- The Eternal Sorrow of the Intermediate Learner: “Are We There Yet?” Syndrome
- When Will I Get Funny?
- Intermediate Angst: Dealing With Feelings of Suckage
- Strategies for Overcoming Burnout
- Grinding: Focus On What You CAN Do
- Max Out The Cause Card: The Omnipotence of Precursors
- Intermediate Goals, Mini-Dreams
- Step Into the Sunlight, But Don’t Look Into the Sun
- Getting There Is Also Your Life
- Start Dirty: Why A Clean Slate Is Bad For You and What To Do About It
- How to Stop Worrying and Accept that Learning a Language is Unfair — Going Beyond Day Trader Style Language Learning
- Speaking: You Don’t Have A Linguistic Problem, You Have A Humanity Problem — Why You Still Suck At Speaking and How to Fix it Fast
- Mastery is Mastering the Basics
- Language Is Peeing: The Approximately Top Ten Reasons Why Language Acquisition = Micturition
- The Intermediate Phase Is Like Tepid Tea, But That’s Fine, Because Tepid Tea is Hotter Than Ice Tea
In a lot of AJATT posts I tend to give the impression, unintentionally, that I’m more courageous than I actually am. It’s what you might call a sin of abbreviation; I cut out most of the parts where I made mistakes and took wrong turns, focussing on telling people what worked and what went right. So, the legend is now ossifying, and it just seems like I had this Big Dream to own Japanese and I did Big Research and then made up a Big Plan and took Big Massive Action on it, executing to Big Completion, and then I wrote a Big Site and became a Big Man all in one straight line, looking neither to the left nor the right.
I’d like to believe that story, too, but it’s not how it actually went down.
First of all Big Dreams, Big Goals…these things are scary…hey — let’s start capitalizing all our nouns, like in German…No? OK…No.
Big Dreams are scary. People will laugh at you; they take a long time to achieve; they can even seem impossible. There’s a little voice inside you going “dude, maybe he could do it, but you?”, “maybe you could do it back then, but things are different now, son!”
I am working on Chinese now, laddering through Japanese. I get lots of praise and congratulation on and off the Internet for the Japanese Project and its success. But this praise can kind of go to one’s head. Not in the sense that one becomes arrogant and egotistical — I was already arrogant and egotistical. Rather, one gets a sense of entitlement. One starts to think that it should be one’s right to simply sail through any language or similar endeavor and it should just be a walk in the cake. Also, Basques.
But it’s not like that. I still have to put on my proverbial pants one leg at a time. I still go through one SRS rep at a time. I still learn one sentence at a time. Real physical limits apply; I’m not Dr. Manhattan, walking around with superhuman language powers in a perpetual state of semi-nudity who the heck does he think he is anyway?! And this can be discouraging, because it’s easy to talk on big time scales — months and years — and talk about long-term residents in a country having the “social responsibility” to learn the local language; it’s easy to talk like a Big Man, who’s Seen It All, but ultimately you still execute at the same time scales as Everyone Else and you still don’t really know What Lies Ahead, or even if you do, it’s hard to feel motivated by it when it’s so far away. Like David Allen says, no matter how Big you get, it all still comes down to, what, answer emails, attend meetings and make phone calls…you are still tied to Real Life and simple, “numbnut” tasks. You still live through minutiae.
Long story short: You want to “own” at your target language, you want to be native level, but you also want something to show for it well before the 10,000 hours and sentences are up, right?
Right. And me telling you “just suck it up”, is not helping, right? Right. I know it doesn’t help because I told myself and it didn’t work. Which is why I am suggesting you also use:
Within your overarching goal of complete command of a language, you want to have little Baby Goals. Larger than the baby steps, but smaller than the Big Goal of Major Ownage.
When I was starting to learn Japanese hardcore, my first goal was just to be able to freely conduct basic daily communication. For that, I primarily used the ideas contained in A. G. Hawke’s “The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast“, eventually taking them to a positive extreme.
After I got there, my next goal was just to be able to talk with my Japanese friends about whatever I wanted. And also watch comedy shows (I wanted to know what my friends were laughing so hard about) and tell jokes. I got there.
Then my goal was to be able to function as an adult in business/government/specialist situations, just like my Japanese friends. I got there.
And then my goal was to be able to function completely like a native speaker, with no barrier, no difference, no gap between me and whoever I was talking to. To communicate with such razor-sharp precision that everything I said or did not say carried intentional meaning; I wanted to be the puppeteer with Japanese words as my puppets. And now my current goal is an extension of this, mainly focused on speed and writing.
I’ve frequently discussed using ultra-short-term goals on the level of hours, minutes and seconds. And long-term goals on the level of several months and beyond. But it has occurred to me that intermediate/mid-term goals (circa 3 weeks ~ 3 months), which I have basically neglected to discuss, are just as important and useful, in pulling one forward. It has occurred to me that I had used them myself to achieve success, but had forgotten to share the idea here.
So, if the pressure of “10,000” and “Native-Level Fluency” is getting to you, if you’re feeling some “cognitive dissonance” [certain members of my family hate this phrase] from the constant reminder that native-user media gives you that you are Not There Yet, then perhaps you could try setting some intermediate goals. Examples:
- Set a 1-month goal for number of hours of listening.
- Set a 1-month goal for number of pages or words or characters read (generally, I find these measures easier to deal with than whole books, since I often switch books before finishing).
- For 1-3 months, focus your energy on mastering a specific area of your target language, like TV news, or a certain anime, or other topic — whatever interests you.
- Set a 1-month goal for number of sentences or reps…be careful not to get carried away.
Anything that gives a feeling of achievement and also brings one closer to the Larger Prize of “Major Ownage”. That graph is just kind of a rough guesstimate of what happens. Anyway, feel free to share your own experiences and suggestions…