August 2020 – chocolate owls, neck fans, results, and cheese bread!

Good things in August 2020

Well, August isn’t usually holiday month for me. It hasn’t been for as long as I can remember. When you don’t have children, taking holidays outside of the school holidays often feels like a smart move! It’s hot! It’s sometimes a bit much! But generally there’s a holiday vibe and I like the long summer nights where you can eat in the garden and spend more time outdoors.

We are still being careful and shielding, so you won’t see a lot of staycation posts this summer, but there are still good things, and things to be grateful for. I think in some ways I’ve socialised more this year than I have before, even though I’m not saying “yes” to any face-to-face socialising right now.

New course

Since I’ve been working for myself, August is often a quieter time because many of my customers go on holiday. This year was the launch of my pilot programme for a new course though, so it was actually quite busy – getting things ready and starting off the programme. I have a really lovely group and I’m enjoying working with them. It’s good to try something new!

University results

This actually belongs in July, but I didn’t write this kind of post then!

The end of the university year was a bit different because two of my final assessments were cancelled. With so much else going on, it was quite nice to not have to do them, but nobody really knew what would happen in terms of the results. We knew the previous results would probably become more relevant now, but it wasn’t really clear what would happen. I think an opportunity for better communication was missed there.

As it happened, I got my two distinctions, but as I understand it, the calculations were all adjusted down because they also reflected previous students’ performances on the final exams. I wasn’t on the threshold, so I got what I was aiming for, but some people dropped down into the next bracket, through what felt like no fault of their own. If you screw up an assessment, ultimately it’s on you, but if it happens because generally other people don’t do as well in that assessment, it doesn’t feel fair.

Overall I was happy – year 1 took me 2 years because I’m part-time, but I did it! Posts about the final two modules are coming soon – I don’t like to write them until I’ve properly finished.

Next module booked

There were some questions about the accessibility of the module I wanted to study next. That took a bit of time to resolve, but it feels as though we have a better process in place now, and a way to make sure that the transitions to future modules go more smoothly.

I’m looking forward to writing the code for web pages – less so to the reliance on diagrams to communicate ideas about how said web pages should turn out! But at least we have a plan now to make it more accessible!

New products

The Body Shop has come out with some new hair and body mists. Body mists are nothing new, but not all of them are suitable to be used on hair – some ingredients can dry your hair out – but these ones are fine .

There are 5 in the range – apricot and agave, lime and matcha, pomegranate and red berries, pink pepper and lychee, and coconut and yuzu.

I got the apricot one and the lime one. My favourite is the apricot one, but both of them are good!

Not quite so new, but I also enjoyed the new zesty lemon range of products – they were a special edition, but if they come back, I can definitely recommend them if you love zingy citrussy scents. I enjoyed the zesty lemon body yoghurt. It’s made with lumpy lemons, which presumably wouldn’t be up to the normal standard for selling and eating.

Portable neck fan

I turned up to an online meeting during the heatwave and a friend was wearing one of these! It’s a great idea – you take your fan around with you wherever you go! It’s like three sides of a square. The side opposite the open side goes behind your neck, and the two arms sit on your shoulders, facing forwards. You have to be careful with long hair, but I push mine back and I haven’t caught it yet! The arms blow out air onto your face and neck, and there are multiple settings for how intense you want the fan to be. This is the neck fan that I got.

New platform to try

I was involved in an accessibility research project throughout August. I probably can’t say a lot about that at the moment, but one thing it also gave me was the opportunity to try out Microsoft Teams with Jaws and VoiceOver (the two screenreaders that I use on my laptop and my phone).

I was impressed! It’s so much better than what we use at university! I mainly use Zoom and other conferencing tools at work, but it was interesting to try something new. It’s more involved than Zoom, but it also has more features for working collaboratively.

Chocolate owls

These are the owls featured in the image for this post. They were delicious – some were with orange essential oil and others with peppermint. (If you intend to try this, make sure the essential oils you have are suitable for internal use – not all are).

The owl moulds can be bought from Amazon – this is one of my owl mould sets.

They were amazing – both sets were good, but I think my favourites were the orange ones! I’m going to try dark chocolate tnex.

New Turkish friends

I know my biggest weakness in learning a language is speaking. I hate it. I don’t want to do it until I’m really good – but the only way to become really good is to do it!

Especially if you’re living in a country where you’re not being exposed to the additional language every day, you need to be more proactive.

So I went to a language exchange site. You have to be a bit careful, because especially if you are a woman, you can get inundated with messages, some of which are quite annoying. I started chatting with a few people. Some fizzle out straight away, so it’s good to not only rely on one or two right at the beginning. I’ve found two people wit whom I’m meeting regularly online now for English and Turkish practice. It’s hard for me – I would much prefer to write – but they are both really friendly and having a real person to speak with definitely gives you a reason to do it!

Duolingo

I wrote before about improving my Turkish on Duolingo.

