Author Archives: Saara Aaltonen

Final review

Summer is just behind the corner which means the end of this course is also right there. The spring has gone by incredibly fast and it has surely been quite fruitful. I’ve learnt a lot about writing techniques, vocabulary, active learning and listening and mainly I feel really confident about my language level now. I know I am very capable of learning more and becoming better – I think I’ve made a great choice going to New Zealand for my exchange. At first I thought it would be a little bit of a boring choice as it is an English speaking country but now I don’t think so anymore at all. It will give me plenty of lessons linguistically and in many other ways as well. I am also looking forward to learning more about Maori language and culture.

This is my final review of the course with also my final adjustments to the hours I’ve spent on this course. I did not completely follow my initial plan, but ironically that wasn’t in the plan. This whole time the actual masterplan was to adjust the planned hours as needed, because then they would actually provide me what I actually need at this moment. Now I understand this is very important to acknowledge in language learning because it is a process and it is not a linear process – just like so many things in physical geography, my field of studies.

10 h administrative work – Done by now! (Tomorrows session truthfully, but you know…)

15 hours of academic reading – Done! I did approximately 7 hours by the first review and after that I’ve been reading another academic book in English about topography and environment. I’ve spent about 15 hours on this book, of which I will use 8 into this course.

10 hours academic writing  – Done! I took away the two hours i added into this in the second review since I used it all up in the reading news section. I think 10 hours is a good amount of practice and it surely has done it’s most important job – it has given me the tools to keep bettering by writing skills.

10 hours support groups + blog – This one is done! I did tasks in the support groups and took the tools they offered into use. I few of the hours I’ve spent writing and drafting the blog, especially on the bit I wrote about the accessibility of information. In that text I tried to keep up with what I’ve learnt and I think it is better than it would be before this course.

7 hours social learning with friends – Done! I’ve run into people from various countries and backgrounds and the latest has been the chats with my sister and her Indian husband.

10 hours of reading – Done! I fell ill with covid and after the worst of it I submerged myself into the magical and so realistic book I chose to read which is Shantaram. I still think it is a masterpiece and it is written in such a wonderfully beautiful language that it can only be recommended by me.

6 hours of watching related documentaries – This one has been done for a while now. Including documentaries about nature mainly.

10 hours of learning vocabulary -science and geography especially – I still feel this one is difficult to put into hours, but I think I am done now. In addition to adding words to my own little excel sheet, I’ve been looking through and testing myself with completely new words from the term bank of science. In there I’ve been looking through the categories of geology and environmental sciences as it doesn’t have a section for geography itself. It would be difficult to create though since geography covers almost anything that can be studied from a spatial aspect.

10 hours of movies and TV (no subtitles) – Done, done, done! I’ve been watching downton abbey, the oscars, the outlander, the black list and so much more. Honestly I think in this the most important thing is to actively listen and spot new words and phrases and to have variety in what you’re watching. I think I have it as there are plenty of accents and areas represented in these shows.

10 hours of grammar learning tasks – Done! I have done so many crosswords and other types of excercises as well. One of the best websites for this was the one I found from the ALMS moodle page, which is english grammar online. I’ve used some other pages as well, but I don’t remember them all as I did scan through a few worse pages as well.

10 hours of reading news in English – I added two extra hours into this as I got myself submerged in the news by accident, which didn’t even happen to me. It was when an Indian climber, Anurag Maloo, fell into a crevasse while climbing Mt. Annapurna in Nepal I also fell into a rabbit hole of mainly Nepalese and Indian newspapers and articles about mountain climbing and especially about this rescue operation. Thankfully it was successful and there is still hope mr. Maloo will survive this unbelievable battle he still is in.

This is it, this is everything. I’ve counted into this course these 108 hours I’ve spent actively learning English in various settings. I have to say at first I thought this would be a lot of work, but eventually I had to choose which hours to “use” to this course. After all I think it was easy to get these hours done and I do use English much more in my life than I thought before. A lesson to learn here was to acknowledge the language around me and to actively keep learning.

