Learning Swedish with Pimsleur

A month ago I decided that I had been in Sweden for too long to not know Swedish.

I wanted to find a structured course that would focus on pronunciation first. After some research I decided to try the 5 first lessons of the Pimsleur Swedish course on Audible. Going through a few lessons I felt that this was a great way to get started in learning a language, so I purchased all the existing lessons from 1 to 30 and committed myself to go through them on a daily basis.

Just a little bit of context: This was my first time using a Pimsleur course and it was the first time in twelve years that I started to learn a new language.

The approach is quite unique as it focuses exclusively on listening and repeating, with no text input (except in the reading practice that only start later) nor theoretical grammar explanation. The idea is to learn words in context within conversations and try to imitate as closely as possible the pronunciation of native speakers. Lessons are 30 minutes long and are to be followed on a daily basis. I found the balance between the review of previously acquired vocabulary and the acquisition of new vocabulary very well balanced. Repeating the same thing multiple times does improve the feeling for the language.

The typical structure of a lesson goes like this:

  • A dialogue with a few new words
  • Instructions in English (and sometimes in Swedish) asking to repeat or say something in Swedish
  • New words appear during every lesson (about 5 to 10 of them). Most of them are introduced early in the lesson between minute 1 to 15/20).
  • Usually the lessons closes with more variety to review the content that has been acquired in previous lessons (around minutes 20 to 30).
  • Starting from lesson eleven, the lessons end with a reading session (the reading materials are provided in a PDF format when purchasing the lessons).

I realised soon that it’s important to go through lessons when I’m perfectly calm, focused and not too tired. This helps a lot to do my best at imitating the sounds as close as possible, and it makes it easier to anticipate the audio instructions. Getting the right mood and flow also improves a lot the way I retain the new knowledge for the next day.

I also found it helpful to redo some lessons instead of going immediately to the next one when I felt that I was starting to be overwhelmed by the new vocabulary.

Here is a video of me going through lesson 29. I was a little bit distracted by the recording and I felt a little bit shaky on some new things learnt in lesson 28, so I’ll probably redo this lesson tomorrow before moving to the final lesson 30.

Note: I wasn’t aware that the sound coming out of my headphones would be recorded by my computer, so I hope I’m not infringing any copyright by uploading this on Youtube. It doesn’t seem very usable as it is for others and I guess it’s good marketing content for Pimsleur anyway.

Why I like programming

By programming I mainly mean ‘web development’ as this is what I’ve mostly been doing.

I like programming because …

  • it is a mix of writing, reading, logic and art.
  • it involves personal decision making, group working and constructive feedback loops with other developers, people with different roles and users.
  • it is linked to many other disciplines or activities such as design, psychology, project management, entrepreneurship, game design …
  • it solves real-world problems.
  • it requires to constantly learn new things and better ways to do things.
  • it is a ‘hard skill’.
  • it can be used to do jobs that pay relatively well.
  • I can see the direct result of my work.
  • it is a craft that doesn’t requires me to be in a specific location. All I need is a computer and possibly an Internet connection.
  • it requires to be 100% focused on the task. When I am in this situation, I feel like anything can be done and I’m committed to do everything it takes to get it done.
  • it’s deeply satisfying to learn new concepts or understand how a piece of code works and slowly feel that everything comes together and becomes a ‘second nature’. In the good days, I think about the problems I have during the night, and when I reach the computer in the morning I know exactly what needs to be done. In those moments the coding part is almost automatic.

Learning how to handstand

Since July 2018 I started to learn how to handstand. I integrated this practice in my morning routine. It’s very pleasant to see regular progress and it helps me to relax, understand my body as well as the relationship between mind and body. After a handstand session I usually feel more anchored in the ground, relaxed, energised and very sweaty. Which is a good transition to the cold shower.

I never really trained handstand before, although I remember that I could vaguely walk on my hands when I was a teenager. But it’s much harder to stick to one position without moving the hands. I feel I’m making fast progress because I have a strong upper-body thanks to rock-climbing. Still, handstand is not only about strength. Last time I was training outdoor in a park and a little girl joined me to display her skills. It was great to see how well she could control her body and keep the balance without using that much strength.

So far I’m mainly following those two Youtube tutorials:

The main idea of the first video is to start directly by training the handstand, using a wall. It was very helpful and after about a week I was able to start getting by feet out of the wall. Being able to reach a handstand position without a wall took a little bit longer, but starting with a wall definitely helps to understand what muscles are involved and how to be straight using core muscles. I also used this video to build a specific warming routine for handstand (also based on other tips from a rock-climbing Youtuber and friends from the bouldering gym in Stockholm).

