say? Umm…

“I had a messy breakup.”

“I can’t find a job.”

“I don’t know where my life is going.”

(Cue the tiny violin)

All of these “problems” sound trivial. But that’s exactly why this is so difficult. You are reacting to your circumstances in a way that is disproportionately negative, and you can’t help it. That’s what being depressed is.

Which brings me to my next point: you are wrong. You, are, wrong. Don’t brush this aside – you need to truly understand and internalize the idea that, when you are in this state, you are operating under a flawed mental framework. Take a deep breath, and try to accept that your current perception of the world is scewed. This won’t be easy.

A good way to start is to write stuff down. I remember how you used to write a journal, and sometimes you’d put a number at the top of the page, 1-10, based on how good you were feeling. Then you’d just write about the things and the people and the feelings of the day.

That’s important. Keep doing that. Not only does it help you collect data and possibly identify external factors that contribute to your mood, but writing about how you feel gives you an outlet. It forces you to detach from your thoughts and evaluate them objectively. Many of your problems won’t seem so bad when you see them on paper.

Take your meds. I know, it sucks and it doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything. And I’ve got bad news: it might not be. You’re going to have to try a couple different brands and doses before you figure out what works. Prozac, Wellbutrin… I think Lexapro is the one you eventually landed on. Lexapro to lift the cloud, Xanax to round out the edges.

Careful with the Xanax. I’m serious. By now I’m sure you’ve figured out that it serves you in the same way as alcohol – it turns the volume down. Don’t overdo it. And for God’s sake stop mixing the two. In fact, try to dial back the alcohol in general – it’s slowing your progress, and making it more difficult to figure out what’s working and what’s not.

Work out.

And get out. Meet people, at places, to do things. Doesn’t really matter who or where or what. Even if it’s just meeting your friends for 25 cent wings and beers at Buffalo Wild Wings and playing video games after. It might feel like you aren’t having a good time, that you’ve forgotten how to have a good time, and that you’re bringing everyone else down. It can feel safer and more comfortable to stay at home under the covers. Don’t do it. Push yourself. Go.

Try not to hurt people. You will, but just try. When you look back on this period in your life, your biggest regrets aren’t going to be about the things that happened to you, but about the things you did to others.

Talk to someone, every day. A friend, a family member, a counselor, someone who will listen and care. But know this: no matter how attentive they are, how gentle their approach or how sound their advice, you’ll always feel like they don’t, exactly, understand what you’re going through. And that’s OK.

Because they don’t.

I’m not gonna lie – it’s a long road ahead. It’s going to a few years before you feel like yourself again. But remember:

This is not who you are. This will pass. And when it does, you’ll be stronger than ever before.

Keep going. Ten years from now your life is going to be fucking amazing.

-David

NYR 1904: “Learn a New Language.” Part 5 – HTML/CSS.

Over the past four weeks, I’ve written about my experiences learning Italian prior to our trip to Italy. But what about after? Here’s the truth: shortly after our return to the States, all of my studying efforts came to screeching halt.

What happened?

In an earlier post, I wrote about SMART goals. Relevance is important, and unfortunately I just didn’t find Italian to be particularly relevant upon my return home.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful language and I loved studying it. But the reality is that a small percentage of the world population speaks it, and I don’t anticipate many opportunities to use it in the future. It was fun and fulfilling at the time, and I was motivated when a had a clear goal in mind. I was able to visualize moments during my travels where I’d be able to enjoy the incredibly fulfilling experience of communicating with someone else in their native tongue.

But when I got back, I had no goal. There may be a time when I pick it up again, but for now Italian is on the back-burner.

So, what language am I studying in 2019? The language of the internet, starting with this book:

In 2019, I will complete the Head First Guide to HTML/CSS.

For the past several months I’ve been diving into this book and having a blast. You can view my progress here. I’m making my way through each chapter, completing every exercise along the way and also creating Anki flashcards for key concepts. As of this post, I’ve read ten of the fourteen chapters.

I bought this book after reading a post by one of my favorite bloggers, Derek Sivers. It’s a great read anyone considering getting into programming.

So how are things going so far? Awesome. I’ve already learned so much from this book, such as:

  • How the internet works
  • Understanding the relationship between HTML, a browser and a server
  • Where fonts come from
  • Differences between image formats (JPEG/PNG/GIF)

As I work my way through the book, I’m finding plenty of other rabbit holes and diving right down them. I’ve started a curriculum with Free Code Camp (also recommended by Derek). I’ve been studying computer science using learning materials from Khan Academy, trying to understand how computers actually work. Delightful!