Wild stories in the news

Lately what I’ve been up to is not very much, mostly because after a very long time I fell ill again. I had covid for the second time and it made me so totally tired I couldn’t make any posts.

Anyway now I want to make an update about what I’ve been doing for the ALMS. Firstly there was a terrible accident that happened to a friend of my sisters in the Himalayan mountains, at Mt. Annapurna, and I have been searching and following the news about this for many hours. This friend was climbing the mountain, or actually he was descending as he had started feeling ill from the AMS, which happens due to extreme conditions and low amounts of oxygen in the air. It can make one weak and even delirious and that can make all sorts of climbing very dangerous as a lot of the areas require very technical climbing, a lot of caution and skill and some places are almost constantly being swept by avalanches.  Anyhow he had been all the way to the highest camp before the summit, camp 4, but had to start descending due to illness. He was going from camp 3 to camp 2 where he fell for meters after which he rolled and fell into a 50 meters (or so) deep crevasse in the glacier.

He was missing for three days in that crevasse, but he also had some luck with him. Firstly he wasn’t alone when he fell and the people he was with knew the exact place where he fell. Unlucky part here was the area, which was in many places called the most dangerous part of the entire mountain due to it’s constant avalanches and hidden crevasses. This is really something, as it is also the reason along bad weather, why the rescue operation was delayed by two whole days. Another luckier bit was that there were a couple of super talented professional Polish climbers awaiting for better weather to begin their mission, which was to open a new route to the summit. They were asked to join the mission, as nobody else was capable of helping my sisters friend at this point. His family really did a great deal in all of this as they successfully raised awareness, support and money for the operation and got Indian and Nepalese governments involved in helping as well. This was much needed as the operation would be very expensive and very dangerous for the rescuers.

It can only be imagined how the family and close friends must have felt about this, as the rescue mission was nearly impossible to even try and once they could try it they thought they were looking for a dead body. He had fallen down tens of meters after which he was buried in snow at almost 6000 meters above sea level, where he laid for three days. It would have been a miracle if even just the body was found, but  they actually found him alive and managed to get him out and to the hospital. I think he still is in a coma and the recovery won’t be easy, but he’s shown some promising signs of recovering. This has been quite a whirlwind of emotions and unbelievable news and stories to follow – there even was at least one headline in the Finnish papers as well. I will keep on hoping for him to actually be better and to have the strength to survive this.

This entire story consumed me for a few days and I spent plenty of hours reading various news articles about this – which means I’m surely done with that part of the ALMS. I also did spend some more time with this blog, when I wrote about the accessibility of information, so I’ve done that 10 hours as well. When I was sick I was reading Shantaram a lot, and I’m certain I’ve passed 10 hours there too. I’ve also been doing crosswords in English on a phone app which I will add to vocabulary learning, to which I also add going through and learning the words I keep on my own list. I think I’m also done with that. The grammar learning I will finish this week as I keep doing the online tasks this week. I am also done with academic writing by practicing it on my own to become better at argumentative writing.

Up to something

Happy Easter!

And finally it is spring. Motivation for studies has definitely lit up again along with the sun and the awaking nature. I’ve been reading Shantaram a lot and I really must say it is a great book. It is one of my absolute favourites, and that is mostly because of the beautiful language the author, Gregory David Roberts, uses. It describes the ugly and the pretty things so well that it feels like it paints the real India into my mind. This is a book I would recommend and have recommended to several friends already. I’m especially proud how my sister took the book and praised it as she actually has first hand experience from India. Not the ghettos of Mumbai, but other areas and cities she has been living in. India is everything, and it is not easy to make such a picturesque descriptions of such complexity India has to it – and all the while keep it realistic.

