Monthly Archives: August 2014

Pixie Can Share – short cartoon with Tagalog transcript and English translation

One of my goals for the month of August was to find a children’s show in Tagalog that I enjoyed. Last month, I watched a few episodes of Jollitown, but they felt a bit like half-hour fast food commercials with more English than Tagalog.

After some digging, though, I found lots of short cartoons from Jollitown on YouTube.

I like them because the voice actors use normal children’s voices, not the awful squeaky cartoon voices that I find hard to understand in any language. They’re a bit heavy-handed with “the moral of the story is…“, but they use simple, natural, conversational language – which is exactly what I need right now.

Yesterday I spent the better part of an hour transcribing a four-minute cartoon. It was a huge challenge for me, but it’s amazing how clear and slow everything seems now that I actually know the words that are being said.

(Many thanks to J for helping me with the many, many words that I guessed and butchered!)

Since I went through the trouble of transcribing it, I figured that some of you might be able to use it!

**Spoiler alert: Pixie is pretty bratty, and she’s a champion fake-crier. And while the narrator claims that she changes at the end, I remain skeptical.**

Pixie Can Share

PDF with Tagalog transcripts and English translation: PixieCanShare

I’ve almost certainly made mistakes – please feel free to correct me!


This is just a screenshot, so don’t drive yourself crazy multi-clicking on the play button. I just put it here for the *millions* of people pinning Tagalog learning resources.

Reading Easy Stuff

readingesasytextsI used to teach grade one French immersion. My students came to me without a word of French, and were expected to function exclusively in that language within just a few months. At least a third of them spoke a language other than English at home.

These kids had to learn to read. And they had to do it in French.

By the end of the school year, all of those six-year-olds could read – in their second (or third) language.

After having taught reading and literacy to children for years, I’m a firm believer in the importance of easy books. The kids who advance the fastest aren’t the ones who cart thick books around with them or the ones who start “reading” chapter books before they can sound out simple words. The kids who learn the fastest are the ones who take in a steady diet of just-right books.

For children, an independent reading level is 95%. That means that – in order to best benefit from a text – a child should be able to make out more or less 95% of the words on his or her own. Anything less than that, and the result will probably be frustration, boredom and lack of progress.

So what does this have to do with you? 

Well, if you’re learning a language, then you’re probably reading. Lots of language learners focus on intensive reading, where you might re-read the same text multiple times, combing through it for new words, grammatical structures, and expressions. That’s important work.

But no less important is extensive reading: reading lots, for pleasure, without stopping to look up words unless absolutely necessary. It’s my favourite kind of reading, the kind that has the biggest impact on my progress. And I think that the 95% number can be applied to extensive reading for adult language learners.

I talked about how to do this when I shared how I was using children’s novels to learn Spanish:

I aim for 95% (or better) comprehension for extensive reading. Anything less than 95%, and a book is probably better suited for intensive rather than extensive reading. To figure out if a book is the right level for you, choose a random page. Count the number of lines on the page, and the number of words on one line. Multiply the number of words on one line by the number of lines on the page, and then multiply that number by 0.05.

Using a page of Charlie y la Fábrica de Chocolate as an example:

  • 29 lines on the page
  • 10 words in a line
  • 29 x 10 = 290
  • 290 x 0.05 = 14.5

So if there are any more than 14 unknown words on that page [that you can’t easily infer from context], then it’s not at a 95% comprehension level. Read the page, counting the words that you don’t know. If there are fewer than 14 – then you’re good to go. Any more than 14, and you might find the frustration level too high to really enjoy the experience of reading for pleasure.

from Using Children’s Novels to Learn Spanish

That’s all well and good if you can find books that you can read. But what if your reading level is so low that a novel that you can read with 95% comprehension simply doesn’t exist?

(ahem…me and my new friend Tagalog)

So where can you find just-right texts if you’re at a low level in the language? Is extensive reading even a possibility at this level? Yes, it absolutely is. And what’s more, I think that it’s crucial for beginners to read and re-read a variety of texts for pleasure – no matter what their level may be.

Enter the book bin!


A book bin is exactly what it sounds like:

A bin. Of books.

