And today I’ve got my first guest post ever! From J. over at Polyglottally, he addresses something that every language-learner has done at some point and then had to deal with…
Oh dear, you’ve fallen off the language learning wagon.
You were tired, so you took a day off. The next day you were swamped and didn’t get around to it. The day after that you forgot your cue cards at home. Next thing you know, it’s been a month and you’ve made zero progress on your language studies. How embarrassing.
You want to get back into it, you want to learn more, but now you have feelings of a) guilt for having slacked off for so long, and b) despair at the thought of having to relearn what you may have forgotten.
Well, my fellow depressed language learners, here’s how to climb back on that wagon with gusto, seize those reins, and steer yourself back on course!
(Note: I fully endorse giving yourself a full day off for a personal retreat. Go ahead, call in sick or tell your boss you’re at an all-day off-site meeting. Escape to your favourite cafe or shady tree. You deserve it.)
Step 1: Release
Absolve yourself of the guilt, release yourself from past obligations. If you continue to kick yourself for what you haven’t done, you’ll constantly be mired in the past. You can’t change the past, but you do have full power over what you choose to do right now. That’s what counts.
It’s hard to forgive yourself sometimes, especially when you think back to all that precious time you wasted playing World of Warcraft when you could have memorized the Devanagari script and be reading Hindi fluently by now. No matter, what’s done is done. Once you’ve fully forgiven yourself, then you are ready for step 2 (and perhaps another lattÈ).
Step 2: Remember
Why did you start out on this language learning quest anyway? Remember what your motivations are and place them front and centre in your brain. Like Andrew previously wrote, motivation is the most important factor in learning a new language.
Important (and quick) side note!
If you’re reading this you’re probably learning Spanish at a beginner or intermediate level, and if so could I recommend you quickly check out a site called Yabla? They teach you Spanish using videos made by and for natives (e.g. TV shows, movies, YouTube videos, cartoons, news and documentaries originally made in Spanish-speaking countries for native speakers) coupled with a set of tools specifically designed for that purpose which are integrated into the video player:
- Verbatim subtitles in Spanish shown at the same time as English subtitles (you can turn either or both on or off)
- An integrated dictionary and flashcard system that both automatically looks up a word in the subtitles when you click on it as well as adds it to your flashcards for later review
- Exercises and quizzes about what you just watched that make you apply the new Spanish you just learned.
Check it out here (discounts for educators and institutions, by the way, I know a lot of you are teachers) or read my full review if you’d like more information (and screenshots of the system) first. Back to the article…
It is often easy to lose sight of why we began, especially when we get bogged down in the details of case endings and verb conjugations. Remind yourself of the reason why you are trying to learn French, Spanish, Greek, Klingon, et cetera. It could be for the love of travel, the love of food, the love of the intellectual challenge, or the love of your significant other. Whatever your motivation, bring it back to the forefront of your mind.
Write down your motivation in large block letters, tack it to the wall in front of you, then order another fudge brownie and continue to step 3.
Step 3: Refocus
What is your goal? What does “success” mean to you? It’s incredible how far off course we can get when we don’t know where we are going. If, after some soul searching, you realize you only want to be able to order food in a restaurant, then why are you reviewing vocabulary for negotiating business deals?
Some quick questions to ask yourself to gauge your definition of success:
- Where and with whom do you imagine using the language?
- What level of grammatical perfection do you need? Are you writing a doctoral dissertation, or are you chatting in the bar with friends?
- What is the minimum you can get away with right now?
Focusing on your goal will tell you what you need to learn and, more importantly, what you can ignore for the moment. Your goal may very well change and increase as you approach it, which is the sign of intentional learning. But for the moment try to describe as accurately as possible what your goal is right now. Putting a timeline on it is also a good idea, but don’t stress yourself out. Write it all down, then go to step 4.
Step 4: Review
You probably remember more than you think. It may take a bit of gentle stretching to eke it out of your brain, but don’t despair: You’re not starting over from scratch.
Go through the table of contents in a grammar or phrase book, see what you know. Try translating whole conversations in your head, especially as they relate to your goal (see step 3). Gather the entire corpus of your knowledge together to remind yourself of how far you’ve come. This will not only act as a general review, it will also encourage you to see how much you already know, and hopefully reignite new interest in the act of learning the language.
Step 5: Recalibrate
Often we splash about without any real plan of what to do next. We jump on anything interesting that comes along, whether or not it helps us move towards our goal. When it turns out to be unrelated or irrelevant, we will soon forget all about it and will have then wasted our time.
Take the results from step 3 and step 4. Imagine you are looking at a big map. Where are you now? And where do you want to be? The gap in between will give you an indication of what to do next. Write down what you are missing, and this becomes your learning plan for the next little while. It’s as simple as that. Time for more coffee.
Step 6: Repeat
At the end of this personal retreat, you will have your goal and motivating force clearly articulated, you will have a summary of your past accomplishments, and you will have a game plan for what to do next. But now that you’ve forgiven your past transgressions, how do you avoid falling off that wagon again?
The answer is to conduct frequent reviews. I recommend “New Moon resolutions” (as opposed to New Year’s resolutions): the shorter time frame and higher frequency means you will have more opportunities to refresh and recalibrate your actions. Every 28 days, go through this exercise again to reinvigorate yourself, whether you feel you need it or not. The iterative process will ensure you are on track and on target. Calling in sick every month is entirely optional.
Best of luck,
A Final Appeal to Language Enthusiasts
If you value language learning, and if you believe teaching languages to children is incredibly important, then please help me by voting for my project on Pepsi’s Refresh Everything grant competition. Visit my page, register with the site, and then vote as often as they will allow you! Tell all your friends, too. You can also read more about the project on my blog.
A Quick Note Before We End…
I’ve got two posts that I’ve put up that I’m recommending everyone interested in learning Spanish go read if they haven’t already (if you have, ignore this, sorry): How to avoid wasting months learning Spanish the wrong way (basically this is my “how to get started right in learning Spanish” post for complete beginners) and The Telenovela Method where I cover how to use popular media like movies, music, and books to learn Spanish. Additionally you can check out the front page for a more complete list of my best and most popular posts.