Beginner’s guide to language learning: 5 energy saving rules

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Language learning is no different from any other area of your life where you hope to achieve a result. Even before you start, you need to have a vision of where you go.

It requires a good deal of planning (have I already lost you?), tools and working methods. Without a compass, a map and basic navigation skills you are likely to wander in a fog like that notorious hedgehog from the old Soviet cartoon.

So here are five energy saving rules that you want to consider when deciding to learn a language:

1. Never study a language just because it hits your fancy

Honestly, I thought it was only my problem. The first foreign language I decided to learn was Polish. Then I began learning Thai… After one year I was seriously studying Greek.

Polish?! Thai?! Greek?! What? Why-y-y-y?!

Well, because English, French, and Spanish are so banal!

But sorry. It makes more sense to learn them rather than anything from my language wish list.

It won’t be a complete waste of time to do so since it certainly would give you some nice experience of learning how… well, to learn a language.

But let’s be frank – it is doomed to dust in the archives of your brain.

If you are same like me and just can’t overcome the magnetic power of something fancy and rare like Greek, Latin (who would do that?) or south-western Ukranian spoken in Odessa (it’s Russian), you better be damn sure about what you gonna do with all this.

2. Understand why you want to learn this language

Many things will really depend on your answer.

So do you study German for your future work or because you want to read Nietzsche in original?
It is Norwegian because you really like Royksopp or because you’re thinking to move up north?
Do you need to give a presentation in Russian for a conference in Moscow or you just want to throw a few phrases while travelling in Siberia?

Simply, answering this question will help you to set an appropriate goal. First of all, you will get an idea of the proficiency level you need to achieve. Second, it will help you clearly define your core vocabulary. Third, you will be able to concentrate on right language skills.

For example, if you are learning German for travel, you don’t need a massive writing training. But if you prepare to apply in the University of Hamburg… well, you know better.

It will, in many cases, also give you some kind of a deadline. It is to say, you will be able to schedule your learning sessions better in order to achieve your goal before that job interview in French, language proficiency test in Spanish or your amazing trip to Italy.

3. Set challenges instead of concrete goals

Why challenges? I found that goals like “Learn Spanish in 2 years” do not work.

First of all, 2 year is quite a long period of time. And second, what the hell does it mean to learn Spanish?

Instead, try to set simple challenges like:

  • Be able to hold a conversation with a native speaker of {your target language} for 10 minutes;
  • Read a book in {your target language};
  • Watch a movie in {your target language} without subtitles and understand it;
  • Attend an event held in {your target language} and speak to 5 persons;

You will be able to try yourself almost every day and receive an immediate feedback from your own learning experience.

4. Do not depart without a deadline

I believe this part is omitted too often by the majority of language learners.

Nevertheless, clear timeframes are crucial for success. Without them you are doomed to procrastinate as soon as you have passed the initial phase and your level of motivation has plunged.

Your brain will do everything: tell you that you’re too tired, that you have another urgent project hanging on you, that nobody would die if you skip just one day, etc. And this is just because you didn’t mark you Big Language Learning Project as urgent and important. For the brain it means that you have the whole life ahead to learn you Maori. You can’t blame your brain for that; it’s trying to save you some energy.

Setting a deadline for your challenges will give you a point of reference for where you are against your goal.

5. Have all the resources at hand even before you start

Install Memrise, download a Pimsleur course, find a decent grammar book, make sure to choose at least 2-3 interesting podcasts in a language you learn – and relax. You have done a half of hard work: prepared a piece of work for tomorrow. Why is that?

Just imagine that you sat to study, let’s say, Italian… and you have nothing to start with! Moreover, you don’t even know what you need. Do you still feel like studying?

Au contraire, when you have your polyglot starter kit pre-installed and packed everywhere: in your phone, in your laptop, under your pillow, inside your gym bag (ok, maybe I’ve gone too far) you will come across your Italian much more often than you may think.

Such a preparation will help not only use your Italian time more effectively, but also to use your waiting time for repeating your vocabulary, listening to authentic content and engaging with your target language in other ways.

Plans are useless but planning is indispensable
Dwight D. Eisenhower

I hope you found this post useful! If so, share your thoughts in the comments below and tell about your way of getting off for a solid start!

Author Details
Polyglot, Author and Founder of Linguapath
Hey! I am Alina Kuimova, and my long-lasting obsession with learning languages led to the creation of this site. Apart from being a grammar enthusiast, I enjoy reading smart books in any language available, finding easier ways for the brain to learn things and buffing productivity stats by 180%.
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