The best way to reach a goal is with a map or a plan that will get you there. Sure, you can just dive in without giving it much thought, but you substantially increase the odds that you will fail.
To succeed at almost any long-term goal, you have to give it thought and then plan a path to succeed. This means you need to have goals that are both achievable and measurable. You will also need to constantly determine new goals once you reach your short-term goals. Basically, what you are doing is creating a roadmap to success.
If you are just getting started, use these five steps to increase your chances of success.
Make Clearly Defined Goals to Create Your Own Map
The end goal may be fluency (which is actually a rather vague goal on its own), you need waypoints to get there. Simply saying that you want to be able speak the language in as little time as possible is not a goal. That’s more of an opaque wish that is easily forgotten.
What you need are achievable goals and challenges to reach fluency. You can achieve this with two things
- Metacognitive strategies
- SMART goals
Metacognitive strategies require you to follow three steps.
- Plan your goals.
- Learn daily and track your progress.
- Evaluate your progress and goal success.
SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, time-bound. You can read more about these particular goals to fully understand what these goals entail.
Of course, you can use maps and outlines that others before you created, but you will still need to customize it to meet your timeline and abilities.
For example, you can set a goal of studying vocabulary for 30 minutes every day, and grammar for another 30 minutes so that you can read 5 books within three months. It is a very lofty goal, but if you follow through with the first part, you will be able to determine if you have succeeded by the end of the three months.
Read and Study as Often as Possible
Immersion is often touted as the best way to learn, but, to be honest, that is not true in the early stages of a language. You have everything to learn, so when everything is thrown at you at one time, you are going to get a lot less information out of it.
What you really need when you start learning a language is to build a strong foundation. That means spending a lot of time working with books and managing basic conversations. This bite-size approach allows you to learn more and get comfortable in your knowledge before throwing you into the deep end.
You can do something similar to immersion as well. An hour or two of your day can be dedicated to English-free learning so that you write, read, speak, and listen only in your target language. There are a number of apps, like FluentU, that will give you a lot of help. They have clips of real commercials and trailers in your target language so that you can focus on learning small pieces of information.
Find a Language Partner and Meet in Person
Actually, you can use Skype or other video conferencing sites to get the same effect. The point is to talk face to face so that you can hear the nuisances and get clues on what is being said based on the person’s expression.
This is one of those instances when peer pressure is invaluable. If the people around you are learning, the odds that you will want to at least keep up with them will increase.
Seeking out someone else who is learning a new language has the added benefit of helping you get through the frustration. When you don’t feel like studying, a partner will either guilt you into studying anyway or will give you the motivation to work even if you are feeling exhausted. This only works if you meet in person.
Immerse Yourself Using Available Tools and Opportunities
It is far too easy to think that immersion is about going to a country where the language is spoken natively. However, this is definitely not the only way (and it is certainly the most expensive).
Once you have a good foundation of the basics of a language, you can start to immerse yourself every day. Even if it is only for a couple of hours, your language skills will noticeably improve once you start using the tools and opportunities at your disposal to immerse yourself.
This does mean you will need to talk to people who speak the language. The best way to do that is to seek out native speakers in your area. You can also look for a position where your target language is spoken. If you have to speak in your target language over the course of the work day, you are going to learn it much quicker.
Don’t forget about Skyping with people in the country where the language is the native language. While time zones could be an issue, it is still easier than trying to move to the country.
Start reading news in your target language. Listen only to music and podcasts in the language. Pick up books that were written in the language. There are so many things you can do to create an immersive experience without leaving the country. Make it a goal to be able to read a short news article without the help of a dictionary.
Regardless of why you are learning a language, you need to enjoy it to really get the most out of your learning time. Experts estimate that the languages closest to English will still take a native English speaker over 600 hours of study to master, and that doesn’t even get you to a professional level in most fields.
If you enjoy the time you spend learning, you are much more likely to keep going, no matter how frustrating it can be at the time.
Pay attention to just how much you have learned and the progress you have made. One of the best motivators for language learning is the way you feel when you realize that something that used to sound incomprehensible suddenly makes at least a little sense.
Languages are about connecting people. Social media has very aptly illustrated how much people want interactions with each other. Interactions can also make the experience a lot more fun.
Make sure to use your hobbies as a way to ensure that you are enjoying your learning experience. Once you have learned vocabulary words that are not only relevant but that are about a subject that you really enjoy, the language will seem more accessible and gratifying. You will also have a lot more to talk about, which will help you speed up the learning process.
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