Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?
Polyglottery is a bit of a balancing act.
Because we only have so many hours in a day, we can't learn all languages. But when you have the itch for language learning like I and so many other polyglots do, you sometimes can’t help but to take on a new language challenge even though you haven’t mastered or even reached fluency in all languages you've already taken on.
And that’s okay. Not everyone needs to have all their languages at a mastery level, even if they may want it. It's “ideal”, but not realistic in the short-term. In my case, my upcoming travels have always had to be the priority, so a previous project had to get shelved temporarily or permanently.
This is a problem all polyglots face. Maintaining fluency/mastery level in your languages takes work, and if you're always adding a new language to your study list… well, then you’ll have to start making tough decisions about where your language priorities lie. I sometimes joke that I'm just as talented at forgetting languages as I am at learning them.
The upside is that when the time comes, you can come back to languages you've put time into but still not reached an ideal level in yet, and that's what I'm going to do now!
For the next year, among other goals, I've decided I want to bring up Mandarin into my list of fluent languages
Where I stand now with my Mandarin
I did my intensive Mandarin project three years ago, and I ultimately reached a level of about B1 – a respectable level, but not fluent.
Since then, I've definitely used my Mandarin on several occasions, speaking with readers during my book tour, hanging out with friends at conferences, and similar situations. But I have not been actively maintaining the language or studying it regularly, as my italki teachers have been happily reminding me…
And as I've told you before, you have to actively maintain your languages or else you will lose them. Hence, the balancing act. Since I've decided my next mission is to bring Mandarin up to a fluent level, this has to change today.
My current Mandarin level: ~A2
This week I had a Skype chat in Mandarin to mark the starting point of my Mandarin level-up mission, and also to figure out What is my level now?
Based on that conversation, I’d say that my level has slipped down from a B1 to about an A2. I can hold a conversation, use words and phrases spontaneously, but I’m hesitating a lot, having to look up a lot of words (that I didn’t have to look up before), and I definitely lack the confidence I had at the end of my previous project. As you can see, I spent most of the session facepalming myself 😛
But have a listen for yourself – and let me know what you think. What level would you say I’m starting from here?
For those of you who don't speak Mandarin, I'm trying to explain the plot of “Game of Thrones”, and doing a pretty miserable job at it. 😛
My mission target, mini-mission and short-term milestone
One thing I want to do with this project is to lay out all my plans and strategies so you all at home can maybe apply the same to your own level-up missions.
So for me, now that I have a starting point, the next step is to specify a real target and a real deadline.
My ultimate target is to add Mandarin to my list of fluent languages. But I like to break my projects into smaller mini-missions, so I’ll pick a smaller target I can aim for in the short term.
Since I’m going to Singapore next month, I’ll start with a mini-mission of being able to have comfortable casual conversations within a week or two. This goal is “de-rusting” my Mandarin, and remembering keywords that I used to know to allow conversations to flow a little better.
And this makes for a great deadline – the end of my time in Singapore (November 10th).
For me, this mini-target means that when someone greets me in Mandarin, I’ll be able to respond relatively quickly, and have the words for a brief casual encounter at the tip of my tongue. (I’m not expecting to be fluent by November 10th, just to be confident at basic initial conversations again)
My strategy and study plans
Obviously I’m going to be implementing my Speak from Day 1 approach, as you can see by the fact that Monday was Day 1 and I’ve already spoken 😀
But let me get into a bit more detail:
Daily Skype Sessions
My plan is to have conversations in Mandarin daily, and to record as many of them as I can so that I (and you!) can see how it progresses.
I’ve already jumped on italki and booked a session a day for the next few weeks. Here's a look at the next 7 days for instance:
Study sessions between Skype sessions
I'll be listening to Chinesepod, as before, and testing out Chineseclass101 to improve my listening skills. I'll also be trying apps like Skritter to get started on improving my reading skills over the long term. I'll list my favourite resources here on the blog, and in my email list more frequently.
I also have a single book I'm travelling with, Yufa – A guide to Chinese grammar. Since I already have a base in Chinese, I don't need a simplified book with lots of pictures for beginners, but can handle more “dry” (and by now familiar) grammar explanations to help me remember Chinese sentence logic that bit better. I'll revise and improve my vocabulary with Anki and Memrise.
Essentially, with my Skype sessions and study sessions combined, I expect to spend about 2-3 hours per day devoted to Mandarin from now until November 10th. We’ll see how far I get between now and then! Once I’ve gotten to that point, I’ll figure out my next mini-mission from there (based on whatever the biggest problem I’m facing at that time is).
How this level-up mission is different from my intensive projects
I’m excited about this mission because I haven’t done anything like this on the blog before. Most of my missions have been intensive, full time projects where I’m starting from scratch and sweating like hell to get as far as I can go.
This one is different. I haven’t written so much about how to bring up or revive a “fallen” language before, and I think this is a problem a lot of language learners face, so I’ll be very interested to share my insights with you on how I’m tackling the problem – and also to hear your suggestions for me!
Also, unlike most of my past missions, I’m not doing it full time, and I think that’s a scenario that, again, a lot of you out there can relate to. It will be interesting for me to see how fast I can improve with just part-time (but still daily) language immersion, spread over the longer term.
- My long term target: Reach fluency and add Chinese to my list of fluent languages (spoken/listening as well as reading/writing)
- My current level: ~A2 (spoken/listening only)
- My current mini-mission: Be able to have basic conversations with Mandarin Speakers in Singapore
- My mini-mission deadline: November 10th
- My strategy: Daily study sessions, Skyping, and use of apps. Approx. 2-3 hours per day.
Let me know in the comments – What are your struggles in reviving a slipped language? What level would you say is my starting point, based on the audio sample? What strategies would you recommend for my mini-mission of boosting my level to get it as close to what it was about 3 years ago, as quickly as I can?
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.