Making language learning a regular habit is half the battle on the road to fluency.
But “life” will sometimes totally get in the way of your language learning plans.
That much is sure.
The trick is to make sure you’re all set up to get back on track when things calm down.
In a recent post, we looked at how to keep things ticking over at a much lower level when you’re hit by a heavy patch at work, a health or family crisis or just during some scheduled time away.
This happened to me last September.
My dad had to have major surgery and I spent a month at his place, much of it focussed on travelling to and from the hospital to visit and supporting in whatever other way I could.
While I was away, there was a water leak at my own place.
Cue more disruption.
Then I had a major work trip: two weeks of intense preparation and a week away training colleagues in sunny Dubai.
All in all there were a couple of months when I didn’t have much space for language learning.
But things settled down in the end (and my dad is now back on form).
In our language learning, we’ll never be able to engineer away life’s disruptions but what we can do is set things up so that we’ll find it easier to get back into the language learning groove.
I find it a bit easier to re-start some wholesome, focussed engagement, thanks to what I call my language anchors:
1) A regular thirty-minute “focussed study” slot.
I’ve long since discovered the time of day that works best for me (first thing after getting up) and so it’s just a matter of sliding back into the habit. You might not be so keen on deliberate language study, but you can make a regular habit around the three anchors below.
2) Compelling materials for listening and reading practice
I have my goodies lined up. That means that once I’m ready to get back “in the game”, I’m not procrastinating, trying to find the right materials.
My favourites are podcast and YouTube channels in my languages and a pile of books I’ll have on the go (“graded”, easier reading for my lower-level languages, native material for my upper-intermediate to advanced ones).
I’ll also have my preferred courses and reference works to hand, both “dead tree” and online resources.
3) Relationships with teachers (or exchange partners)
I’ve already found people I get on with and I’m naturally keen to catch up with them again. My chosen platform for finding teachers is italki.com.
4) A web of relationships through your language
Here the language is incidental to the main motivation: shared interests. Your interactions might be as passive as joining and following a group on social media, then, as you get more confident, starting to comment (or even moderate). You could be a regular at events where speakers of your language gather (for example a church, community club or cafe).
Those shared interests don’t go away just because I have for a while.
Now, your anchors may be similar to mine. Or they may be completely different.
What matters is to build the steel-girdered scaffold of your language learning house quite deliberately and to build it while the sun is shining.
Sometimes a strong wind will blow off the roof.
Heavy rain might even bring it crashing down.
But, when the storm has passed, the structure underneath will still be standing.
And it won’t be so hard to get everything will be up and running once again.
Mmm. Anchors, roofs…up and running? I’m mixing my metaphors here, I admit.
But you get the idea, I’m sure! 🙂