Benny Lewis, the ambitious Irish polyglot who blogs over at Fluent in 3 months, has written today’s guest post to knock some sense, and yes, some encouragement, into those of you taking on a New Year’s resolution involving your L2.
As his blog’s title suggests, he has ridiculously high objectives in short times and has quite a lot to say on the topic! He wrote a whole book about “hacking” languages, translated into over 20 languages, which includes (among other things) an exclusive Khatzumoto audio interview!
Five years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to never ever make New Year’s resolutions again, and I have stuck to it! The reason? I almost never kept to the resolution. I’d join the gym, and go just a few times and then get lazy, and stop, or I wouldn’t last a week past “giving up” TV etc. It just wasn’t working.
This doesn’t mean that I’ve remained stagnant in the last 5 years and not improved myself. Quite the contrary! I’ve found a method that works much better for me for achieving my goals, and of course I never limit it just to the first few weeks of the year.
So if you’ve made a new year’s resolution to learn Japanese or any other language then maybe this approach may help you so that you actually achieve that goal.
New plan of action
The problem with a resolution is that it just envisions the end-goal and not the process. “Speak Chinese” for example, is a nice promise to make yourself, but it doesn’t actually mean anything unless you’ve defined exactly what “speak” means to you and set yourself a timeframe to achieve it by. Frankly, a year is way too long. The end goal is too far away and you may end up making excuses and constantly postpone it until “the next” month since you still have plenty of time until the deadline.
My most important goals have 2-3 month time limits, and I have been successful nearly all of them. This is not necessarily an “end” to my work in a language, but amajor milestone I aim for. Today I’m starting a brand new two month language project that you can follow on my blog. 2011 will be made up entirely of such goals for me. This shorter time limit has given me more pressure and based on Parkinson’s law, I’ve achieved the goal or very close to it in that time limit.
Even then it’s still too broad a task to seem achievable, unless you break it up into mini-goals. Rather than make just one resolution in 3/6/9/12 months, break it up into achievable tiny chunks like learn all vocabulary related to the kitchen by the end of the day, or spend 30 minutes learning Kanji by SRS.
Each of these add up much better to the end goal than most vague resolutions with no components to build up to anything ever do. Te best part is that they give you a great sense of achievement every day, since any mere mortal without any radioactive spider bites or nanotechnology upgrades to his/her neurons can indeed complete these tasks. It will be hard to stay motivated over the long term unless you feel even proud of your progress on a daily basis.
Completing these tasks brings you a step closer to the end goal every time, and that’s something to be damn proud of!
Your mission, should you choose to accept it…
Next, you should abandon the use of the word ‘resolution’ entirely. It’s boring. Those following my blog know the word I like to use: mission.
Having been brought up with way too many action movies and TV shows, I like to add a little drama to otherwise mundane tasks, and the concept of a mission to be completed against a ticking clock makes it seem much more exciting. Yes, I also use time boxing techniques and have a ticking clock remind me that I have something to do and a deadline to do it by.
James Bond, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, the teenage mutant ninja/hero turtles and Captain Planet had missions. Joe Shmoe who wants to just “speak Japanese” is making a resolution with no plan of action, and he very likely won’t achieve it, or at least definitely not that year. A resolution is a hope to achieve something. A mission is an urgent plan-of-action to achieve it; this is more than just a change of use of words. The underlying process involved is completely different.
When I have a mission, I may not be saving the world from aliens, shredder, Dr. No (or Dr. Evil), but I’m achieving something important to me; so this has equal urgency as a mission to a fictional hero does. I create urgent pressure such as going to the country where the language is spoken, or blogging to thousands of readers about my progress so there is that extra bit of motivation not to fail.
But, but, but…
If you respond to that thought process with “but I can’t travel!” you are still in the resolution mindset. Everyone with a resolution mindset I have met ultimately turn to excuses why they will fail. Their filter to the world is set to “dire pessimist” and all they see is obstacles.
Those with a mission will only see challenges as things to be overcome, and will dowhatever it takes to get over and around them. Nearly all the time, those challenges are not genetics, wealth, talent, time, gender, shoe size, star alignment or what your fortune cookie said. No, the challenges are in your head.
Think you are genetically cursed to not learn languages? Then how in FSM’s name are you reading this language?? Your next one is another language, like any other human one. You’ve already done this once and the majority of the world speaks more than one language. If you happen to be born to a monolingual culture, don’t let that stop you!
Think you’re unlucky? Sorry mate, but you make your own luck. Bad excuse.
Travel to the country is impossible for you? I doubt it, but even if you are stuck in your home country there is a wealth of free info and resources online to learn and dozens of ways to meet up with natives at home without travelling for when you want to get some spoken practice. I like to use language searches in local social networks and help out tourists for example.
When you do whatever it takes, this means that you will challenge your very own resistance and fear and charge into your mission head first until you reach your objective.
So what are you waiting for? Make a plan of action QUICKLY, stop waiting for those books to arrive from Amazon, stop waiting until you’re “ready” and just DO IT. Get into your language now. You’re on a mission now, soldier!