I have also been spending hours and hours doing grammar tasks, and now I mean crossword puzzles. I love to do them in Finnish as well and now I really started to like them in English too. I’ve been doing them online but I will go and see if I can buy a paper version of a crossword magazine. It would definitely be nicer than online, because I wouldn’t like to spend this much time on the computer as I have lately. Paper version I could take anywhere with me, even outdoors where I love to spend my time.

This Easter was very calm, I didn’t do that much of anything. I spent a lot of time outside, hung out with some friends and went to a gig also. It was a gig in the legendary Tavastia bar, where a whole lot of Finnish now very famous artists have started their careers and been found, so to say. The artist was Litku Klemetti and the show was great. Her voice is absolutely stunning, at certain times I even thought it was ethereal. It was a pleasure to listen to her and really just dive into the music. The thing about concerts and gigs seem to be that during them everything in the world is well. It must be because that is a time when you can only live within the music and the show, there is nothing else in existence. At least there is no space for much else to exist in my mind when I’m in a concert.

I’ve also spent some time researching the articles and useful links in the support groups I’ve joined. I’m not sure I will do any more tasks in the groups, but I will anyway take all I can from them as they provide a lot of useful information that can help with learning techniques. I am still also going through my vocabulary excel sheet and adding words to it as I come across them.

Accessibility of information

One weekend in the beginning of this year I visited a friend of mine and there I had to do a little bit of coursework. I read some of the questions aloud as to discuss the topics with my friends, but I got an answer that marked the beginning of these ponderings. They asked, if the question was actually a very simple matter formatted in a very complicated way. The question was about a very specific ecological function of a species, so my initial thought was that there is no simpler way to ask it, without changing its factual content. The thought however stayed lingering in my mind and eventually I thought they just might be right. It is very difficult to simplify complex processes and events without altering their substances, but maybe it should be possible after all.

Conveying information in an efficient way is not a question whether they’re not communicated enough and through enough different routes, but it is a question whether the texts are written in ways people can understand them. Academic articles, journals and books are plenty, but often quite difficult and even dull for the reader. There are long and tedious sections about specific methods used in the study, they often include complex calculations and formulas and most importantly, the language and the vocabulary can be very difficult to understand. These aspects can build a barrier between information and people, and especially people without academic backgrounds or the time and interest to put into the texts.

Scientific articles bring a lot of important information to light, for example things about climate change and how to adapt to it. Understanding it is vital for a lot of people of whom only some are accustomed to reading these types of texts. Plenty of people in important positions in companies, cities, and governments are making decisions concerning climate action, without thorough understanding on the events themselves. Of course, nobody should have to understand absolutely everything, but a lot of the times vital information should be able to be conveyed in a very understandable form. The difficulty lies precisely there – how can one translate very complex and specific issues into a simpler form without changing the message?

To sort of translate academic texts surely is complicated and it has a lot of risks but being able to convey these very vital messages scientists have to the public and to policymakers should be important enough to cover for the effort. I don’t think we have the luxury of gatekeeping interesting findings within certain scientific or academic communities, as they are often affecting everything and everyone by now. I also don’t think this is done deliberately, but it is more of a consequence of time, resources and even money. It is difficult to simplify complicated issues and surely it would take a lot of time, so it becomes a question of responsibility as well. What authority is responsible for making sure vital information reaches people? Who’s to pay, if the scientists should write doubles of their texts to have more understandable versions published? Does everybody even have a right for information, if they are not ready to put work and effort into understanding it? There is also a question, whether everyone should even need to know everything scientists publish but discussing that should only be case related and it should definitely not be something chosen by others, than the readers themselves.

I understand these thoughts are very incomplete, but I feel that these questions are even more important to discuss as science is making progress and the language used in academic and scientific texts is developing. Information is power, and the ability to reach information is not something that should only be held by a few. It would be beneficial for everybody if this inequality could be reduced by focusing on making the language used more understandable and simple.

Second review

This week is yet again going by very fast – it is time to review the work I have done this far. I will also review the plan and possibly make some changes in it as it is now more clear to me how I shall proceed and what I need to work on.

