I want to learn a new language! I know what you’re thinking–we’ve all heard that one before. Most goals are easier said than done, but I feel like this one is even more difficult (and one that tons of us can relate to). After years of Spanish classes in school that did little to help me, I decided that I needed to make my own plan and commit to it if I really wanted to learn the language. I realized that learning a language is similar to running a marathon. Full disclosure–I’ve never run a marathon, so I don’t really know. But I do know that you definitely need a finish line and some checkpoints to keep you on the right path. If there were a marathon with a finish line at “native speaker levels of fluency,” here’s how I would plan it!
- Where’s the finish line?
The end of “learning a language” is pretty ambiguous–how do you know when you’re done learning? Well, there isn’t really a right answer, but I did some research and found out that there are multiple standardized tests that learners can take to get a diploma and prove their level of fluency! I recommend doing some research on them–they’re a great way to gauge your current level and determine by how much you want to improve. I think it will be effective to have a physical goal to work toward instead of the abstract concept of “fluency.” My personal goal is to take a standardized test exactly one year from now.
- What are the different comprehension areas?
When taking a language class in school, the different comprehension areas aren’t always explicitly laid out. However, once I found out how language education is organized, it made a lot more sense to me. The four areas are: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It’s important to work on all of these skills while working toward language proficiency.
- How can you practice every comprehension area?
I’ve finally realized the magic of coupons. The joy it brings me to see that I saved $1 is insane. But really, you don’t realize how much groceries can amount to until you’re at the check-out and realize that surviving takes a lot more than $20. It sucks, but that’s what coupons are for! So use them! Look for them! They’re everywhere, whether it’s through apps, Groupon, or even asking from friends. They’re lifesavers!
- What difficulty level are your activities?
Once you have a good list of activities, make some of them into variants with different difficulty levels. For example, one activity might be to watch a movie. You can divide this activity into three, each with increasing difficulty–first watch the film in English with Spanish subtitles, then watch it in Spanish with Spanish subtitles, and finally, watch it in Spanish with no subtitles. And a bonus: see how these activities help to practice both reading and listening!
- When should you reach each checkpoint?
I recommend breaking your marathon into a number of checkpoints that correlate with a specific amount of time. For example, I have four checkpoints and I aim to reach each one in three months. To create each checkpoint, take a look at your list of activities and their different levels of difficulty. Separate them, allocating the easier tasks to the beginning of your marathon and the more difficult tasks to the finish line. This encourages a steady increase in skill level over time as you near the end of your marathon.
Now that you’ve planned out all of these steps, you have a complete outline of how to reach the finish line! Using specific activities with timed checkpoints, you’ll be able to keep track of your progress and make it through your language-learning marathon in a breeze. Maybe our next goal will be an actual marathon…