The summer has begun (at least in the northern hemisphere), so what do you want to have achieved by September? If you want to make serious progress in your target language, then I suggest you take the #Fi3M challenge that I'm proposing for people this summer!
In this post, I'll outline a few of the specifics of what helps me make so much progress in such a short time, and hopefully get you set on the path to get busy with your own challenge!
Le's get serious about a real result by September! Who's with me?? It's time to achieve the impossible!
I have plenty of techniques and my own system of learning a language intensively, but some crucial differences between my language learning challenges and that of the Average Frustrated Learner include the following aspects of a “mission” that I'd highly suggest you incorporate yourself:
Thanks to my very specific deadline, I have to force myself to do as much as possible by that time.
The problem with a deadline of one year or something along those lines is Parkinson's law that work expands to fill the time allotted to it. Without any pressure you will simply learn too slowly.
I say set a deadline that is ONE, TWO or THREE months from now and work your ass off until then.
I'm not trying to learn a language while also training to run a marathon and becoming a chess master and working on getting a job promotion and planning a wedding and writing an autobiography and quitting smoking and dramatically changing my diet etc. etc. all simultaneously.
Each one of these projects is an immense task in itself and definitely requires your focus. Don't do too many things at once; it's best to have 30-day (or in my case, 90-day) challenges with one key aspect of your life you want to work on. If you spread yourself too thin, you won't achieve any of the many big challenges you set yourself. It may seem more efficient to do them all at once, but if you pace yourself and have one major goal that you focus on at a time, then after a few successive challenges you can change your entire life!
I especially like how Leo Babauta from the website zenhabits, has made a huge number of important and incredible positive changes to his life. The way he did it was to focus on each challenge one at a time, and make that his priority. After that it stuck for when he was focused on another challenge.
Focus just on your language learning project if you are serious about it, or focus on the other priority instead first so that you have less distractions when it's time to learn the language.
Very specific end goal
Another important aspect of my missions is that I'm specific about what I aim for, and it tends to be the most controversial aspect of this site that drives so many people crazy.
And I mean it. Be VERY specific. None of this “learn Spanish” nonsense. Aim for conversational, (precisely defined) fluency, read a novel only consulting a dictionary twice per page, being able to hold up a telephone conversation, whatever it may be. But aim for that and always have it in mind and make sure it's ambitious!
Aiming safely within your limits is for SISSIES – I say be ambitious and push yourself to the max. “Failure” should always be an option; it's the only way to achieve something great. If it were a sure thing then it wouldn't be a challenge.
One thing I happen to like, is to scope my levels based on the Common European Framework of References for Languages, that I discussed here. If it helps motivate you, you can sign up for an exam if a testing institute will be accessible for you in a few months, and a language qualification is something you care for.
For Chinese, I aimed for spoken level C1 [advanced] (which I still think is possible in a short time, if I were to eliminate the mistakes I made), and in the end I have ended up with a spoken level B1 (lower intermediate) instead. If I aimed for this level from the start, I would have seen it in sight much sooner and eased off, rather than have 3 months of painful, but productive, work, and I ultimately would have gotten lower.
There is no pass or fail in the non-academic world when it comes to a means of communication (that's what a language is, not a list of grammar rules and vocabulary), when you truly push yourself there are only various degrees of success. The only true way you can fail is if you are not pushing yourself to your limit.
But what should you aim for? It depends on the time that you can invest in the project; i.e. if you can do it for a large chunk of your day (40+ hours per week) over 3 months, then I'd personally recommend pushing yourself to a very high limit, such as: (see this Wikipedia article to understand what these terms represent)
|Target Level||B2/C1||C1||C1/C2||C2||C2+||Sound like a native|
On the other hand, if you have up to 20 hours per week you can invest in it then the table below could be a good guide.
This is a pitiful less than three hours per day, which is a minimum for something that you should be serious about, so I'll hear none of these excuses that you have no time. MAKE TIME! Stop watching TV or clicking away on Facebook for hours on end, and make sacrifices.
