12 Language learning resolutions

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It’s that time of year again, the end of one year and the start of a new one. Time to re-invent, readjust and turn a new page, turn over a new leaf, start again with a clean slate.

In a couple of weeks the resolutions will be forgotten, in the past, oh well, let’s crack on, see you again in 12 months for the same old, same old.

If you are a language learner, then the feeling of broken resolutions may not be something that is unusual for you. If you are learning a language, then you may have been influenced in the past by the promises of an easy fix. Hold on, have I mentioned this before? The reality for language learners, and indeed for any real, learning, is that you are in it for the long game.

So let’s pretend that resolutions work for a moment – as some surely (rarely?) do.

But, let’s call them objectives, just for the purposes of this post.

So here are 12 objectives for (language) learners for 2013.

Why 12, you may ask?

Let’s think of one a month, a maximum of 31 days, and at best, only 28 days to pursue the objective through to an end. In small, manageable, bite-sized chunks, which could then become a new habit for the better.

Most problems that language learners encounter are internal barriers and resistance to change. Many say that they just don’t have the time, but claim to be motivated to learn. Well, I’m sorry, but if you don’t make the time it just ain’t going to happen. Another of the internal barriers to learning is a resistance to changing old habits and methods of learning – if it didn’t work first time, then isn’t perhaps time to try another way? There are many more limiting behaviours which form barriers to learning, but we won’t go into these here.

OK, let’s have a look at the 12 objectives for 2013:

1. Start a learning journal – reflection is a hugely important and effective tool in learning. Technically the name is “metacognition” or ‘thinking about thinking’. This is pure process time, that is often rejected by adults as ‘process’ isn’t ‘action’ and action is what we should be doing, no? This is where a learner records insights, thoughts and feelings about learning, which can be reviewed at a later date to monitor changes and personal growth. Learning something new and then reflecting on it can be a powerful way of fostering critical thinking and choice making in learning. It doesn’t matter in which form the journal is kept, although I would suggest a handwritten journal, however, it must be kept on a regular basis. Try this for 31 days (at least).

2. Listen for 15 minutes a day – Listen to the language for at least 15 minutes a day, 7 days a week for 31 days. Alternate the types of listening that you do and try to think (using your Learning Journal) how you listen in your own language. Don’t try to understand everything – for those that know my techniques, try the WH? question process. Tune your ear into listening to the music of the language – if you can’t hear it, you’ll never get to understand it. Try this for 31 days (at least).

3. Turn your Spellcheck off – If you write emails, or use Word – try to write without a grammar check turned on. You can always spellcheck after you have finished writing. Try to memorise the mistakes you make on a regular basis and rectify them gradually. A spellcheck won’t help you learn, only thinking about and then acting upon it will help that. Try this for 31 days (at least).

4. Read a newspaper in the target language – at least once a week have a look at an online or hard copy of a newspaper. Reading can help in sentence construction and vocabulary building, but can also give insights into the target culture. It is interesting to see how foreigners see the same story that you can read in your own language too. Try this for 31 days (at least).

5. Use a monolingual dictionary – Bilingual dictionaries are great when you need to find a particular word, but they are often limiting, giving suggested translations of a particular word. However, a monolingual dictionary will help in seeing the word in use in sentences and help develop vocabulary by building upon the word and its usage. Try this for 31 days (at least).

6. Listen to music – Download the lyrics of songs you enjoy. Listen to the music, a great way to build up expressions and work on your listening memory. Try this for 31 days (at least).

7. Seize opportunities to use the language – go to an ‘after-work’ where you can use the language. Even if this may be less than straightforward, in terms of your language skills, you will gain a great deal by listening and interacting as much as you can in a social setting. It will be difficult, but not impossible. Try to go to one every two weeks at least for a month.

8. Learn an expression a day – write an expression a day that you pick up from Internet, emails, songs or other sources. Put it on a post-it, just out of eyeshot, try to say the expression to yourself, check you have said it right and then try to use it when you have a chance to speak in the language. Learning expressions is more effective than isolated words of vocabulary as you can roll them out without having to fish around for each individual word.

9. Join Twitter – start interacting through simple messages with native speakers of the language. You will be surprised how easy it is and how willing people are to communicate and help with your language skills. You don’t need to be on Twitter 24 hours a day – try 10 minutes a day – reading and when you have the courage, post a tweet. Try this for 31 days (at least).

10. Take chances – don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes, if not too habitual, help us learn, as long as we are able to reflect and adjust. Take the plunge and speak when you get the chance – it may not be perfect, but that’s not what you are striving for at the outset, but it will be communication.

11. Set objectives – yeah, I know that SMART objectives are very 1990, but they are, in fact very useful. Set objectives for what you are going to do for the week – you may stray from your plan, that is fine, but at least you will have a plan. Just going at an objective pell-mell is not a good way to progress – if you plan to go nowhere, you usually get there! review your plan using your learning journal to see what works, and what isn’t working. Adjust, refine and change your plan, but always have one.

12. ENJOY! – Make a conscious effort to enjoy what you do. Don’t go looking at subjects that would never interest you in your own language, just because they happen to be in the target language. Do fun things, things that you enjoy or interest you. I know this sounds so glaringly obvious that I shouldn’t have to include it here, but it is surprising how many learners forget the fun-factor and end up learning very little and often give up. Try this for the rest of your life!

Try these resolutions / objectives, one a month if you like, let me know how things are going or if you have any other suggestions in the comments.

Happy New You!

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