learning a foreign language

Imagine yourself sitting in a comfortable armchair, sipping aromatic coffee… Suddenly, a thought crosses your mind: “Maybe it’s worth learning a foreign language?” For a few moments, you envision yourself speaking Spanish in a café in Madrid or conversing in French with Parisian booksellers along the banks of the Seine.

However, the joy is short-lived. Your brain loves to find excuses to avoid putting in too much effort, doesn’t it? And this time is no different. Where do you even start? You have no idea how to approach foreign language learning.

So, you return to your coffee and sink back into your armchair.

How often do you give up on your dreams?

When was the last time you gave up on your dreams because you prefer comfort and your mundane, repetitive life?

Learning a foreign language is not as difficult as it may initially seem. And it doesn’t have to take years. In just a few months, you can achieve a lot.

However, I know that the hardest part is taking the first step, especially when you embark on something that seems very difficult or impossible at first glance.

Charles Blondin

The Story of Charles Blondin

It was the year 1860 when the famous tightrope walker Charles Blondin decided to take on another challenge. He decided to cross the rope once again. This time, however, it would be suspended 50 meters above the raging waters of Niagara Falls.

The task seemed ridiculously easy for him. Blondin repeated it many times, but each time he added a small difficulty: he crossed the distance at night, on stilts, on a bicycle, etc. He even managed to walk the tightrope while carrying a small stove, and it was so effortless that he even cooked an omelet along the way. People from both Canada and the United States gathered in large crowds to witness Blondin’s feats. They were always amazed by his performances.

One day, the tightrope walker decided to take on another challenge, which the onlookers found hard to believe. He would cross the rope while pushing a wheelbarrow with a sack of potatoes in it.

Everyone was excited as they watched Blondin carefully move step by step toward his goal. Moments later, the crowd applauded the great tightrope walker on the other side of the waterfall. Blondin smiled, seeing the joy of the gathered people, and asked:

“Do you believe that I could carry a person on this wheelbarrow?”

“Yes! Of course!” the crowd shouted, competing to be heard above the waterfall.

“Well then, I invite anyone who would like to try to get into the wheelbarrow,” Blondin said.

A silence fell upon the crowd…

And so, what would you do?

Are you reading this article because you thought that someone who has been tested on their knowledge of several languages on television must know what they’re talking about? Perhaps you expect to find some methods here that will allow you to learn a foreign language quickly, easily, and painlessly?

But do you really want to learn a language? Or are you just looking for more excuses? What will you tell yourself after reading this article?

“Well, it’s interesting, but it won’t work for me?”

If that’s the case, then don’t read any further. It’s a waste of your time.

I want to show you the way to achieve your dream goal. But, I need your commitment. This article is the first step. If you found a spare moment to read it, then you surely have enough free time to take further steps. Therefore, I would like you to complete the tasks described below and start learning the language, alright?

Do you trust me with knowing how to learn languages?

If you do, then hop into the wheelbarrow, and let’s go.

Where to start with learning a foreign language?

1. Identify your learning style

What is the best way to learn? Should you enroll in a course, or maybe learn independently at home? Which textbook should you buy? How exactly should you work with it?

Do you also ask yourself these types of questions?

The Internet is full of miraculous language learning methods. There’s just one problem. There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all method that will work for everyone. Why? Because we are all different. Each of us prefers a slightly different learning style.

And I’m not talking about whether you’re a visual learner or an auditory learner. It’s not that important here.

Even if you consider yourself a visual person, you learned your native language without being able to first read or write, right?

When I say learning style, I mean something else.

Do you prefer to observe what’s happening around you before taking action? Or do you learn through being active? Do you feel comfortable when you don’t understand something? Do you try to analyze what you’re learning, or do you just go with the flow? Do you get stressed when speaking? Do you feel at ease in the company of others?

Each of us has one of four learning styles. We can be assigned to one of the language elements: fire, water, earth, or air.

The first step, therefore, is to understand who we are and what type of learning will work best for us. Should you learn independently? Or perhaps in a group or through individual lessons? You will find out once you discover your learning style.

2. Define your goal

You’ve probably heard a thousand times: “write down your goals and visualize them daily”. Personally, I have nothing against these methods. However, I believe that simply taking action is much more effective. Instead of visualizing myself speaking fluent Dutch, I prefer to work on the next lesson that will bring me closer to that goal.

Setting goals is important, but it shouldn’t occupy your mind too much. Set your goal now and move on.

