5 Tips on Successfully Planning Your Foreign Language Study

People of all ages take up learning a foreign language, whether by taking courses or by teaching themselves. There are, of course, tons of reasons to learn  a foreign language. Contrary to popular belief, you can learn a language at any age–and every age has its own advantages and benefits.

Unfortunately, many people wind up abandoning their language studies, never attaining their dreams. The reasons vary, but ultimately often involve a lack of concrete objectives, a solid schedule and a strong commitment to learn, which means people don’t see results, quickly leading to a loss of motivation.

Studies show time and time again that when you start to learn another language, realistically estimating how much time you can commit proves essential. Based off of your level of commitment and motivation, you can create a personalized schedule that takes into account the number and duration of learning sessions and activities to complete. Having a realistic outlook on how to effectively plan your language-learning sessions is the first tip.

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Determine the Frequency and Duration of Your Learning Sessions 

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As I’ve said before, it’s better to spend 10 minutes per day learning a language rather than doing one 3-hour learning session per month. Repetitionconsistency and regularity are the most important elements to any learning plan. Ask yourself: How much time can you commit to learning?

15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour per day? Perhaps you can’t commit 7 days a week. At this stage, don’t kid yourself;  a realistic learning schedule is key. I suggest you begin thinking about your time and goals now by sketching out your learning plan on a sheet of paper.

When I was in college, I spent a lot of time learning French (this is Luca speaking!). Every day except Sunday, I spent 2 hours per day studying my French since I had to quickly learn the language. I was taking intensive courses for work purposes and  was able to complete my French courses within 5 months. Now, I’m able to begin learning Spanish. Although I still work and have other commitments, I dedicate 20 minutes per day to my studies by doing short, 10 to 20 minute sessions. (Luca not only works for MosaLingua, but also holds an important position in a French company!)

Stick to Your Own Learning Plan

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This is the hardest part. You’ve decided to commit time to learning a foreign language, but are you sure that you will be able to honor your commitments? Or are you going to give it all up after two weeks?

It goes without saying that sticking to a schedule can be very difficult.  In general, you should take time to think and learn to reflect on your own commitments, while trying your best to meet them.

People who take the subway or other forms of public transportation to work or school can take advantage of the morning, an optimal time for the brain’s capacity for memorizing new information (check out our article on how to boost your memory). Why not also take advantage of the time after you get home from work or school (or after an hour of relaxing)?

I would advise you to record your activities in an agenda, calendar or laptop to make your commitments “official”.

By writing them down, you are more likely to honor them. You can even make your commitments public by telling your friends and family or on Facebook, for example. Making your commitments public increases the likelihood that you’ll succeed in meeting them.

I would also advise you to set a reminder in your cell phone and maybe write a motivational phrase like “a new step today toward speaking perfect Spanish,” for example. Personally, I used a notebook at first, but now I set a reminder in my iPhone. I have friends who use an agenda in an Excel file. Every method can work as long as it helps keep you on track and from missing your learning session.

Now you have some basic but super useful tips under your belt. Next time, we’re going to kick it into high gear.

Set Objectives to Measure Your Progress

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Studying regularly is not only highly effective but also very motivating. In fact, the more you review, the more quickly you’ll progress, which will motivate you to keep going. To remain motivated, you should set realistic objectives, and then assess your results later on.

For vocabulary, you may decide to learn 10 new words per day with MosaLingua. In just 5 minutes, you can memorize 10 new words. At the end of one month, you will already have enriched your vocabulary by around 300 new words (10 x 30 days), 600 in 2 months, and so on. You see, it doesn’t take much time as long as you’re studying regularly.

As you know, memorizing vocabulary and typical phrases is very important, but it’s not enough!

For oral comprehension, you may decide to watch the news every day on a television channel that broadcasts in the language you are studying. You may decide to watch a television show or subscribe to a podcast on your iPhone or MP3 player.I suggest that you take note of your difficulties at the beginning (e.g. “I only understand a few words”), and at the end of the first month, assess your progress. Your visible great results will provide positive reinforcement so that you continue studying at the same pace or at an even more intensified one.

With practice, you’ll have no problem watching a film in French, English, Spanish, or whatever language you dream of speaking.

In sum, it’s important to set realistic objectives, write them down, commit to meeting them, and to assess your progress.

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OK, now that you have a learning plan and you know how to stay motivated, we’re going to look at how to vary your learning activities to avoid boredom, which can kill your motivation.

Even if you’re devoting only 20 minutes per day to learning, you can vary your activities to stay engaged and to allow you to work on different skills.

The key is using mediums that interest you. Thanks to the Internet, you can always find something that will intrigue you.

If you like current events, you can start by watching the news for 5 minutes (on TV or online).

Then, you can spend 5 minutes memorizing the new words that you heard. Finally, read and re-read articles on the subjects that interest you (10 minutes).

The next day, try a different activity, like 10 minutes of writing. For example, you could write short articles (maybe start your own blog) and devote the rest of the time to enriching your vocabulary. If you don’t have the guts to start your own blog, you can participate in target-language forums (e.g. WordReference forums) or find yourself a language partner with whom you can e-mail back and forth. You could even get a native speaker to correct your writing with the site http://lang-8.com/.

If you enjoy more structured exercises typical of classroom learning as some people do, you can purchase a used textbook or a short book of grammar exercises, and devote a bit of time to it every week. If mechanical exercises are not your cup of tea, don’t worry–you can learn grammar rules inductively by reading comics, poems, novels, online articles, etc.

Once a week, you could have a conversation with a friend who is fluent in the language you’re learning, or find a language partner in linguistic exchange communities (see the best sites for language exchange).

There are tons of ways to diversify your learning methods. Just make sure that you choose methods you truly enjoy. Learning should always be fun!

Varying your language-learning activities helps you not only maintain interest, but also improve your skills at all levels (reading, writing, oral, etc.).

Learn and Have Fun at the Same Time

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OK, now that you have a learning plan and know how to stay motivated, we’re going to look at how to improve your skills effortlessly with fun activities. It is very important to enjoy learning, otherwise you risk giving up easily. In addition to your study sessions, you can improve your language skills by participating in your favorite activities.

One classic example is watching the original version of a foreign film with the subtitles enabled.

If you like games, why not play language-based games? For example, you can play Scrabble or do crosswords, which will help you not only grow your vocabulary but also make new friends. There are plenty of free games online (these games won’t necessarily work on your cell phone):

  1. http://games.yahoo.com/word-games
  2. http://www.lexulous.com
  3. http://www.pogo.com

You can also search the Applications Store for Scrabble or crossword applications– there are tons.

If you want, you could browse through a foreign-language comic book—they are way easier to read than novels. You could even listen to foreign-language music in karaoke mode so that you can read the lyrics (see our article on learning a language with music). This way, you learn effortlessly and have fun, integrating learning a language into your favorite hobbies!

There you have it! Please don’t hesitate to leave us a comment to share your own tips. If you enjoyed this article, please click below to share it with your friends.

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