And Relevance? Well, as a consultant I’m finding that software solutions are coming up more and more in my work. And so I’m motivated not just by the fun of learning a new language, but also by the very real need to bolster my skill-sets as the economy (and job market) continues to evolve.

This has been a fun series to write, and I look forward to seeing where this new path takes me. Got any suggestions? Leave a comment below or contact me; I’d love to hear your feedback!

Quick announcement: Next week we’ll be kicking off the May series, “NYR 1905: Be More Creative.” I picked May specifically in honor of Julie Duffy’s Story A Day In May, an amazing program that I highly recommend. If you’re interested in writing, want some motivation and a supportive community, look no further. Here’s an explanation of the challenge from the website:

StoryADay is a creativity challenge: Write (and finish) a short story every day during May and/or September.

I participated last year and wrote a story every single day. It was challenging but also incredibly fulfilling and eye-opening. I’ll be writing more about my past experience during the blog series in May, but in the meantime I’ll post reminders about the program on Instagram @wells921 and will send a reminder to readers on my mailing list as well.

See you next week!

NYR 1904: “Learn a New Language.” Part 4 – The Shotgun Approach.

Last week’s post was all about flashcards. But flashcards were only one part of a shotgun approach I took to learning Italian. My idea was to try several different strategies at once in an effort to fill any gaps in my learning.

A few ideas fell flat. For example, my wife and I were into cooking at the time (it’s hard to think that there was once a time before we had kids where we had time to cook and study a new language) and I thought it would be a good idea to buy an Italian Cookbook and try to translate it, word for word.

Ha! That lasted about a week. To this day my copy of La Scienza In Cucina E L’Arte Di Mangiare Bene remains mostly untouched, lying deep within the catacombs of my Kindle library.

That said, here are a few strategies that went well:

For Grammar: University of Vermont Professor Cristina Mazzoni’s la grammatica italiana

I have zero recollection of how I found this website. I think I just googled “Italian Grammar.” Yes, it was kind of weird doing the homework assignments, knowing that a bunch of college students in Vermont were probably doing the same thing. But you know what? I found it to be thoughtfully laid out and very helpful.

In my experience, with grammar you just have to bite the bullet and study it for a few weeks. As the website puts it:

Ideally, we would not have to study grammar; rather, we would learn Italian the way Italian children learn it–by being immersed in it.

But since we do not live in Italy and therefore have a limited amount of time to practice the language, learning some basic grammatical structures speeds up the rate at which you improve your spoken and written command of Italian.

Also, it is extremely useful both for me as teacher and for you as students to have a common vocabulary we can use in order to ask questions and provide answers as to why Italian works in one way and not another–for example, when I make corrections in your written assignments.

Grazie, Signora Mazzoni. I should write her an email!

For Travel – My Daily Phrase Italian

This podcast was great. Short lessons, 5-10 minutes long, and the narrator does a good job of emphasizing correct pronunciation and meaning.

Early in my studies, I had this idea that the only way to study a language was to learn a bunch of words, learn some basic grammar principles, put the words together using the grammar principles and then I’d be done. But even after studying flashcards for several months, someone would hit me with a simple “Dove vai?” and I’d respond with a deer-in-the-headlights look.

This podcast helps with that. If you think about it, when you’re interacting with people in every day life, there’s actually a pretty short list of phrases you frequently use. “How are you?” “How much does this cost?” “Where is the restroom?” Or my personal favorite… come si dice questo in italiano?  (“How do you say this in Italian?”) This podcast does a great job of focusing on the short phrases you’ll actually use.

In fact, in Lesson 50 you learn the phrase, il mio bagaglio ‘e stato rubato (“my luggage was stolen”). That one came in handy!

For Day-to-Day studying: Duolingo

Love Duolingo! If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m into most things that involve tracking, data and gamification. Duolingo leverages all of these motivational tactics, and does so in the form of a convenient app that can be very addictive. It’s also a great community; if you are genuinely confused after getting something wrong, 90% of the time you’ll find exactly what you need in the comments section.

For Immersion: Rosetta Stone

Of all the strategies I’ve listed above, this is the only one that isn’t free. And it’s not cheap; I recall dropping a few hundred dollars for an online subscription.

I purchased Rosetta Stone to hedge my bets. I was using all of these free resources, but in the back of my mind I was worried that I’d have some huge blind spots if I didn’t pay for a comprehensive software solution. Rosetta Stone was great, but there was a lot of overlap with the other study materials I was using, and looking back I probably could have gotten by without it.

However, there was one big thing that Rosetta Stone brought to the table that none of the others did: online instructors.