The second video is focused on building strength to be able to stand, starting from a frog position. I’m following the 16 steps featured in the video. I started at step 5 and I’m currently somewhere between 8 and 9. Tuck stand is really demanding when it came to strength, but I realised recently that keeping the arms as straight as possible does help. My next objective is to be able to start from a sit position (with legs extended straight forward) to a handstand, with as much control as possible.

  1. 10 push ups
  2. Inov push ups
  3. 90° hold push up
  4. Advanced 90° hold push up (with leg lift)
  5. Frog stand
  6. Frog stand with head
  7. Headstand kick up
  8. Tuck stand <- I'm here!
  9. Frog stand to tuck stand
  10. Hip raise
  11. Find balance drill
  12. Raise up
  13. Cartwheel holds
  14. Moving legs (balance)
  15. Frog stand to raise up
  16. False drops

A list of things I felt and realise since the start, in chronological order:

  • Progress can often been seen on a daily basis
  • The ability to feel the pressure on different parts of my hands (forward, backward)
  • I started to understand that I could use my core muscles to keep my body straight.
  • I don’t need to use as much strength when I manage to stretch my arms and whole body. When my whole body is aligned, everything stays in place nice and steady.
  • Breathing, focusing on the current moment and forget everything around helps to keep the balance. I usually fall when my concentration breaks up.
  • After breaking the 20/30 seconds mark, I started to get more success in getting into position, and I know feel like I can start moving my feet and legs in various positions while keeping the balance.

Here is a video I made to try and understand how to stay straight and get my hips aligned over my head:

And here is my first time breaking the 30 second mark:

Let’s see what news things I can do in the coming weeks!

How to learn to learn new things

The short answer is that (like everything else!), you learn how to learn new things by learning new things! Yeah, I know it’s, confusing (or trivial?) but it will hopefully make sense soon.


Pick up anything you like and learn it!

If you want to learn how to draw, you need to pick up something to draw (let’s say animals). The more you draw animals, the better you become at drawing animals, and it will then be easier to learn how to draw other things, like human faces (I know, humans are animals too but that’s not the point).

Now, if you want to learn how to learn, you need to pick up something to learn (let’s say drawing). The more you learn how to draw, the better you become at drawing, and it will then be easier to learn how to learn something else.

Get your feet wet and cold

The first thing I do is to pick something I really want to learn. Usually it is something that I would like to do or that I find challenging. It’s actually best if I can identify areas where I’m clearly behind the average. For example, I know that I’m rather good at intellectual tasks, but I also know (because people told me!) that I’m quite ignorant in practical, day-to-day tasks. This is why I’m currently learning how to take care of plants, how to clean my apartment or how to cook better meals for others and myself. Realising what I’m bad at is a pleasant activity in itself.

When selecting the thing I want to learn, I am really open. It can be anything. I have no shame. I recently learnt how to clean my fridge and freezer. I also learnt that buying a mat and installing it at the doorway is a good way to avoid dirt spreading everywhere in my apartment when I invite friend over (I told you I have very low practical skills). The only limit is my imagination and ability to break my self-esteem and make fun of myself. It doesn’t have to be a “useful” skill. The whole point is that by learning something, I understand better the process of learning, and this makes it easier to learn other things.

For example, when learning how to clean my freezer, I realised that some chunks of ice had coagulated under the shelves. Since the first step of cleaning a freezer was to turn it off (because my dad told me, I couldn’t figure it out myself), everything was starting to melt down, and soon a lot of water was starting to accumulate at the bottom of the freezer. I figured out (by myself!) that I should take the chunks out before they melt and fall (I know, that’s pretty smart). So I started taking them with my fingers one by one (that’s not so smart). It was a long and very inefficient process. At this point you have to realise that more and more ice was melting down, and a large pool of water was starting to form out of the freezer. As I was barefoot, it started to be quite cold, which made the situation even more dramatic. But soon I had a brilliant idea: if I take a bucket and place it under the chunks, I could then shake the shelve and make everything drop at once in the bucket, without getting my feet wet.

Why am I telling this story? First, because this solution might sound trivial to anyone more experienced in cleaning a freezer or more experience in cleaning the household. But it wasn’t obvious for me, and this is what matters. I’m my mind, this was a big win. So the level of the activity doesn’t matter to actually enjoy the process of learning something. And the whole idea is to make learning an enjoyable process.

