Getting back to work after a break


Admittedly, I’ve been pretty slack for the past couple weeks. First holidays, and then some extra stress in my life, combined to take away a lot of possible language-learning time. I find that when I get out of the pattern of spending time on languages every day, then I tend to lose some steam. I lose a bit of motivation, and it’s harder to get back to it.

In these situations, I usually find something else that I waste my time on, and I find that the best solution is to continue doing it, ironically. I keep doing it to completion. You may define completion however you like, but the trick is that once you’ve done this other activity (video game, reading a novel, whatever), and you’ve done it so much that you’ve gotten to the end of it, or at least made yourself tired of it, then it will be much easier to give it up. At least for me, leaving it incomplete will just be a reminder that it’s still there for me to do.

Next, for me, is breaking through the feeling that studying languages has not been a regular part of my routine for a few weeks. Routines and habits are much more important than we’d like to think. Sometimes we think of ourselves as autonomous beings, free from any instinct, and that we willfully decide everything we do. In truth, it is much more the opposite, and much of the day we run on auto-pilot. To study a language well, you need to retrain your auto-pilot so that the default task is to be studying and enjoying the language.

Here, enjoyment is key. Some people have a really strong willpower and are able to force themselves to do any task no matter how undesirable, but the rest of us have trouble doing this. And even when you have enjoyed studying a certain language in the past, at some points in time it may feel like an undesirable task. This is how I felt last week as I was playing a mindless flash game on a website all the time. I couldn’t bring myself to work on languages, because it felt like too much “work”. This is where the past feeling of enjoyment comes in. Once you’ve tied up all the loose ends distracting you, and maybe installed the “leechblock” add-on to firefox to prevent you from going to whatever websites you waste time on, then sit down in a quiet room and remember.

Just try to recall all the “aha!” moments as you discovered things in that language, and all of your goals that you had. Remember any experiences you had speaking or reading it, and what feelings you had at the time. Recall any pieces of your life were connected to you being enthusiastic and motivated to learn that language. As your thoughts wander to other things, perhaps to the various stresses in your life, just acknowledge it and move back to remembering the pleasure of language study.

Next you need your materials near you. Line up a bunch of books, movies, or whatever sort of study materials you have. Spread them out in front of you, and pick whichever one is the easiest or most fun. Last night I watched the animated movie “Robin Hood” in Swedish, since I know the entire dialogue by heart from watching it so many times in English as a kid. After that, I just wandered wherever I wanted. I browsed wikipedia for a while, and then picked up The Hobbit and put on the audiobook. My motivation had returned.

I guess that’s it….finish your distractions and put them away, remove stress from your life and remember all the awesome things about your project, and surround yourself by fun materials to choose from. That’s what got me back on track this week 🙂



Hi all, I’m back from a busy holiday season, and I’m ready to start the new year. Corresponding with some of my travel plans and my enthusiasm, my projects for 2010 will be German, Esperanto, and Swedish.

Currently I can happily read most German items I stumble upon, and enjoy reading novels. My spoken abilities definitely leave something to be desired, though. My Swedish is currently at “basic” level, wherein I have some beginner understanding of everyday phrases and of the general features of the language. My Esperanto is a fast-moving train, since it’s so easy to learn. After 43 hours of study, I can figure out a lot of stuff on wikipedia already, and I’m getting a lot more of the podcasts I’m listening to.

Since starting both Swedish and Esperanto from scratch about a month ago, my methods have mostly involved randomly picking through several different “instructional” materials to pick up the basic ideas and concepts, and then moving quickly to real native content in the form of books. For Swedish I’m working my way through the Swedish translation of The Hobbit (“Hobbiten”), with the accompanying Swedish audiobook. For Esperanto, I’m reading some wikipedia, and some of Le Monde Diplomatique. I just ordered a copy of The Hobbit in Esperanto too, so when that arrives I’ll be able to compare all three language versions.

Because of the speed at which I seem to be learning Esperanto, I’m going to mostly concentrate on that this month in order to really jump-start it. My goal is to break the 100-hour mark by January 31. The hope is that this will leave me at a place that makes further learning very easy, because I’ll be able to understand quite a bit and read easily. Then I can just put it on cruise-control by occasionally reading and listening over the next several months. After that, I’m considering going to the SES (Summer Esperanto Study / Somera Esperanto-Studado) in Slovakia in the first week of July. This sounds like it may be a fun opportunity to practice speaking with a bunch of other people at the same level.

For Swedish, I plan to do little bits of practice during January, and then move back into it full time for February / March / April. I’ll be adding sentences as flashcards in Anki (which I’m still doing for German and Esperanto too), and I’ll also be watching some of the Swedish films I’ve been slowly acquiring and listening to some audiobooks.

All of this is subject to change, so I’ll probably add some more details as I go along, but for now I’ve got my short-term goal of about 60 more hours of Esperanto study in January to reach that 100 hour mark. Until that’s reached, everything else is for later.