There's a huge difference between “working hard” and changing your lifestyle entirely such that the project takes over every free moment, including chances to socialise and relax in your mother tongue.
If you have the time to read my ridiculously long blog posts, then you DEFINITELY have three hours per day that you could dig out and use more efficiently 😉
In that case, aim to go up at least one, preferably two levels, along these lines:
If you are wondering how you should change this based on how hard your target language is, then you are wasting precious time. EVERY language is hard, and every language is easy depending on how you look at it. Get over it and get busy!
If you think you have any kind of advantage, like knowing a similar language, then the only thing you should do is adjust my suggestions to be more adventurous.
Don't play it safe. Many excuses can creep in until you've reduced your challenge to a minor hop.
The rule is simple: aim higher than you probably should. If you spend any time pondering over silly irrelevant details, then that's time taken away from actually making progress in the language.
This is how I do it. I aim as high as I do because that ridiculously high target forces me to improve at a rate that allows for wallowing around plateaus to simply not be an option.
One of the other huge pushes that help me a lot is that I announce my mission to the world (and since my site's audience is always growing, that's even more mounting accountability with each mission!)
Note that this accountability can be just as effective when a few hundred eyes are on you. Starting a blog is great way to do this, although getting more than a few dozen people to read it over your first few months can be quite hard. Luckily now I have a much better option for you!
Go to the Fluent in 3 months forums, which now has over 7,000 members with many active posters, who are incredibly supportive and helpful. You may run into some problems in your project, and you can rest assured that someone in the community will step in and give you some advice! Many readers have read most of my blog or Language Hacking Guide and are fully aware of what I'd say, since I can't reply to most posts myself, and many times have their own wisdom to throw in based on much more relevant experience than I may have.
After you've created an account (click Register if you haven't one already), go to the section of the forum which is there specifically for announcing your language mission, and write your background, motivation and specific goals.
This way the entire Fi3M community can check it out and join along with you on your quest! Learning a language with a community to support you is very different to doing it alone!
You can embed video updates (which I'd highly recommend making throughout your mission if it has a spoken focus), and otherwise edit your posts on an advanced forum platform (many other active language learning forums I am aware of use outdated, cumbersome and non-user-friendly forum technology).
As well as regularly updating your mission page, make sure to search the forum for people with missions similar to yours or discussions about your target language, because there may have been a relevant list of resources or steps to take shared.
On the same forum you can get in touch with native speakers for a language exchange, and when logged in you will see a bar at the bottom of the screen which lets you chat to other Fi3M visitors also logged in. This bar has advanced capabilities that include live type chat, video/audio chat, games, language specific group chats, mobile support etc.
Make your language learning mission interactive and do it along with a community of others also with their own challenges!
X in 3 months? Get started!
The point of the title of this site isn't that I have a secret formula for fluency in 3 months, but that I challenge myself to get fluent in 3 months, or some other very specific target in the same spirit. This is what I hope many of you will get into yourselves! The reason it can “take years” to learn a language is not because it has to, but because you are not doing it intensively.
It's the hours that truly matter, not the years.
If you set aside those three (or ideally, much more) hours per day this summer to really dive into your project, then you will make huge strides ahead!
Your challenge doesn't have to be fluent in 3 months, and it doesn't even have to be 3 months. Make it 2, or 6 – whatever you know is a short enough timespan to be something you see on the immediate horizon, and make your goal HIGH and ambitious. Try your damnedest to get it all the way to the end, remembering all those you promised that you would!
And if after those three months, you are “only” 80% successful, well then won't that be something to be pretty damn proud of too! You'll have definitely jumped up a level in your target language! The only way you can truly fail your mission is if you did not pour your heart and soul into it.
So, who is up for the #Fi3M challenge this summer? Let's see your missions on the forums, or if you blog elsewhere let us know where you'll be writing about it in the comments. I'm looking forward to seeing what you can come up with by September!
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.