It’s been a little over a year since I last posted my “Investing in Yourself: Continuous Learning” blog post on the learning that I do in my spare time, so I thought I’d write another one to catch you guys up on what I’ve been doing lately. I believe it’s so important to be constantly be learning new things and filling your mind with new information – whether it be to learn a new skill or to expose yourself to new ideas or cultural knowledge. In the end, everything you learn helps you and shapes you in some way (I believe for the better). You’re adding more tools in your pocket, and this new knowledge may help you in surprising ways in the future; you may find connections and metaphors between subjects that may seem completely random and disconnected, and that’s pretty cool. Anyway, learning is good. Go out there and learn something new. If you’re not learning, you’re not growing. That’s the main point. Without further adieu, here’s a look into my personal little curriculum that I’ve been building for myself:
I absolutely love Coursera as a learning resource to make me feel like I’m still in the classroom. Coursera offers a ton of free classes in the form of video lectures by top universities and organizations from around the world. If there have ever been any classes you were interested in taking but never got the chance to, or any universities you wish you went to but didn’t get to—Coursera is such an amazing resource to explore those classes and learn from a professor who’s credible.
Half a year ago, I took two classes from Berkelee College of Music in Music Production and Songwriting through Coursera, and that basically lay out my foundation of knowledge to produce and write my Honestly EP. I just finished a class in Human Computer Interaction offered by a professor from Stanford, and I’ve signed up for more classes in random subjects that I’m interested in, like Roman Architecture and Moralities of Everyday Life both offered by Yale, Gamification offered by UPenn, Content Strategy by Northwestern, and more. The best part is that you can learn at your own pace; you can follow the course schedule and do assignments and quizzes if you’d like, or you can choose to just watch video lectures. I wish college was more like this; I love learning without the stress and exams.
As much as I love being creative, sometimes I miss using my left brain and doing math. I was really good at math in high school (if I do say so myself…)—because of that, I took enough AP/IB math classes to test out of taking any math classes in college. Thus, I didn’t take any math courses at USC and have felt a bit deprived since. A few months ago I decided to start brushing up on math to exercise my left brain, so I signed up for Khan Academy. Khan Academy makes learning math so fun—you first take a placement test to determine your level, so that you don’t have to take lessons that are too easy for you. Then you work on math problems in short 2 minute stints—the “learning” part is optional; you try to tackle the problems themselves first, and if you don’t get it, then you can watch the video that will explain the lesson to you. I like this approach to math because you don’t have to waste time learning something you already know. And it’s more fun to try to solve problems on your own first. Also, Khan does a great job at gamifying learning—you earn points and badges along the way, and you can track how much time you’re spending on what subjects with their beautiful activity graphs.
Here are some screenshots – I haven’t spent that much time on the platform, but you can see how on the top right it shows my number of badges and “energy points,” and the Mission Progress shows how many math skills I’ve worked on so far (1% mastered bahah). Hey, a little math is better than no math.
I’ve also taken a couple lessons on Khan Academy on basic computer programming—the girl who does the voiceover lessons to that class is so adorable and quirky, so she makes it fun. I learned to code a holiday card for Christmas and draw things with code. But for really learning code, I prefer Code Academy.
I mentioned Code Academy in last year’s blog post but I feel like it’s worth mentioning again, because they redesigned their entire website and I love it even more. Code Academy now also utilizes badges and points to motivate people to continue learning. You can learn to code your own HTML/CSS website in an hour and end up spending much longer on this site than you’ve originally intended. You learn by doing. And it’s really fun.
Learn/Practice Chinese: iOS Apps
One of the traits of my “dream self” is to be fluently multilingual; I think that’s so badass. I’ve been telling myself that I want to practice Italian and Chinese for years—last year I mentioned using audiotapes and podcasts to learn, but that method kind of dissipated for me. It’s hard to dedicate a significant amount of time everyday to learning a new language (unless you’re super dedicated); so right now I am just allocating 15 minutes a day to practice Chinese. I’ve been on the lookout for great iOS apps to learn and practice Chinese, and here are my favorites:
MindSnacks - This game so so cute and addicting that I actually ended up buying the full 50 lessons. Depending on your skill level, most of these words and phrases may be easy for you—my level is pretty elementary and I felt like I already know 1/3 of the vocabulary. Still, the games help you learn how to read (simplified) Chinese as well, and although I may know how to say something, I likely do not know how to read it (and read it quickly, for the speed games)—so this really helps me with that.
Chinese Audio Trainer – This app is great for learning new vocabulary words and phrases. They have a huge library of words in different categories on all levels, and you learn by going through the virtual flashcards. You customize the speed and frequency of the flashcards, so you can delete cards you already know and focus on words and phrases you don’t know.
CSLPod - This app contains thousands of lessons of all levels of audio conversations between two people, so you can listen and read along to the conversations and learn vocabulary in its context. You have access too all of the lessons, but you have to pay to view the script, pinyin/vocabulary of the conversations. I didn’t buy the add-on, so I just use it to listen and practice by repeating the conversations. One caveat is that the people speak with a bit of a Beijing accent, so I try to block out that accent and speak my own way when I repeat them haha.
Memrise - I’ve only used this app once but I have to bring it up because it makes me giggle. Memrise teaches you languages using “mems – fun and imaginative ways to remember a word or phrase” that people in the Memrise community contribute. Most of the time this means that you learn a word in a new way – for example, the Chinese word “Ju (舉/举)” which means “to raise or hold up” would have a mem like: ‘To keep a cow happy you must HOLD UP and JU-ice its udder 3 times daily.” HAHAHA. Now tell me that doesn’t make you at least giggle.
Whew. That’s all for today. Hope this has inspired you to go out and discover new things that you’d like to learn! Invest in yourself and your future self will thank you for it. Plus, it makes you a much more interesting person. Next up, I want to do a post on the most influential books I’ve read over the past few years, and what’s on my reading list this year. Until next time~