How did language learning go for you in 2011?
For me, I experienced mediocre results. I know it sounds bad to say as the writer behind a blog about language learning, but it’s true. I was busy. I was distracted. I had other important jobs that I was focused on. At times I was lazy. All of these statements are true and reflect the journey I am on as a language learner. I too am learning. I am of course learning Turkish, but I am also learning a lot about myself, about how I learn and about my strengths and weaknesses as a learner.
One of the very coolest things about growing older is that we have the opportunity to learn about ourselves. I wrote about this in the last post of 2011 and as I reflect on what I have learned about my own tendencies I am better able to set realistic and attainable goals for myself for the coming year.
And so as we move out of 2011 and into the new year, I’d like to offer six steps we can take to make 2012 our best language learning year ever. I offer these steps as a window into my own language learning journey with the hope that they may in some small way help you think about how you too can start and finish 2012 with a bang.
1. Make One Goal for Your Year
I tend to make a lot of goals for a lot of different areas of life. I have goals for my health, for relationships, for the blog, for my language coaching and writing and for my language learning. Lots of goals – especially at the beginning of the year. I go gangbusters at first but eventually and always let a lot of those goals fall away. I don’t quit per se, I just one day find I am no longer on the road. One reason for this is that I start with too many goals. I am like those guys who spin plates. I get them all going and then end up running back and forth trying to keep them all going. Eventually I tire and let one and then another plate loose momentum and fall to the floor. That’s my life. Well this year I have decided to work to focus on the top tier, on the most important things and if I am honest with myself, continuing to improve at Turkish is not in the top tier. Again, crazy to say as someone who writes about language learning, but this is a blog for everyday language learners. We are learning languages because we need to learn them, not necessarily because we are passionate about learning them. But I do want to continue to improve, to move toward mastery and so I need to set a goal for myself that will move me in that direction.
Back in October I wrote about trying to learn the 2,000 most common Turkish words by 2012. While I didn’t even come close to meeting that goal with the holidays and everything else, I did learn a whole bunch about internalizing new vocabulary. And so with those lessons, I want to make my goal for 2012 to learn the 2,000 most common words in Turkish. That is my one goal for the year. It is measurable, attainable and will positively affect my overall command of the language.
What is one goal you can make for your language learning journey for 2012?
2. Do One Thing Everyday
In order to achieve my one goal, I need to be consistently in the language. That is why I also want to do one thing related to Turkish study everyday. Doing this will continue to reinforce the language learning habit even as I live in country. I’ll probably do more, but this will help me avoid those days in a row where I do very little. Ask any expat – it happens all the time. Doing one small thing everyday will more often than not lead to doing much more, but it is in the act of beginning that the journey really takes off. So this is not a limit. Not in the least. But determining to do one thing everyday you will take a big step toward making 2012 more consistent and in doing so, you will move further along the language learning journey.
3. Create a Rich Language Environment
Another important step toward preparing for a fantastic year of language learning is to commit to put forth regular efforts to create a rich language learning environment. Fill your space with the language and culture and dreams you have for using the language. Hang a map on the wall. Fill your movie drawer with foreign films. Order a subscription to a magazine in the target language. Load your bookmark bar with sites that will help you get into the language more. Read the morning news from a native language news source. Buy a few CDs of great music from the country. Begin filling your bookshelf with Harry Potter, Narnia, the Twilight Series, John Grishom and of course national authors. Pick up a useful grammar guide such as the Teach Yourself Series.
Creating a rich environment, one filled with the language you are learning, will help you spend more incidental time interacting with and ingesting the sounds, new words, new grammars and cultural nuances of the language and help you progress at a faster pace. Khatzumota of All Japanese All the Time puts it this way:
Don’t control yourself. Control your environment. Your environment will control you for you.
What are two things you can do to create a richer language learning environment?
4. Create Convenient Systems
If I want to begin to do something well, something that is not exactly a passion of mine, I will often find more success if the action I wish to take is a convenient action. Convenience doesn’t really matter with the things we are passionate about. Waking at 4:00 AM for a long anticipated fishing trip is hardly convenient, but is accomplished with enthusiasm by the veteran angler. Alpine starts, waking at 1:00 AM to get up the mountain before the avalanche danger increases is hardly convenient, but thousands of climbers do it every year on the slopes of the world’s mountains.
However, those things for which we are not willing to rise at 4:00 AM, inconvenience is enough to thwart us from accomplishing our goals. If it takes extra work, if it requires some extra time or an interruption to the routine of our day, we will more often than not forgo the extra work. Creating convenient systems for language study then will go a long way toward helping us put in more time with the language. Creating a rich environment as mentioned above is a big step toward creating more convenience. If you are relaxing on your couch and suddenly have an itch to work on language, you will more likely do something if there are convenient and easy tasks at hand. Reaching for the new Time Magazine on the coffee table – the Spanish or German or Turkish edition – is more likely to get you into the language than if your only option is to get up, go upstairs to find your only language materials.
But you also need to create convenience in your study methods. How are you going to capture new vocabulary words in a convenient manner that actually helps you review? For that matter, how will you create a convenient system of review? If you use a flashcard program like Anki, having it open up automatically every time you open up your laptop will help you get far more review than if you must remember to open up the Anki program on your own. The more you automate the systems you use – the more you create convenience – the more time you will actually spend in the language and this is a big step toward making the coming year more effective and efficient.
What is one area of language study where you can create a more convenient system of study or review?
5. Experiment With New Ideas
The first of January is all about new beginnings. As you begin 2012, I want to encourage you to take steps to experiment a bit. Try new ideas, new methods, new resources and find out what works for you. We all have different personalities and different learning styles and so we will all inevitably learn languages in different ways. Too many of us have read some advice on a blog or in a language guide and taken it to be the best way to learn – and it probably is the best way to learn – for the author. You may need something else though and the only way to find out is to experiment. I’ll be writing about my experiments with flashcard programs in the coming weeks, but it was only through trying a bunch of different tools and approaches that I have begun to narrow down on a system that works best for me. This coming year I hope to experiment with different ways to watch movies for language learning, different language exchange programs and to continue to experiment other new tools and ideas as I come across them. But remember, the goal is not to just try everything, the goal is to find what works for you. Find it and then stick with it.
6. Make a Friend
The most important aspect of the journey of language learning is the people who will become your friends. For me it is hands down the number one reason to put forth the effort required to learn Spanish some years ago and Turkish now. And this is why the most important step you can take to make 2012 an amazing year as a language learner is to make a native speaking friend. If you are an expat, walk out your front door. For the rest however, you will need to work a bit harder. Find communities of speakers in a town near you. Host travelers through Couchsurfing. Find and make friends online with language exchange sites like The Mixxer. Book a ticket and couchsurf yourself. One way or another, whether you do anything else this year, I want to encourage you to get out and make one good friend who is a native speaker of the language you are learning.
Make it Great
These six steps are by no means definitive. You may add some and take away others. You may need to experiment. But remember, you are the most important factor in it all and so you get to decide. So take steps to make 2012 your best language learning year yet. Good luck and blessings on your language learning journey.
Check out the new Turkish translation of the Guide to Sustaining. Read it Now.