Of course, you can also use a box, a shelf, a bag or a pile on your nightstand. Or you could just collect all of your texts electronically on a tablet, if that’s what floats your boat! The important thing is to have a collection of just-right texts that you can read with a high degree of understanding.

My Book Bin Filled With Just-Right Tagalog Texts

tagalogsonglyricssong lyrics

I haven’t learned all that many Tagalog songs yet. But when I do learn one, I make myself a lyric sheet with the Tagalog on the right and the English transliteration on the left. This song sheet is from the unofficial Tagalog version of Disney Frozen’s Let It Go. While I’m more likely to read while singing to the YouTube video at the top of my lungs, sometimes I like to just read the words.

tagalogdialoguestexts from courses

I’ve made a book with copies of reading comprehension exercises from one of my language courses. Depending on the length, I either type them out or scan them after working through them in the lesson. These are texts that I’ve already read intensively. I usually spend a few minutes of every session reading at least a page, marking my place so that I can pick up where I left off next time.

tagalogstorybilingual picture books

Bilingual picture books are a great resource for beginners! I bought four bilingual Tagalog-English picture books from Pinoy Culture in Toronto. Each page has text in both Tagalog and English. I read the Tagalog, trying to understand it as best I can, and then read the English, matching the words.

tagalogeasyreaderhomemade easy readers

I have a set of easy readers that my young students loved in French. They use very simple, straightforward sentences, with lots of repetition and simple present tense verbs. I’m working on translating them into Tagalog, with the help of my husband and tutors. I use sticky notes to cover the French text, creating lift-the-flap bilingual books.

tagalognotebooklanguage notebook

I mentioned my tutoring notebook in an earlier post. It’s a collection of useful phrases, vocabulary, paragraphs that I’ve worked on with my tutor – basically anything that I’ve learned during a session and that I know I’ll want to review again. I find it especially useful to re-read corrected paragraphs, since I generated them myself and they’re full of the words that I personally need.

hardtagalogbooksomething too hard

I always let my students have one aspirational book in their bin. Usually it was something non-fiction with lots of pictures of trucks, baby animals, or snakes eating rats. This is my aspirational book: a Tagalog picture book about the People Power Revolution of 1986. I haven’t yet felt the urge to push my way through a page or two – but it’s there in case I feel like it one day.

So how do I use a book bin?

The answer is ridiculously simple:

  1. Collect a variety of readable texts
  2. Set a timer for 10, 15 or 20 minutes
  3. Read

It doesn’t matter what I read, or in what order. All of the texts in the bin are useful, so I just read whatever I feel like first, and then pick up something else. I might read the same picture book three times one day, understanding a bit more every time. The following day I might focus solely on texts that I’ve already read intensively, so that I understand almost every word that I read. It really doesn’t matter. I don’t stop reading until the timer sounds.

And that’s it.

Easy, right?

I’ve got an extra chair on the front porch and some hot water in the kettle if you care to join me.


How much does it cost to learn a language?

Possible answer number one: absolutely nothing!

Possible answer number two: a small fortune

"Oink-oink" in Tagalog. And Spanish. And English. (source: Posturize on

“Oink-oink” in Tagalog. And Spanish. And English.
source: Posturize on

OK, so that answer was kind of useless. Exactly how much have you spent on language learning, Stephanie?

A few people have asked me how much money I’ve spent learning languages, and my automatic response has always been “almost nothing”. Except that I started crunching the numbers and realized that I was kind of lying.


I absolutely think that it’s possible to learn a language without paying a cent. But I think that there’s another more important question at play here:

Right now, what do you have more of: time or money?

Every person’s situation is different. But no matter your personal circumstances, nearly everyone has a limit to both time and money. It’s a never-ending balancing act figuring out how best to spend both.

Let’s use me as a case study and take a look at my numbers over the past 15ish months.

1. courses and programs (books, software, audio, etc)

I didn’t need to buy any courses or programs when learning Spanish. Free resources – Destinos, FSI Basic Spanish, Duolingo, Notes in Spanish – are plentiful and of very high quality. Since I already spoke English and French, I felt pretty comfortable with my slightly messy and chaotic approach to learning Spanish.

