When it came to developing the best language learning plan, I used to tell myself:
"This is it!"
"This is the year!"
Have you ever said this to yourself before? That this year, finally, is going to be the year that you make a language learning breakthrough?
“I will finally speak Italian fluently”.
Or something along the lines of:
“I will read comfortably in German, at last”.
Ring any bells?
Well, this year things started to change for me.
I finally took the time and the energy to come up with a solid, clear, and straightforward language plan.
I drafted my ultimate language learning plan at the beginning of this year by following 10 simple steps which I can’t wait to share with you.
If you want to make 2019 your most productive year ever as a language learner, keep reading.
Off we go!
Getting Ready to Develop Your Plan
Ok, we're almost ready to begin.
Just one more thing before we start.
Let me take a moment to explain how to get ready for this activity in the most effective way:
First, pick a time to make your plan.
Ideally, you want to do this when you feel fresh and motivated to think and act.
Next, you need to gather the supplies necessary to design your plan. I recommend using:
When all that's taken care of, it's time to begin.
Step 1. Review Last Year's Language Learning Progress
“Sometimes it takes looking at the past to really be able to move forward and learn from it” ― Danica Patrick
The first thing you should do is review all of the language learning you did during the last year.
This time, I looked at all the work I did to learn Greek in 2018.
For me, this is relatively simple, as I keep a written record of all of my daily learning sessions. I keep all of these in a notebook and on my Google calendar, so all I need to do is read over my old entries.
Here's a general overview of my Greek studies:
At the beginning of 2018 I was studying Greek actively until mid-to-late January (I had started in September 2017).
I stopped before February, and didn't pick it up again until August 28th. To restart my learning, I used Assimil for about three months before finishing the year with GreekPod101.
So, if you don’t have a language learning logbook, start creating one right now! You can either use a physical notebook or you can keep track of everything online.
Whenever you sit down to learn, track information like:
Do this for five minutes a day at the end of each learning session, and next year you'll be able to extract valuable lessons from this year's learning efforts.
Step 2. Note Your Successes and Failures
“The past has infinite value if one learns from it” ― Ken Hensley
Now that we have a general idea of our learning efforts in the last year, we need to analyze them more closely and identify the successes, failures, and lessons learned along the way.
With that in mind, ask yourself:
For my Greek this year:
What went wrong?
I took a long break at the beginning of the year. I had too many other things to deal with at the time, and I didn’t organize my time and energy accordingly.
What went right?
I successfully restarted my learning routine in August, after I decided to wake up earlier and dedicate 30 to 60 minutes to Greek every morning.
I was able to successfully use my Bidirectional Translation method with Assimil Greek with Ease, as I've done before with multiple languages. I also found time to adapt the same method to GreekPod101.
By answering these simple-but-powerful questions, we're preparing ourselves to learn in the new year by doing more of the right stuff and less of the wrong stuff.
Step 3. Analyze Your Current Skill Level
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can” ― Arthur Ashe
A favorite metaphor that I use to help my students understand the language learning process is what I call the metaphor of the journey. If you can understand this metaphor, then you can understand how to accomplish any of your goals.
Why? Because language learning is, ultimately, like setting upon a journey.
And what are the main parts of every journey?
The starting point, the final destination, and the path that connects them.
So, for starters - excuse the pun - knowing your starting point is absolutely paramount.
And in this regard, something that happens very often is to resort to labels.
I am at level A1, or B2, or C, and so on.
For now, let's forget the letters and the labels and focus what you're actually capable of doing with your target language.
Be honest and ask yourself these 4 simple questions:
- 1What can I do in terms of reading?
- 2What can I do in terms of listening?
- 3What can I do in terms of speaking?
- 4What can I do in terms of writing?
So for my Greek I asked myself:
What can I do in terms of reading?
I can read dialogues on topics that range from everyday conversations to slightly more complex situations, like going to the bank and publishing articles on a blog.
What can I do in terms of listening?
I can understand both simple and complex dialogues, so long as I can read along with a script. I haven't yet tried to listen to pure speech alone (TV, radio, podcasts, etc.).
What can I do in terms of Speaking?
I can't speak very much yet, nor have I tried. The only time I've tried my hand with a conversation was when my polyglot Ukrainian friend and I spoke in Berlin for some 15 minutes. It was literally “broken Greek” but, hey, the sense of accomplishment I felt was well worth the try!
What can I do in terms of writing?
I can rewrite and reproduce sentences from texts and dialogues (using the Bidirectional Translation method), but I have never written anything from scratch.
Step 4. Visualize What You Want to Accomplish by Year's End
“Visualization is daydreaming with a purpose” ― Bo Bennett
When it comes to accomplishing goals, I have been resorting more and more to the technique of visualization.
I find it so useful, in fact, that I've written an entire article on how to visualize to learn any language.
Through projecting yourself into the future, you should conjure a vivid mental picture of what you will be able to do and how you will feel through your target language.
Here's is an example of my visualization for Greek at the end of 2019:
"September 2019. I'm in Paros, a small island in the Mediterranean sea. It is 11 A.M. Standing on a beach, I can feel a light breeze on my face. I spend the next hours alternating between swimming in the water and relaxing on the sand, reading a book written all in Greek.
At lunchtime, I go to a restaurant that serves traditional Greek food, and eat there with friends, Greek and foreign alike. We chat in Greek and English. My friends are surprised I can speak so well, but I assure them that I'm not that good...yet.
