Monday, 8 January 2018

New Year - New Language Learning Plan

Happy New Year guys! Yep, 2018. Wow. 2017 went fast. Before you know it, 2019 will be knocking on the door. Hence, if you haven’t done so already, you’d better sort out your language learning plan for this year.

When you learn a foreign language as an adult, you need to have a language learning plan of some sort. Two reasons. First, you need to make sure your busy life and lazy self don’t squeeze out language study out of your day and second, so that you could plan the specific and feasible outcome to stay motivated.

It’s so easy to just forget to study your foreign language when your life takes over, so you might end up going foreign language free for days if not weeks. At the same time, you will have this unpleasant feeling that your target language is fading away and you are not doing anything to prevent it, let alone improve your skills. If you put together a plan in which you indicate time slots in your day or week as well as specific resources for your language study, you are much more likely to stay on track.

On the other hand, if you base this plan on the specific and feasible language learning goal, you are much more likely to stay motivated. It’s no secret that learning a foreign language takes months or years (depending on the level you would like to achieve, how much of your time per day or week you dedicate to your study, etc.). So, at some point, you might feel that you are not making any visible progress. It is especially the case if your level is intermediate or above and if you cannot allocate too much time per day or even per week to your foreign language study. When you have a specific and feasible goal in sight, you don’t feel either stuck or overwhelmed: if the goal you set is realistic, i.e. you have allocated enough time and suitable resources to achieve it, you just keep your eyes on the prize and keep moving, keep making progress albeit a slow one.

When drawing a language learning plan I would recommend setting a goal of working towards a certain language level. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages has six standardised levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2) which you can use for this purpose. Alternatively, you can stick to the Elementary - Intermediate - Advanced hierarchy.

Setting a level goal is a good starting point that will encourage you to free up more time for your language study and work towards improving your level and not just maintaining it.

Your language learning planning will be easy if you have an exam booked in your target language.

For example, if your exam is at level B2 and is scheduled for the end of the year, your goal will be to achieve this level by the end of the year. It’s easy to allocate a main resource for this kind of studying too, you just need to choose a good study book designed specifically for those who would like to take this exam. As all four core language skills (reading, listening, writing and speaking) are tested at such exams at the stated level, such books are designed to help you develop each of these skills at this level too.

In this case, your plan might look something like this:

If you are not planning to take an exam and are using different resources for your language study instead of just one course book covering all four core language skills, you might find it useful to set a level goal for each of the core skills.

This will ensure that you work on each of these skills to acquire all-around language ability. Then you won’t find yourself in the situation when you discover that you speak at a decent A2 level but cannot make out what you are being told as your listening skills are somewhat between complete starter and A1.

An additional benefit of this approach is that you acknowledge your current level for each of these skills, identify areas of improvement you did not think of in the first place and allocate more time and resources where they are needed.

For example, after you have acknowledged that the levels of your listening and speaking skills differ considerably and hinder your ability to have conversations in your target language, you set a goal of taking both your speaking and listening to the B2 level but based on the current state of development of these skills allocate more time and resources to listening as you will need to make more progress with it compared to speaking. Then your time and resources for listening and speaking might look something like this:

As your listening skills are at the beginner level, you won’t be able to comprehend a lot even when listening to the level A audio materials. The best way to start is listening to rather short pieces for which you have transcripts, so that after you have listened to them you could read them and use a dictionary to look up unknown words.

The most reliable resource of the audio materials suitable for your level would be audio materials that come with your course book or online course, so you could listen to the audio while you are walking your dog, for example, and work with the transcript of this audio later during your study time.

The idea is to listen to these audio pieces over and over again with your headphones on. Headphones help you hear and understand better while listening to the same piece several times ensures you pick up all details which you miss listening to the audio once. Listening to the piece before your study time also helps you use this valuable study time more efficiently.

Another listening activity is listening to songs in your target language. It’s supposed to be a light enjoyable activity that you could engage in while driving or doing some housework, for example. You don’t have to give your full attention, try to understand everything and wear headphones while listening to songs. It’s a good idea though to have lyrics available for the songs you listen to, so that you could refer to the written text to fully understand them and to pick up new vocabulary this way.

The most important thing here is to enjoy the songs you have selected. If you cringe every time you hear some songs and force yourself to listen to them just because they are in your target language, you might start loathing the language itself not only these songs. It’s not the wisest thing to do as you will have plenty of moments when your language learning motivation will hit its low (I am not trying to discourage you by the way), so it’s better to avoid stuff that puts you off from the start.

Let’s take another situation. Your overall language level is intermediate and your goal is to achieve advanced or native level in reading so that you could read resources available to the native speakers to pursue your hobbies and progress with your target language simultaneously.

Indeed, as a busy adult you don’t have too much time to indulge in your interests and hobbies, so it is in your best interest to transfer from learning materials to native level stuff so that your choice is no longer restricted by your language level and you could actually read the stuff you are interested in in the language you are studying.

For example, switch to reading history books in your target language killing two birds with one stone - learning the language and pursuing your hobby of a history nerd. In this case, you will need to start dipping your toes in the unchartered waters of native level history books. Thus you will start growing the vocabulary specific to this area of knowledge that will make it easier and easier for you to read more of these books in your target language.

It is fantastic of course if you can read history books that you love every day but if you have other reading to do, for example, some professional development books or if you want to watch some movies, you might want to allocate, for example, alternating fortnights to your reading in history. A fortnight is a period that is not too short so that your history reading could gather and benefit from momentum and, on the other hand, you will have time for other stuff you need to read or do.

It is also a good idea to have breaks from your reading routine so, for example, having Fridays and Saturdays off might help you have a rest from your routine activities and, by the way, have some social life too.

No matter what language level you have and what goals you are setting, you shouldn’t forget to keep learning and revising your new vocabulary. Five to ten minutes per day using a spaced repetition tool can make all the difference.

If you don’t acquire new vocabulary and let the vocabulary you have already learnt slip from your memory, you will still be progressing but at a much slower speed.

This is especially the case if you don’t come across these new words too often either because your level is quite high and the words you don’t yet know are not used too frequently or because you don’t have a chance to listen or read in your target language often enough for you to come across them to remember them without using a spaced repetition tool.

To make your language learning plan comprehensive, you might want to add this vocabulary practice as well as intensive study time (if you plan to have any) during which, for example, you train all four skills and focus on your grammar.

So, don’t miss this time of the year to plan ahead: commit to specific language outcomes and a plan of action to make them happen. After all, to put a nail into a wall, you need to focus on its small head and hit it repeatedly, so don’t just hammer around and about with your language learning, specify the language achievements you would like to make, the time you are able to allocate, the resources you have chosen and stick to your plan of action to make those aspirations a reality.

Happy planning!

Click to download your planning template:

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