Making a year-long language learning plan?

A question was asked on HTLAL about making a plan to learn a language for a whole year. The person layed out a plan with a bunch of different textbook sources that he intended to complete within that year (about German specifically, in this case), and asked for advice, so here’s my response.

What’s important is not how many months or years you take, but how many hours you spend on it. If you spend only 1 hour per day, then a year might not be enough to reach basic fluency. If you spend more than 3 hours per day, then you might be at basic fluency in a matter of months.

Also, I have to agree with a previous response that there’s no guarantee that you’ll be at a certain level just by finishing a bunch of textbooks. In my view, textbooks can be useful for giving you some of the straight-up foundations of the language, but they also tend to have a lot of boring or useless stuff, like “Schalthebel”, as was mentioned. I had to look that one up, and I’m quite confident in my German vocabulary in most situations that apply to my life.

In order to keep working on a language for a year, I really think you’re going to have to find some more interesting materials than those textbooks. You need to keep up your motivation if you’re going to last for the whole year. I suggest going to native materials as soon as you feel the slightest bit ready, mainly because they’ll be more fun. It would take me a LOT of effort to work on textbooks for even a month, but I’m still watching 1 or more hours of German TV even after I’ve done it for a long time. I’ve watched hundreds of hours of German TV, and there’s still new stuff that I learn all the time, and it’s continually interesting. Can you say the same about textbooks?

In the end, I suggest you go with whatever feels the best to you. If that’s textbooks, then great. But my prediction is that you’ll get bored, so I suggest you strongly consider finding some real German books when that happens, and start working through them. Maybe start with a translation of something you already know, or something that you know has simple language (such as a translation of either Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist”, or John Boyne’s “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”, both of which have interesting plots but simple words).

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7 Responses to Making a year-long language learning plan?

  1. Aaron says:

    Great advice near the end. Do what works for you. There are some strange folks out there that love to bury their noses in textbooks:-) Most of us though loath the thought. Find what’s fun, interesting and purposeful. But what about the idea of a plan for a whole year? Is that too far out? Goal setting is important, but is a whole year doable? Especially if it’s your first foray into foreign language study. I assume most polyglot would have a pretty good idea what a whole year might look like. Any suggestions for the beginner in that regard? Would setting up monthly goals, bimonthly goals or something like that be more productive?

  2. Chani says:

    well, people make plans to spend 4 years studying for their career at uni, so one year of language-learning isn’t really that much. :) I’d guess it depends on how distractable you are too, and how predictable your life is (I have trouble planning *anything* a year in advance because I don’t know what country I’ll be in!)

    I tend to get bored when a semester is ending (conditioning, perhaps?) so I’d probably break the year into three, or even four separate chunks and only plan out the next one, then see where I am near the end of that period. I’m not too keen on setting goals, but pete is; he’d probably set monthly goals *and* weekly goals. ;)

    in any case, I’d say you *do* need to make plans based on regular smaller intervals, to ensure that your goal for the year is reachable.

    • maugrassia says:

      Why the hell would anyone want to do it for a year? The only reason you should set up a goal for a year (in German) is if you are doing anything that requires your (German) ability in a year.

      If you are just trying to become fluent in German for the heck of it (which is a good reason) a year should not be your goal; it should only be a result. And that result is relatively poor to some of the results we’ve been getting around here ;). (If you’re a native in English)

  3. Kate says:

    I saw that post, and my first thought was “What are they setting themselves up for?!” I always saw learning materials as a tool to get one to the point where they are able to begin to enjoy native materials. Textbooks and the like are so dry, it struck me as strange that someone would want to depend so heavily on textbooks. They must have excellent endurance.

  4. Igor says:

    I agree with you.
    A novel is the best textbook.

  5. tzu` says:

    I agree also – novel, movie, music, living for a while between native people – these are the best ways to help you learn it!

  6. Judith says:

    I find it useful to plan out which languages I shall study when (and I use 3-month chunks), not going as far as specifying materials though. If I plan out which languages to focus on in each 3-month chunk, then that helps me resist the urge to do a little bit of everything and switch languages every week. Wanderlust would have me dabble in Arabic right now except I know it’s coming up in October, so I can resist the urge.

    There is a synergy effect when learning a language. If you only put in one hour every week, you wind up using most of that time reviewing what you had already studied and forgot. If you put in more hours, the balance increasingly shifts towards less review and more progress. This way, 4 hours for two weeks is a lot more efficient than 1 hour for 8 weeks. Additionally, if you manage to do two or more hours in one day, especially do auditory learning, you will probably find yourself hearing your target language in your head, randomly coming up with phrases, trying to translate your surroundings. I cannot prove it, but I believe this is also helps you progress, because your brain is processing the language even if you stopped studying for the day.

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