Although I think that language classes are a perfectly valid way to learn a language (especially at a beginner level), I also recognize that classes are not for everyone – and that sometimes classes are expensive and frustrating. The main benefit to signing up for a class is that it will give structure to your language learning, forcing you to make time to study. Today, I’d like to address how you can get the benefit of structured learning without the expense and frustration of a class.
The first key is to set a schedule. Research on language learning (and other kinds of learning) has shown that it’s better to practice a new skill regularly (ie every day) than to do so for more hours, but less regularly (like 8 hours every Saturday instead of half an hour every day). So the challenge is to set up a schedule that is a regular as possible, that is realistic and then to find ways to keep yourself to the schedule you set.
Setting up the schedule
The first step, obviously, is to decide how much you can study every day and to figure out when you’ll be able to study. As you’re thinking about both of those things, it’s a good idea to be realistic with yourself. I would like to spend two hours on languages every day, but it’s hard for me to make myself to so, but I’m more likely to be consistent if I’m only aiming to do a half and hour per day.
When you set the schedule, it’s also a good idea to set out everything from what you’ll be learning at what time, what your goals are for each day/week/month and how your study schedule is going to get you to reach that goal. Even though the whole point of needing a schedule is probably that you don’t have a class dictating a schedule for you, think of your study time like a class: That is, only skip it if you have a really good reason.
Find ways to keep to the schedule
The whole point of creating the schedule is prompt yourself to spend enough time on your language project, every day, to actually move forward – and to move forward rapidly. If you want to do that, obviously you’ll have to stick to the schedule. Unfortunately, that is usually the part that people – including me – find most difficult. Here’s some thoughts on keeping to the schedule.
Made sure the people in your life know your schedule and why you’ve made it. Your biggest obstacle to keeping your schedule will be other people’s demands on your time, so make sure that they all understand when you’re not available because you’re going to be studying.
Set things up in advance. Little things like looking up podcasts or getting out your textbook can take a long time and eat up a lot of productive time. They can also make it harder to get started, because it makes it feel like a pain in the ass to just get started.
Get a buddy. It’s exponentially easier to stick to a schedule when you have someone else helping you. That’s the attraction of classes – you have someone forcing you to show up. But you can also have a buddy that you study with or with whom you check in every day / week / month so you have someone else to be accountable to and to help you stay on track. If you can convince your significant other to be your language buddy, your chances of success will skyrocket!
Do stuff you enjoy. There are a lot of methods out there for learning languages, and some of them are undoubtedly better and faster than others. But you need to find a way that is both effective (not necessarily the most effective but you need to be actually learning) and that you really, genuinely enjoy. The kind of thing you would stay up an hour past your bedtime to do, even if it provokes a fight with your spouse (not that I would advocate doing that or that I have ever done anything like that myself…).
So plan in advance, do it with someone else and study in a fun way.