An hour a day of dynamic play

How much time each week should you give to learning your target language? Let´s say at least five.  That is an hour a day, Monday to Friday. On Saturday and Sunday you can play with the language, follow up anything that has interested you about the country or countries where the language is spoken, make yourself a set of flash cards or some other visual aid, or watch some youtube videos. In any case, YOU NEED TO GIVE ENOUGH TIME TO MAKE PROGRESS, which is the main thing that keeps you motivated.
Why an hour? Well, it is a nice, easy unit. It can easily be divided into two half-hour slots. You might choose to do 30 minutes with the book and 30 listening/speaking. That is what works for me, you just have to find what works for you. If you are following a book then five pages per week makes for easy maths when you want to calculate a finish date.
How do you approach that hour? With dynamism and playfulness. By dynamic study I mean working with an aim in mind for that session. In my writing session I just copy exactly what I see on the page. Or I might listen and write exactly what I hear, a sort of do-it-yourself phonetics in the early stages of learning a language. Later I can write the words with correct spelling. Some purists will frown and say that I am learning wrong habits that way. Rubbish. Children have to guess at words. First they hear a word like “angry” and guess that it means something un-nice. It is only by a constant process of refinement that they zero in on the exact meaning. Writing slows things down, it gives the mind time to get used to and savour the new words.
Alternatively, your aim might be to learn some kitchen phrases, or a couple of French expressions to phone the plumber and explain that there is a leak in the bathroom.
Once you can understand a newspaper, your aim might be to paraphrase an article in one long sentence.
What I do in the listening/speaking half hour will depend on whether I am alone and how much of the language I have learned. In the first month or two I like to listen with headphones. This cuts out distractions and gives me some privacy. When I am alone I like to parrot the words and phrases out loud. If the words go too quickly, I just imitate the sing-song noise of the phrase. A walk in the fields or woods early in the morning can give you privacy to speak, but beware dog-walkers behind hedges.
When should you study? What is the best time of day for you? I like to begin as early as possible in the day and then come back and take a second bite later.
Where can you measure your progress in speaking? I have a language diary for that. With Dutch I am measuring my progress in speaking simply by estimating the number of minutes per week that I have spent in parroting what I hear. Later I can move on to simple conversations.
Ultimately, speaking with others will give you the best feedback on how you are doing. Maybe you are learning in a class? If not, then you will need to find native speakers of your target language. I tend to like learning independently and get a lot of pleasure from listening to what others say, so feel no hurry to engage in conversation for a month or two.
Be who you like to be, make it enjoyable for yourself.  That is my approach, with Dutch, this month. What is yours?


About Fun with languages

Blogging about learning languages, making it fun Hobbies: paragliding, cycling, reading, BBC radio 4.
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2 Responses to An hour a day of dynamic play

  1. Gosh Jenny,
    If I keep reading your encouragement I might start to think that I actually could learn Spanish one day. I really like the method and relaxed approach you take in this process. I am going to give this a try and see if I might be able to learn a bit so I really enjoy myself with what generally seems to me to be a real challenge.
    Thanks for the ideas!

    • Hi David
      You make me smile with your if, and might, and start, and thinking, and “one day”. I see that you are facing in a promising direction already! One of the things that I love about Spanish is that the people who speak it seem to carry some of the sunshine from the south around with them in their personalities and outlook on life. Another thing is that, with Spanish, what you see is what you get. If you see “mano” for hand, you can probably guess quite quickly how to say it. If you are a newcomer seeing English “sigh”, you will probably guess for quite a while longer … until you get some help, in fact. Good luck with the quest for enjoyment, and I think you will find that the ability to speak Spanish appears all by itself one day.

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