How to correctly define the goal?

Unfortunately, most of us do it wrong: “I will learn English” or “I will speak fluent German.” If we choose such vague goals, we will quickly lose motivation.

There are many methods for setting goals. You can use the well-known “SMART” method commonly used in business. However, in my case, I find something much simpler to be effective. I choose a goal that meets the following criteria:

  • 1) I know clearly when I will achieve it.
  • 2) I can break it down into small parts.
  • 3) I can quickly determine how close I am to achieving that goal, for example, in percentages.

Here are some sample goals

Will you answer “yes” to each of the control questions in their case?

  • Learn Chinese => NO, NO, NO
  • Enroll in a German course => YES, NO, NO
  • Pass the DELF exam in French => YES, NO, NO
  • Go through XYZ textbook => YES, YES, YES
  • Have 20 hours of lessons with a teacher => YES, YES, YES

As you can see, only the goals that relate to completing a specific number of lessons, whether in a textbook or a course, are effective. Will they allow you to achieve the expected level? You have to trust their authors, hop into their wheelbarrow, and let them carry you to the other side.

Remember that a well-defined goal can be monitored continuously. Simply enrolling in a course or buying a self-study book is not enough.

But you may ask, “What about setting time frames?” You have a point, because many goal-setting methodologies emphasize the importance of setting a deadline for achieving a particular goal.

Is it still important in the case of foreign language learning?

Will anything change if you have a conversation in German in May instead of April?

Setting a timeframe is only necessary when you need to learn the language by a specific date, for example, preparing for an exam, starting a new job, or moving abroad.

In other cases, not meeting artificially set deadlines can be demotivating.

Approach language learning not as a race but as a mountain hike, where you have a goal ahead of you, but you don’t rush anywhere because you want to admire the beauty of the surrounding nature.

3. Develop an action plan

Should you schedule when and how much you will study?

Yes and no.

General Dwight Eisenhower once said:

“Plans are nothing, but planning is everything.”

Our lives are unpredictable. Even if you schedule every minute of it, circumstances will arise that will disrupt your rhythm and undo everything you’ve planned.

A plan is a step-by-step instruction of what to do. It applies only to a highly predictable environment and activity. Therefore, you can plan what you will do in your upcoming language study session, but don’t plan your learning six months in advance.

When dealing with an unpredictable environment, when you lack data and information, you need not a plan but a strategy of action. You need not a detailed instruction but general guidelines on how to proceed.

What is the difference?

Don’t plan, for example, that you will study the next lesson in your language course for five consecutive days at 6:00 PM. Such precise determination of activities is a plan that can collapse like a house of cards when something unexpected occurs. How will you feel then? Certainly frustrated and helpless.

It would be different if you developed a strategy of action. For instance, you told yourself that when you have a free moment in the evening, you will study the next French lesson. Notice that in this case, you eliminate the negative feelings associated with the failure of your plan.

If you don’t find time for learning today, you won’t feel bad.

Do you already know what your strategy of action will be? If not, establish what you will do when an opportunity arises.

4. Define how you will learn

When you were establishing a strategy of action, you surely asked yourself one of the following questions: What specifically should I do? How should I learn? Should I listen, write, or do exercises?

To achieve success, you need to know what specific actions to take. In the case of language learning, you need to determine which actions actually yield the desired results. Even if you spend hours cramming vocabulary, you won’t learn the language because simply cramming vocabulary doesn’t work.

So what should you do?

Listen to what American coach Tony Robbins says:

“If you want to achieve success, find someone who has achieved the results you desire and do what they did, and you will achieve the same results.”

It’s that simple.

Find someone who has already achieved the goal you’re striving for.

And do what they did.

Or maybe you’d rather think something else: “It surely won’t work in my case. I’d better stick to memorizing those vocabulary words, at least I’ll have a sense of security that I’m doing something, right?” The choice is yours…

Find someone who has achieved the goal and hop into their cart. What are you waiting for?

5. Decide what the next step is and take action

This point is the most important one. Take action now. Do what you have defined as the next step and… come back here to determine the next step and the one after that!

Language learning, as well as achieving any goal, actually consists of many “next steps.”

Do you know what the difference is between successful people and those who spend their whole lives sitting in a chair?

The former will take the next step.

And do you already know what your next step is?

Article originally published at sekretypoliglotow.pl in Polish. You can find it here.

Konrad Jerzak vel Dobosz

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