Tips & Tricks: Use Forvo

After a couple week’s break (taking my own advice on rhythms of rest), The Prepared Expat is back this week with a short but immensely useful tip on language learning!

Tip of the week: Use Forvo for native speaker recordings of language.

Note: I have no affiliation with Forvo and this is not a sponsored post; I’ve just used Forvo for years, love it, and recommend it to you.

What Forvo is

Forvo is a website that bills itself as a pronunciation dictionary, allowing you to listen to and download recordings of nearly 6 million words in over 430 languages. If there’s a word you want to hear, just search for it and you can listen to it or download it, assuming it’s one of the 6 million words they have in their database. If it isn’t, though, you can request that a native speaker record the word for you and Forvo will email you when the word gets uploaded.

In my experience, 97% of the time Forvo has the word I’m looking for; the 3% is usually specialized or niche words. Even then, when I request a recording, I usually get the word recorded within a week. It’s a fantastic way to get native recordings of language–and best of all, it’s free! (They do have a paid premium tier, but I’ve never used it).

Whether you’re learning English, Cantonese, Arabic, Ukrainian, Bashkir, or Sicilian, Forvo will have something to aid you in your language studies.

How I use Forvo

The most important skill in language acquisition is listening comprehension. There’s a multitude of reasons for this—that’s a blog post for another day—but the short version is that brains naturally learn to understand words before they learn to speak them. Just look at any child; they’re able to understand you far before they’re able to speak. Even in your native language, you can typically understand twice as many words as you can speak. Language acquaintance starts with listening comprehension.

What that means for your self-study is that you need to review and study, not just written language but audio recording of language so that you can practice hearing and understanding the language. Your teacher or textbook may provide you with recordings, which is awesome, but there are always gaps—language that you’ve heard and want to review but for which you don’t have a recording. That’s where Forvo comes in, as you can find and listen to nearly any word in the world, pronounced by native speakers so you can be sure to hear a correct pronunciation (even if it’s different than what the dictionary calls “correct”!)

Another benefit of Forvo is that they have multiple recordings of more common words, so you can hear words pronounced in slightly different dialects or accents. That can help train your ears to hear the same word in slightly (or sometimes drastically!) different ways. I’ve found this especially helpful with words where my language helper records the local dialect, but I want to hear and understand the “standard” pronunciation too.

So there you go! Short and simple: Go to Forvo, create a free basic account, and begin listening to and downloading words! And each time you find a word they don’t have, help other language learners out and request a pronunciation for it! Go a step further and record some of your native language to help other learners out—not only will you serve others, but also Forvo prioritizes getting new words recorded for people who also make recordings, so it’s a win-win.

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Tips & Tricks: Fly better with baggage

My family recently had our vacation as part of our rhythm of rest and I wanted to share some tips from our flight experience that will be helpful to you as well.

Today’s tip: Fly better with baggage. It’s actually six different steps to improve your airport baggage experience (and not about carrying emotional baggage 😉)

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1. Get a travel luggage scale

Airlines have baggage weight requirements and, unless you’re a very experienced traveler who tell just by feel if a piece of luggage is than 50lb/22kg, you’ll need a way to weigh the baggage. Unfortunately, bags rarely fit or balance on a bathroom scale so you have to resort to the “standard” but asinine method of weighing yourself, weighing yourself while holding the luggage (over your head?) and then subtracting your weight from your weight with the luggage. But as Brian Regan famously and hilariously showed, that’s just crazy—and, more than that, inaccurate and probably impossible on your return trip anyway since most hotels don’t have bathroom scales. Unfortunately, due to the law of expanding luggage1 and the purchase of souvenirs, your luggage on the return trip is more likely to be the problem yet that’s when you’re less likely to be able to weigh it.

Instead, just buy a luggage scale. These small handheld scales attach to your suitcase handle and measure the weight as the luggage hangs. They’re small and light so you can slip them in your suitcase and always have a scale.

2. Plan what you’ll rearrange

Unfortunately, even if you weigh your luggage in advance, you might still have a hassle if the airport’s scale is calibrated differently than yours. It’s a pain in the neck when a bag is overweight and you have to move a few pounds to another suitcase—rifle through your suitcase to find 1.3 pounds while everyone in line stares daggers at you and looks at your dirt laundry. Yeah, not fun.

Better yet: prepare a few things that are dense, easily accessible, and for which you know the weight. Super easy to make a switch, no underwear exposure required.

3. Go over the weight limit

This might sound funny, but I typically *intentionally go over the weight limit for my baggage. Airlines have margin around their weight limit; if their limit is 50 pounds, they won’t make a stink if your bag is 51. After lots of trial and error, I found that US-flagged carriers typically won’t make you reppack unless you are more than 3 pounds over the limit.

Three pounds may not sound like much, but when you check 2 bags apiece on an international flight and have a family of 4, that’s 24 pounds or half a suitcase of extra stuff you can ship for free. Just make sure to follow tip #2 so that, if you do have to repack, you can easily rearrange things.

4. Use your baby exemptions

If you have a baby, most airlines will let you check a car seat, stroller, and/or infant bed for free, which is wonderful. Airlines don’t care if the stroller’s empty space is stuffed with diapers, if the infant bed has an extra blanket smushed inside, or if the the car seat is full of baby clothes.

