Set Yourself Up for Success in Becoming Fluent


I’ve been doing  a series of posts based on the book Becoming Fluent by Richard Roberts and Roger Kreuz.   I was drawn to this book by a suggestion from the polyglot Benny Lewis who has the website Fluent in 3 Months.    Benny recommended it because it is a book written by two psychologists who have done extensive research in how the latest discoveries in cognitive science can illuminate the ways that are most effective for adults to learn a foreign language.

I’m reading this book because I myself am multilingual, having studied Spanish, French, German, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, with the goal of learning at least five new languages in the coming five years:    Italian, Portuguese, Korean, Arabic and Hindi.   My problem is trying to learn new languages while maintaining or even improving my proficiency level in the languages I’ve already studied.

In the first posts, I started from the negative end of stating what some myths and misconceptions are that people have which can prevent them from trying to learn a foreign language.

In this post, I take a positive tack and give the four suggestions the authors mention that are HELPFUL in learning a foreign language, and I use examples from my own language learning to illustrate.

  1. Determine what is realistic

Many adult learners of foreign languages end up feeling frustrated or dissatisfied with their progress in their target language.   They end up blaming themselves for various reasons which have been discussed in previous posts, but maybe they have made a goal which is unrealistic.

You should set realistic, short-term goals for yourself.   This is ironic, because the best way to become fluent is not to say to yourself “I will become fluent in …” (whatever your target language is), but to use something called the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or CEFRL.

It divides the path to fluency into three major levels, with two sub-levels within each:   A for beginning, B for intermediate, and C for advanced, with A subdivided into A1 and A2, B subdivided into B1 and B2, and C subdivided into C1 and C2.

So you should say to yourself, “I will reach A1 level within three month in …” (whatever your target language is).    Then you know that the number of hours you will need to study is around 60-100 based on the following estimates (this one is put out by the Alliance Française).

A1 60–100, A2 160–200, B1 360–400, B2 560–650, C1 810–950, C2 1060–1200

NOTE:   These are cumulative hours, which means that after having studied to the A1 level of basic proficiency in the language, you only have to study 60-100 additional hours to get to the A2 level.

2.  Go public with your goal

If you have a blog, Facebook or a Twitter account, state your goal publicly so that the whole world will know you have begun on your journey towards learning a new foreign language.   You may get some notes of encouragement, or even better, some recommendations for websites or apps that can help you on your way.   If you are not on these types of social media, then at least tell your spouse, friends or siblings about your ambitions.    They will periodically ask you about how you are doing with your goal, and this can be a form of motivation.

3. Find a study buddy

If you’re taking a course, the study buddy would be someone who is taking the course with you.   If you’re studying on your own, then I recommend you go to Meetup.com and look for a language and culture club for your target language.   I’ve been wanting to improve my Japanese and Chinese so that I can take the next level of proficiency exam at the end of 2017.    But I wanted to get a motivator so that if I start on a study program now, that I don’t get distracted and give it up.

So I went to Meetup.com and found a Japanese Language & Culture Meetup that meets nearby, and a Chinese Language & Culture Meetup that meets downtown.   I went to the Japanese two weeks ago, and it so inspired me that I went to the Kinokuniya bookstore last weekend and bought all the books I will need to study for the JLPT N2 (equivalent to C1 or advanced level on the CERFL scale of fluency) test.

4.  Study at the same time each day

After I wake up and do my daily exercise, I cool down by using the Duolingo (for European languages) and iKnow! (for Chinese and Japanese) apps for language practice.   This takes about 15 minutes for each app for a total of 30 minutes–and in so doing I will have reviewed ALL the languages I’m studying.   Chinese and Japanese are in high rotation where I study them every day, Spanish, French, and German are ones I study every other day, and Italian and Portuguese are ones I study every two days.   It may only be 5-10 minutes for each language, but that’s enough to keep from backsliding.    On the weekends when I have more time, I can spend an additional half-hour here and there where I have time to really push forward in a specific language.

By doing the language practice the same each day, my brain knows when the workout of my body is done, it’s time to start my mental workout of my foreign language practice before I cool down BOTH my body and mind in the shower.

I hope that if you too decide to study a foreign language you take the suggestions above to heart, ESPECIALLY suggestion #3 of getting a study buddy.   That’s the motivation factor that keeps on giving, and you have the satisfaction of knowing you are helping someone else while you are being helped towards your own goal!

The next post will discuss the factors you should consider before seriously embarking on a plan to study a foreign language…

 

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