Ahh, happy new year to all of you! Even though the last two weeks have been quite busy, I did take a few minutes to note down my resolutions for the next year.
One thing that struck me this year is something I had not realised before. There is this huge difference between goals and resolutions. A goal is something specific, concrete, something that you can achieve and then feel good about your success. A resolution is deeper and comes from your emotional centre. It's about what you really want to change in your life.
Language Learning Resolutions vs Goals
Resolutions are often ambitious and come out of the desire to improve something and feel better as a result. Here are some great language learning resolutions:
- To become fearless in the face of talking to strangers in a foreign language
- To feel comfortable watching foreign TV without subtitles
- To become less self-critical
- To build a habit of reviewing vocabulary every single week
Success comes from combining ambition and goal. So once your ambition is set, think about how to break it down into goals - how much can you do in 3 months, how much can you do in a week? Documenting all those goals will give you a clear roadmap, with the resolution as your fuel and the ambition as the destination.
How to Start Reaching That Language Learning Ambition
The following set of tips is a summary of the best advice that Lindsay and I discussed in Episode 30 of the Creative Language Learning Podcast. You can listen to the episode to find out how we go about learning our own target languages, Japanese and Welsh.
1. Work With a Diary or Calendar
Automating a new habit is such a fantastic way to stop negotiating with yourself. If your diary usually has things like doctor's appointments and meetings with your boss in it, how can you question its authority? So use that rock in your life and start adding little bits of language study time, for example coaching sessions or vocab reviews.
2. Don't Rely on Empty Time
Instead of hoping for that Duolingo-at-the-bus-stop moment, set some time aside as a regular appointment with yourself. Lindsay sets time aside from 7am to 8am so she can enjoy an hour of language learning where she can do what she wants to do. I'm less consistent but have a Sunday afternoon study hour where I work on learning my languages.
3. Don't Be Quiet About Your Resolution
It's too easy to commit to a big resolution without even telling people about it. But when it comes to actually doing stuff, it helps to look out for other people that want to do the same. As language learners, this is more true for us than any other people. You want to learn a language, so you want to talk to people. Get started with the "people" part of it now and find a language learning buddy or a tutor to support you.
4. Build on Existing Habits
If there is a slot in your day that you repeat regularly, you have found a great opportunity to learn your language. For example, I know that every morning I sit on the stairs in my house and drink a coffee. The coffee is already a fixed part of my day, so adding a daily Welsh practice or reviewing one page of my learning notebook won't take too much willpower. Instead of going on Facebook before you drop off to sleep, could you spend 10 minutes with the flashcards?
5. Make Your Chunks Big and Small Enough
When you are studying at beginner level, it's too difficult to aim for passing the big C2 immigration exam. When you are advanced but haven't got travel money for the next 6 months, it's too unrealistic to aim for that in-country conversation with a native speaker. These goals need to be broken down so that you can see the end in sight of your current project. What can you do today so that it's a bit easier for you to get to the vision tomorrow?
6. Be Super Precise
Precision is essential for setting a good language learning goal. You must define exactly what it is that you are aiming for. Fluency is a vague desire, but what you need is more than that. Your goals have to be measurable in precise terms, so try to zoom in on those step-by-step achievements. For example, I tend to avoid putting my goals in terms of "having a conversation". Instead, I may want to finish Lesson 8 in my textbook next week or say 15 new sentences based on what I already know. The key is to DO something that will make you feel good when you've done it. Imagining your success does not count.
7.Once the Course is Set, Do Not Question It
It can be so tempting to set a big ambitious goal and leave a little bit of wriggle-room open for yourself when things don't quite work out. When you are setting your New Year's Resolution, is it so ambitious that you already know you're going to fail? If yes, then revise it. Halve it. Make it achievable so that you know you'll be committed.
This is where writing a goal down and sharing it come in handy. Write it in the comments of this blog article as a first step! Set yourself a reminder to come back to it. Whatever you do, don't just go away and forget what excited you enough to get started.
8. Repeat Your Successes
Meeting a goal doesn't mean that you'll never have to do it again. It is the first step to building an awesome new habit. So once you've had your first Skype lesson, you're one step further along the way. But you're not there. You may never be there.
Last year, my New Year's Resolution was to become a more punctual person. But that is an ambition and not a goal. A goal would have been to say "I will turn up 10 minutes early for every appointment I have tomorrow". And for the first day, I did just that. I was super proud! Now imagine what would have happened if I'd just stopped caring after that goal. I'd be just as late as I always was. But if I met the goal every single day, I'd start building new pathways and habits and become a more punctual person.
9. Identify What's Driving You
Behind all our ambitions for becoming a polyglot, more fluent, a better student, a more productive person, there is an assumption that you have a problem right now. It's extremely important to work out what drives your ambition and to identify this personal issue, so that you can start observing the progress you are making. Even if you don't meet every single goal or milestone along the way, are you learning more about yourself? Are you making progress? Are you trying out a new way of thinking?
10. Observe the Progress
It's very common to feel like you are falling behind within the first few weeks of the new year energy. But could you critique yourself in a positive way instead of being self-critical? Don't forget that failing to meet a hard goal doesn't signal a major failure. I'm reminded of Ron Gullekson's recent blog post where he spoke about failing the German exam he had spent months preparing for. Does that mean Ron is a complete German failure? No! He went through intense preparation, so even he still benefited from a tight learning schedule and improved his written German.
Finally, here is a great tip if you feel like this time is not right for resolutions, but you still want to welcome 2016 in the right way:
11. Set a Theme, Not a Resolution
If you didn't have the energy or courage to set yourself a specific goal, the theme for your year, month, or week can act as a wonderful guide to take its place. It also helps you focus on appreciating what you have got right now without becoming too self-critical. As I am entering a new year in my language studies and my teaching business, my theme will be "Figure it out!", a message to myself that giving up isn't what I'm here for.
What Are Your New Year's Resolutions?
So now it's over to you:
What are your plans?
How are you going to make sure you stay committed?
Have you found a buddy yet?
No matter if you have a language learning resolution or something else, I'm looking forward to reading about what you're planning in the comments below.