Maximize your allowance by buying a car seat bag or a stroller bag. Not only will it keep your car seat or stroller clean, but you can fill the empty space inside with tons of other stuff, giving you almost another checked bag for free. I only pack mine with baby-related things in case someone checks, but we’ve never had someone check in over 8 years of doing this.

5. Maximize your carryon capacity

US-flagged airlines that aren’t budget airlines rarely, if ever, weigh or check bags that are taken as a carryon or personal item,2 which makes your carryon bag a good place for small, dense items like books. I’ve traveled internationally with a 60 pound carryon bag plus a 30-pound backpack and no one batted an eye.

A large carryon bag, though, won’t fit in the seat in front of you, which makes getting items you want on the plane inconvenient. What I do is pack a small bag inside the larger backpack of everything I want to use on the plane. Then, when I get to my seat the large backpack goes overhead and just the small bag goes under the seat in front of me.

6. Make sure nothing is lost

My Grandpa worked in the airline industry for over 20 years and he would tell the craziest stories about lost luggage. While the airlines do a great job of trying to identify lost luggage if your information isn’t on or in the bag, there’s not much they can do. My Grandpa thus insisted that we travel with our contact information on the outside and inside of our suitcases.

Rather than those flimsy paper tags the airlines give you, buy some nice, sturdy, luggage tags so that you don’t have to constantly write your information down and so they don’t get torn off. As a bonus, if you get a distinctive color of the tag, it can help you find your luggage at the baggage claim.

I recommend travel tags that have privacy protection; these show your name easily so staff can check the bag, but in order to see the rest of your information, someone would have to unscrew or remove the tag, which helps protect your privacy.

So there you go! Six quick tips to make your airplane baggage experience better.

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1. Codified by my Grandpa, and who worked 20+ years at the airline, the law of expanding luggage states that luggage on your return flight expands to take up more space and than it did on your departure flight, even if all the items are the same.

2. In my experience, Southeast Asian (but not Chinese-flagged) and budget airlines will check both the weight and size of carryon items, so this doesn’t always work. You have to have prior experience to know if you can do this.

Tips & Tricks: Take a burnout self-check

My previous tip on dealing with stress as an expat struck a lot of nerves (pun intended?) and so, even though I typically alternate the kinds of tips I provide, this week is another quick tip related to staying sane as an expat and making sure you don’t burnout.

Today’s tip: Give yourself a “burnout self-checkup”

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Stress and Burnout

One of the many problems with stress is how perniciously it creeps up on us and can lead to burnout before we’ve even realized it’s happened. It’s important, then, to be self-aware enough to reflect on how you’re doing so that you can address problems before they become major. I’m thus grateful I stumbled across a two-minute burnout self-checkup tool and I want to share it with you. This tool was made by Chris Bailey and appears in Harvard Business Review (HBR). Go ahead and read the entire article over at HBR, but here’s a quick synopsis in case you’re unable to access the site or want the TLDR.

Burnout happens due to chronic stress—which I wrote about extensively in the tip about stress and rest and so won’t repeat myself here—but Bailey identifies six areas in your work which can create stress. Bailey writes:

Workload. How sustainable the amount of work on our plate is. The more our workload eclipses our capacity, the more likely we are to reach the point of burnout.

Values. What lets us connect with our work on a deeper level. This may sound wishy-washy, but the more our work aligns with what we value, the more meaningful it feels and engaged we become. Both help us avoid burnout.

Reward. The level of reward we get from our job — including financial rewards (salary, bonuses, stock options, etc.) and social rewards (whether we’re recognized for the contributions we make). Insufficient reward can make us feel ineffective, one of the core attributes of burnout.

Control. The autonomy we have over when, where, and how we do our work. The less control we have, the more likely we are to burn out.

Fairness. The feeling that we’re treated equitably at work relative to our colleagues. Fairness is an important ingredient that promotes engagement and keeps cynicism at bay.

Community. Professional relationships contribute enormously to minimizing burnout and boosting engagement. The weaker our relationships and the more conflict we experience, the more likely we are to burn out.

Chris Bailey, A Two Minute Burnout Checkup, Harvard Business Review

For people who live monoculturaly, work is often the biggest source of stress and so the above list helps capture aspects of work-related stress. For us expats, though, work stress is just one of the many stressors we face; sometimes the biggest stresses aren’t at work at all, so you’ll need to add to Bailey’s list above. What other categories of stresses are you facing? Food, language, relationships, marriage, parenting, transportation, health, distance from family? Etc.

Take a Burnout Checkup

There’s a pretty graphic over at HBR that can help you, but the essence of the “Burnout Checkup” is to rate yourself 1-10 in each of the above 6 categories (plus the categories I told you to add). Add up your score to see your overall stress, but also consider the level in each category itself. If your score is low (meaning you’re not stressed in that area), then you’re doing something well and should consider what it is so you can learn from it. If a category’s stress is quite high, then consider what steps you can take—in addition to rhythms of rest—to improve that dimension of your life.

So there you go! A simple way to give yourself a quick self checkup to see how your mental state is. If you’re currently experience high levels of stress or are heading towards burnout, definitely read my tip on establishing rhythms of rest and take the steps you need to stay sane and protect your health. As the Paradox of Safety exemplifies, by the time that you know you need a mental break or your stress is too high, it’s already too late to take precautionary measures, so take preventative steps now!

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