I don’t always follow what I know… Having recently tested out my Spanish in Costa Rica, I realized how inconsistent I have been with my Spanish study over the last few months! Okay- time to get back on track. Here are my 10 tips to developing a personalized language study plan that you can stay with no matter what your circumstances.
The first thing you will want to do is decide on your short-term and long-term goals. Most people want to be able to carry on a conversation in their new language. Others want to be able to enjoy movies and novels in this language or order food in a restaurant.
Another important consideration is the amount of time that you have available to you for this project. Can you dedicate several hours a week to language study? If you have less time available to you, be prepared for slower progress. Also be aware that some languages are considered more difficult than others. French and Spanish for example, are considered significantly easier to learn than Arabic or Chinese if English is your first language.
Start by putting together a plan that you think will work for you. Then, try it out for a few months and see how you make out. Here are 10 tips designed to make your personalized language learning plan as effective as possible:
- Gather your resources ahead of time.
Try to assemble a variety of resources- many of them can be free. Look for media resources, online courses, and books. You might also want to pick up a standard text book as a reference. Did you check your local university book store and your local library? Which resource will you focus on for the first three months? Which resources will be supplementary? I recommend an online beginner course to start with. This will give you much more confidence if you decide to migrate to a traditional classroom.
- Use a balanced approach.
Start trying out a variety of activities from the beginning. If you only know a few words of French, for example, find a child’s French program and start watching it regularly, maybe 10 minutes a day. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you will start understanding whole phrases! Another suggestion is to find some French music that you like on Youtube. You can google the lyrics and start singing along! Music is a wonderful resource for language acquisition.
- Go easy on yourself.
You need to realize that you will understand nothing at first and that this is perfectly normal. Dr. Stephen Krashen says that “comprehensible input in a low anxiety environment” is an ideal context for language learning. A child’s TV program again is perfect for this- you will understand “the gist”, even though you will not understand every word.
- Learn oral and written right from the start.
The way you write a word may be completely different from how you say it. (Think about the English words “tough” or “through”). However, it’s good to hear a word before you try to write it, because you will be tempted to try to “sound it out” using the alphabet of your first language. Not a good idea! For example, in French, you do NOT pronounce the letter “s” at the end of most words. E.g. Les garçons= le ɡaʁsɔ̃
- Find someone to practice with from the beginning-
This can be an online partner, another student…It’s more fun! Also, meeting with a partner (whether online or in person) provides accountability. Soon you will be seeing great progress.
- Don’t ask “Why?”
All languages have evolved somewhat randomly and there is not necessarily a logical explanation as to why a word is pronounced/written a certain way.(There may be a logical explanation that only a linguist can understand.) For example, in English, colors come before the noun; in French they come after. Why? Who knows? But it doesn’t matter. Just enjoy the randomness of it all.
- Don’t believe there is a “real” French, or a real Spanish etc.
The standard version of a language is the one that you are going to learn in a regular or online classroom. This will be the language that you would hear on a newscast, for example. If you can understand a television newscast in Paris, then you will understand a newscast in Montréal or Kinshasa or…
However, the language spoken in a newscast is not necessarily the language spoken in everyday conversation. What are your goals? How do you want to use your new language? Just concentrate on your goals.
- Don’t give yourself an excuse.
You are not too old, to busy, too… Everyone can learn a language, but the amount of time it takes will depend on several factors such as how much time you have each week for learning and practice, your opportunities to use your language in real life, your previous language learning experience(s) and more.
- Don’t be afraid to switch directions.
Keep tweaking your plan until you find a learning plan that fits with your personality and context. However, my suggestion is that you stick with your plan for at least three months in order to give it a fair trial before moving to something else. Each sample weekly practice might be:
- Study and practice*
- Study and practice
- Media experience
- Study and practice
*Note: study and practice would include listening, speaking, reading and writing
- Reward yourself.
Plan for a small reward each week, a bigger reward after one month and an even bigger reward after three months! Make it something that you really want. Is it a meal out where you can enjoy the cuisine of your new language? A weekend away?
Language learning takes time, but just stick with it, practice, review, practice some more and soon you will see progress. Persistence is the key! Bonne chance!