Tested and approved: Language Challenge

Note: if you don’t know what this is about, you can see the previous article about the italki language challenge and the progression journal here.

The italki Language Challenge Olympics are now over. I would like to thank you all for following my progress. I have learnt a lot, not only about Spanish and Portuguese but also about language learning, motivation, methods and of course language challenges. It was a great experience.

Let’s jump straight to the takeaways:

Language challenges are great. And they really work.
Provided you can set a clear and challenging but reachable goal, a language challenge is a great way to reach this goal in a controlled time, while staying motivated and having a blast. Blogging and tweeting about it, and generally talking about it with your friends helps you keep your goal in sight, and the limited time frame prevents you from procrastinating.

My goal, as announced mid-June before the start of the challenge, was to bring my Portuguese and Spanish back to fluency and to shoot a new teacher introduction in six languages. I made it - check by yourself:

That said, I’m still an ever-unsatisfied French guy and so, here’s what I think I could have done better - and how you can up your game too!

1. It takes much more time than you'd expect.

The main goal of this language challenge was to take twenty hours of language lessons on italki. I somehow assumed that most of the time allotted to the language challenge would be taken by lessons, with a very short review session each evening and a few activities here and there. Ultimately, every lesson resulted in about two full pages of new vocabulary and I quickly discovered that, the more I studied, the more I became aware of how much I had yet to learn.

Language challenges where you commit to a fixed amount of study time per day (such as the Add1 challenge which I really want to try one day) may make it easier to manage your time than those based on a number of lessons. 
→ It is very important to also plan time for self-study.

2. Studying one or two languages intensively will damage the other languages that you speak.

Ok I knew it. Somewhat. However I didn’t expect that five weeks focusing on Spanish and Portuguese would result in me struggling to have a normal conversation in German - which I could do before the language challenge.
→ Take care of your other languages while you boost those you study.

3. Focusing on a main goal means that what feels less important to you will be totally ignored. You will be painstakingly aware of what’s missing.

After I have strived for five weeks to reach fluency in Spanish and Portuguese, I am more aware than ever that my conjugation, and some aspects of grammar are quite suboptimal, and that my vocabulary - especially in Portuguese - is not as broad as I would like it to be. Focussing on fluency meant that accuracy was not a priority. While it is a very good strategy if your goal is to be able to speak - which I recommend to my students - I would also like to speak in a more versatile and accurate manner.

Diving into a language makes you understand how complex it is, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the things you don’t know yet, and you still want to study. Now I feel very annoyed whenever I get a verb wrong, or if I can’t find a word and realized that I had never memorized it. But since I dislike studying conjugations - that’s a remain of when I had to swallow all those Spanish verbs in middle school and I hated it - I wonder what will be stronger: my disliking conjugations or my disliking mistakes? 

One way or another, you’ll become more aware of the gaps in your study, which is good since it keeps you motivated to study more, but feels a bit dissatisfying.

→ Be prepared to some level of frustration

4) You will be concerned about keeping the earned benefits.

While you rejoice the progress and worry a bit over the gaps, when a language challenge ends, a new concern arises: will you be able to keep the level you reached and to keep improving while you can’t dedicate so much time to the language anymore?

Ultimately, it all comes down to having only twenty-four hours in a day, about a third of which are spent sleeping, and typically another third are dedicated to work. You wish you had more time, but you don’t. Once you have found all the little ways to make more time for language study, you have scraped a few hours, but as a true language addict, you still feel it’s not enough.

The bad news is: you are not going to magically find more. The only thing you can do is to make the best possible use of the time you’ve got.

Goal setting and publicly displaying your goals is amazingly efficient. My life is often chaotic and it would be easy to lose grip of my language study without having a clear plan.

For all these reasons, I am very happy and proud to announce that I will be joining #ClearTheList a language learning blog linkup hosted by Lindsay and Shannon. The principle is to share our language learning goals each month and to connect with other passionate learners to reach our goals together.

Click here to discover my August goals.

Angel Prétot