We laugh together, and I suddenly feel as learning this language has caused the whole of Greece to open itself to me..."
Cool isn’t it?
Yes, I am not just connecting intellectually with the language, but also emotionally!
It is how we feel that drives us, that compels us to move forward.
Powerful emotions inspire us to put one step after the other.
With that in mind, here is a final suggestion:
Try to create a visualization around something you actually plan to do, so that you can actually make it happen. For example, I really do plan to go to Paros in September!
Step 5. Create a Simple Outline
“Writing is sometimes a balancing act between keeping things easily readable and being accurate” ― Susanna Kearsley
You have a vision.
You have a starting point.
You have a final destination.
All you need to do is figure out the steps in-between.
And for that, nothing beats a classic to-do list to turn your visualization into reality.
Mine looks like this:
Step 6. Brainstorm and Fill in More Details
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” ― Coco Chanel
You now have a few smaller and incremental goals that will lead you to achieve your big goal.
The problem, however, is that these “smaller” goals are still actually pretty big, and somewhat vague.
Take one of mine, for example:
"I want to speak and understand Greek at a conversational level"
How do I make that happen?
To answer that, we need to go deeper.
For each goal you have on your list, you need to brainstorm a list of possible steps that you can take to achieve it.
Once you have come up with a few good ideas, write them down as a list, and possibly, even add questions that you feel you need to answer before moving forward.
Here's a short example you can use as a model:
"I want to speak and understand Greek at a conversational level"
Who will I talk to? Where will I talk to them? When?
Step 7. Turn Your Goals into Actions
“Action expresses priorities” ― Mahatma Gandhi
At this point in the process, we have identified the following key details:
So, for this step, we need to use the ideas, questions, and answers from the last step to help us identify concrete actions that we can take to accomplish each of the lower-level goals on our list.
As an example, I will use a part of my list from Step 6:
"I want to speak and understand Greek at a conversational level"
Who will I talk to? Where will I talk to them?
What do I need to do to talk to a Greek person on iTalki?
Step 8. Turn Your Actions into Habits
“Quality is not an act, it is a habit” ― Aristotle
We're making excellent progress!
We each just need to make one last tweak before our language plans are perfect.
To turn actions into habits, you need two fundamental ingredients:
You need regularity and repetition.
Making language learning happen is that simple.
But here's the catch:
To make it happen and to be in it for the long haul, you have to plan things appropriately.
Now, think about my action from the last step — "Speak to a Greek tutor."
Can I just meet with a Greek tutor once, and then immediately become conversational in the language?
No, of course not!
I need to find one tutor, and meet with him/her regularly, so that I get lots of quality conversation practice before the year is over.
So I need to work that into my schedule in the form of a habit. For example:
"To create the habit of speaking to a Greek tutor, I need to find a native Greek tutor who is available on Monday and Friday mornings to talk to me for 30 minutes at a time"
Now take your actions from Step 7, and find a way to make them easily repeatable, according to your own unique schedule. Aim to do each habit at least once per week.
Step 9. Store Your Plan in a Notebook or Keep it Online
“Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response” ― Arthur M.Schlesinger
Take a deep breath, and give yourself a pat on the back—you've just created your own Ultimate Language Learning Plan for 2019!
We don't want all this hard work to go to waste, though. Before calling it a job well done, we need to figure out a place we can store our respective plans so that we always have them when we need them.
Keep in mind one crucial thing.
Nowadays, in our society filled with wi-fi-connections and mobile apps, people always tend to reach for technology as the main solution to their problems.
That's okay, but as much as technology gives you speed and accessibility, it often doesn't give you two other crucial factors for deep learning:
Depth and emotion.
Oftentimes, a simple pencil, notebook and your own handwriting can often provide those very things at a moment's notice.
This is why I recommend the best of both worlds: use Internet apps like Google Drive and Dropbox for accessibility, but keep handwritten copies for the emotional value, as well.
Step 10. Share Your Plan and Make a Commitment
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” ― John Lennon
After setting goals, it is normal to start out feeling highly motivated and enthusiastic. A few days or weeks later, however, and our motivation tends to fade away, sometimes completely.
Your language plan needs to survive past that dip in motivation. You need to start your plan as soon as possible, and do what you can to ensure that you'll still be on track by December 31st.
The usual self-discipline and willpower probably won't be enough to do that, so we're going to protect our plan by completing one last step: sharing our plan with an accountability partner!
To do this, I usually go to a trusted friend of mine; one I'm close with, but who isn't afraid to call me out when I'm being lazy.
I give this friend a copy of my learning plan, and tell him to hold me to it, no matter what. Sometimes we add a condition where if I fail, I have to buy him dinner for a week, or something else expensive.
To seal the deal, we both sign the plan. This way, it becomes an authentic symbol of my commitment to keep learning languages for the year.
So find your friend or accountability partner, print the plan out, and do the same. When you have someone else holding you responsible for your learning, you'll be surprised how motivated you become!
On With Your Language Learning Plan!
So this is it.
No excuses. No procrastinating. No ifs, ands, or buts.
January is here, and you've got another 300+ days in front of you, ready to be filled with lots of learning and language-related experience.
Don't push off your language dreams again. Set a time today to finalize your learning plan, and then start doing it.
That language learner you see in your visualization? The one who is speaking a language at a level you never thought you could?
That is YOU. A version of you who expects you to take action with your plan right now.
And about taking action...
I have created a course that will help you build the 10 most important habits every language learner should possess.
Don't let yourself down. Start today. Start now.