Strategies for making the most of Lang-8

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Taemin wrote in the comments a question that seemed like it needed a longer answer so with her permission I’ll post her question below and answer it here.

Taemin commented

I really like the idea of using my own journal as learning material because it is what I would say and it is things i care about. But 3 things ive observed at Lang-8 give me pause:

  1. Less careful correction. Everyone is busy and I see many cases where correctors have done a less than thorough job, letting all kinds of things go I corrected. (Here I’m talking about English corrections so I’m quite sure when I see what should be corrected.)
  2. Corrected to understandable but still not native. I find myself doing this one. Sometimes the original sentence is such a train wreck I should throw it out and start over but out of a desire to not discourage the learner, I try to keep as much of the original sentence as possible and also see other English correctors do the same. The same thing can also happen with a sentence where the original is understandable but fundamentally not the way a native speaker would have approached the same utterance. I don’t find myself making nor do I see other correctors making good corrections in these cases.
  3. WTF corrections by natives. I’ve had natives correct my sentences only to have other natives come and correct back to my original sentence. Try as I might, I can’t fathom this phenomenon.

In light of this, doesn’t the possibility of reinforcing my own mistakes concern you? You obviously spend a lot of time at this so I am curious as to your views.

My answer: These are all very valid concerns. I’ve run into all these troubles using Lang-8 and I’m sure anyone has used Lang-8 even for just a bit has run into similar problems. How much to trust?

I do think though that the problems are surmountable with a couple strategies I employ to get the most out of diary writing and minimize these disadvantages.

  1. Write often. The more I write the more chance I have my mistakes get corrected.  We tend to repeat ourselves often anyway, and we definitely repeat mistakes. Even if a mistake is missed the first day, if we repeat the wrong phrase or sentence structure (which we are bound to do), someone will come along and kindly correct it for us or suggest an alternative explanation.
  2. Rewrite. Lots of times I’ll incorporate corrections and alternative ways of expressing the same content in a rewritten diary entry which I’ll also post on Lang-8. If the obvious errors have been corrected the first time, native speakers reading the corrected entry will have the incentive to look more carefully at the sentences to see if they are natural or not. Sometimes I do this not only once but two times just to make sure I’ve gotten it exactly right.
  3. Practice discernment. Not every correction is as valuable More

How to write Diary Entries

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Hardly a day goes by where I don’t post entries at lang-8, sometimes one but usually several. Although now it seems such an important part of language study,  it took a while for me to get in the swing of using it regularly. The last few days I’ve been thinking of some of the strategies that helped me get in the swing. For one thing

Write quickly. Don’t think too much about what you want to write, choose a topic, get some ideas together and spit it out. I want my writing to be as close to how my speaking will be, and I know that I’ll be frustrated if I spend a lot of time working on one diary entry. And secondly,

Be prolific. If you write quickly and you are not worried about how many sentences are in each entry, you can spit out several diary entries every day.

If you want to write a longer or more complicated piece, I’d prefer writing smaller things first and then piecing them together instead of trying a long complicated piece all in one setting.

Tip: There’s a way I help do this — when I’m by myself waiting for something or on the bus I tend to try to think of a diary entry that I want to write, and draw it up in a rough form in my mind. I feel this is part of learning how to think more in Korean and it’s nice when all I need to do is type it out when I find a computer.

When I first started writing diary entries it took 45 minutes to write a small diary entry. But now I can write Korean diary entries much faster than English ones — usually in less than five minutes.

Interacting with your diary entries

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Usually when I write diaries I spit out what I want to write rather quickly, upload it to lang-8, and after it’s corrected respond to the comments (in Korean) and only briefly look at the corrections to see any mistakes that I made.

However I didn’t have a good way of reviewing the corrected diaries. I would sometimes for fun or inspiration read the old diary entries straight on the site but I didn’t have any systematic way of reviewing the words and grammar that I had been learned.

As part of my audio library I put it in Learn with Texts. Then I segment it line-by-line  with audacity, and put it in Anki so I can review it. I started this week and already have several diary entries recorded and about 30 cards (with audio) from my diary entries.

These cards really stick well.  Afterall, It’s my story, my ideas, my history. Read by someone else. These are words and phrases and stories I want to say later when I talk to people.

I also originally recorded with Rhinospike but stopped doing that after realizing that (unlike lang-8) there was no way to delete content or protect it after it was put up on rhinospike. I don’t mind much lang-8 readers or my friends on lang-8 reading some of my more personal entries, but i was about queasy about them being searchable on the larger internet.

Fortunately just as I was realizing it, someone on lang-8 out of the blue offered to record my diary entries daily if I would record hers in English. Of course I was more than happy to agree.  We paste our corrected diaries in a shared Google Docs page, and then record on a private audio recording on Sound Cloud.

Of course there is one main problem with using your diary for language input. For language input isn’t it best to use native-to-native resources? Isn’t there a good possibility that your diary entry will have mistakes?

The solution  seems two-fold. First, I depend heavily on lang-8. I combine the corrections I get from several different people there to get an entry that seems the most natural. Often I’ll re-post the corrected version on lang-8 again to get even more corrections that people didn’t see the first time. Then I’m fortunate that my friend who records the audio checks it again one last time before she records it to make sure there is nothing that sounds unnatural.

The second part of the solution is to realize that the input from diaries is useful but limited. It contains words I want to use, grammar that I’m trying to learn, (and perhaps most importantly) corrections to common mistakes that I make so my mistakes don’t get fossilized. And it’s recorded by a native speaker so you get native pronunciation and (somewhat) native intonation.

However it is no replacement to getting loads of audio content from native-to-native sources — dramas, radio podcasts, and the like. As much as I find a diary deck useful, I want to have a much larger deck of native-to-native audio content.

화이팅!