As part of my subscription I had access to a live instructor for a few short sessions (20-30 minutes), and the instructor would guide me through a conversation in Italian. This was incredibly helpful; it taught me to slow down, to focus and listen to what the other person was saying rather than think about what I was going to say next (a lesson that applies to more than just language learning).

The shotgun approach got me to where I wanted to be prior to my trip. There are ways I could have probably learned more efficiently, but I’m happy with how things turned out.

Next week, I’ll (finally) talk about the new language I’m learning in 2019. See you then!

NYR 1904: “Learn A New Language.” Part 3: Flashcards.

One of the most common and effective ways to pick up vocabulary is through the use of flashcards. My approach to flashcards is based on three ideas:

  1. Keep it simple,
  2. Make it personal, and
  3. Have a system.

Keep It Simple

I once had a history teacher who required us to make flashcards based on our assigned readings. On the front of the card would be the name of a subject, say, “The Spanish American War.” On the back we would write a set of facts in a consistent structure: the years covered, the people involved, societal developments, watershed moments and so on.

I’d had a lot of success using flashcards in the past, but I struggled using these as a study tool.

Why?

Because they had too much information. In my experience, the best flashcards have something simple on the front that tests your ability to recall something equally simple on the back. Studying capitals is a perfect example. If the front of the flashcard says “Hungary” and I can come up with “Budapest”, pass. If not, put it back in the deck and try again.

“Buddha is a pest when he’s hungry.” You’re welcome.

But this idea of loading down the back of the flashcard with numerous facts made me feel obligated to recall all of them at once. If the front of the flashcard read “Spanish American War” and I could remember the years involved but not the world leaders… then what? I treated it as a “fail,” which lead to a frustrating loop as I tried to memorize every detail and never made any progress.

When I write flashcards, I try to distill them as much as possible down to a single concept that’s being tested. It can be tempting to try and save time by testing multiple concepts at once, but in my experience this costs more time in the long run.

Make It Personal

Technology allows us to make flashcards that are more immersive than ever before. Here’s a method I picked up from a great language learning blog, Fluent Forever.

  1. Get a list of words you want to learn. I used this one, courtesy of the same website.
  2. Find the definitions in your target language. Start by typing the words into Google Translate. Let’s use the word “Alive” as an example. You’ll get two answers in Italian, viva (feminine) and vivo (masculine). Congratulations: you’ve stumbled upon a (delightful) grammatical concept. But remember, this is a vocabulary flashcard, not a grammar flashcard. Pick the masculine for now and we’ll get back to the grammar part later.
  3. Verify accuracy. Try Googling the word, and seeing what images come up. Vivo presents a bit of a problem due to the tech company of the same name. Here’s a fun strategy that can help: instead of just typing the word by itself, try typing a popular movie quote that incorporates the word as it is commonly used. For example, you could type È vivo! Frankenstein Junior (It’s alive! Young Frankenstein). Now search, review the images, and see if there are any screenshots from the scene you had in mind. In this case:

Frank

Bingo!

Of course you can always check a language forum or phone a friend (a buddy of mine speaks fluent Italian, and I pestered him constantly with these types of questions). Once you’re confident that you’ve got the right word, pick an image that brings the word to mind and put it on the front of the flashcard, and the solution on the back.

This sounds like a lot of work, but remember: you’re learning as you’re doing this. And the more personal the flashcard, the better your chances of remembering it.

When I had to come up with an image for “alive,” the first thing that came to mind was this:

Lion King

My wife, on the other hand, insists that this Jello commercial I’ve never heard of is more appropriate. To each his own.

Have a System

When it comes to flashcard software, there are lots of options. I’ve used Anki for over eight years to memorize all sorts of things, and highly recommend it. The main benefits from using Anki:

  1. You can make great flashcards. You can easily incorporate images, sound, even videos.
  2. You can study anywhere. Using the app on your phone or a computer, you can run through your flashcards whenever you have downtime, and don’t even need internet access. That’s what I did when studying Italian, and I found I was able to get a lot of flashcards done without having to devote a significant time-block to it.
  3. You can make the most of your studying through spaced repetition. 

From Wikipedia:

Spaced repetition is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect.

To put it differently: the more times you get a notecard “right”, the longer Anki will wait before showing you that notecard again. There’s good science behind this, and the result is a more efficient approach to recalling large amounts of information.

Flashcards are a great way to get started with language learning. If you stick with it, you’ll find yourself remembering dozens of words in a matter of weeks. However, to tackle other areas such as grammar, pronunciation and eventually fluency, we’re going to have to bring out the big guns. More on that next week.

See you then!