Now, how did I came up with this brilliant solution? Because I used to play Minecraft, the popular sandbox-game that dominates on Youtube in the gaming category. Minecraft is actually a good game to develop one’s creativity and ability to solve practical problems. It’s also a good game to learn how to create automatic and ultra efficient magma-based slaughtering machines that are ridiculously more powerful than the ones of our glorious modern meat industry, but maybe the developers (or the gods?) weren’t expecting the players (or us, sapiens) to do this. Still, in Minecraft, when you dig a block of sand above you (this game is all about digging and collecting blocks), it is destroyed and all the other blocks of sand above it are freely falling down, waiting for you to continue digging them one by one, if you’re not already dead because they felt on you. Luckily there is a glitch that allows you to destroy all the block of sands at once and collect all of them: you have to place a torch under the blocks of sand. I knew this because I saw a Youtube video explaining how to do this. Is this another weird rule of Minecraft’s physic or a bug exploit, I don’t know. But this is what I had in mind: cleaning the freezer is like digging sand blocks in Minecraft: you can put something under and everything falls in nice and clean at once.

What practical advice can we take from this story?

  • Select something and take some time to try it on your own.
  • Do your own research about how to do it (tutorials, books).
  • If possible, find a coach or someone who has done it before.
  • At the same time that you learn new theoretical concepts, try and do the thing yourself. In my experience, I need to actively study, understand and assimilate individual concepts that I weren’t even aware of at the beginning. Once identified, I need to experience them, again and again. Then they will start to feel more natural, and in the end everything becomes linked together.
  • The last step is to ask for feedback, if the feedback isn’t already obvious.

On this subject the book Peakis quite enlightening. If I remember well, it mostly come to the points mentioned above. It’s a little more scientific reading though.

Making progress at something by doing something else

One last thing: by learning different things, you learn not only how to learn better, but you also unlock new ways of understanding things that you have already been learning. In my case, studying mathematics helped for studying Western philosophy. Learning about the relation between body and mind tremendously improved my rock-climbing abilities (as well as many other things like cooking, writing or just being creative). My experiences in programming, gaming and business management helped me to realise and solve my rampant addiction to Facebook and to my phone, which used to cause a high level of anxiety in my life. Physics helped me master cup-and-ball (hurray, best challenge ever).

Things I like to do

 

  • Make fun of myself
  • Challenge and surprise myself
  • Realise how ignorant I am
  • Climbing
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Programming
  • Learn languages
  • Handwriting (notes, letters, calligraphy…)
  • Chess
  • Role-playing games
  • Solving problems and thinking
  • Helping others
  • Walking in nature
  • Selecting good food, cooking and sharing meals
  • Meet people
  • Witness or create authentic moments or things
  • Have authentic discussions

There is no failure

From February 2017 to June 2018 I worked on a project called ChineseMe, an online method to help people learning Chinese.

This had to be a success. I have an MBA from Peking University and a MSc in Economics and Management from ESSEC Business school. I studied Chinese since I was 14. I learnt web development as a hobby since 2014. I’ve read books, followed classes, met many entrepreneurs and discussed about every possible dimension about how to make an Internet-based business. In February 2017 I met a friend who is also passionate about Chinese language and was ready to finance the ChineseMe project and allow me to work on project full-time from Stockholm. I quit my job and went all-in, thinking that nothing could go wrong. I knew that most of the time, first-time entrepreneurs fail. But hey, what could go wrong? I was so well prepare and I had the best possible profile to make a breakthrough in the industry of online Chinese learning.

What happened next? Of course I failed. Big time. Or more exactly, the project was a fail. Believe it or not, I did almost all of the most common mistakes that you usually see in articles about entrepreneurship:

  • Focused on fame and results instead of caring for people
  • Released the first product way too late.
  • Over-complicated product.
  • No real differentiation.
  • No real market.

Even if I knew about those things, I was blind to them. This is another hint at one of my rule: I can only learn by experiencing it myself. At the end I was completely depressed, staying at home (I lived in the office) and not seeing a lot of people. How did this happened? I gave everything I had on the project, but I wasn’t doing it with my heart. I did it mostly for the adventure, because I wanted to show others that I could do it and because it seems to be the logical thing to do given my educational background. I didn’t truly do it to help people learning Chinese. If I cared about this that much, I would probably be a Chinese teacher. And I’m not.

What did I learn?

  • Do it. You will never be as prepared as now.
  • There is no failure. ChineseMe didn’t bring me money nor fame. But I learnt a lot about myself (precisely that I don’t and shouldn’t care about money nor fame).
  • Do not “create a startup” or “be an entrepreneur” because it sounds cool.
  • Do something that you like, and very likely, this will lead to something good. Money and fame are not ends to follow. They are just the potential outcome that may happen when someone does what they like. And even if it doesn’t happen, at least you’ve done something you like.
  • Ask yourself: do you see you doing this for the rest of your life? If the answer is no, don’t do it.
  • Do not think about what other will think. Do it for you.