I saw that this way of strengthening the connection between language pairs was also really good brain training. A lot of activities for training your memory involve pictures, and therefore don’t work for me. But I love languages, so I decided to use my subscription to this app to work on my active languages, refresh a couple that I used to speak, and also try a couple of new ones.

I want to write a more in-depth post about this and what I’ve discovered. At the moment I have 12 courses, which are combinations of 8 languages!

Baking bread

I haven’t jumped on the sourdough train, but we have been trying out some bread recipes. Yesterday we made cheese and onion bread – something I’ve never had before – but it has cheese in it, so it must be good, right? It was amazing! Random internet recipes can be a risky business, but I can recommend this yummy cheese and onion bread! Not an affiliate link – just something we found and enjoyed.

So, that’s a round-up of my August! Tomorrow is September – I love autumn!

How was August for you?

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Brushing up on my Turkish with Duolingo

A long time ago, back when I began learning Turkish, I downloaded and tested a couple of language learning apps. Duolingo wasn’t one of them, but I was generally unimpressed with the accessibility of language apps when being used by people who need access technology. Just to be clear – this is usually something that could be fixed by inclusive design, rather than a problem with the access technology.

I didn’t think any more about it until one of my friends started talking about Duolingo and how he was going to test it out to help him learn German.

I used to have Turkish lessons every week, and I was quite proficient at one point –at least reading and listening to it –speaking was always my least favourite activity. But life happened and I hadn’t done anything with it for about 5 years. I thought if the app were accessible, it might be a nice thing to try. So I downloaded it as well and have been using it for just over a week. This is what I think of it so far.

Mixture of tasks

I was a language teacher who didn’t take her own good advice. I worked extra hard on the things that I was already good at, and neglected those that I wasn’t. This meant that I got even better at reading, and neglected speaking. It’s a bad idea!

This isn’t the app for you if you only want to work on one or two skills – one of my students told me today that he didn’t like it because there was too much emphasis on writing – but I like the way that you get a mixture of tasks. The subjects are broken down into topic areas and you are asked to do things like:

  • Matching pairs of words in your native language with words in the target language.
  • Listening to a phrase and selecting those words in the target language.
  • Reading a phrase and selecting those words in the new language.
  • Translating a phrase from the target language to your native language.
  • Translating a phrase from your native language to the target language.
  • Speaking a phrase in the target language.
  • You don’t know what order the tasks will come in and you can’t influence it, which means you get a good mixture. Actually, you can ensure that you don’t get either speaking or listening tasks for one hour if you’re unable to speak or listen at that time. I don’t know if you are penalised for repeatedly doing this.

    So, this way of doing things keeps the lesson interesting, and it also prevents people from focussing too much on the things that they find easiest.

    Learning or revising

    I do think there is a big difference between learning and revising. This kind of app is great for me because I’ve had a good foundation in my Turkish classes and what I’m doing with the app is revising existing knowledge. Ok, I’ve learned some new words – I don’t think I ever knew the words for turtle or crab before, but I understand the grammar and the mechanics behind how the words fit together, or which circumstances mean that a word gets extra or different letters. There are explanations and it’s possible to ask questions in the forums, but for me this is more of a supplementary method to practice and develop something I already know, rather than a way of learning a whole new language. I like the flexibility of being able to ask specific questions, look for relevant vocabulary to me, experiment with different ways of saying things, and knowing exactly why a mistake was a mistake. I don’t feel that an app like this ticks all of these boxes, so I would be less likely to use it for a completely new language.

    Having said that, I’ll exhaust the Turkish materials sooner or later and I’ve paid for a year’s membership. So who knows – maybe I’ll try the Dutch course afterwards. Still, I think I’d want something else to go alongside the app if I decide I’m serious about learning Dutch.

    Points and motivation

    I won’t go through the whole system about how you gain points, but you gain more points the more lessons you complete and the less mistakes you make. There is a system of hearts, which are like lives that you lose each time you make a mistake. I have a subscription, which means I can have unlimited hearts. This means I still lose points for mistakes, but I don’t have to stop learning until a new heart appears in my account.

    You can see how you are doing in relation to a group of 50 learners. Last week I didn’t know anyone on my board, but I wanted to move up into the next league. Another learner and I were both after 5th place at one point and seeing that she’d overtaken me on the score board was a motivation to do a couple more lessons. I ended up in fourth place and the top 15 moved up into the next league. The gamification can definitely help with the learning, but the learning needs to come first. I can’t be stressing out about what other people are doing on the board, or letting it take over my life when I should be doing other things! I have that kind of personality that really focuses on the numbers, so whilst it’s definitely a motivator, I need to make sure I’ve really learned things and not just be in the pursuit of more points!

    You can also use your points to buy new hearts if you don’t have unlimited ones, and some languages allow you to unlock more content with the rewards that you gain for completing levels. Unfortunately there isn’t any bonus content for Turkish yet, but there are some stories that you can buy if you’re learning German. I think it depends on how popular the language is and whether any additional content has been written yet.

