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.

    More from Unseen Beauty

    If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.
    The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.