Lately my sincere desire to learn Swedish has been overshadowed by my inability to work on it more than just “here and there”. Late last year I was spending plenty of time working on German, and my initial switch to Swedish was full of enthusiasm, but it somehow died off.
I think that a big part of this has been my ho-hum attitude, arrogantly thinking that I know how this language thing is done, and I can just waltz my way through it in no time. I dropped my practice of recording my work in a spreadsheet, so I never really knew how much work I was or was not doing. I also had nothing concrete to aim for, and no timelines to follow. I thought that this lessening of restrictions would enable me to be more creative, but I think it just enabled me to waste more time on the interwebs.
So, following in the footsteps of Benny the Irish Polyglot, I’m going to design myself a “language mission”. Although unlike Benny, I can’t yet pack my bags and leave my job and my home here to travel the world (yet), I’ll be doing whatever I can over the next 45 days to increase my knowledge of Swedish. To accomplish this, I’ll be going back to my tried and true method of picking some precise numerical goals for my activities, then chopping those down to average daily amounts to aim for, and tracking my progress in a spreadsheet.
I predict I’ll be more successful if I have concrete goals, with concrete daily amounts that I should be reaching. I’ll also need to visualize my end goal, and remind myself that according to my calculations I should be doing a certain amount of work each day in order to reach that fabulous end goal. If all goes according to plan, I will have read several hundred thousand words of Swedish by the end of this mission, which will put me well on the way to my goal of actually speaking it well.
Reading about 1000 pages of Swedish in this time will be an ambitious goal, but I’ll be drawing upon the inspiration that I get from the other learners I read about online. I’ve seen some people on the HTLAL forums that are able to accomplish an incredible 6 hours of language work every day, so if I want to make myself a really serious contender (which I do) then I should aim at at least 3 hours per day. The only mistakes I can make are the choices not to work on Swedish. This is an input-only challenge, and as Steve Kaufmann said recently, you can’t make mistakes while just reading and listening. I will only lose if I choose not to participate.
Now, not everyone needs to create such a hectic schedule, but for whatever challenge you make for yourself, remember that at each moment in time you are either choosing to do it, or choosing to do something else. When analyzing yourself, you’ll never discover your mistakes by saying things like “my mistake was not working on X”…that’s not really a mistake, it’s a result. If you rephrase it as “my result was not working on X”, then you see it for the tautology that it truly is.
Instead, the invisible monster called “not doing X” is actually made up of many little tiny choices to do other things. They are all individual choices that add up over time. These are your actual mistakes to avoid. I choose to surf slashdot, I choose to surf facebook, I choose to download an episode of Naruto to watch, etc. You can conquer each of these choices one by one if you make yourself aware of them, but there is no single event that looks like “not doing X”. You will never be able to see yourself “not doing X”, but you will be able to see yourself doing all those other little things. I know when I’m surfing facebook, I know when I’m watching random anime, etc. Once I identify the distractions, I can stop them and choose to do my Swedish project instead.
When I do actually choose my project, I try to choose something that can absorb me. I get distracted very easily, but if I can throw myself into a book or a movie, then I’ll tend to keep going. Entertaining content is king. Boring lists lead to easy distraction (at least for me). Get lost in it, lose track of time, forget to eat lunch because you’re so involved in it. If you can do that, you’re on the way to winning.
These are the things I’ve been trying to remind myself of. Hopefully this will be helpful for others too. I’ll try to update within a week with what I’ve accomplished so far.