    Accessibility for blind users

    Overall I have been very impressed with the level of accessibility for this app. Turkish is supported by VoiceOver, the screenreader used for iPhones, and all of the Turkish content is used in the Turkish voice. There are a lot of languages and I can’t comment on how well they are supported with VoiceOver.

    Blind users can do all of the activities. Sighted users have a bit more help in the matching exercises because of the use of pictures, but blind users can take advantage of the information in the tips.

    Having witnessed a sighted user using the app, I think that someone using VoiceOver is likely to be slower. This is not a fault of the app – it’s just that working with a screenreader means you need to read everything as we can’t scan the screen as sighted users can. If I want to compete with sighted users, it may take me longer to get my points, but ultimately it’s not about that – learning is my real goal!

    Another small thing is that I need to memorise the sentence I have to say because I can’t review it once the record button has been pressed. This is also not something that the designer needs to fix – it’s just one of those things. If it becomes too much for me to remember, I’ll just quickly write the sentence down on my laptop and read from there.

    The only thing I struggle with, and which caused much cursing when I lost points, was that occasionally there is a delay when it comes to recording the spoken tasks. If you press and hold the button and there is no delay, you get the usual press and hold sound. If there is a delay, a sighted person can see that the app has not started recording yet, but a blind person can’t. This means that I sometimes started speaking too soon, had finished speaking by the time the recording started, and as a result lost the point – even though what I said was right. I have suggested to Duolingo that a sound could be played once the recording had started, and a representative replied very quickly to say that my comments had been passed on and they were looking into it.

    The only other minor thing is that if you are learning a language that has short stories (Turkish doesn’t) the buttons are not labelled correctly for screenreader users – they are all just called “button”. This could easily be fixed in the coding of the app and would bring the stories up to the same standard as the exercises. To be fair, I’ve only looked at the German stories, so can’t comment on others. This doesn’t make the stories inaccessible though – you have to click the button to the left of whichever option you want to choose.

    But overall I’m impressed and think that they did a really good job at designing an accessible app.

    Final thoughts

    Using the app has definitely helped me to get back into the swing of doing some Turkish every day, and this is what you really need if you want to get better at using a language. Little and often is good, and that’s exactly what you can do with this app – whether you put in 5 minutes at a time or half an hour. You’ve got it on your phone, so it’s always with you if you find you have a bit of spare time for language practice.

    There’s a lot of repetition, which helps when it comes to memorising new words.

    I like the variety, and I like the fact that you’re given tips about alternative answers or small typing errors that didn’t cost you a point, but that you should look out for next time.

    I am slower at typing on my phone than my laptop. That’s a fact. As long as I’m not writing long texts, I can live with that. I think I’ve shied away from using apps for language learning because I don’t enjoy chatting on my phone, but this is just individual sentences, so I don’t mind.

    The speaking tasks are good for pronunciation, but not for spontaneous speaking practice. This isn’t something that can be measured like the other activities, and I don’t think this is a need that an app like this can meet – which comes back to my original point about using this app as part of a language learning strategy, rather than relying on it entirely. I’m not just saying that so as not to put language teachers out of a job! I think there is value to be gained from spontaneous communication with others in the target language, and I also benefited a lot from working with a Turkish teacher so that you really understand how the language works.

    But when it comes to practicing – absolutely – I am definitely learning new vocabulary and getting back into the swing of thinking in Turkish.

    Finally, Duo is an owl, so it has to be good! Right?

    Have you tried Duolingo?

    If so, what did you think? If you’re using it now and want to be friends, let me know and I’ll share my ID.

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Why I’m glad that I learned languages at school

I can’t contribute much to the current debate about whether the new language exams are too hard – I haven’t seen them. I do remember though, back when I did my school exchange with a school in Germany, and based on my experience of teaching current German students, that the expectations seem lower here in terms of what students should be able to accomplish in another language. Lowering the bar might make the subjects more appealing again, but overall, English students won’t have a competitive advantage in the job market if the language qualification doesn’t count for as much, or require as much effort as other European counterparts have had to put in.

I was at school before the decision was taken in 2004 to make languages a non-compulsory subject at GCSE. I think there are individual circumstances in which this makes sense, but overall I believe this was a step in the wrong direction. Since then, take-up of languages at A-levels has also been falling overall, with German falling by 45% since 2010 *see this article from the Guardian). Still, things are looking up for Mandarin!

I’m biased, because languages were some of my favourite subjects, but here are some of the reasons why I enjoyed learning languages at school.

They opened up a new world and new people to talk to

Knowledge is only really useful when you find some way to take it out of the classroom. Many people don’t do this or don’t have the opportunity to, which is why I think some students in the UK feel that learning another language isn’t relevant.

Once I got a taste for languages though, I started finding reasons to use them. My German pen-pals. My school exchange and the lovely host family. Some German relatives of local friends. Later new people that I met online. I got to travel outside my local town and discover other perspectives, other ways of doing things, and challenge some of my own ideas.

