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How to create a realistic timeline for your next language project (Why 3 months?)

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As I continue on the book tour, I have been getting asked many questions face-to-face with people, many of which remind me of things that I can talk about on the blog more.

One of the biggest ones by far is Why 3 months?

You see it in the title of the blog and the book – where did I come up with that number? Did I study astronomy to see how many lunar rotations around the earth increase brain capacity? Did I find the magic number of hours, divide it by 8 a day, and come up with 90 days? Am I obsessed with the number 3?

It's actually way simpler than that: I have been a full-time traveller for 11 years, and for most of that time I have been visiting a country as a tourist, where the visa limit for tourists is 3 months.

Three months is literally all the time that I had to learn the language. That's where the number comes from.

Necessity has driven me into this 3-month limit, and routine has kept me there – even when I'm in the EU where I can stay indefinitely, I've found that with time 3-month-deadlines work for me. They are in the Goldilock's zone of not-too-little time not-too-much time that you can make a major difference in your level, but still not get exhausted if you are doing it intensively.

How to get the “magic number”

So how do you find your own realistic timeline for when you should finish up your next language project? I do definitely think we need a deadline to make a major difference whenever possible. When you can set aside a few weeks or months to genuinely FOCUS on your project, you will do something way more important than studying it when you have the time over the long-term.

But there is no magic number. I don't think 3-months works for everybody. I can only suggest it. You have to have a good reason to have a timelime to work with, and if 3-months is arbitrary for you, it won't work so effectively.

If on the other hand, you have school/university holidays or way less work over the summer, then maybe you should consider a 3 month project. It fits with your lifestyle, and with the deadline of when you know you'll be busy again.

2 or 6 weeks for Esperanto?

As you can see now, the new mission on the blog is to coach my girlfriend to learn Esperanto in 6 weeks. This wasn't a number picked out of thin air, but a suggestion by Judith, who happens to prefer 6-week challenges that she encourages language learners to get into.

This particular project has the extra motivation that at the end of the six weeks, some people in the challenge will meet up in Berlin and have a chance to use their learned language. My girlfriend is motivated by the opportunity to try to socialize in another language for the first time.

This keeps her motivated to put the time in, even if it's just an hour or so a day, but it's a short enough timespan that she won't get exhausted or sick of it for a first project.

I've also suggested 2 weeks for learning Esperanto to people. This is because in that context I know that people considering the project are not actually interested in Esperanto itself or using it (to socialize for instance), but just for the “springboard” advantage. In this case, I think it's a short-enough timespan that it's not a huge sacrifice for people to make, but still long enough to get into it enough to have a conversation or two.

What about me, Benny?

If you are reading this and don't know what timeline you should choose yet, then try to see if you can find a combination of a major achievement you can make, a realistic timeline in which you could achieve it if you gave it your best effort, and more importantly something specific to aim for.

As an example, ask yourself if you have any of the following coming up any time soon:

  • Trip abroad to a country that speaks the language
  • Visit from a family member that speaks that language
  • Exam in the language
  • A conference/concert/event with lots of people that may include those from your country of interest
  • A certain period of time during which you are less busy than normal (holidays, big project at work finished etc.)

Whenever that thing is happening, or whenever the period is due to be over that is the best possible timeline for you. I don't care how long it is, as long as it's not years from now (that's way too far off to process realistically with a “mission” mentality).

Next, what do you aim for? It depends on where you are now, and what you think you could aim for given a particular timeline. I personally like to base my project goals on the European Common Framework levels.

You can also aim for a definite thing that you can do, like have a one minute conversation with someone, or get by as a confident tourist, or learn words related to this theme that you are likely to discuss.

As such, instead of “Fluent in 3 Months”, you can take that mission mentality and have projects like

  • Be a confident tourist by next weekend
  • Have a basic conversation within a month
  • Be able to socialize basically within 6 weeks
  • Be able to have most conversations within 4 months
  • Pass the C2 exam within 8 months, starting from B2.

Whichever works for your situation, and your goals, and your realistic outcomes. I do suggest you aim a little higher though, don't be so realistic that you'd have to be asleep for the next months for it to not come true!

I hope that makes sense! If you have your own life situation that means that 1 month or 6 months is a much better goal, then go for that instead. Make your goals fit your lifestyle, rather than a number that you apply just because someone told you it's ideal. You know what's ideal for you!

Best of luck!!

author headshot

Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

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