10 h administrative work – Only missing the third counselling session, so I’m about at 9 hours or more in this section.

15 hours of academic reading – Done! I did approximately 7 hours by the first review and after that I’ve been reading another academic book in English about topography and environment. I’ve spent about 15 hours on this book, of which I will use 8 into this course.

10 hours academic writing -> 12 – Done 10 hours, but I will add two more into this as I feel it is something that I want to practice more. I had used up 5 hours of writing before the first review and after that I have surely done these 5 more. Partly it was in the IELTS test (1 hour) and partly in the works of writing an essay about whalesharks.

15 hours support groups + blog -> 10 hours – Previously I wrote I had used about 5 hours of this, I will now deduct the hours even further as I don’t think I will do much of these any more due to issues with timetables. I have also continued on the first support groups and kept on writing blog posts so I would say I’m currently at 7 or 8 hours.

5 hours social learning with friends -> 7 hours – Done 5 hours. I’ve met up with people from various backgrounds and hung out with them playing and chatting. I also had a nice coffee shop visit with a Finnish speaking friend, who agreed to use the time to do some social learning in English. I will also add two more hours to this to chat with my sister and her husband in English, as they are very proficient English users. They study in Oxford and Cambridge so I trust this will be useful for me.

10 hours of reading – I am going a little slow with my book, Shantaram, but I’ve read it for about 4 hours by now. The academic reading during the day takes a little bit of enthusiasm away from other reading hours, I will get better at this.

10 hours of watching related documentaries -> 6 hours – Previously I’ve done four hours of this and after that I’ve spent 2 more with documents – actually a documentary series about the rivers in the world. I think 6 hours is enough as I don’t think my listening skills need exercising any more than this at the moment.

10 hours of learning vocabulary -science and geography especially – I still feel this one is difficult to put into hours, but I keep on focusing on the vocabulary learning when reading, listening or writing. I have kept up with my vocab excel-sheet and will keep on reviewing it. I’ve also used a couple of hours doing vocab tasks online which I include into this section. I think now I’m at about 5 hours.

10 hours of movies and TV (no subtitles) – This one I had already done by the first review and by now I’ve surely double done it.

10 hours of grammar learning tasks – I’ve spent about 3 hours doing grammar learning tasks online. So far my favourite types of tasks are crossword puzzles, but basically I’ve done all types that are flagged as advanced level English tasks.

8 hours of reading news in English – “I have taken a habit of reading main news in English every morning, but it is about 10-20 minutes only daily. I think the 8 hours will be full by the time the next period is over as this is a continuous task.” – This is the bit I wrote in the first review and I will still keep up with this. It is useful too, as now I’m much more aware of different events globally. The most interesting news this far have been about the approval of the Willow project, which I don’t believe is a good way to go. Also Trumps court date is something probably a lot of people are waiting for – next week we shall see.

Right now I am at approximately 80 hours, which is just as I have planned. I am using the hours left in the areas where I feel I most need them; writing, reading, grammar and social learning.

Books and books

A week has gone by very fast – again. This time my focus has clearly shifted into reading and I have surely done plenty of it. I used at least 12 hours last week reading an exam book, it is called Topography and the environment. I’m reading quite slowly, since I am planning to make proper notes of the chapters and then reread the notes before the exam – which is in a week already.

The book has felt surprisingly easy to read, but I have had some troubles with trying to translate some scientific vocabulary, for example moder humus. I think it means the sort of soil that contains a lot of organic matter, and is not very acidic but I am not sure and I have yet to find the answer to that.

In the evenings I’ve mostly spent time with my friends or when at home I’ve been reading Shantaram and watching tv. I even watched a couple documentaries the other day and I think that will be all of it. I will revisit my plan again to have it correspond to my needs better, I think the part about documentaries is also a little bit too much about listening.

