Today is the first day of the Add 1 Language Challenge, a group language learning programme created and run by Brian Kwong. He spoke about the thinking behind the programme at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin in June. His research convinced him that lack of time and maintaining motivational focus were two of the major problems faced by language learners.
Kwong’s programme aims to tackle these problems by bringing language learners together online (mainly through a closed Facebook Group) for ninety days to “add one” language. The three month period is not an accident. It’s long enough to make a difference but not so long that you start to run out of steam. You can learn any language and you don’t have to be a complete beginner. You do have to be committed to moving up a gear and stick to your declared study schedule. My aim is to work on the language for an hour a day, five days a week. Some flexibility is allowed, but the weekly total should tally. As efficient learners know, a little often is better than less frequent, if longer sessions, so I certainly won’t be trying to cram all five hours on a weekend.
This, the fourth Add 1 Challenge, has come just at the right time for me. I started Basque night classes last September but the summer break from lessons began a couple of weeks ago. My aim is not only to keep going during the summer break from lessons, but to intensify my study. A two-hour lesson once a week is not enough to make real progress with a new language and I still can’t say very much. I intend to get a lot more speaking practice with the help of native speakers via Skype. Thanks to the help of Maider, my term-time teacher, I have found two partners in London, Amaia and Irantzu. I aim to have two half-hour Skype sessions with each of them twice a week. To be able to the most out of my sessions with them, I will need to use the rest of my committed time to study hard with the help of my text books. In addition, I’ll be creating and practising Anki vocab electronic flash cards. I will also try and get as much passive exposure to Basque language radio and TV online (though that won’t count towards my weekly total).
That’s the “time” side. The “motivational” side comes from the added social context of the Add 1 Challenge. You have to declare a clear goal: a common one (and mine) is to have a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker at the end of the ninety days. There is also a sting in the tail. If you fail, you have to take your “punishment”. I decided that I would make a £200 ($340) donation to the London Basque Society. I hope this won’t mean that the Society is willing me to fail. I reason that, if I succeed, I can give far more – in a non-monetary sense – to the London Basque community, as an enthusiastic participant in their Basque language social and cultural events.
To help keep us on the straight and narrow, each participant has a special “buddy” from among the other participants. Mine is Sterling from the US and she’s learning Korean. I have just “friended” her on Facebook, but she’s not on line so I haven’t made direct contact yet. There are over one hundred participants this time (it’s the fourth challenge) and we have been divided into sub-groups. Each day when we have said we will be putting in the time, we have to update our progress on our group’s Google spreadsheet work log. I’ve just updated mine for day one (and I wasn’t the first). Discussion is also taking off in the Facebook Group.
I will be updating on my progress on Howtogetfluent.com. Look out for my post of an my early, faltering attempts in one of the skype sessions. As part of the application process for the Add 1 Challenge, we all had to submit a video outlining our project. Here, in the meantime, is mine. Wish me well for the next 90 Days and let me know whether time and motivation are big issues for you in your learning, how you deal with them, and whether you think an on-line programme is going to bring results.