One of the key elements to any successful endeavor is perseverance. Andrew over at How To Learn Spanish is fond of saying that language learners must practice “consistent persistence.”
There are many factors that go into helping us persevere, to stick to it and complete the tasks which lead to the successful attainment of our goals. Motivation, interest level and commitment are a few of these and I have written about them often here at the blog.
Today however I would like to turn the focus to another important factor that most all learners need to successfully master another language: Accountability.
There are days when we lack motivation. At times we become disinterested and if you are like me, the commitment necessary to really excel is often hard to find. It is at times like this that accountability becomes important.
More to the point we must find ways to hold ourselves accountable to complete the tasks we have planned to do to master the language.
If for example your plan to learn French is to review your flashcards everyday or to watch 30 minutes of French television five days a week or to finish 25 Livemocha lessons this month, what is it that will hold you to completing those tasks? In a word – Accountability.
Everyone needs some sort of plan to reach their goal of mastering another language. It can be a formal plan spelled out in great detail or a loose plan of ideas that will be accomplished each week, but you will need a plan. That plan will be influenced largely by your learning style and personality and understanding of what you need to accomplish your goals. It is up to you to find out what works best for you.
And then it is up to you to figure out how to hold yourself and to be held accountable to complete your plan.
Three Types of Accountability
As I see it, there are three forms of accountability. Each is important though each learner will rely on these in different ways. There is no cookie cutter formula for accountability, there is only you finding out what works best for you. You must be in charge.
Some would call this “will power” and I suppose that is what I am talking about. We all have this internal accountability, but a simple survey of all of our friends will quickly reveal that some of us have it to a greater degree than others.
We all have those friends who, upon deciding to start something new, set out with the tenacity of a pit bull to accomplish the goal. Nothing gets in their way and they seem to have a super human will power to “just do it.”
If you are like me though, these friends simultaneously inspire us and infuriate us. I wish I could get myself out the door for a run when I don’t feel like it, but I loose the battle too often. The same goes for eating less sugar, writing every day and yes, completing the tasks I want to do to learn more Turkish.
Internal accountability is an important key to reaching your goals and is one we must all work to improve, but for most of us, it will not be enough. This is why we must also work to incorporate intentional personal accountability into our life.
Intentional Personal Accountability
If internal accountability is not enough, then we must create systems in our lives that will help fill in the gaps that our weaknesses leave open. We can begin to do this with intentional personal accountability.
Intentional personal accountability is that which we create for ourselves. It is the systems we implement into the daily routines that help call us back to the goal we want to complete. They are external reminders.
Two years ago I realized that I needed to get into more conversations in Turkish if I wanted to move forward. Living in Turkey you’d think I was in daily conversations and getting all the conversation practice I wanted. But with raising a family and writing and other obligations, I would often find myself passing through a whole day without getting into any real conversations. But I needed to be speaking more if I wanted to improve.
So I made a goal for myself: One conversation everyday.
I kept the expectations pretty low – they didn’t need to be hour long conversations about the meaning of life, I just need to converse about more than the normal politeness of greetings and leave takings and casual small talk.
To create intentional personal accountability, I printed off copies of the phrase: One Conversation Today. I taped a copy of the phrase to the side of my cell phone. I taped one to the inside of our front door right above the lock. I used a copy as a book mark in my journal. I taped a copy to the top of my laptop screen.
In this way, I constantly reminded myself to get out the door and talk. Sometimes I would see it at end of the day, slip back into my shoes and run over to our corner market to talk with they guys there for fifteen or twenty minutes before going to bed. By intentionally placing this reminder in front of me, I was able to get into more conversations and hold myself accountable to my goal.
- Set up a weekly email reminder to yourself.
- Set up daily alarm on your phone to remind you to review flashcards or read a chapter.
- Work a weekly review time into the beginning or end of each week so you can reflect on what you have done to reach your goal and readjust for the coming week.
Once again though, for some of us (for sure for me), intentional personal accountability is a step in the right direction but unfortunately, is often not enough. Notes taped to cell phones soon blend into the landscape and are forgotten. In this case, the next step is to find some external accountability.
If you have ever seen a flock of geese migrating you will know that they fly in the unmistakable “V” formation. A friend of my recently related that researchers have found that geese fly up to 70% further when flying together in this V formation than when flying alone. He said this was the result of the “wing tip vortex” that each goose produces and upon which the next goose in line rides.
It seems that we humans are much the same – we fly further when we fly together. External accountability then is that person or small group of people who will help us reach our goal.
I think this works best when we enter into accountability with a few people who share the same goal as we do. This camaraderie can create a healthy environment of encouragement, engagement and of spurring one another on.
External accountability can also be found in sharing the journey with other learners online, at language learning forums or by reaching out to a few language learners and agreeing to keep one another accountable.
And external accountability could come in the form of a language coach. More and more people are working with life coaches or personal trainers in order to help them reach their goals. There is just something that happens when we know that our coach will be asking us how we did in the last weeks that holds us to the task of reaching our goal.
I would encourage you to keep it to a small group who can faithfully interact and help you reach your goal. Many feel that “going public” will give them the accountability they need. It is my experience however that telling the world about your big goal with a blog post rarely leads to the accountability we hope it will give. It hasn’t worked for me when I’ve gone public (2000 words by 2012) and I’ve seen too many blogs about learning a language start and flame out within months to think that it works.
I was recently listening to a podcast by Michael Hyatt about this topic and he related some research that found that “going public” can actually lesson the likelihood that the goal will be reached. Michael relays the thought that
“a lot of people get the same psychological satisfaction from talking about the vision, as if they had actually accomplished the vision.” [Podcast #003]
Get What You Need
Again, while accountability is important, what is more important that you find the accountability that you need and that works for you. We are all different and bring different needs to the table. Understanding ourselves is the beginning of creating the accountability that we need to reach our goal.
What forms of accountability work for you?
Ready to get serious about learning another language?
"Aaron consistenly pumps out top quality language learning advice and motivational posts,
and is probably one of the best sources of encouragement you'll come across."
-Donovan Nagel, The Mezzofanti Guild