Something I could be good at

It wasn’t the smartest choice, but at school I always spent extra time on the things I was already good at, rather than using it for the things where I really needed more practice. But I enjoyed languages and however well I did in them, there was always more to learn and discover. There were things that I needed help with in everyday school life, but I understood how the languages we were learning worked, so I had something to offer others too.

I like patterns!</h3

I have creative moments occasionally, but languages made sense to me because if you take some time to learn the rules, you will be allowed to play the game, and importantly, not make mistakes. There will always be exceptions – “exceptions confirm the rules” was one of our German conversation teacher’s favourite sayings! But rules give things structure, and if you can understand the structure, you can understand the thing. There’s a logic to it – you just need to invest a bit of time at the beginning.

My blindness isn’t relevant

Ok, it may have been relevant for picture-based learning activities or watching movies, but we didn’t do much of that at school. My listening skills probably came in useful, and as long as I had access to the texts that we were working on, it was a completely level playing field, in a way that some more visual subjects weren’t. This may not have been the case if I’d been learning languages with different writing systems – there is always a way – but for French and German it certainly wasn’t a consideration. I did both at GCSE level and then went on to do a German A-level.

I think it was one of the first times I realised I could do something that the sighted people around me couldn’t do. I remember interpreting for some friends and feeling really good about being able to facilitate the conversation between people who would otherwise not have been able to communicate. They helped me get around the unfamiliar places that we visited, but I had a role to play too – and that made me happy!

Learning other languages helps you to understand your own language better

Training to become an English teacher definitely does that as well, but when you start learning about tenses, sentence structure, and ways to communicate ideas in other languages, it helps you to understand how your native language works too. If you’re a language nerd, it’s interesting to see the differences and similarities.

They were useful for my career

Well, German was. I haven’t done anything with my French since leaving school, but I remained interested in German. For many years it was just a hobby – something I did in my free time. Originally the only suggestions people could come up with were interpreting (too stressful), sales (not my idea of fun!), and translating. Translating was the most appealing out of the three, and I do some translation now, but I didn’t want to spend all of my time doing it.

I now work as an English teacher for adults, most of whom come from German-speaking countries, so I speak and write German every day. So the basic knowledge that I picked up at school is still helping me now, though it took longer for me to actually feel comfortable speaking.

Other languages

After finding out that I enjoyed learning languages, I tried a couple of others after I left school – Hindi and Turkish. German is the only one that I really kept up with, although I can still understand a fair bit of Turkish. I keep saying I’ll maybe go back to it some day.

I think understanding basic principles of grammar – having parts of the language that perform different functions, and the fact that you have to do things in a certain order for the language to work, also makes it easier for me to understand the coding languages that I’m learning in my IT degree.

So overall, learning languages opened up a lot of opportunities for me and it was one of my favourite things to do at school.

How was the experience for you? Did you love or hate your French or German lessons, or did you learn a different language? Have you used the skills since? Let me know in the comments.

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Don’t be annoying – 15 things that I wish people would stop doing on social media

Some of these things are just annoying. Some are more to do with accessibility. But I thought I’d share this list here, partly to have a little rant about the state of the internet, but partly to point out why some of these things don’t work, or how they make life harder for anyone with a visual impairment.

I also asked in my Facebook group for English learners what things people there wished people would stop doing on social media, and I’ll share those answers too.

If you’ve got anything to add to the list – anything people do on any social media platform that really winds you up or that you think is completely pointless or unhelpful, please add it in the comments!

1. #Every #single #word #is #a #hashtag

#This #is #ineffective! When was the last time you did a search on the word “is”? I get the idea of adding some relevant hashtags to the end of a post on sites where hashtags are used, but you can have too much of a good thing and it definitely shouldn’t be every word in a sentence because it really doesn’t add value.

2. Statuses that don’t tell you anything, but are clearly looking for attention

Like the Facebook equivalent of clickbait. “Now I know who my real friends are”, or “Some people do my head in” or “all men are the same” (I want to be gender neutral, but on the whole I haven’t seen this kind of stuff posted about women!)

things that make people ask what’s wrong, either because they genuinely care, or for fear of not knowing the latest Facebook gossip. I do have a heart. I can understand if people really need help with something that’s a big deal to them, or a shoulder to cry on at a difficult time, but if you leave it a few minutes until someone’s curiosity gets the better of them, (“you ok hun?” or “oh no we still love you, what’s wrong?”), you find out that it was really just another first world problem, Or the latest friendship drama that most people don’t care about. It gets old when the same people do it all the time. Scroll on by!

3. Answering with pictures

This isn’t bad practice as such, but it’s a pain when you’re blind and can’t see what the pictures are. It seems to be more of a thing on Twitter, but I see it coming into Facebook groups too. I’m not asking the world to stop doing it, but please don’t do it if you’re answering me! You’re replying in a language that I don’t speak. My software can interpret emojis, but not pictures.