With Spanish, I decided that I had more time than money to spend – especially since resources were so easy to find. Cost: $0

tagalogresourcesA year later, I started learning my second foreign language: Tagalog.

While there are lots of Tagalog-speakers all around the world, it’s not a very popular language for non-heritage speakers to learn. There are far fewer free resources and there’s nothing comprehensive that I can follow step-by-step. The idea of cobbling together a program based on what I could find online was overwhelming to me – especially since I had no idea if it would work. Tagalog’s grammar and sentence structure are pretty far out of my comfort zone.

With Tagalog, I decided that I had more money than time to spend – especially since there was no guarantee that I’d find appropriate resources. Cost: $85 for two courses (Tara Mag-Tagalog Tayo and Teach Yourself Complete Filipino)

2. Books

spanishbooksI read a lot when learning a foreign language. I prefer novels, and I’m old-fashioned when it comes to books. I like being able to turn pages and feel the paper between my fingers. I don’t like reading novels on a screen.

In any decent-sized city, the public library will be able to provide you with books in most common foreign languages. I don’t live in a decent-sized city. I live in a village that’s part of a pretty good library system – so long as you only want to read in English.

I was able to request three Spanish novels through interlibrary loan, but two came up as missing and the third was only available for two weeks – no renewals allowed. I’m currently waiting for three Tagalog picture books from the Halifax Public Library. They’re the only three Tagalog-language books in the entire province. And they’ll take up to nine weeks to get to me.

I decided that buying books was worth the cost. I stopped buying books in English and instead started looking for well-priced books in Spanish (easy to do through Amazon or Chapters online) and Tagalog (easier said than done!). Once I move back to the Toronto area, I’ll stop buying new books and use the library and second-hand bookstores instead.

I’ve bought 15 Spanish books since May 2013. Cost: $154

I just ordered my first four picture books in Tagalog this month. Cost: $35

3. tutoring

italki tutors

my upcoming italki tutoring sessions

My biggest gains in language learning have come from one-on-one conversations with a native speaker.

You don’t have to spend any money at all on Skype conversation practice. Free conversation exchanges are some of the most valuable and rewarding language learning experiences that you can have. You give your time in exchange for someone else’s time, and you both get to practice your target languages. Many of my language partners were also teachers, so I was getting a high quality conversation class in exchange for offering the same. Beautiful, right?

But there’s a time cost to language exchanges. Half of every conversation takes place in your first language, not your target language. There’s the hassle of scheduling a time that works for both of you. And sometimes – not often, but sometimes – language exchange partners just stop showing up.

If time is tight, then tutoring makes sense. The entire hour takes place in your target language, you can choose a time that’s convenient for you (and not feel guilty if you don’t have time for a week or two), and your tutor will almost always be there on time – after all, it’s his job.

Since I started taking classes on italki in July 2013, I’ve taken almost 130 sessions with various tutors. Most of those sessions were “free”, paid for with credits that I earned by teaching French classes. However, I did purchase credits three times – once when I was first starting out and unsure about teaching over Skype; and twice when I was already teaching over 40 contact hours per week at work and had to cut back on online teaching.

In other words, every time that I decided that I had more money than time, I purchased credits.

I’ve purchased italki credits three times in the past year. Cost: $300

One last look at the numbers:

It was very interesting for me to write this post, since I consider myself a frugal language learner.  I generally tell people that I don’t spend much money at all on language learning.

Well, it turns out that that was a big fat lie! Please, pass the humble pie!


Kind of like this. Except made out of humble instead of apples.
(source: KEKO64 on

Since I dove into language learning in May 2013, I have spent:

  • $300 on tutoring (could have been avoided by doing language exchanges or teaching more)
  • $189 on books (could have been avoided by not living in the middle of nowhere)
  • $85 on Tagalog courses (could have been lowered by using only one course instead of two)

…for a grand total of $574. (Excuse me please while I go breathe into a paper bag.)

But here’s the thing…

That number could easily have been much much higher, just as it could easily have been zero.

Every time that I made a decision to spend money on language learning, it was because – at that particular moment – the time that I saved was worth more than the money that I spent. 

Money is tight right now, so my language learning budget is set at zero for the foreseeable future. At this particular moment, money is worth much more than time, so my spending habits will change accordingly.

