sticking to one topic

As I’ve mentioned before, i have a strong tendency to hop from topic to topic, sampling a little bit of everything. “Jack of all trades, master of none”, as the saying goes. Lately, as I’ve been reading these language forums and hearing about people who’ve learned a dozen languages, i start to get eager to try something new because there’s so much out there that’s fascinating to read about.

Specifically, I’d really love to eventually go off down the road of germanic languages and learn dutch, afrikaans, and the scandinavian languages. As I learn more german, it becomes easier and easier to puzzle out people’s blogs written in these other germanic languages, and i become more curious about it.

I have a few strategies to bring myself back, though. I’ve got my long-term goals for german written down, and some general motivational phrases to help me stick to it. “Nobody is talented enough not to have to work hard” is one of my favourites right now, and i have it written at the top of my progress spreadsheet along with several others. Also on there is “discipline is remembering what you want”.

In order to really remember what i want, i have to define what i want. I’ve phrased this generally as “i want to be able to speak german clearly and confidently about any reasonable topic”. Since this is still a bit hard to quantify, I’ve narrowed it down to “i will read one million words of german and watch 500 hours of german language TV”. This may not be enough to get me the level that i want, but i can change it once i reach it. Having any number like this allows me to break it down into weekly and monthly goals that move me towards the big goal, which is much more practical than just saying “i want to be awesome”. Also, having those weekly goals allows me to focus on just being better each day, rather than obsessing about not being awesome yet.

Besides a numerical goal like this, i also have a time goal to keep me on track. My spreadsheet is divided into 1-month segments, one per page, so every time i look at it i can see down at the bottom where it has my next six months outlined. August, September, Oktober, November, Dezember, Januar (in german, of course). I’ve made a commitment to myself that i will keep german as my major project for each of those months. So far I’ve done two solid months, which is actually quite good for me. 6 weeks is usually where i bail out and start something new.

Sometimes when i think about doing german for 6 months (or more), then it starts to feel like a long time. To solve this, i remind myself of other things that i’ve done for multiple months. The most common is school courses. I took many semesters of university classes that all lasted about 4 months. Those semesters felt long at the start, but really really short by the end. I vividly remember several semesters where i suddenly realized it was “week 12″, where “week 13″ was the final week of classes, with exams coming afterward. It was shocking to believe that i’d already completed 12 weeks of classes when it (at that point) felt like such a short amount of time.

To apply this to my current situation, i sit down in a quiet room surrounded by my german learning materials, and i try intensely to recall that previous situation. I remember the hallways of the university, the books that i was studying from, my backpack, my study partners, the food in the cafeteria. And then i recall the classrooms and the teachers. Finally i mentally flip open my calendar and look at “week 12″ and remember thinking “oh shit, exams are soon”. That point in time is firmly in my mind, so then i can look at my current spreadsheet and see that i’m only on “week 7″ right now. clearly it hasn’t been that long at all, and i need to keep going.

I do this visualization sometimes for re-feeling the motivation i once felt for something else, and applying that motivation to the current subject. Earlier this year i was really obsessed with learning navigation at sea, and i remember being REALLY interested in it. So i try to vividly recall that feeling, and redirect it at german to make myself REALLY interested in german again.

Sometimes I try to imagine what it will be like in the future, once i’ve reached my german goals. I think of myself walking german streets, going into german bars, talking to real germans over a pint of german beer, and understanding everything they say. This works fantastically for me, because i have actual past experiences of being in a bar with germans and TOTALLY FAILING to understand what they were saying. It would be really gratifying to me to be in the opposite situation where i understand them completely, so working towards that is motivational.

So, getting my south african roommate to speak to me in Afrikaans would be extremely interesting, but it will not move me towards my german goal. Reading danish websites is fun to try, but it will not move me towards my german goal. Using my written goals and timelines, i can decide for myself that if i want to do those things, i need to find a german friend to talk to, and some german blogs to read. I can switch to Danish or Afrikaans next year or the year after, and it’ll actually be much easier then because i’ll have more of a german base to build from. Being good at german will give me the confidence to tackle those other projects more effectively too.

Write down your goals, and work towards them. Try to vividly recall your past motivation to create present motivation. Make a visual representation of your time goals, so that you can see where you have to get to before you’re allowed to quit. I’m sure other people have their own ideas about how to stay on track, and I’d love to hear more. Please share any suggestions you may have :)

5 Responses to sticking to one topic

  1. Peter says:

    This is a great post! I’ve only recently started tracking my Spanish study time in a spreadsheet and I never thought to actually write my goals or motivational quotes in it. I may try it to see how it goes.

  2. lyzazel says:

    “Nobody is talented enough not to have to work hard” – that’s so true.

    The thing I notice about motivational phrases and “how to get things done” advice is that it isn’t all that productive. You can read these phrases and this advice on how to be productive all day if you like but in the end it’s still just about getting your ass to sit down and do what it is you do.

    Do you absolutely NEED to learn German? If not, why don’t you do what’s fun? Learn some German, learn some Afrikaans. You’ll speak some of two. Look at it this way: you learn the most when you are enjoying what you are doing.

    If you do German forever, you will start enjoying it less and less at times. If you enjoy it less, you will learn less because you will have to use some of your energy on forcing you to learn instead of learning.

    Instead of that, you could be learning German whenever you feel like it and when you don’t, get that roommate to speak darn Afrikaans. Look, it’s such an opportunity. And when you get bored, do Danish. Again, do what you feel like doing because you will be going against yourself otherwise.

    Maybe that won’t get you to fluency in all of these languages but at least you’ll enjoy the process. You can replace thinking “it’s gonna be awesome in the future when I’ll speak German fluently” with “I might not speak German fluently but it’s gonna be awesome now”. In the end, what you have is just now.

    Still, about “having” to learn German: I imagine the best way to do it would be to simply go to Germany. You could do whatever you wish and at the same time you would still be learning German if you put yourself in the right situation.

    Regardless whether you are in Germany or not, always do what you feel like doing. Screw “500 hours TV” goal. TV is boring. Speaking in Afrikaans for 2 hours is less boring. You’ll learn the most when it’s not boring. Watch TV whenever you want to watch TV. Not for 500 whatever hours. That’s the way I’d like to do it.

    Oh, and yeah, I am aware this advice is based on my opinion and I might be wrong.

  3. doviende says:

    thanks for the comments!

    first, there are several reasons that i want to learn german specifically. One is that it’s my mom’s first language, and i’d like to speak it with her.

    more generally, language learning has been a hobby of mine for about 8 years, yet i’m not fluent in anything yet. I have an intermediate level in a couple languages, and a basic level in several more, but my best is chinese and i still can only talk about day-to-day things in chinese.

    It’s time for me to make the big push and get good at something. I still enjoy german when i’m working on it, but there are just some times when my mind wanders, or i want one of those other interesting things. Once i redirect back to german, i end up enjoying it again.

  4. B-Tina says:

    Hallo doviende,

    ich bin über das how-to-learn-any-language-Forum auf Deine Seite gekommen, sie ist wirklich gut gemacht :-)

    Falls Du noch Interesse an deutschen Blogs hast: meine Favoriten sind lawblog.de (ein Düsseldorfer Anwalt bloggt über seinen Alltag und rechtliche Probleme) und blog.fefe.de (von Fefe vom Chaos Computer Club – die Rechtschreibung ist zwar nicht immer ganz hundertprozentig, aber die Inhalte sind ziemlich gut und interessant).

  5. doviende says:

    danke für Ihre Empfehlungen :)

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