Planning your language learning path – Creating a strategy

07/03/2020 15:14  Pai Language Learning 

In our last article, we explored how you can approach goal-setting in a language learning context, combined with the previous article on measuring your current ability; you should have a good idea about how much work you have to put in to reach your language goals. Today, we will be discussing how to go about planning your path towards them.

To reach our final goals in language learning, we have to break them down into sub-goals, smaller, achievable goals that we are going to term “tasks“.

Depending on your overall language goals, there are different ways of approaching tasks, and it depends on whether you have a time limit to reach your target (a ‘time-bound‘ goal) or if your goal is entirely based on reaching a certain level in the best way.

Time-bound goals

Some people will be studying for a situation that has a time limit: This could be a holiday, a business trip, or a test. These goals have a hard time limit, meaning the end result has a fixed time by which it must be achieved. To create tasks for these goals, you have to divide up what you need to know by the number of days/weeks between now and the time limit.

For an example, imagine you are going on holiday to Greece in 10 weeks. You want to reach a basic level in Greek before then, and you want to be able to ask questions about the wildlife and plants there. Your goals may look like this:

  • I want to have a vocabulary of the top 500 words (basic level) before I go to Greece.
  • I want to know the vocabulary for natural objects (200 words) before I go to Greece.
  • I want to know the basics of grammar (50 top structures) before I go to Greece
  • I want to have naturalised this knowledge as much as I can before I go.

So, seeing this, we create our tasks. Let’s look at it on a weekly basis:

  • Every week I need to learn 50 words in the top 500.
  • Every week I need to learn 20 words of nature-related vocabulary.
  • Every week, I need to learn 5 grammatical structures.
  • Every week, I would like to listen to Greek YouTubers for 1 hour a day.

This has broken up your tasks into manageable chunks. If you follow these relatively easy goals, you will be at the level you want to be before you went away. If you want certain outcomes, you have to plan for them!

Goals without time limits

For many of us, we have no time limit on our language-related goals. Often, we just want to reach a certain level as quickly as possible. This kind of goal is the most interesting to work with as it allows us to optimise the process.

The great thing about not being time-bound, is you have enough room to experiment. You know how much time you have to spend on learning each week, and with a little measurement, you can find out how many units of vocabulary and grammar you can learn in that time with your current methods.

This also allows you to do two further things, monitor the effect of new learning methods and predict your future ability.

Let’s take a look at an example of this:

I am learning Farsi, and I want to be familiar and be able to understand and use the top 98% of the language. This means I need to know about 5000 words, and about 200 grammatical structures, as well as regularly naturalise this knowledge by speaking and listening to the language.

Every week I spend 1 hour, every evening between Monday and Friday, studying languages. I also listen to a podcast in Farsi every morning before work.

Currently, I use a flashcard method to learn vocabulary, and I make example sentences with grammatical constructions to help learn them.

I can learn about 50 words a week with this method, and about 10 grammatical structures. This means, I will have the knowledge I want of grammar in 20 weeks, and the vocabulary in 100 weeks, just under two years.

I will experiment with other vocabulary learning methods, if I can learn 100 words in a week, I will half the time it takes to reach my goal.

If I can improve this process by looking at words in Farsi that are from English, I can cut another few weeks off the total time.

From this approach, we can see that language learning is a process that can be optimised.

Setting yourself tasks

As you can see, tasks are very similar to objectives as described in the previous article. They are just smaller versions of the objectives, that will help you reach your goal. Like objectives, they tend to be built around learning vocabulary, grammar or naturalisation.

Planning rewards, missing targets and realism.

An important part about tasks is they allow you to create incentives to reach smaller goals that will drive you to your final one. If you can, try to add some form of reward for meeting your tasks. If you fail to meet them regularly, you may be setting the tasks too high, and you may need to look at your incentives.

Allow for slip-ups, but monitor them. If they happen regularly, you are setting your goals too high.

Be realistic!

This is your plan! You know where you are, you know where you want to be, as well as your plan on how to get there. You can forecast your ability now too, by monitoring and extrapolating your future abilities based on your current performance. If you know you learn 100 words a month, in 6 months you will know 600 words!

In the next article, we will be looking at learning how you learn and monitoring the language learning process. Everyone has a set of variables in their ability to learn languages, and we will look at what we can optimise, and what we can not.

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