Learning Tracker

I love learning. Every single day, I am on a cutthroat hunt for new opportunities to learn.   I read a ton of articles; I consciously seek out stimulating conversations and I religiously feed my podcast addiction. I’m always taking a Coursera class, and I’m always reading a book.

I’ve done really well with consuming knowledge, but I’m doing poorly with actually absorbing it and making it stick.

With this new series of #weeklylearning posts, I’m going back to the very reason why I started this blog- to hold myself accountable to my goals. I want to ensure that I can retain and recall the knowledge I acquire.  I also want to record some of the intellectual conversations I am having with (myself) people.

This time around, I’m going to use a very convenient (lazy?) method to capture my learning.  I created a Trello board ‘My learning’ with three broad categories of information:

1. media facts: what I learn from newspapers, magazines and podcasts
2. culture facts: what I learn from people in my life; and
3. random: personal dilemmas, debates and staggering realizations

Every week, I’ll record most of my learning in very brief notes on the board.  The idea is just to be able to recall the information (this should only take a few seconds per fact). At the end of the week, I will review the list to solidify the information in my brain, take a screenshot and post three coolest facts to the blog.

Here’s my learning for 2/1/16 – 2/8/16

Trello 2.1-2.8 (1)

Coolest Facts for 2/1-2/8/2016

  • Media: World’s richest 62 people own as much wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorer half of the global population (Times magazine)
  • Culture: My soul sister, 21 year old woman Zenith Irfan, redefines stereotypes by taking a motorcycle trip around Pakistan (PRI podcast episode I learned about from my friend Michelle– http://www.pri.org/stories/2016-02-04/young-pakistani-woman-hopes-her-soul-searching-motorcycle-trip-will-inspire)
  • Staggering realizations: Some women in this country will work for free until April 8th this year, because they only get paid 77 cents to man’s $1.


Learning Arabic (my fast & lazy way!)

My magic in learning languages is to drop the fear to SPEAK TARZAN.  The rest of the sweet juice is PUBLIC SHAMING, or, having a language partner(s), so you feel bad when you’re being a slacker.

That’s the secret. And here’s how it applies to my latest project.  

A month ago or so, I posted this message on Facebook:

I’m going to Egypt!

I’ll explain soon, but for now, I’m launching Arabic language bootcamp challenge. If you’ve been wanting to learn a language for a while, learn with me! Read this thing: http://goo.gl/forms/tWfJ5VkuJn

and voila! Turns out that my friend recently married an Egyptian and she wants to learn his native tongue. Perfect.  And, probably the most productive thing I will ever get out of social media, lol.

Truth be told, I have to learn to speak basic Arabic in only a few months, and since I’m a slacker, I needed help.  I decided to find a language partner, so we can keep each other accountable.  The goal of my crash course is to learn a total of 300+ words in an easy, steady and fun way over a 6-8 week period, while focusing on recall and pronunciation.


Did you know that to follow a basic bar conversation you only need about 200-300 words in your target language?.  Incidentally, only 300 words in English language account for 65% of all written material.  Learn that, read non-verbal clues and you are golden!

Our magic juice? Mnemonics.  

We keep a running list of words (with pronunciation) in Google Docs.  The idea is to learn 4-8 new words every day (minus weekends) using easy to remember mnemonic devices and partnership work to stay focused.  Research shows that creating vivid images with new words and/or associating the new words with familiar names, places or words helps you learn languages faster and retain them for longer.  This is because your brain forms memories in form of connections (read this amazing article about the art of language learning and speed memorizing).  It’s also well known that focus groups significantly raise the performance bar and success rate of any endeavor (note Weight Watchers and Mastermind group strategies).  


So far, we’ve been awesomely successful. We are on week 4 right now and we already know 130 words!  It’s been a fun, creative process that only takes a few minutes out of my day.  I actually look forward to learning this stuff.   For that reason alone, I think this method deserves sharing.

Here is my recipe for learning the basics of any language.

  1. Take a list of most commonly used words in your target language. Here’s our list of of 25 words to learn in week one (approximately 2-3 words per day per person).  Column 2 has a rough guide for how the word should be pronounced in Arabic.  Column 3 has a link to a video that illustrates pronunciation (43 second means 43rd second of the video has the word).
  2.  Each day both partners send a google chat/email/text with their 2-4 words of choice per person (from the list) and mnemonic devices that help them remember the words.  The mnemonic device could be a sentence, picture, funny statement, rhyme… anything.  I shared our examples in the table below.

The idea is pretty simple: select a word, create a way to remember it, and share them with your partner. Simple, but works magic.

To review, create a deck of flashcards in Quizlet with the words, definitions and mnemonics.  Use Google forms to create quizzes and tests and try to take one every weekend. That’s it 🙂