In this article, Margaret Deuter, a managing editor in the ELT Dictionaries department at Oxford University Press, considers how to really make a fresh start this New Year!
7 a.m. on a damp winter’s day. Commuters standing around on a dark railway platform, trying to read the free newspaper in the pools of inadequate light shed by the station lights or cradling cups of coffee (or is gingerbread mochachino something else?). But wait – there’s someone lying on the ground! Before anyone can rush up to offer assistance, he’s hoisted himself onto hands and toes – he’s doing press-ups!
In my pool of light I’m just reading about the Edinburgh barber who’s offering a free haircut to anyone who can do thirty pull-ups. Perhaps our man’s in training for that. It would be a long way to go for a haircut, though. So I dismiss it as New Year Syndrome: here is someone who has made a resolution to get fit and is using every spare minute in pursuit of his goal. It’s a true test of our resolve that in the northern hemisphere, the season of good resolutions coincides with the coldest, darkest part of the year. Hardly surprising that most of us give up after a week or two.
But not all resolutions involve physical discomfort. Personally I don’t want to have any closer contact with the wet tarmac than is strictly necessary, but brain gym – well, that’s another matter. Lots of us use the feeling of optimism around a new year to start learning something new, or to get more serious about our learning. And it feels good to think that we commuters are not wasting the time we spend on the train or the bus, or in the car, but using it, for example, to improve our language skills. Are you one of those people? Do you listen to English on your MP3 player or take a notebook to revise vocabulary on the bus? If you’re in the car you have the advantage of being able to practise speaking out loud without other people around you wondering whether you’ve gone mad. Perhaps you have an app on your phone to practise your English? Do you play language games or test yourself on grammar or new words? We’d like to hear from you.
When I was at school we were warned NOT to do our homework on the bus, and frankly, it was quite a struggle to do a good diagram of a Liebig condenser on the back seat of a double-decker, but there are advantages to using travelling time for learning, particularly now that we have the mobile devices to help us. Language learning benefits most from regular practice – a few minutes a day is likely to help us improve more than a single bout of an hour a week, so using the commute to work or college is a good way of finding a slot in our otherwise packed schedules.
I know we should all be thinking about getting fit, but really, isn’t it boring doing all those physical jerks? Why isn’t there someone out there offering free haircuts to people who can learn 100 new words, or conjugate a particularly tricky verb? There’s an easy answer to that – lots of us can achieve it. The Edinburgh hairdresser knew he wasn’t going to be ruining his business, because most of his customers can’t manage thirty pull-ups. Learning a language in bite-size chunks is a much more manageable goal. You can even do it while you’re jogging…
Good luck with the good resolutions!
And if you need a little help along the way, take a look at our range of mobile apps to aid your language learning.