What do you have more of right now – time or money? The answer to that question will help you figure out how much you’ll spend on learning a language.

 Ways to save money when learning a language:

  • do more language exchanges and fewer tutoring sessions
  • tutor your language online and use the credits to purchase tutoring hours
  • look for meet-ups and free classes at libraries and community centres
  • make friends who speak your target language.
  • look for free resources online – forums and blogs are a great place to find reviews and recommendations for books, courses, videos and native materials
  • look for second-hand books and language courses in stores or online
  • use the library for picture books, novels and language courses
  • swap and trade materials with other language learners

Beware these money pits when learning a language:

  • Spending money on classes or tutors, but not doing anything on your own in between. An hour or two a week without any self-study in between is a waste of money. I’m speaking here as both a language learner and a language teacher: no one can teach you a language in an hour a week if that hour is spent reviewing basic greetings for four weeks in a row.
  • Buying too many resources – which you then compare, research, dabble in, post questions in forums about, and order on your language bookshelf by colour and/or height. Spending too much time researching resources is a form of procrastination, and buying everything that Joelanguagelover2014 recommends on the internet is pretty much lighting a money bonfire. Pick one or two resources, start using them, and stop double-guessing your choices.
  • Spending money on language classes that move too slowly for you or are too far below your level. You’ll be better off self-studying, doing language exchanges or working one-on-one with a tutor.

Please share your tips for saving money when learning a language!

Why am I Learning Tagalog?

When I tell people that I’m learning Tagalog, I generally get one of two reactions:

  1. Taga-what?
  2. Oh. (pause…) Why?

The fact is that most Filipinos speak beautifully in English. I don’t need to learn the language. But, despite that, it just made sense to choose Tagalog as my first non-European language.

source: Vlado on

source: Vlado on

So why Tagalog?

For love. My husband immigrated from the Philippines in his mid-20s. Never mind that he speaks perfect English. Never mind that we’ve been together for 13 years and I’ve never felt any need at all to learn Tagalog. Never mind that he’s perplexed and a bit amused at the fact that I’m learning Tagalog. I’m doing it for love. Right?

(By the way, whoever said that marrying a native speaker was a foolproof way to learn a language – you’re a big liar.)

For family. My in-laws can all speak English very well. When I’m in the room, they speak English. But they speak to one another in Tagalog when I’m not part of the conversation, and J is constantly engaged in rapid-fire Taglish on the phone with his parents or siblings. While I don’t need to speak Tagalog to be fully integrated in the family, I’d really like to wow everyone with my Tagalog conversation skills in the nearish future. So I guess you could say that I’m doing it to impress my in-laws. Luckily for me, they’re very easy to impress.

For money. Nah, just kidding.

For daily run-ins with Tagalog-speakers. There are a lot of Filipinos in Canada. Walk down a street in any major city, and you’ll probably cross some Tagalog-speakers. Once I learn Tagalog, I’ll be able to eavesdrop on even more people on the subway! I’ll also have lots of opportunities to practise once we move back to Toronto.

For travel. We’re hoping to go to the Philippines in the next few years. Of course, we’re  interested in visiting areas with local languages other than Tagalog, but we’ll also spend some time in Manila and the surrounding areas.

For sheer language-loving fun. Code-switching (changing from one language to another when speaking) is not only accepted in Tagalog, it is Tagalog. Tagalog – or “Taglish” – is peppered with English words, expressions and interjections, to the point that today’s Tagalog is a rapidly changing language. From a linguistic perspective, I find this absolutely fascinating. Tagalog offers the challenge of a completely different grammatical backbone, while still using the Roman alphabet. And if I don’t know how to say a word, I can just say it in English with a Filipino accent, and no one will care. Perfect, right?

Why Tagalog?

Well…why not?

What made you decide to learn a language?

Monthly Language Update – July 2014

July’s been an interesting month! I’m on holidays, which should mean that I have more time for languages. But the truth is that the less I have to do, the less I get done!

Still, I’ve managed to do at least some Spanish and some Tagalog nearly every single day. I call that a success!

