How to get shiz done this year (language learning goals 2017)

3rd January 2017

What does the future, better version of you look like? Mine’s fluent in lots of languages, wears matching socks and doesn’t eat nutella straight from the jar. In January, lots of us chase after that better version of ourselves, whether it be learning a new language or eating healthily. But by February we've already gone back to our old ways. Why is positive change so hard? One reason is that we usually think of change as something that happens in the future. We get excited about the super-duper future version of ourselves, without stopping to think about what that actually looks like in the present.

The problem with goals

Big, far away goals don't work because they're too abstract. We never feel accountable for them now, which is the only time we can ever do anything about anything. There’s always a later: when we’re less tired, less busy, more motivated. So when I find myself with a teaspoon and a jar of nutella in hand, it’s fine because “future Katie will sort it out”. Future Katie’s got a lot of shiz to do.

Got a spoon anyone? Got a spoon anyone?

It’s been printed on so many trite motivational posters that it’s lost all meaning, but Confucius was right when he said that a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. If we want to make big things happen, we have to move our attention to the little things we can do right now. In the words of DJ Casper, we need to…

Break it down now

Whether you prefer to get your motivational quotes from Confucius or DJ Casper, the point is this: humans are notoriously bad at delayed gratification. If I have a big goal like “learn Spanish”, I don't know when (if ever) I’m going to get the satisfaction of reaching it. It doesn’t mean anything to me. To learn a language in 2017, stop thinking about big goals like “learn language X” and break it down into small, real activities, like learning 5 words a day. That way, you’ll know exactly what you have to do and you’re much more likely to do it. Breaking language learning down into mini goals is aligned with the psychology of what motivates us. You get satisfaction from regularly hitting your targets and your brain releases a little hit of dopamine, which strengthens the reward cycle and makes you more likely to repeat the behaviour. Once you’ve got the routine in place, all you have to do is keep doing what you’re doing. Continue putting one foot in front of the other, and eventually you’ll walk a thousand miles, or know how to speak Spanish.

Smaller is better

Having a big goal isn't a bad thing: after all, it’s nice to know where you’re headed. But unless you think about what that looks like, realistically, in your day-to-day life, you’ll keep finding excuses to put it off. It's less glamorous than the imaginary, super-duper future you, but it works. I’ve got a rough idea of where I’m going this year, but my real focus is on the details: What am I going to do every day? Every week? Every month? If I work on getting these things done, the rest will fall into place.

My language goals for 2017

I'm currently learning 5 languages. To manage them all, I give myself 1 sprint language that I focus on intensively and 4 marathon languages which I study in a slower, steadier fashion.

Mandarin

From January to March, my sprint language is Mandarin Chinese. I’m doing the Add1Challenge at the moment so I’m aiming to learn as much Mandarin as I can over the next 90 days. This is where my Mandarin was at on day 0.  

How’s it going so far?

Here’s what I managed (and didn't manage!) to do in December, and my plans for the next couple of months.

Textbooky stuff

In December I was hoping to finish the Pimsleur audio course and my Assimil textbook. I didn't. I find learning from books and audio courses a bit boring and my plan was to rush through it so I could move onto more exciting things in January. This backfired, as making myself sit and do things I don't enjoy started to feel a bit masochistic. Most of the time I swapped it for more appealing resources like graded readers and videos. This might seem a bit hypocritical in a blog post entitled "how to get shiz done". But an important part of getting stuff done is to realise when shiz isn’t working anymore and come up with a new, better plan. So I'm going to give myself until the end of the Add1Challenge in March to complete these courses. By giving myself a nice, long deadline, I can leave more space for things I enjoy without feeling guilty.

Authentic-ish materials

In December I aimed to watch one FluentU video per day and read one graded reader story a week. I like learning this way so I managed to surpass these targets. In January, I'm going to continue reading one graded reader story per week and finish the FluentU elementary course.

Learning Chinese with a graded reader Learning Chinese with graded readers

Speaking

In December, I set myself the target of 3 conversation lessons per week with native speakers on italki. I managed around 2. I'd like to get more organised with this as it's an enjoyable way to learn and it's also the best way to improve my speaking skills. I'm going to keep the same target of 3 lessons per week and make more of an effort to squeeze them in.

Vocabulary

I aimed to learn around 5 new words a day, which I did. Woot woot! I'm going to keep this up in January.

German

I started learning German back at the end of 2015. Since then I've been doing 1 hour a day like a little worker bee (most days) and my German is gradually getting there. I feel confident talking about basic stuff, but I still get tongue-tied if the conversation moves on to more advanced topics. My goal in 2017 is to keep doing what I'm doing so that by the end of the year I'll be able to talk about more interesting things.

Learning German Vocabulary Learning German with flashcards

To make sure I stick to my hour a day, I use the "don't break the chain" technique, which involves putting a mark on the calendar for each day I study. Once I get a long chain of crosses, it motivates me to keep going as it'd be a shame to break the chain. At the moment my chain is at 49, and I don't want to lose that streak!

Italian

In 2017, I'm going to take the advanced Italian exam (C2 CEFR level). I'll start studying for this once I've finished my Chinese mission in March.

Reading

Hi everyone, my name's Katie and I'm addicted to buying books that don't have time to read. But this year's going to be different! In 2017, I'm going to work through the pile of Italian books that have been collecting dust over the past few years (plus a few kindle ones).

My (unread) Italian book collection My dusty Italian book collection

Pronunciation

In December I aimed to do 30 minutes of pronunciation practice per day. I only managed to do this a few times during the month. Looking back on it, 30 minutes was way too long. This year, I'm going to aim for 10 minutes a day so it feels less overwhelming. Everyone can find 10 minutes a day, right?

French and Spanish

I'd love to take my French and Spanish up a notch this year. At the moment, I'm somewhere around intermediate in Spanish (B1) and upper intermediate in French (B2). By the end of the year, I'm aiming to reach upper intermediate in Spanish (B2) and advanced in French (C1). To do this, I'm going to use the same technique for both languages: each week, I'll translate a 3-5 minute dialogue, learn around 5 words per day and study grammar as it "pops up" in the dialogues. But I'm not going to push myself too hard. On those days where I can't be bothered to do anything (which happens a lot!) I'll just chill out and watch French and Spanish TV.

Language adventure!

I'm planning a language learning adventure for summer 2017. When and where depends on how life pans out: me and my better half Matteo are looking for a house at the moment and we don't know what stage we'll be at this summer. If we're in the middle of moving, it'll be a mini adventure in Europe. But if we're free, we'll venture somewhere further afield like Mexico, Brazil, or China. Can't wait!

Where will my language learning adventure take me? Where will my next language learning adventure take me?

How about you?

What are your language goals in 2017? Let us know in the comments below!    

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