While the terrorist attack in Paris last week has received all the news headlines in Western media, terrorism in Nigeria has barely got a mention, and war across the Middle East is generally being reported less and less.
‘The Atlantic‘ reports of events last Saturday in Nigeria:
..a girl believed to be around 10 approached the entrance to a crowded market in Maiduguri, a city of some 1 million in Nigeria’s Borno State. As a security guard inspected her, the girl detonated explosives strapped to her body, killing herself and at least 19 others. Dozens more were injured.
‘The Atlantic’ goes on to mention how some 200,000 people have been killed in Syria since 2011 in its civli war.
But most people in the West don’t know much about what’s happening for 2 main reasons: first, they don’t care, or are distracted by other things. Our media will report more about a celebrity who says something controversial rather than discuss serious issues abroad.
Second, and probably more importantly, Western governments don’t want us to know.
For example, among all the thousands of words written about terrorism this week in the so-called ‘quality media’, very little is written about our governments’ military activity across the Middle East. It’s almost as if the terrorist attack was a completely isolated event – and our governments will be happy if we don’t ask too many questions about how it all came to be.
Have you noticed that no one is asking President Obama about his drone programme? Or the fact that Guantanamo Bay is still open, although he’s had 6 years to close it down?
Did you know that the Afghanistan War officially ended just recently? But that it will continue under a new mission called ‘Resolute Support‘? This means that President Obama can say he ended the war, while continuing American foreign policy as usual.
And most people don’t know, and I’m sure I’m also in the dark.
And to be fair, then there is the issue of how successful multiculturalism has been in Western countries, and how to improve immigration programmes.
I could go on, and part of me would like to, but, hey! – you saw a picture of a cute cat and want to read something positive!
In our own lives we have work or study and other things to do, we have places to go to, perhaps people to care for, maybe you’ve got some parties on this week, we’ve got our health to look after, and so on.
Life must go on.
As Martika sings in her 90’s hit Love, Thy Will Be Done:
Love, thy will be mine
And make me strive for the glorious and divine
I could not be more, more satisfied
Even when there’s no peace outside my window
There’s peace inside
And that’s what it’s all about – finding peace and happiness inside when perhaps the world around us seems so chaotic.
I hope you are safe, that you’re taking care, and that there are good things happening in your life to be grateful for!
What About You And Your New Year Plans?
The year’s already in its second week!
If you would like to improve your English this year, or indeed perhaps get fit, or lose weight, the number one thing is to have a system in place so that you will make progress.
I’ll give you a personal example. I’ve been the same level in French for quite a while and enough’s enough! I’d like to reach Advanced (C1) this year.
But I can’t just cross my fingers and hope that it will happen.
I have to make it happen.
I’ve now found a teacher for lessons over Skype, and today we had the first session. I’m also writing with a French teacher in Prague and hope to have some lessons with her too.
Overall, I’m aiming for 4-5 contact hours per week, mostly to focus on speaking and conversation.
On top of this, I’ve cancelled most of my subscriptions to newspapers in English and now I’m following ‘Le Monde’ and ‘Libération.’
I chose ‘Le Monde’ because it’s one of the few newspapers in the West that actually tells you some hard news. And ‘Libération’ has some stories about culture, the arts, dance, and theatre which I would like to read.
These newspapers also have videos and France24 is easy to access anywhere in the world for news and cultural stories.
(For you learning English, I’d recommend ‘The New York Times‘ and ‘The Financial Times‘ as being the best mainstream newspapers in English. Check also whether newspapers and magazines in your language have an English section).
I’ll be travelling quite a bit this year so it might harder for me to meet some French speakers outside of the official lessons. However, when I’m in Melbourne I know there are some French groups on Facebook and MeetUp where I can chat to people in French over a wine or coffee. Last time I was in Melbourne I found some friendly conversation classes, and I also met up with some French backpackers who were travelling around Australia.
Finally, I have some novels that I’d like to read in French. Last year I read a novel from start to finish in French for the first time and I was proud of that (before this, I had chosen some difficult literature and then gave up when I didn’t know the vocabulary).
10 Hours A Week
All up, I’m aiming for 7-10 focussed learning hours a week. That means:
- 4-5 hours of conversation with a teacher
- some traditional homework (grammar, writing)
- reading the news in French several times a week
- going to French meet-ups
- reading for pleasure
- switching doing some things in French which I’d usually do in English (eg watching videos on self-development, dance or culture)
I’m sure I can add more details as we go, maybe have a more structured programme later on, but considering that my first goal is to improve my speaking and fluency, this is a good start.
Over To You
What system do you have in place? How are you going to reach your goals this year?
I’m not saying you need to have everything already up and running, but you can certainly have some basics in place. As you make your plans, please consider the following principles of learning:
1. You will make more progress with more focussed learning hours. This seems logical but people forget: what matters is the individual hours you put in, not overall time.
For example, Pavel can say he’s been learning English for 2 years, but this might not mean much if he rarely studies or has a lesson. Meanwhile, Helena could spend 5 hours a week on English and be making more progress than Pavel.
2. Do some traditional study – but don’t overdo it. For me, 30-60 minutes a week on French grammar is enough. I’d rather spend my time on speaking and reading, but it can be useful to re-fresh some important grammatical areas.
3. Do things you enjoy. For example, I do a latin dance, and the lessons are often in Czech. Maybe you can find activities in English in your town?
4. Keep at it!
After you have a lesson, don’t wait until your lesson next week: keep it up! Keep on going! For instance, after tonight’s lesson, why not ask your classmates if they’d like to go for a beer and speak English together? If they can’t do it – find someone who will!
5. Learning often happens in small steps. Sometimes you might not ‘see’ the steps, but if you’re spending time on the language, have faith that you’re making progress!
6. Here’s a big question for you. Have you ever asked someone who speaks great English how they did it? See if you can find a friend or mentor who can give you advice on how to improve your study methods or the way you learn.
7. Have you ever asked your English teacher for general advice on how to improve? Over the years teachers will see patterns in how successful learners make progress – what advice can your teacher give you on this?
8. You’re the boss of your learning. It’s better when you take responsibility for your own learning. Interact with your teacher(s) and do more than just go to your lesson. For instance, being responsible means that you give yourself some homework if your teacher forgets (hmm, it can happen 😉 ). If you’re not happy with how things are going in class, then chat to your teacher and your classmates about how you can actively help improve things. Take the initiative!
9. What inspires you? If you can answer this, then it might help you decide how to spend your ‘English time.’
10. If you don’t have the time, then relax – if you only have one hour a week for English, just be honest about it and don’t make promises that you’ll do more when you know you can’t just now. Chill! Don’t put any extra stress or pressure on yourself.
11. Switch from being passive to being active. Studies show that you will do better if you do things actively and not passively. For example, rather than just listen to the news, see if you can write down the main details as you listen. Instead of just watching your favourite TV show, write a review of it. Or you could watch it for pleasure and then write what happened as a story.
The main point is to be active and you’ll feel that you’re taking steps forward 😉
I’m also in the dark – I don’t know something
enough’s enough – used for saying it’s time to change and take action
hard news – serious news
up and running – already working, operating
put in (time) – the amount you spend on doing something, dedicate, devote
Take the initiative – take action yourself, don’t wait for someone else