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 :)