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?
Today is Sunday and like most Sundays, I’ll probably be overtaken by a strong urge to sit in my PJs all day eating chocolate. This means that the chances of me opening a German grammar book are very slim.
I’ve been learning German for over two months now and I’m loving it. That said, anyone who’s studied the grammar system will know, it can be a real pain in the backside. In fact, most days I’d rather cover myself with bees than revise the German case system.*
Fortunately, there are more pleasant ways to learn German that are compatible with my Homer Simpson lifestyle. YouTube is full of free video resources which offer a bit of light relief for lazy language learners like myself.
Imagine the sitcom Friends and the BBC learn German website had a love child and you’ll get an idea of what German Extra is all about. It follows the story of four young friends who share an apartment in Berlin. It’s cheesier than cheese, but if you can get past the hammy acting and over the top dialogues, it serves as a really enjoyable resource for beginners. The actors speak very slowly, using basic vocabulary, simple sentence structures and lots of repetition. The episodes have subtitles in German so you can pause and look up any words you don’t know without being distracted by English all the time. This series has been my go to resource for when I had lost the will to do any other type of studying (which happens far more often than you might imagine).
Easy German is a series which takes place “on the streets” of Germany. The presenters visit various locations across the country and talk to people about current affairs and topical events. The interview format is ideal as it gives you the chance to hear German as it is used by native speakers in the real world. To help lower level learners follow the dialogue, there are big subtitles in German and small subtitles in English. I find this feature really handy as although I try to follow the German subtitles as much as possible, I can glance down to the English ones when I don’t know a word. The episodes are also very short, so you can squeeze them in between whatever else you’re doing.
Learn the lazy way
Sometimes, giving yourself permission to sit around in your pants and watch silly videos is the best thing you can do for your language studies. It exposes you to grammar and vocabulary in realistic contexts, helps you pick up some new expressions and boosts your listening skills.
Above all, learning the lazy way gives you the chance to recharge your motivation, so before you know it you’ll be ready to take on that German case system again.
Now I’d like to hear from you.
What do you do on days when you can’t face studying from books? Do you have any favourite “lazy” language learning strategies? Share them in the comments below!
*No bees were harmed in the writing of this article.
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. Bruce Lee
Goals. Most of us are pros at getting started but a bit clueless when it comes to actually crossing the finishing line.
I recently had a similar experience in my own language learning missions. Despite a lot of initial enthusiasm (or wild optimism?) my accomplishments turned out to be a bit flat.
My first goal was part of the italki challenge, where I did six lessons with native Mandarin speakers over the space of two weeks. My aim for this challenge was to describe my friends and family in Chinese.
The second was to learn some basic German phrases to use in shops, restaurants and travel situations.
Looking back, I can see I did one thing right, but I missed something really important which ultimately slowed my progress.
What I did right
I followed the #1 rule for achieving just about anything and everything:
1. Set small, well-defined goals
One of the main reasons people give up on languages is the sheer volume of new things to learn. When you think about a language as a whole, each new word or grammar rule feels hopelessely insignificant by comparison. Vague goals compound the problem as they make it impossible to track progress and give the impression that you’re getting nowhere, in spite of all your hard work.
Ill-defined goals such as “to get by” are kryptonite to motivation. What does “get by” even mean? How will you know when you get there?
Over 50 years of studies in goal-setting theory show that setting specific goals leads to higher success rates. For example, the idea of earning 500 dollars a month produces far better results when compared to the more general goal of earning some extra cash.
The same principle applies to language learning. Dividing the mammoth task into small, well-defined goals gives you a clear destination to aim for. More importantly, you can track your progress and give yourself a little pat on the back when you get there.
Where I went wrong
Although my goals were small and well-defined, I didn’t give nearly enough thought to how I would bring them to fruition in the real world.
For example, a lot of my study time in German was based around audio and texts from my self-study book, with relatively little time practicing the actual skills I was trying to develop. Which brings me to rule number 2:
2. Practice practice practice. Then practice some more.
If your goal is to order in shops and restaurants, you should practice ordering in shops and restaurants. It sounds so simple, but it’s easily overlooked. How many people focus diligently on grammar rules and vocabulary lists even though their primary goal is to communicate in everyday situations?
This tactic rarely works because the brain learns new information in a way that is context dependent. This means, if you spend a lot of time memorising grammar rules and vocabulary, you’ll get good at remembering grammar rules and vocabulary. But unless you put them into practice, you’ll probably struggle to use them in the real world.
Once you’ve got a goal in mind, think of ways to integrate plenty of practice time into your study sessions. For example, you could simulate ordering in a restaurant with an online teacher, a language partner, a friend, your dog, a tape recorder, a mirror… the list is endless. The important thing is to act out a situation where you use the language in a way that’s similar to the goal you’re working on.
When you nail these skills at home, you can draw from them far more easily in real communication situations. And voilà, before you know it, you’ll have mastered that goal and it’ll be time to move onto the next.
What are your language goals? How are you putting them into practice?
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
Today is Sunday and like most Sundays, I’ll probably be overtaken by a strong urge to sit in my PJs all day eating chocolate. This means that the chances of me opening a German grammar book are very slim. I’ve been learning German for over two