IELTS results

Today I received my IELTS academic test results – and they made me very happy. Here they are:

Overall the results are very good and they show I am at the moment at a C1 level, except for listening skills where I’m at C2 and writing where I am at B2. I think these results are quite good, but I wouldn’t put a huge weight on them either. It was not a great day to take the test as I had a terrible migraine, as I mentioned in my previous post, and it forced me to close my eyes in the test situation for plenty of time. I think this affected my reading and writing tests, but probably the result still represents my skills quite well. I also think that I had some marks deducted from the writing bit as my focus was shifted to another issue in the question, than the one actually asked.

The question was to interpret a table and make comparisons of the numbers presented in it, but I had to take some time to criticize the issue within the table and the information behind it, which to me is very crucial but seems to be less so for the language testing part of the question. The table was about tourism in various areas, which I thought weren’t defined well at all, and that is what I then focused a little bit too much on. I think it was very important for the sake of the information the table conveys, but maybe it was a little bit off the point in the examiners opinion. Anyway I think I need to work on my English writing skills more, so I will try to be a little bit more active on the blog during the spring. After all, I am very happy with my results, they easily allow me to continue on my exchange application process. New Zealand and University of Canterbury here I come!

This week will be all about reading Shantaram – the book I chose to read for this course, watching documentaries in English and doing some grammar tasks online. I found a nice site to do them in and have been working on that for some hours already when studying to the IELTS test and yesterday I did some of them as well. It was fun, and it certainly will help improve my writing as well.

Back again – IELTS, reading and loads of new words

I had a wonderful holiday from studies, it was really needed. Now I feel more energetic and excited about my courses and I’m ready for the fourth period to fully kick in. In this period I plan to read a couple of academic books in English and I will have an exam on each of the books. I have started my reading progress for the reading bit with the book I chose and it turned out to be a very good choice. I have read it before, years ago, but it was very difficult for me then and it still is now. I’ve collected all the new and difficult words from the book as I read, and there are plenty. In only fifteen pages I got all of these:

Ubiquity, lacerating, pieties, ballistic, manure, oxen, plodding, indefatigable, exuberance, cadenza, amiability, plaintive, roistering, haphazard, tenements, ambiguous, sonorous.

For the most part I understand the words within context, or at least I understand the full phrase, but the word is something I wouldn’t know how to use myself as I am not familiar with it and it’s exact meaning. I think it is good to collect them and relearn them as I go through my excel sheet full of difficult vocabulary.

This week I also took an IELTS English test, which honestly seemed to be quite easy. I will have the results on 21st of March (that’s when I also have my second counselling) but I really do feel it went quite well. I had some struggles with focusing in the reading section because by that time I had a full on migraine – which really didn’t help. The test included listening skills (30 minutes), reading skills (60 minutes), writing skills (60 minutes) and a speaking skills test, which was about 10 minutes or so. It felt difficult as well,  but I think that was mostly because of the subject that was given to me – complaints and complaining. It was difficult to talk about it, but it wasn’t because of the language but because the subject itself isn’t very easy for me. I hope the examiner doesn’t take away any marks from that.

I practiced for the IELTS test by doing some grammar tasks online and by just reading, listening and really focusing on the language I use and hear all around me. It is quite amusing to notice how much there is to learn in regular, everyday things, when I actually focus on it. Normally it is easy to just skip the words which I’m not that familiar with as I usually understand them and the context of the sentence. I haven’t been aware of skipping so many of them and I believe just taking this as a habit will surely improve my English and add to my actual, usable vocabulary.

Reading, writing, learning

Great news – I made a final submission in the academic writing support group!

As I have written before, the academic writing task has given me quite much trouble. I had a tough time trying to write a good argumentative text and I didn’t really comprehend the task altogether. However I did submit a first draft and received feedback on it a while ago. The feedback was mainly about the cohesion and coherence of the structure as well as their impact on the arguments themselves. I went through it, revisited the examples and the teaching videos about the subject and managed to correct the essay to a much better form. During the process I used a few new tools I’ve been introduced to, like the website which spots the grammatical errors within a text. It proved to be very useful, although I’m still not very certain of proper punctuation in English.