4. Retweeting about 20 tweets from another account

We get the idea after the first couple. If we really care, we can follow that other account. We don’t need you to retweet its entire feed!

5. Aggressively scheduled tweets

Like your latest blog post … every single hour. I for one am glad that Twitter is clamping down on this. I know some people have been affected who weren’t abusing it, but seriously the same old stuff being automated and churned out repetitively is too much. If your last 10 tweets are exactly the same, I’m probably talking to you!

6. People thinking all Facebook group admins are their new best friend, or girlfriend material

It doesn’t happen much now, but in another group that I co-moderated, I’d barely approved a request to join when the friend request appeared and someone started trying to chat me up. Really not cool. In fact randomly hitting on people using social media is generally not cool! Ever!

7. People tagging everyone they know so that more people will see the post

I’m not talking about my real friends tagging me, either in posts or when they see something I might like. This makes me happy, because it showed that that person was thinking of me.

I’m talking about the people who tag 50 of their contacts, just so more people see their newest blog post, event, or what they did today. I don’t need that on my feed and it feels like you’re using me so that you can benefit from my network.

8. Hijacking of hashtags just because they’re trending

I think the worst example of this that I saw was a Turkish hashtag about some people who had died, and some insensitive person decided it would be a good idea to use it in their post selling some random thing. If you don’t know what a hashtag means, just don’t use it.

Then there are the more intentional misuses of hashtags, such as people using the #bloggerswanted hashtags to promote their latest post. These tags were set up for brands or journalists to post requests to speak to bloggers, not to be hijacked by bloggers who can’t be bothered to publicise their posts more creatively.

9. Automatic direct messages on Twitter

Do you know anyone who actually likes receiving them? Especially when they follow the format of “thanks for following me. Now please buy my book, like my Instagram, follow me on Twitter, sign up to my newsletter, and send me chocolate!” Ok nobody has ever asked me to send them chocolate, but getting an automatic list of demands just because I followed someone doesn’t make me want to interact with them!

10. Follow for follow

The message still hasn’t got through that it’s a bad idea. If I get 1000 new followers to my Facebook page through this practice, and they never interact with my page, my engagement rate actually goes down, because a lower percentage of my followers cares what I’m posting. Facebook sees this as my content becoming less relevant, so it will be shown to less people. Follow for follow is bad news!

11. People sharing before they check the facts

Often this is done with the best intentions, but people sharing warnings that are at best hoaxes, and at worst helping out the criminals by redirecting people to malicious sites. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you see a terrible story that isn’t being reported on any credible sites, it’s probably just a terrible story. There are whole sites dedicated to debunking myths and hoaxes, so take the time to google before whipping up your friends into a Facebook frenzy!

12. Pictures of text inviting interaction in groups

Again this is a problem for me as a visually impaired person. If people want to post memes or other pictures of text on their own wall, it’s their choice. I’ll scroll past because I have no idea what it says, but I don’t expect people’s private walls to be made accessible on my account. Having said that, I am always happy when people do take the time to comment on their images, because then I know what they are sharing. The Facebook AI is getting better at identifying dogs, cats, people and food, but there’s still some way to go. It thought our skip of building waste was food.

But the problem I have is in public groups, where people post a picture of text on a thread that is inviting people to post something. I can maybe work out the rules from the other responses, but this takes time – time that other members of the group don’t need to invest. Groups for bloggers and small business owners tend to be the worst offenders.

13. People not listening

People will have different opinions. That’s life. But if you’re going to get into a discussion, at least have the courtesy to listen to the other person as well as expecting them to listen to you. I went into this in more depth in my 20 things that you shouldn’t do to win an argument post.

14. Blog giveaways with conditions on other platforms

All people can’t be on all platforms. Some people don’t want to be on some platforms. If you’re doing a blog giveaway, can you not at least make the main entry something to do with your actual blog? Hard as it is to believe, there are some people who don’t like Instagram, but they might still be loyal readers of your blog or followers of your YouTube channel!

15. People from groups trying to sell stuff via private messages

I run my own business. I am in some Facebook groups for business owners. That doesn’t mean I welcome spam from anyone else in that group who wants to try the Facebook equivalent of cold-calling. You will be blocked!

Points from my learners of English group

Some other things came up when I asked about this – things that I hadn’t thought of. My group members wanted people to:

Stop unfriending people with whom you’ve been friends for a long time, and not explaining why you unfriended them;
Stop posting hate speech and false news;
Stop unfriending people because they have different opinions;
Stop trying to shout everyone down when you have no idea what you’re talking about. The person who shouts the loudest isn’t necessarily right.

So what about you? What would you add to this list? How can we make the internet a better place for everyone?

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I was interviewed for an international intercultural blog

Çiğdem Gül, one of my friends from Germany, recently interviewed me on her intercultural German blog. The article, “England – Kirsty Major speaks about blindness, giftedness and Brexit”, was published in two parts, as I had so much to say. They weren’t the kind of questions that you can answer in a couple of sentences.

