I’ve been enthused about language learning all my life, but my discovery of Benny Lewis and his multilingual abilities at his website fluentin3months.com has really inspired me to expand my fluency in several languages in 2014, something I plan to continue doing in 2015.
1. Keeping Your New Year’s Resolution
One of the things he encourages those members of his community to do is to set out a plan on how they want to tackle a new language in the coming year. See his post on keeping a New Year’s Resolution with regards to learning a new language (or improving your fluency in one you already know).
His main tips are:
- Create goals that are specific and measurable
- Allow yourself to feel a sense of accomplishment and progress
- Know your limitations and don’t let setbacks derail your momentum
- Use tools to track your progress
These tips are good for any goal, not just ones having to do with learning languages, by the way.
2. How to create specific and measurable language goals.
One way to measure your specific fluency level is to use the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. There are six fluency levels, with A1, A2 being the levels needed to survive in a country, B1, B2 being the levels needed to live in a country, and C1, C2 being the levels needed to thrive in a country.
This framework has been influential worldwide because China’s proficiency exams have been changed to conform to this framework.
|A1||Beginner||Can introduce oneself and understand familiar everyday expressions.|
|A2||Elementary||Can describe oneself and communicate about one’s immediate environment.|
|B1||Intermediate||Can talk about past and future events and about most situations encountered at work or school.|
|B2||Upper Intermediate||Can communicate about simple ideas and concepts in a way that is generally understood.|
|C1||Advanced||Can communicate about complex ideas and concepts in a way that is easily understood.|
|C2||Fluent||Can summarize complex idea and concepts and create coherent presentations.|
So when you start to learn a new language, your first goal should be to reach the “A1” level. Once you’ve achieved that, you can go on to A2, etc. The rough rule of thumb is that is takes twice as much time to go to each higher level than the one before. How much time it takes to go up any particular level depends on a) your consistency, b) the difficulty of the language, usually measured by how far it is on the linguistic “tree” of languages from your own (so Chinese takes three times as much time per level as Spanish for an English speaker).
3. My Multilingual Plan
Last year around this time I put together a “multilingual plan for 2014.” Today I put forward my new plan for 2015.
In the chart below, I list for each language what level of fluency I am at now, any recent achievements in that language, and then what my target level for 2015 is, together with any specific goals I have and what method I plan to use to reach those goals.
With the fluency levels understood to be those referred to above, here’s my language planning chart for 2013. In the chart, RS means “Rosetta Stone”, DL means “Duolingo,” TB means “Textbook”, FSI means “Foreign Service Institute course.” The various abbreviations in the “Recent Achievements” and the “Plan for 2015” columns are for the officially recognized proficiency exams for that language.
|Recent Achievements||2015 Fluency
|Plan for 2015||Learning Resource(s)|
|Spanish||B2||RS Level 4||C1||DELE B2, DL 25
RS Level 5, FSI Advanced Spanish,
|French||B2||RS Level 4||C1||DALF C1, DL 25
RS Level 5, FSI Advanced French B
|German||B1||RS Level 4||B2||Zertifikat B2, DL 25
RS Level 5, FSI Advanced German
|Japanese||C1||Passed JLPT N2||C2||JLPT N1 (C2), Kanji Kentei Level 5||TB (Live in Tokyo), iPhone Apps for Kanji|
|Chinese||B1||Passed HSK 3 (B1), FSI Module 6||B2||HSK 4 (B2), FSI Module 7||FSI, iPhone Apps for Chinese Characters|
|Arabic||A1||RS Level 1||A2||RS Level 2-3, ALPT A1||RS, Living Language|
|Italian||A2||Duolingo 10||B1||Duolingo 20, RS Level 3,
|RS, Duolingo, FSI|
|Portuguese||A2||RS Level 1,
|B1||Duolingo 20, RS Level 3,
|RS, Duolingo, FSI|
|Dutch||A1||Duolingo 10||A2||Duolingo 20||Duolingo, Teach Yourself|
|Danish||A1||Duolingo 10||A2||Duolingo 20||Duolingo, Teach Yourself|
|Irish||A1||Duolingo 10||A2||Duolingo 20||Duolingo, Teach Yourself|
|Swedish||A1||Duolingo 10||A2||Duolingo 20, FSI||Duolingo, FSI|
|Turkish||New||None||A2||Duolingo 10, FSI||Duolingo, FSI|
|Korean||New||None||A2||Learn Hangul, A2||Integrated Korean|
So essentially my plan is to move up one level of fluency in the five languages I’ve studied and am already proficient in (Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Chinese) as well as in the two languages I’ve studied on Duolingo and am still a beginner in but would like to improve to intermediate level (Italian, Portuguese). The four new languages I started in 2014 (Dutch, Danish, Irish, and Swedish) I intend to improve my fluency from beginner to elementary level. And finally, there are two languages I plan to start studying in 2015, Turkish and Korean.
How do I study all these languages at the same time.
- I subscribe to the List app, which helps you create and maintain daily habits through the power of social media. This helps you create a consistent practice: even if you study for only 5 minutes every day, this is better than studying 30 minutes every week! Benny Lewis recommends Memrise, an app I plan to try out.
- I listen to foreign language recordings while driving, in particular my Chinese recordings from the FSI course.
- I listen to language recordings while doing housework. It takes away the drudgery of routine physical tasks by listening to foreign languages while doing it. You’ll reorder your brain while putting order into your environment, let’s put in that way.
- I use Duolingo for my European languages, which includes Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Irish, and Swedish. It is like Rosetta Stone lite, in that it helps you practice the four language skills of reading, writing, listening, and (to a lesser extent) speaking. It’s such a great app that I use it every day–I have a 468-day non-stop studying streak that I intend to stretch to 500 days. This Duolingo app is the core of my daily practice, and it takes about one hour.
- For a more difficult language like Arabic which is non-European, I use Rosetta Stone.
- Finally, the proof of language learning is in the speaking, and I plan to find incorporate the learning of foreign languages through Benny Lewis’ Conversation Partners and through professional teachers at Italki.
These are some creative ways I try to use my time so that I can do something as audacious as to follow Benny Lewis’ lead, whom I mentioned at the beginning of the post. Last year I really stretched and added four new foreign languages to the eight I already knew (the five “core” languages plus the three I added on to it). There’s no reason why I can’t shoot for the same goal of being fluent (C2 level) at a dozen or more foreign languages. It is a journey of 1,000 miles, but I can do it–one step at a time for each language I’m studying!