There are generally two ways to learn a skill: slow and steady or fast and intense. Both methods can be effective, but their success depends on the motivation of the student.
Impatient students are highly motivated to improve their level as soon as possible. The frustration of not speaking fluent English outweighs the frustration of dedicating 30-60 minutes a day to practicing the language.
Every time I have made significant progress in a language, it was in anticipation of a trip to a country that speaks that language.
In 2012, I made a spontaneous decision to visit Mexico. I booked a ticket for two months away and had a minor panic about being able to get around in my broken Spanish. Every single day of those two months, I practiced Spanish for at least 30 minutes a day. I recorded my first ever vlog to keep myself accountable. Result: Having an amazing month of adventures Couchsurfing around Morelia.
Two years later, I planed a trip to Berlin. Determined to be a considerate tourist- I needed to be able to ask directions and engage in pleasantries. Once again, the intensity was on. I booked a weekly session with a German teacher and again spent at least 30 minutes a day practicing. Result: Able to convince multiple shop owners my level was way more advanced when I asked a question.
Then I got home and other life commitments became my focus for a while.
Since then, I’ve taken another trip to Mexico and two to Berlin, my level advancing most right before my trip. Neither of those languages is at fluent level, but I maintain their current level with casual practice, like watching German kids shows or going through a ‘slow and steady’ advance Spanish course.
My study style seems most suited to a mix of intense and steady. And it may work for you if you’ve had trouble sticking to a practice plan, too.
I’m feeling the urge to return to my beloved Mexico soon, so I know the study intensity will build soon. Right now in my daily life, I have other priorities I have to give my time to.
And this is where we get to the goal setting section of the post. (I mean, doesn’t it always come back to the goal?)
Get out your journal and answer a few questions to set your language learning goal.
What is motivating your intensity?
- I need to be able to ____________ by ______.
- This is your long-term goal.
Why am I motivated to reach this goal?
- If you can’t easily answer why, go back to question 1 to see if another motivation feels more intense.
How much time do you need to dedicate per day to meet that goal?
- The sooner your deadline, the more time per day you need to practice.
What are you willing to give up to make time to study?
- When one project takes focus, other activities must fall to the back burner.
Please, please, please, don’t rush through the goal setting stage- this motivation is what helps you through the frustration of learning. Being really clear on why you want to learn a language helps you relax and really enjoy the process of learning.
You don’t have to keep an intense pace your entire life to become fluent. Breaks can help the periods of intensity be exciting projects. You get to put a date on the calendar to celebrate your accomplishment.
If you are ready to go through an intense phase in your language level development, you may enjoy learning how to build a language learning habit into your life.
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