The interview has been published in English and German, but as most of my readers here speak English, I have linked to the English versions. So, if you would like to read the interview, part one is here.

Thank you Çiğdem for your kind words and interesting questions, and also for the opportunity to share with your readers!

Would you read your own blog?

Taking a fresh look at your blog from an outsider’s point of view.

If you were a visitor to your blog, would you want to read it?

It sounds like an odd question, but think about it for a moment. Is your blog something that you would like to read if you hadn’t seen all the content before?

Hopefully the answer is “yes!”

The reason I’m asking is because it’s really hard to write things that you don’t find interesting. You might have to do it for a job – I wrote plenty of documents in past jobs that didn’t get me excited – (strategy delivery action plan anyone?) but when it comes to your own blog, people will be able to tell whether you’re passionate and feel excited about the content.

I’m sure there have been articles that you clicked on because of an interesting headline, but then you clicked away after a couple of seconds. Why is that? I’d say there are two groups of reasons.

Mistakes or a bad user experience

The first reasons are that there is something wrong with it. Different things will bug different people. Maybe there are lots of mistakes in the writing and that puts you off. I’m not talking about grammar so much, but if it looks as though someone hasn’t given it a once-over before publishing, and dashed it out, leaving lots of typing errors in, I find it really distracting.

Maybe there is too much clutter to make it an easy reading experience.

Maybe the in-your-face pop-up drove you crazy!

Maybe there was an exciting title, but the content didn’t live up to it. Nobody loves clickbait.

Maybe the article is exactly the same as a bunch of other articles on the topic, and the blogger didn’t do anything unique to make it their own.

The list goes on, but they are generally things that can be fixed, and probably should be fixed so that readers don’t click away.

Personal preferences

Then there are the other, more personal things. These aren’t mistakes, but they’re about personal choice. They’re what makes you stand out from the crowd, and because of this, some people will be drawn to your blog because of them, whereas others will click on by. They aren’t bad things – but it’s good if you can be consistent with them so you give a clear message about what kind of vibe you are going for. How will you do this using your language/layout/images/choice of topics?

I like something to read, so a couple of lines of text with a bunch of photos doesn’t do it for me, whereas other people might fall asleep halfway through some of the articles that I enjoy because there’s too much detail for them.

I can’t stand football, but some of my friends hunt out articles about sport.

I love dogs, but most of the time I don’t want to read about cats (sorry cat lovers – one or two articles won’t make me run for it, but a whole blog on them wouldn’t be my first choice of reading material!.

As someone who is blind, content will always be king over images for me, but I know people who will stop reading if they don’t like the blog design or lack of photos.

If every product is amaaazing and every post feels like an ad or promotion, it somehow doesn’t feel real, and that’s a turn-off for me. I’d much rather someone say why they didn’t like something once in a while or that something just wasn’t their thing.

Whilst everyone can work to improve their writing style and presentation, these are more personal things. You can’t please everyone, and trying to please everyone will just give you a headache and make your blog blend into the noise of the hundreds of other blogs out there because there’s nothing that makes it stand out!

Take a look at your blog through the eyes of a visitor

So, if you want to get a better understanding of what’s important to you as a reader, why not make a list of things that make you really want to read a blog, and things that make you click away after a few seconds and never return? Some of them will be just basic good practice for running a blog, but some of them will be more specific and based on your personal likes and dislikes.

Once you’ve got your list, think of how it applies to your blog.

Do you unintentionally do any of the things that would make you click away as a reader?

Let’s take my ideas. I try not to do any of the generic things that I think are bad practice because if they wind me up, I don’t want to do the same to my readers. So no annoying pop-ups or ads scattered throughout the text. I can’t say I’ll never make a mistake, but I do read through the posts and check them before hitting publish.

It gets a bit less clear-cut when it comes to the personal stuff. I do write the kind of longer posts that I like to read. Partly because I have a lot to say, and partly because I’m looking for like-minded people.

I don’t write about cats or football, partly because they don’t interest me, but also because I would have nothing to say and it would be a bit of a rubbish article!

I try to come up with ideas that other people haven’t covered before, but I could do more to write posts with more of my own feelings or personal experiences in them, otherwise it can sound a bit generic. When you’ve previously worked in a job that encourages you to not put yourself in the centre of your writing, you have to develop new skills for blogging.

I like reading empties and favourites posts, but if I get 10 posts in my reading queue called “January favourites”, I might get a bit bored – so I’ve been experimenting with the titles. Such as November favourites – bloggers, body lotion and bunny ears! or 15 November empties – lots of handcream and a disappointing panda. Just something a bit different.

I like book posts, but never write them. That’s going to change!

People seem to like my disability posts, but I don’t find them the most exciting to write, because writing about my every-day life is kind of old news for me, whereas to the reader they’re often something new. So I combine it with things that I love –blindness + make-up tips or the accessibility of online shopping for someone who can’t use a mouse.

