A while back, I was chatting with one of my language exchange partners. My first Fluent In 3 Months article was published that week and I was feeling vulnerable…
“Am I a French Speaker or French Learner?”
Me: They wrote under my name that I speak French. Do you think that’s a valid statement? If you met me on the street would you consider me a person that speaks French or is learning to speak French?
Gillian: I recently described you as “my friend who speaks French”. You are missing a few vocabulary words that a native speaker would have. Yet, that doesn’t stop you from expressing yourself. Plus, we’re having this conversation in French right now.
(We both break into laughter at this hilarious but important observation.)
It’s such a gift to have a community of language learners who help me when I stumble. And hold me up when I’m feeling tender about my progress.
This wasn’t always the case.
It took me months of studying alone before I cobbled together a beautiful community. And now, I don’t know where I’d be without them.
If only there was an easier way!
Well, there is and I just finished my first go of it. It’s called Add1 and it’s everything I wish I had when I first started language learning.
In this article, I’m going to share five reasons I wish I discovered Add1 two years ago. But first, let me tell you about my LLEs.
What on Earth Are LLEs?
My poor italki tutor.
Every three months or so, I would suffer a Language Learning Emergency (LLE). It’s like a mid-life crisis only it revolved around my language learning progress.
And it was happening way too often.
Looking back, I see that I was missing three necessary aspects for success. Realistic goals. Community. Guidance.
My First Language Learning Emergency Happened Around Month Two
I was plodding right along with my 60-day streak on Duolingo and my weekly italki lessons when panic hit. A dark cloud appeared over my head and I was convinced that I was doing it all wrong.
Me: I don’t think I’m making progress. I might be your worst student ever. I’m learning words on Duolingo but I can’t understand anything on TV in French.
Tutor: I see your progress. You can answer most of my questions. Watching TV in French with French subtitles would be a good exercise for you. You need 300 hours of TV to be able to understand your target language. Continues comme ça (“Continue like this”).
And so, I whipped out my French notebook and created a bullet journal page that tracks how many hours I watch of French TV.
I started the Netflix series, Heartland. In French with French subtitles. It had a ton of seasons available and the sentences were simple.
It was exhausting.
My brain hurt afterwards and I only picked up ten percent of what was being said.
It Was the Beginning of My Dark Forest Days
I had two months of steady language learning under my belt. I didn’t want to lose the momentum but I was bored with my routine.
My biggest fear was that I would give up like I had the previous ten times.
It was freaking lonely.
At the time, I was the only person I knew in my tribe that was learning a second language. Oh sure, everyone I knew wanted to learn a language someday but no one was in the dark forest with me.
My second big LLE happened around month four.
I was drained from watching TV and stumbling through conversations. It felt like my brain was getting sucked out of my head and into Duolingo.
It was time for another revelatory talk with my tutor.
Me: I’m worried that I’m not doing this right. It takes me forever to find a French word in my brain and then actually use it in a sentence. How am I ever going to reach an intermediate B2 level?
Tutor (Slightly annoyed that I broke out of our French lesson AGAIN to voice my concerns in English): Have you tried recording yourself? That might be a good way to gain access to the words you’ve memorized. Continues comme ça.
With serious bedhead and lighting so awful I looked like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, I began recording myself speaking. Five minutes every few days.
My tutor was right. That practice helped me change passive vocabulary into active vocabulary and then…
Lightning Strikes a Third Time!
I was making weekly goals. Changing my tools every twelve weeks to keep my brain interested. And yet…
WHAMMO! LLE Number Three – I was worried that I was on the wrong path.
Me: I’ve read eight books in French now. Eight whole books! But shouldn’t I be farther along by now. I mean, I can watch TV in French without subtitles but I only understand about 40% and I’m reading a lot of body language. Don’t you think I should be going faster?
Tutor: (Stifling a yawn.) Elizabeth, learning a language takes years. Continues comme ça.
To this day, I get a weird facial tic if I hear someone say, “Continues comme ça.” It’s almost as annoying as someone shouting at you “RELAX!” when you’re stressed out. Almost.
You see, my tutor was not a certified marriage and family counselor. She wasn’t even a language coach.
She didn’t know how to help me navigate my feelings around language learning. I was struggling with the precipice of failure. She only knew how to practice French with me.
That’s not all that’s needed for the long, windy road to fluency.
What I needed was a coach but they can be expensive. And I wasn’t willing to dip into my exterior house painting fund. That wouldn’t have been fair to my husband.
He had compromised enough of his TV time to French. I couldn’t take away his dreams of a cheery yellow house. So, I trudged along with my periodic existential freakouts.
Until I found Add1.
Here are the five reasons I wish I took Add1 when I first started learning a language.
Reason Number 1: Navigation Through the Dark Forest of Language Learning
With Add1, I’m finally able to have in-depth conversations about language learning.
I even have one-on-one access to a personal coach. Not an exasperated tutor. A globe-trotting polyglot of a coach!
Shannon, the Head Coach of Add1 speaks eight languages to an advanced level and she’s learning more. So, she’s not far removed from language learning.