The essay project has been very beneficial for learning, not only academic writing but also reading academic articles and texts. I think I am getting better at getting the information needed and the most important information out of academic texts, which certainly is a win. For the essay I have researched subjects like geodiversity, biodiversity, ecology and ecosystem services. Now that the subjects are listed it sounds like much, especially considered how I read through multiple articles on each subject! Honestly I think this can only do good for me, as these subjects are very interesting to me and I hope to do my bachelors thesis somewhere around these areas of studies.

I have also met with some EGEA travellers from Berlin in Helsinki and spent a couple of hours learning English in a social setting. EGEA is an acronym for European Geographers Association and it is a great way to keep all European geographers in contact with each others.

The learning has been very fruitful and I think my goals for next week are quite clear to me as well. I will start reading a book in English and I will get started with grammatical exercises – this will be very useful especially for my upcoming IELTS test! I will also keep on reading the news in English every morning and watching documentaries. Might be that I will take a habit on listening to TED talks too, but that I’m not yet sure of.

All in all ALMS is going very well and at the moment I’m very glad I chose this method of completing the English course. The best part is the support given by the teachers and that how the course can be tailored to fit my learning needs.

Now I will have a little holiday for the rest of this week and I will be back next week!

Review on the plan

The time has come to take a quick review on the work I have put into this course. In this post I will repost my plan and describe below what I have done and show what is left to be done.

10 h administrative work – done mostly, I will also have the second counselling session which I include into the administrative work.

10 hours of academic reading – Mostly done through the academic reading support group. I have read articles about geodiversity, whalesharks and spatial modelling as well as the support groups articles and texts about academic reading. I have now used 7 hours of work of this section so I have 3 hours left.

5 hours academic writing -> 10 hours – I have already used the hours assigned for academic writing, but as my essay for the academic writing support group still needs work, I will assign 5 more hours into this and take it from support groups.

20 hours support groups + blog -> 15 hours – I have used about 5 hours of time getting to know the subjects and the tasks in my support groups which are outside of the actual academic reading and writing tasks. I will also add to this bit the blog drafting and writing. I make notes during the week and then write full posts separately, where I describe how I found the learning in a broad way.

5 hours social learning with friends – I used two hours playing games with exchange students and just last Tuesday an hour with a traveller from Romania I met in Helsinki. We had a very interesting chat about policies, politics and global issues. Altogether I have 2 hours left of this. 

10 hours of reading – I have not yet started to read a book in English, this is yet to be done.

10 hours of watching related documentaries – I have spent 3 hours watching a documentary series about world’s rivers. The documentary is in Yle Areena and it is made by BBC in English. I am watching it without subtitles. An other documentary I’ve watched is also produced by BBC and it’s one with David Attenborough. It is about why animals sing, something to do with behavioral ecology. I have 6 hours left to watch documentaries.

10 hours of learning vocabulary -science and geography especially – This one is difficult to put into time, as I have been keeping lists of vocabulary learned and formed it into an excel sheet to keep track and revisit the words I have learned. I think by now it would be about 2 hours of work, so 8 hours left.

10 hours of movies and TV (no subtitles) – I am sure to have fulfilled this already, as I have been watching Outlander in Netflix for 4 seasons now. They use lots of old English and it is very interesting to follow the language as the show contains Scottish and English accents as well as American ones.

10 hours of grammar learning tasks – I have not yet done grammar learning tasks, but I will look into it later.

8 hours of reading news in English – I have taken a habit of reading main news in English every morning, but it is about 10-20 minutes only daily. I think the 8 hours will be full by the time the next period is over as this is a continuous task.

To put it together I have now used about 44-48 hours, depending on how it is calculated. I am ready for the second counselling and some more challenges to learn from. Especially because I have also booked the official IELTS English exam, which I need to pass well for my upcoming exchange semester in New Zealand.