Sometimes it can help to do a year top 10 post to see which ones people are interacting with more. It’s tough if the posts people most enjoy reading aren’t the type that you most enjoy writing – and it’s definitely not good to just write for others without thinking about what you want to talk about. It’s your blog after all! But if you want to take the blog in a certain direction, give some thought to where people who like that type of content or share that interest may be hanging out. It might be that there’s nothing wrong with the content, it’s just not getting in front of the right people!

It’s good to try out new ideas to see whether they work – then you can carry on with them if you enjoy them and readers are engaging, or keep it to a short series if you run out of steam or the idea doesn’t work for some reason.

If you try to look at your blog and think about the things that you don’t enjoy on other blogs, it might help you to identify things you could do to make your own posts better, and improve the experience for long-time or new readers.

You could also think about some words or phrases that describe how you want your blog to be seen or remembered, and then see how some of your trusted readers describe it. Do the two sets of words match up? If not, what can you do about it?

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Blogmas day 24 – happy Christmas in 23 languages

So, I’m not going t to write a lot today because I know people will be busy getting ready for Christmas and probably not have a lot of time for reading blogs. However, as a language lover and language teacher, I wanted to end with a link showing you Christmas wishes in the 23 languages of the EU.

Unfortunately this page was removed by the site owner in 2019, so I had to remove the link.

The calendars

In L’Occitane there was a little box that contained one of the L’Occitane perfumes. A lovely way to end the calendar.

In M&S there was a primer. Really, a primer for Christmas Eve? It’s not the last day of the calendar, but still I think the nice sparkly nail varnish would have been better behind this door! Ah well, it was ok, but not as nice as the primer from a couple of days ago.

Christmas tree in Stockholm

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My language learner journey – finding accessible materials for language learning

You don’t have to do the same activities as other people to get the same results. Here I talk about how I found accessible resources to help me to learn German and Turkish.

My language learner journey – finding accessible materials as a blind learner

I’ve loved languages since I was a child. First I wanted to write stories and poems in English, then I developed an interest in other languages too. French and German were two of my best subjects at school, though unfortunately I’ve forgotten all of my French now.

As a learner who can’t see, my goals are the same as any other language learner’s goals, but the way I get there is often a bit different. It’s the same with many things – whether I’m cooking dinner, training a dog or running my business, I look at what other people are doing or what advice they are being given, then I consider how much of it would work for me, and what things I would need to do differently in order to get the same results.

I hope that this post will help blind adults, or parents and teachers of visually impaired children by giving them ideas about useful resources for people who can’t use some of the options available to sighted learners. Schools should be providing information in an accessible format anyway – this is more about learning as a hobby or adults finding their own resources for learning a language.

German

At school, I followed the same curriculum as everyone else. Texts were made available to me in Braille or on my laptop. When we watched videos, I usually sat with a friend who whispered what was going on and I whispered back what I could translate from the dialogue. We worked it out together.

After leaving school, I decided to continue with my German. Learning on my own was a slightly different story because I couldn’t assume that all of the materials that I would need would be readily accessible. Having studied German at school, it was easier for me, because I could understand materials that weren’t just intended for language learners.

Two libraries for blind people in Germany kindly allowed me to borrow their Braille and audio books, which meant that I could pursue my love of books in another language.

It’s important to realise, however, that each language has its own system for Braille. Braille takes up a lot of room, and often symbols are used for groups of letters. However, the same symbol does not denote the same group of letters in each language. The English “CH” sign means “AU” in German, and the German “CH sign” means “TH” in English. So, if a blind person wants to learn Braille in another language, they will be learning a new writing system as well as a new language.

I also looked for interesting articles online, joined forums (the first one was a forum where people chatted about their dogs), and looked for language exchange partners online.

Sometimes my visual impairment came up, such as when someone sent me a picture and I couldn’t see it, but I never make it part of my introduction because I don’t think it’s the most interesting thing about me. In the dog forum, I was there to improve my German and talk about my golden retriever.

I became active on a German networking site called Xing, which is similar to Linkedin. I joined a group in which people can look for language exchange partners and after a while joined the moderation team. I often wrote to new members to welcome them, and as a result, I started chatting to someone called Sarah. Sarah and I became friends and when I heard that she was coming to London with her partner, we decided to meet and go for dinner.

Much of my tandem exchange experience has been online. It’s much easier to chat by email or on Skype than to go and meet a stranger somewhere! However, I did meet a couple of my exchange partners after I’d had a chance to speak with them and get to know them a bit. I took precautions, went somewhere that I knew and told someone where I was going.

Anyway, back to the meeting with Sarah…We had a good evening and we also decided to have a language exchange trip – I would spend a few days with Sarah in Berlin and then she would come back to London to stay with me. We had a lot of fun – chatting, going horse-riding, visiting a museum where I was allowed to touch the exhibits, cooking, going to the cinema and of course shopping!

Whether or not websites are accessible, if you find the right tandem partners, one-to-one communication with other people is something that anyone can do.

