What is stopping you from learning something new? It could be that you don’t have the time to practice, or you don’t have a good system to structure your learning. It’s also possible that times are tough and you don’t have the money to spend on a language course. Well the good news is that there are so many free tools for language learning that money should no longer be an obstacle to your learning. If you choose to copy down this system I’ll describe you’ve now taken care of two-thirds of those road-blocks in the way of learning a new language. The time thing you’re going to have to resolve on your own. Prioritize and execute, as Jocko Willink says.
This blog is not a tool. This is an system for how to organize the best modern tools that I have found online together into a dedicated form of language practice.
First of all, major credit has to go to Chris Lonsdale who’s Tedx video How To Learn Any Language In 6 Months gave me a solid guide for where to start on building my own curriculum. Chris’s system has been copied all over the internet and the 5 Principles & 7 Actions here or a PDF of his Tedx talk here. I highly recommend watching his talk.
No one is going to hold my hand through language learning. I enjoy my locational freedom, so I wasn’t going to sign up for a school and be locked down to learning in one place. This solution is so that you can design and adapt the system yourself, and take it with you anywhere. Keeping interest high by rotating what types of lessons are being learning, and speed up retention by changing levels of how intense the pressure to perform is in different lesson scenarios.
I’ve arranged 10 Lesson types, with various forms of study such as listening to podcasts or chatting with people online by High, Medium or Low Intensity categories (refers to how taxing practice is on your cognitive ability and anxiety to practice spoken language) into a Super Tool-Belt of online tools and lessons that you arrange into 30 minute blocks for focused study.
Example: Here’s a heavy study schedule where I was focused for 4 hours a day on Chinese learning. Each block is 30 minutes, and I made sure to give myself activities low and high intensity in order to push myself.
*optional: This was about 6 months in and I was experimenting with one paid lesson (about $15/hour) per week in order to increase my spoken proficiency.
Having just taken a sabbatical from my job, and a lot of free time on my hands my focus on learning was high. I set myself a goal of 4 hours a day (8 blocks). You can set yourself a goal of 30, 60 or 120 minutes a day for learning. it must be consistent. I don’t recommend anything less than 30 minutes (1 Block) a day in order to make noticeable progress. The key is focused, repeated practice.
I also set an incentive for myself to have beginner conversational ability by the end of the year. I buttressed this with an outward incentive that I told to many friends and family members that I would be able to tell one joke in Chinese by Christmas. This put pressure on me to either be able to perform by that point, or look like a slacker to everyone I had told. I ended up nailing this goal when just before Christmas I was eating with a friend and his Chinese in-laws, drinking ridiculous amounts of baijiu (chinese rice liquor) when his mother-in-law looked at my friend and said “I think one more drink may kill him”, which I understood and responded “Hǎo de. Shāle tā!” roughly translated as “Good. Let’s kill him!”. Everyone except my friend erupted in laughter at this and we all kept drinking.
This may sound silly, but it’s an important point. You have to be willing to put off feeling good about your learning until a far point in the future. In the meantime you’re going to feel dumb, frustrated and confused. But unless you can put up with this you’ll never learn. The more you’re willing to put up with on a daily basis, the faster you’ll learn.
Alright, lets get down to the nitty-gritty of how you go about organizing your study period over a day. Here are the rules:
- Choose your number of daily hours you plan to practice
- Organize your day the night before. NOT the day of. Then stick to it.
- Select activities that will keep your interest, and make sure to have at least 2 of the 3 Intensity levels of activities (High, Medium, Low)
- Copy the activity blocks into your day in the Excel sheet, and write the tool you will use in next to the activity (podcast, youtube, app, etc)
- Do you lessons and take notes on which ones you most enjoy, and which seem to push you the most into new learning (these may not be the same at all)
The 10 blocks below are all types of lessons I have designed, and there is a list of useful tools below that which you can pursue for truly free language learning. The system is here. The effort is all you.
A Video Lesson might be to watch Litao Chinese Lesson 1 on Youtube, and write out the words in hanzi or pinyin that he goes over in the lesson.
A Chat Lesson would be to take a sentence from your notebook and start a conversation with 5 different people on HelloTalk using that sentence. Then read their responses and try to keep the conversation going.
I’ve learned that experimentation is very helpful to push past getting bored in your learning. For example, I would watch a Youtube lesson, and transcribe the whole thing with detailed notes, then I would teach that lesson back to my tutor as if I were the Youtube teacher. This was amazing for retention.
For some bonus examples of lessons I’ve experimented with, look below the links at the end of this blog.
Tools List / Links:
- 750 Chinese Phrases – Youtube
- Learn Chinese While You Sleep – Youtube
- Litao Chinese Lessons – Youtube
- Hello Talk App – Google Play / iTunes
- WeChat App – Google Play / iTunes
- TanTan App – Google Play / iTunes
- Anki Flashcards
- ShowAround website
Click here to download my Chinese Curriculum – TEMPLATE excel sheet that I use to track and schedule my learning days. The Excel is complete with the blank schedule, template pages, one week of a calendar and as a bonus a list of 20 Chinese movies with descriptions and my own personal ratings.
These are activities that I found fun to create and keep my mind engaged when podcasts, books and movies started to diminish in gains to my language learning.
Organizing a Light Day: Here’s another example of how you could organize a day if you’re on the road, or time is tight that day you can still get in some language practice to push you forward to your goal.
*This actually turned out to be pretty enjoyable, and it was all otherwise time that may have been wasted on my phone or doing something else frivolous
Sentence Fractals: I would write out questions or statements on Post-It notes and create sentences to repeat to my teacher. Often giving myself multiple answers for any direction the conversation could go.