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?

 

 

You never fail until you stop trying. Albert Einstein.

Happy (nearly) New Year everyone!

As one year draws to a close, our thoughts often turn to how we can better ourselves in the coming year. Learning a language is something that always features highly on people’s lists.

That said, many of you will be familiar with the dismal statistic which states that only 8% of people actually stick to their New Year’s resolutions. This means that by February, most people’s language projects will be but a distant memory.

Research-backed ways to succeed

Thankfully, not all resolutions are destined for the same fate. Research on the psychology and neuroscience of motivation is full of useful tidbits to help you stay on track.

Here are two of my favourites that will increase your chances of seeing your language projects through to 2017.

1.  Boost motivation through teamwork

How often do you keep the promises you make to yourself?

Flying solo towards your goals might seem like a good idea at first, but most people run out of steam in the first few weeks.

Almost everyone puts more effort into the commitments they make as part of a team compared to the ones they make as individuals. Research at Stanford University shows that people who feel like they’re working in a team (even though they may not physically be working together) are more interested in the task and more likely to perform better.

Language learning is often a solitary activity, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of teamwork. There are increasing numbers of online communities which provide the opportunity to work together with other language learners.

Lately, I’ve experienced the value of teamwork in the language learning process first hand. I’m currently learning German as part of the Add1 Challenge, a three month online programme which unites language learners from all over the world. Even though we’re all working on different language projects, everyone is moving towards the common goal of having a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker. Being part of such a community makes you accountable to other people (making you far more likely to actually study) and gives you access to a friendly support network.

Get into the team spirit by participating in an online language learning community such as the Add1 challenge or the one on Benny Lewis’s site.

2. Set tiny goals

Working towards a large goal like “learn language X in 2016” can be overwhelming. In the past, I used to struggle with vast and ill-defined targets, a well known motivation killer.

Research shows that setting smaller subgoals is highly beneficial to learning. For example, Bandura and Shunk (1982) demonstrated that, over 7 sessions, people who were instructed to complete 6 pages of maths problems per session completed the task faster and more accurately than people who were given 42 pages from the outset.

Reaching a goal (no matter how big or small) gives you a little hit of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with reward and pleasure (Schultz 2002). Setting tiny targets and achieving them regularly boosts your mood and keeps you feeling positive about your language learning.

One strategy that has been working well for me lately is to set mini daily goals, for example, to complete one lesson from a text book, or to study for half an hour. Such goals are generally easier to reach and give you the chance to celebrate each tiny step on the language learning journey.

Now I’d like to hear about your language learning plans. Have you got any language goals for 2016? Are you planning on using teamwork or tiny goals to help you succeed? Let us know in the comments below!

 

References

Bandura, A., & Schunk, D. H. (1981). Cultivating competence, self-efficacy, and intrinsic interest through proximal self-motivationJournal of Personality and Social Psychology41(3), 586.

Priyanka B. Carr, Gregory M. Walton (2014) Cues of working together fuel intrinsic motivation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 169.

Schultz, W (2002) Getting formal with dopamine and reward, Neuron, 36, 241.

The science of never giving up: how to keep learning a foreign language

As one year draws to a close, our thoughts often turn to how we can better ourselves in the coming year. Learning a language is something that always features highly on people’s lists.
That said, many of you will be familiar with the dismal statistic which states that only 8% of people actually stick to their New Year’s resolutions. This means that by February, most people’s language projects will be but a distant memory.