Some websites for learning German were accessible, others are designed so that you have to click correct answers with a mouse and you can’t just select them with the enter key. This rules sites like this out for people who don’t use a mouse. However, some website designers get it right and label their graphics, don’t use elements on the page that you need to activate with the mouse, and label any fields correctly. It’s really just something you have to try and find out which websites work for you, which can be used with a bit of effort and which are a complete waste of your time.

The same applies to further education. I had a really good experience with the Goethe Institute, who emailed me the materials for the course that I did with them and worked together with me to find the best way to comment on my work. I had a terrible experience with another training provider for long-distance learning. I’ve found it doesn’t depend on whether or not the organisation has had experience working with blind people before, but how willing individuals are to try new things and to find solutions to accessibility problems.

Turkish

Later I decided that I also wanted to learn Turkish. This was slightly more difficult – partly because I would be starting right from the beginning, and partly because it’s a bit harder to find resources for learning Turkish than it is for learning German. I knew that I didn’t want to join an evening class because most of them referred to working through books. Therefore I went off in search of a private teacher. This is more expensive than a group course, but I knew from my brief experience with learning Hindi that it’s worth the extra cost if you can find a teacher who will make the lessons accessible.
Nurcan, the teacher whom I found online, had never taught a blind learner before, but she was willing to give it a go! We did use a book, but Nurcan read the exercises to me, or sent them to me by email. I took copious notes on my netbook, and when I needed help with pronunciation, we recorded words and phrases on my Dictaphone. I emailed my homework to Nurcan and she emailed back the corrections. If there were activities involving naming the picture, Nurcan would give me the English word instead of showing me the picture. When I could read short texts, we found texts that were publically available online.

If we did exercises with multiple options, I wrote them down, so that I didn’t have to try to keep all of the options in my head. When we worked on grammar exercises, I wrote down all the completed sentences, so that I had a record of examples, which I could then use to help me with my homework.

I found a number of tandem partners online, with whom I practised my Turkish. Some of the apps that are designed for this purpose can’t be used by people who use speech software because the labels and app controls are not labelled correctly, or they don’t work with VoiceOver, the speech software on the iPhone. Therefore I looked for tandem partners on more traditional sites, or social networking sites such as Facebook, where there are many groups and pages about language learning. I even found a lady called Ayse, who lived virtually round the corner from me, with whom I learned to make some Turkish dishes!

I also found a Facebook group for people who were learning Turkish. Sometimes I couldn’t understand the posts, because people posted pictures of text, which my software just recognised as a graphic. However most of the time people posted questions or links, so I could learn from the things that they wanted to know or share. Sometimes people knew that I was there and described the pictures or typed out the text.

I couldn’t find accessible copies of the textbooks that some of my friends used, but I did find websites with grammar explanations and a really good podcast that had a different language topic each week. In fact, as my language skills improved, I looked for podcasts for Turkish people on subjects that interested me. Podcasts for or about children usually use simple language, as do podcasts in which people tell a story, such as travel shows or short documentaries about places or things. These activities really helped me to develop my listening skills. I didn’t understand every word, but I felt a real sense of achievement when I could understand the main points.

Many of my friends recommended Turkish soap operas, but this was too much work for me. I use the dialogues in films to try and work out what’s happening on the screen. If I have to struggle with the dialogue as well as to try and remember who’s who and figure out what they’re doing, the whole thing becomes a chore! It’s easier when you’re more familiar with the language – I could do it in German, but if you are likely to miss key information because you didn’t see what happened, the whole experience can become quite frustrating. The same applies to films. I can’t use subtitles, but then I think some people rely on them too much! I did watch some videos, but they were usually factual ones, because people generally speak more clearly and the visual element is not so important.

There are loads of apps for language learning, but I tend to use apps that I already use, such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, the podcast app and the online radio app. I know that these are accessible. Many of the language apps are not, and anyway if I’m going to be chatting to people, it’s much faster when I type on my laptop than on my phone.

I tend to use more low-tech solutions for tasks such as vocabulary learning. Well, they’re more high-tech than pieces of card, I suppose, but rather than having word lists on an app or piece of software, I have a big spreadsheet for testing vocabulary and recording definitions.

Everyone is different

I think it’s really important for people to know themselves and how they learn best. Listening is important to me, but if I’m going to remember a new word, I need to write it down. One of the biggest mistakes is to think that all blind people just need the same material as everyone else, but in audio form.

In conclusion, I would say that it’s definitely possible for a blind person learning on their own to find a lot of accessible materials. The internet has opened up so many possibilities now and we don’t just have to rely on materials that have been especially designed for us as blind learners.

Most of my customers who want to learn English are sighted, but I do have some blind and partially sighted customers and followers on social media. I’m happy that I can offer accessible learning materials – after all, the materials have to be accessible for me, too, but each person is an individual, and just because something was the best solution for me, it doesn’t mean that the same way of doing things will work for everyone.

This post was first published on my English with Kirsty site but I thought it may be of interest to some people here as well..

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