The game is set

Last night at 3AM I woke up and felt the need to write this. It was a really strange feeling. I went out of the AirBnB where me and my family were spending the night, took a pen and my notebook and wrote this in one piece. Is this something that might me close to poetry in prose? I don’t know. But when I went back to bed I felt good and immediately felt asleep. It was a funny experience and I wanted to keep a track of it.


The game is set, the pieces are aligned, forever staring at the other side. Immobile, they wait for a human touch to lead their steps in a mystical dance.

Players shake hands and the world is suspended, for when their skin touch a contract is signed. They forfeit names and roles for a superior cause. And for the next hours, Black and White will oppose.

Beginners and masters play by the same rules. One move and another compose a mutual groove. Time passes and when the game unfolds, a masterpiece has been written in stones.

Make a step and you never come back. The pawns are launched, looking forward in an ultimate quest to one day become Queens, or open direct lines to the enemy King.

A contract ties two minds for the time of a game. In the space of a board a comedy is played. Who knows how long it takes to design a winner, when plans are confronted with only Truth to judge.

Book review – A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women

A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind

By Siri Hustvedt

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After a few months in Sweden, I realized that the way women behave and are perceived is very different here than in countries that I know better, like France or China.

At first it was unconscious observations, but recently I started thinking more actively about questions that are studied and developed by thinkers called ‘feminists‘. I didn’t know anything about feminism. I found this book at random in a bookstore and after reading the summary I knew this was the book I had to read right now to nurture my rising interest in the topic. Ten days later I finished this rather intense reading which gave me insights far beyond my expectations.

This was my first book from Siri Husdvedt. In my opinion, the great thing about this book is that it’s not directly about feminism. It is first and foremost an encounter with a brilliant mind that take you on a journey to her own personal story as well as her quest to constantly question and improve our understanding of crucial questions like “who are we?” or “what is thinking?”, “what is the mind?”. And during the process, you get the best demonstration about why feminism matters.

The themes discussed by Husdvedt are powerful, and reading through her analyses, I learnt both about the themes and about “how to think about such questions”. I can already see that my way of thinking has been changed forever. I want to continue learning about as many and diverse disciplines as possible. I want to read fiction. I want to write. I want to go back to my previous reading notes and gather everything together to continue thinking about all those questions. I want to experience through my body new emotions and feelings, play with my imagination and creativity and become a more complete human being.

The only thing I didn’t really like about this book is that some themes are repeated among several essays and my analytical mind might have preferred a topic-based approach. I also found some essays harder to penetrate for me as a non-initiate, although the author did mention in the preface that some articles were mostly designed for a specific, qualified audience. But this book is such a gift that I can only blame myself for not being up to the task of truly understanding all its subtleties.

Reading notes available here.

Flash thinking

I recently decided that I wanted to become better at expressing my ideas and inner thoughts. Yesterday night I was lying on my bed trying to fall asleep when I got an idea: the next time I would come across a topic or question that suddenly interests me, I would spend a few minutes thinking about it and then record myself immediately in a short video.

I was so excited by the idea that I woke up to do a video about this very idea (hehe!), which was a funny way to start the series. The idea of  calling this series Flash thinking came from rock-climbing: completing a rock-climbing project flash means to successful climb it to the top during the first try. Flashing a problem is very satisfying. It proves that my general climbing training and skills allows me to tackle new individual problems.

The rules for those Flash thinking videos are simple:

  • Record the moment
  • No notes, no script
  • One take

Of course, as in rock-climbing, I don’t expect to flash every problem. I learn by failing. And even if you flash a problem, you can always try to do it better the next time. So I intend to make additional research and follow-up writings or videos on topics that really interest me.

 

Signs showing that I was depressed

A list of things that showed that I was in a state of depression or mental breakdown in early 2018. If something similar occurs in the future, I hope I will be conscious enough to notice it.

  • Impossible to focus on tasks
  • Addictions to my smartphone
  • Addiction to Youtube
  • Addiction to online blitz chess. I was playing for hours without even enjoying it.
  • Hard to learn new things. I stayed in Sweden for a year without learning any Swedish.
  • Didn’t enjoy eating. I was either eating pizzas, sushis, or cooking very basic meals, mostly pasta and frozen things.
  • Had no faith in what I was doing
  • Thought that everybody was judging what I was doing. I was adjusting my behaviour accordingly instead of thinking about what I wanted to do for myself.
  • I wasn’t paying attention to my body. I was literally injured (right arm not folding and hurting) and it took me very long to go to a professional and fix it.
  • I wasn’t cleaning the apartment or taking the trash out.
  • I couldn’t write anything authentic or positive article.
  • I would work on something on my own for a few days and switching to something else, without focus.
  • I would try and find excuses about why I wasn’t efficient (like “the noise stops me from sleeping”)
  • Dandruff (scratching my he head a lot)