The longest I’ve ever stayed awake is 52 hours.
It was 2010 and I was writing my university dissertation at the very last minute. I sat in the 24 hour library for 2 and a half days, fuelling myself with Red Bull and chocolate raisins. When I got home and looked in the mirror, my face had turned a weird yellow colour.
Just last year, I stayed up for 30 hours before handing in my Masters dissertation.
Let’s just say time management is not my forte.
Fortunately, procrastination has never caused me any major problems (I always manage to pull things off at the last minute) but it makes everything more difficult than it needs to be.
And that’s exactly what happened with my language learning projects in October. Overall, I pulled it off. I hit most of my targets and I’m pleased with how much I learned.
But my procrastination really got in the way. I knew I should be doing something, but I ended up fiddling with my phone, going on Facebook, getting lost in a wikipedia web, staring out the window with my finger up my nose etc. etc. You know how it is.
To hit my targets I had to cram lots in over the weekend. I felt like I was constantly “catching up” which was stressful. And stress makes things more difficult to learn and remember.
If I can just break my procrastination habits, I’ll have more time, feel more relaxed and things will start falling into place.
War on procrastination
In November I’m declaring war on procrastination. I’ve got three weapons:
1. Tomato time
I’m going to use the pomodoro technique, which involves setting a timer for 25 minutes, working intensively, then taking a 5 minute break. Pomodoro means tomato in Italian, named after the kitchen timer that the inventor used to time his work intervals. It’s based on the idea that everyone can study for 25 minutes. It doesn’t feel overwhelming so it’s easy to get started.
2. Make a schedule
In October I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but I didn’t plan when I was going to do it. In hindsight this was probably the main problem as it gave me too much freedom to faff about. This month I’m going to make a daily study timetable and… actually stick to it!
3. Remove distractions
I broke the cardinal rule of studying as I often had my phone next to me while I was working. This month, I’m going to make a point of removing all distractions so I can really focus during my 25 minute stints.
As well as nixing procrastination, there’s one more way I’d like to improve my learning this month:
Use it or lose it!
In October I spent lots of time absorbing the language through listening and reading, and not enough time using it in speaking and writing. I’m a big believer of learning by doing, but my schedule isn’t reflecting this at the moment. In November, I’m going to focus more on using what I learn. I’ll do this in 3 ways:
1. Mini talks
I’m going to make listening and reading more productive by adding mini 2 minute talking sessions. When I’m listening or reading something, I’ll write down key words. Then I’ll use these keywords to speak aloud for a couple of minutes about what I just read/heard.
2. Recycling days
Every 3 days, I’ll do a session dedicated to recycling the language I’ve been learning over the previous 2 days. In these sessions I’ll use the language I’ve been studying by making videos, writing stories and giving example sentences. I’m also going to use them to write conversation questions, so I can re-use new words and grammar points in conversations with my language tutors.
I’m going to try the translation method which involves taking a short dialogue and translating it into your native language, then back again into the language you’re learning. This method helps you zoom in on the differences between your native language and the language you’re learning. It also helps you build sentences and gives you instant feedback so you can spot common mistakes and iron them out.
Language goals for November
At the moment I’m learning 5 languages. Each month, I have a sprint language which I focus on intensively and 4 marathon languages, which I study in a more relaxed fashion. In the sprint language, I immerse myself in the language as much as possible through daily activities like watching TV, reading and listening to the radio. My sprint language for November is Italian.
I spent October studying for my advanced (C2) Italian exam, but I’ve just run into a big problema! The only exam session is on a Thursday, which I can’t do as I’m a teacher and I can’t take holidays during term time. The next one isn’t until June 2017, so I’ve decided to lay off the exam preparation stuff for a while and come back to it in April/May time.
On the plus side, I’ll have more time to focus on things I’ve been meaning to do for ages in Italian.
There are 2 main areas I’d like to work on:
I live in Milan, and many of my friends are Italian, so I’m already immersed in Italian culture to some extent. But I know I can do more. The more I learn about Italian culture, the more I can integrate into the country I live in. And feeling close to a culture does wonders for your language skills. So this month, I want to dive even further into Italian culture. Here’s the plan:
I’ll watch one classic Italian film per week. This month’s films are Gomorrah, Il Divo, La Grande Bellezza and Amici Miei.
In my downtime, I’m going to get through the first two series of the Italian sitcom, Boris.
News and current affairs
In October I set myself the goal of watching 8 e mezzo, a current affairs programme which discusses the political situation in Italy. I used to love this programme, but forcing myself to watch it everyday has turned it into a bit of a yawn fest. So this month, I’m going to take it down to 2 episodes per week. I’m also going to start watching Report, an investigative journalism series which features interviews with people from all over Italy. This will be particularly good for finding out about different regions and hearing a variety of accents. Finally, I’m going to carry on watching the news every day.
I’ve just finished my book Gomorrah, so in November I’m aiming to read my next one, Cairo Calling by Claudia Galal.
I’d like to revisit some bits and pieces of Italian grammar, so I’m going to work through 1 chapter a day of my grammar book. I’ll also have a recycling day every 3 days so I can apply what I’ve learned in new contexts.
On days when I manage to fit 2 hours in (which probably won’t be everyday!) my timetable will look something like this:
TV: news/8 e mezzo/Report/Boris + mini talk
25 minutes translation method
25 minutes from grammar book
I’ll read and watch films during my downtime in the evenings and at weekends.
German and Chinese
These two languages are my newest so I’m still building up grammar and vocabulary. In October I set myself the goal to do 1 chapter per day of my textbook (except weekends) and learn 40 new words per week. I also planned to do 2 lessons per week on italki to practice my speaking. I didn’t always stick to the plan perfectly, but I did manage it most of the time. I feel like I’m making good, steady progress, so I’m going to keep riding this wave. By Christmas I want to:
1. Finish my textbooks
2. Learn at least 1000 words in German (currently 878)
3. Learn at least 800 words in Chinese (currently on 550)
I’ll be starting a new job in November, which means I’ll no longer have time to do 2 lessons each week. I’m going to try to squeeze one per week in so I don’t get out of the habit of speaking.
Finally, I’m going to include mini talks and recycling days to practice using what I learn.
In October, I set myself the delightfully lazy goal of watching 20 minutes of French reality TV per day. This is going well as hearing spontaneous speech is really helping my listening skills. I’m going to keep this up in November.
Although I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my lazy French approach, I’m starting to feel like I should revisit a little French grammar. So I was pleased last week when I came across a fantastic idea from Alex over at laptop and flipflops who gives himself a mini language goal each week. I’m going to steal this idea and learn one little grammar point per week. On Friday I’ll have a recycling day where I practice using what I’ve learned so far.
In October I listened to the delightfully funny Gritty Spanish, a set of mini dialogues for adults where the characters do naughty things like go to strip clubs and rob ice-cream trucks.
This month I’d like to use the dialogues in a more active way. Each day I’m going to one of the following:
1. Dictation: listen to the dialogue in slow mode and write down what I hear in Spanish.
2. Translation method: translate the dialogue into English then back into Spanish.
3. Mini talk: give a quick spoken summary about the dialogue.
I’m also going to take the new words and add them to my Spanish flashcards.
Finally, I’ll keep uploading one Spanish video per week on our Spanish-English Facebook group, vidiomas.
It looks like November is going to be a very busy language learning month, I’m excited! I’ll be back next month to let you know how it went.
Now I’d like to hear from you: What are your language goals? How are they going? Share them in the comments below!