Spanish Update for the Month of July:

Super Challenge Update

Just in case you missed earlier mentions of the Super Challenge, it’s a massive-input challenge. The goal is to read 100 50-page “books” and watch 100 90-minute “films” in your target language by December 31st 2015. This challenge is perfect me because…

  • I’m at a level where I need massive input in Spanish
  • I like the long-term marathon feel of the challenge
  • I’m really lazy and I like that I can track my progress simply by tweeting updates

spanishchildrensnovelsreading – 23.3 “books” completed

I’ve decided to stop counting articles for the Super Challenge, and to only log actual books or novels. This month I finished the fourth Percy Jackson book, La Batalla del Laberinto and started the final book in the series. I’m most definitely ready to be finished with this series! I’m less than a quarter of the way through El Último Héroe del Olimpo, so that will probably keep me busy for most of August.

Once I finish, I have three books to choose from: Los Juegos del Hambre, Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban and Como Agua Para Chocolate. I’m not sure which one I’ll end up reading first, but I hope to start before the end of the month

aquinohayquienvivawatching – 12 “films” completed

On my tutor’s recommendation, I started watching Aqui No Hay Quien Viva (“No One Could Live Here“) on YouTube. It’s a silly comedy about a group of nosy, obnoxious, ridiculous people living in an apartment block. Apparently it was very popular in Spain when it was airing. It’s a challenge to watch comedy, since I don’t understand every single word. But it’s a good challenge!

I’ve also started watching El Tiempo Entre Costuras (“The Time in Between“) on DramaFever. It’s a period drama set during the Spanish Civil War. The costumes are beautiful and the story is compelling.

Other Spanish this month:

During the month of July, I spent eight and a half hours talking in Spanish over Skype – seven 60-minute sessions with tutors and three 30-minute sessions with a language partner. Some days the words just pour out of my mouth. Other days…not so much.

I also listened to a lot of podcasts. I try to listen to a minimum of 30 minutes per day, while walking the dog or working around the house.

Goals for August:

  • Finish El Último Héroe del Olimpo
  • Watch at least eight TV show episodes
  • Finally finish up the last few chapters of my Practice Makes Perfect Verb Tenses book

Tagalog Update for the Month of July:

I spent a week with my Tagalog-speaking in-laws, which was a very cool experience. It wasn’t exactly immersion, since they spoke a lot of English, but when they were speaking Tagalog, I was able to pick out a lot of words and express myself using simple sentences. Everyone – parents, siblings, uncles, cousins, various other people who are related (or not) in various other ways –  was extremely encouraging.

Fact: it’s very easy to impress my Tagalog-speaking family!

tagalogbookTara, Mag-Tagalog Tayo!

This week, I completed lesson seven in this book.

Each lesson includes a variety of exercises: grammar, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, writing, vocabulary. I like the pace of the lessons, and really enjoy working my way through the book.

In lesson 7, I finally started learning to use verbs, which has really opened up a lot of possibilities during conversations. I’m starting to feel like I’m building a strong base in the language, which is exciting. I use this resource nearly every day.

teachyourselfTeach Yourself Complete Filipino

I just finished unit 6 in this book.

This turned out to be an excellent choice as a secondary resource. Each lesson includes various dialogues and exercises, following a family living in the Philippines. While I do glance at the exercises, my study is mainly focused on the dialogues.

I don’t use Teach Yourself every day, but I do try to learn a new dialogue a few times per week. I listen to each new dialogue multiple times, until I feel completely comfortable with all of the expressions and sentence structures.

Other Tagalog this month:

  • Five hours of Skype conversations with several different italki tutors. I’ve now settled on a few that I really like.
  • Listened to the first three newbie podcasts on KalyeSpeak – a great podcast for learners!
  • Watched the first two episodes of the children’s show Jollitown on YouTube. They were…weird. I don’t know that I’ll be watching any more.
  • Kept up with my anki decks and started working my way through several courses on Memrise

Goals for August:

  • Finish lessons 8 and 9 of Tara, Mag-Tagalog Tayo!
  • Finish units 7 and 8 of Teach Yourself Filipino
  • Find a good children’s TV show
  • Learn to sing a song in Tagalog

Happy August, everyone! What are your language goals for the rest of the summer?