Mein Gott, time flies. Yesterday marked the end of my three month German Add1 challenge. I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made over the last ninety days, especially when I think back to the first day when I could barely speak a word.
Three months later, I’m able to express myself quite well, albeit slowly and with a lot of mistakes. Here I am having a lovely chat about language learning with my German tutor, Paul. Just to confuse matters we’re talking about French, Italian and Japanese, in German (turn on the subs to find out what we’re saying).
Throughout the experience, I learned three important lessons about language learning that I wanted to share with you:
1. Consistency will get you everywhere
Language learning often suffers the same fate as other good intentions like saving, dieting or going to the gym. We start off with bags of enthusiasm, only to burn out and sack it off after the first week or so. It’s very easy to lose motivation in the first few weeks as it can feel like you’re putting a lot of work in and not getting much back.
But language learning is all about the accumulative effect. Small steps each day add up to big results over time. My favourite thing about the Add1 challenge was that it placed just as much emphasis on building consistent study habits as it did on the final result. All I had to do was make sure I got my study time in each day, without worrying too much about where it was all going. And by the end of it, as if by magic, I found I could have a basic conversation in German.
2. Real expectations lead to real progress
Am I fluent in German after three months?
Hell no. And I’m OK with that.
Reaching fluency in such a short time isn’t necessarily a realistic goal for everyone, especially if you’re squeezing a language in between a full time job and other commitments.
For some, aiming impossibly high pushes them to work harder and achieve more. This approach doesn’t work for me. When my expectations are impossibly high, it doesn’t take long before overwhelm kicks in, leading me to hit the f*** it button and start skipping study sessions.
For me, 3 months just isn’t long enough to reach true fluency in a language. But it is long enough to get to grips with common words and simple grammatical structures and to hold a basic conversation with a native speaker. By aiming for something I’m confident I can achieve, I’m more motivated to practice and, ultimately, to make more progress.
3. Looking back helps you move forward
Before the challenge, I had already heard of the benefits of recording your language progress on video. In truth, it was something I’d always shied away from as I felt a bit silly. Watching yourself on video or hearing your voice can be painful in your first language, never mind in a new one, when your accent sounds weird and it takes five minutes to get a word out.
However, this time I was taking part in an online language challenge, an integral part of which was posting a progress video each month. Despite my initial scepticism, this turned out to be an extremely useful motivational strategy. When learning a language, it’s common to look at your level and get down on yourself because you’re not where you want to be yet. Having old videos of yourself is extremely encouraging as it gives you an objective measure of your progress. Going back just three months makes you realise how far you’ve come in such a short time, and perhaps more importantly, what you can achieve if you keep going for another three months.
Now I’d like to hear from you. Which of the 3 lessons did you find the most useful and how can you implement it in your own language learning? Or, if you’ve taken part in a language challenge, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?