She is right there in the arena with us. Building vocabulary, using hacks, working through her first sentences.
Along with the Head Coach, I also have a group of dedicated polyglots who are taking the challenge with me.
I learn more from them than any social media language group.
They know me now. They share their experience of how to climb out of learning pitfalls.
In this video, I give an example of one of my most dreaded pitfalls – Comfy Sweatpants!
Reason Number Two: Toned “Grit Muscles”
Right off the bat, you are required to flex your grit muscle. Every Add1er makes a baseline video of what they currently know in their target language.
Even if it’s only three words. Even if you don’t want to show yourself on camera. (Some people point the camera at a blank wall while talking.) Even if you have no idea what you’re going to say.
You’d think this would be a piece of cake for an intermediate speaker like me. Well, it wasn’t.
It did help that everyone else was flexing their grit muscle at the same time as me. With differing levels of discomfort. I was no longer alone.
Here’s a quick video where I share about one of my fears in language learning.
Reason Number Three: Accountability Helps Me Keep My Promises
Two years ago, I used social media for accountability. It’s hard when you don’t know who you’re talking to on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And it’s easy to disappear unnoticed.
I used my personal Facebook account as my very first accountability tool.
My first post was how I had been learning French for 20 days. A French waiter was so good-natured. I took what felt like thirty minutes to order a coffee in my target language.
My enthusiasm was contagious and he insisted that my husband take a picture of us together. It felt like a real win.
Because I shared this on Facebook, I got serotonin hits with each “like” and it helped me continue. However, my FB feed was getting old fast. How many times can I describe the number of days I’ve been studying or the amount of words I learned.
What made it worse is that only one friend in my Facebook world was learning a language.
Most of the comments on my posts were, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to learn another language but I’m too busy.”
I’ll forever be grateful to the words of encouragement. But, it felt lonely to be the only one sharing about language learning. I didn’t have anyone to trade ideas with or understand my small but mighty successes.
A year of increasingly isolating posts later, I learned about language specific accounts. Now I use instagram as a French only account which is way more powerful. It took quite a few weeks of introducing myself to build a lasting community but I finally did.
The Add1 community has a similar energy to people at their favorite rock concert. Only it’s for uber-cool language nerds like me. Relationships with other learners deepen as we learn and grow together.
A Strong Community Means No More Disappearing Act
Unlike my social media community, I couldn’t do a disappearing act.
Members of my Add1 tribe would message me if I hadn’t checked in. It reminded me of being on a hike with friends. Nobody gets left behind.
There are tools in place to keep you from doing magic tricks with your language goals. The only things getting pulled out of a hat are solution-oriented steps. The progression of assignments kept me from resting on my laurels.
Reason Number Four: Add1 Tracks Measurable Progress
Seeing how far you’ve come is a great way to stay motivated. Add1 offers a number of ways to track your progress. Here are a few of my favorites.
|Daily Development Journal||New Sentence Tally||Inspiration Tracker|
|Speaking Record||Grit Accounting||Creativity Log|
|Question/Answer Listing||Reflection Register||Celebration Station|
The Add1 path includes assignments, mini-challenges, Dream Team meetings and tracking. These tools keep learning pleasant and fresh.
Reason Number Five: Deep Diving Community with a Defined Goal
At the end of the day, what really matters is connection. The secret to my successful French odyssey is simple. It is my desire to connect with people who speak French.
What keeps me coming back to my study nook month after month after month are my newfound friendships.
I enjoy my weekly Google Hangout meetings with my Add1 Dream Team. I relish in catching up with my Add1 friends on our private online community. I look forward to celebrating the successes of my fellow learners.
It warms my heart to see a beginner record himself in French and receive kind comments and fun emojis.
I finally have a supportive community.
Add1 Was an Essential Part of My French Routine.
My goal was to solidify my spoken French before the end of the challenge.
Why? Because I’m taking the next Add1 in Spanish as a brand spanking new beginner. I want to be sure my French is solid before I begin.
And that goal has been realized!
Here’s a video on my victory over a dreaded fossilized error.
I have a sneaking suspicion that my italki tutor is privately be doing cartwheels. Because I no longer have language freak-outs on a regular basis. She was happy to learn that I’m working with a language coach to help calm the painful LLEs.
I am more secure in my language learning. And I am saving my tutor headaches due to eye-roll fatigue. Thanks to Add1, I can confidently say, “I am a French speaker.”
If I Had Found Add1 on Week One of My Language Expedition…
I would have jumped over many of the hurdles that nearly stopped me.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for my muddy, messy path. If I didn’t have it, I would have nothing of interest to share with you.
I’m grateful you can learn from my mistakes.
But I’m also hoping you will have an easier time of it.
Who knows! Maybe you’ll even join me for the next Add1. How fun would that be?!
Wishing You Much Peace on Your Language Learning Journey.
Please be kind to yourself. You’ll travel a greater distance that way.
I’d love to hear about your language learning emergencies. What hurdles did you overcome? How did you do it? Please share it in the comments.