As I look back over my latest period of focussed German practice and study – “Project revive my German” – I’m struck by the value of logging my efforts. Here’s a brief overview of what I did, how it helped me and how logging could help you too in your own learning.
First set your goal and your routine
My logging was in the service of progress towards a clear goal: sitting the first of the Goethe Institute’s two advanced German exams (the “C1”) three months after I started the project.
- Set yourself a goal, too!
- Be specific.
- Don’t set the goal too far in the future.
- Map out your daily routine.
In setting your daily study and practice time, it’s better to aim low and overperform.
Don’t be afraid to include a couple of break days a week.
I have a full-time job and a longish commute. Thirty minutes a day, five days a week worked well. I didn’t want to crash and burn after a first flush of enthusiasm.
Remember, what you’re setting is a non-negotiable minimum commitment. Nobody’s stopping you doing more when the mood takes you.
What’s your next goal for the next stage of your language journey? How much time can you commit yourself to setting aside?
Keep a written track your efforts
During the ninety days, I regularly filled in an accountability chart. This was a simple google spreadsheet. Each day when I met my goal, I coloured a box green and included a brief note of what I’d done. The framework came as part of the 12th ninety-day on-line language learning marathon that is the Add1Challenge.
In the Add1Challenge, you choose your own daily and weekly study goals. All the other participants can see the record of your activity logged on the chart. They are also all logging their own efforts on it. For more detail about how the Challenge works check out my earlier post (one of several on my progress with Basque in three previous Add1Challenges).
One reason I’ve continued to pay to participate in the Add1Challenge is because I am convinced I put in study that I wouldn’t have done had it not been for the sheet.
A written as-you-go record of the effort you’re making helps in forming your transformative habits. It’s these habits which are far more important for long-term progress than the ebb and flow of your motivation.
But it helps with motivation too: you build up a track record which you don’t want to break…and it feels good to be able to look back and see where all the time went.
My results were:
Days 1 to 30: 21 study days; 9 break days
Days 31 to 60: 23 study days; 7 break days
Days 60 to 90: 21 study days; 9 break days
Total: 65 days studied (so one day more than the 64 day commitment)
Most of this time was a good mix of focussed practice across reading, writing, speaking, listening and exam training. The “softest” period was my 14-day trip the USA to attend the Polyglot Conference in New York. While I was on the road, I focussed mainly on reading.
- How about trying keeping a written log yourself for the duration of your project?
Record in your diary. Use a google spreadsheet. You don’t even have to allow anybody else access. If you’re a self-starter and introvert, you may find doing this privately suffices.
Many people find it more effective when shared with others.
My motivation is generally high and I’m an introvert if ever there was one, but even I found benefit in involving others.
If you’re not up for paying for a programme such as the Add1Challenge, that’s no obstacle.
Create something similar with an informal accountability “supervisor”. It might be your tandem partner, your teacher or a willing friend or relative.
- Grant your “supervisor” access to your spreadsheet.
- At a regular time each week tell your “supervisor” that you’ll be emailing with a log of what you’ve done, no excuses.
- Maybe add a bit of motivational “stick”. If you fail that week, you’ll be buying your “supervisor” a meal at a restaurant of their choice.
Pre schedule appointments with your teacher….and yourself
In the Goethe’s C1 German exam reading, listening and writing are as important as speaking. Jaw jaw still accounts for a quarter of the marks, though, and regular speaking practice was a core aspect of my preparation.
I got the practice by working on Skype with three German teachers whom I booked through italki.com. I clocked roughly one lesson every four days:
Fourteen thirty minute sessions with Daniela.
Four thirty minute sessions with Laura.
Three one-hour sessions with Kurt (who does not offer 30 min slots).
Total: twenty-one sessions
The total cost of this tuition was £167 (about USD 247 or 225 euros).
If you prefer not to pay for lessons, another option is a language exchange (“tandem”) where you spend half the time speaking your target language with a native speaker or advance learner who then gets the second half of the time to practice English (or another language) with you.
Tandems obviously take twice the time and are not always easy to make work but you could give it a try. You can find partners on italki or through getting to know local language learners, for example through meetup.com. Another option for a tandem would be to use one of the numerous app which are now available to bring people together. I’ve heard good things about HelloTalk.
The key logging aspect here is this:
- Book your speaking sessions in advance.
Teachers may not take bookings a whole month or three in advance (and big advance bookings can mean that you have to find the money up front) but most teachers will run calendars for next few weeks and they may also have cheaper offers of blocks of lessons, which may have to be used within a certain period.
I often schedule early morning sessions, to squeeze in half an hour before I leave for work or to get myself up on a weekend. Often, as my alarm clock goes off early in time for the session, I am cursing my past self for forcing me to get up earlier. Afterwards, satisfied that the day has got off to an early, productive start, I’m always convinced he’s a fine fellow after all.
The key is to box yourself in with bookings. Tough love and all that.
Recording yourself speaking
Another logging aspect of the Add1Challenge is short video clips you have to take at days zero, thirty, sixty days with a full fifteen minute conversation with a native speaker at ninety days.
- Take a snapshot at regular intervals to monitor your progress.
This maybe makes most sense in the early phases, when change is most dramatic.
Some people are put off by the idea of recording themselves, feeling nervous or unused to the sound of their own voice.
If you’re one of those people, experiment a bit. Remember, it doesn’t have to be public. Create a YouTube account and upload something set to private or grant access only to a select few.
Or just record on your computer or phone and keep for future reference.
Your subjective sense of how far you’ve come can be deceptive.
You may just be naturally hard on yourself.
Also, as you get into a language’s more complex structures, you may feel worse at it.
- Get an objective yardstick! Reviewing an old clip can correct discouraging delusions.
At the very least, regularly skip back a few chapters in your chosen course book to see whether things you did a month ago seem easier (if they don’t maybe it’s time to backtrack and consolidate).
Below are the short thirty and sixty day updates and the full fifteen minute conversation with Daniela (one of my teachers). You can see my day zero video in the introductory post “Project revive my German“. All were prepared and shared with the group as part of the Add1Challenge. There was no escape. Day thirty fell when I was on vacation in New York. I recorded and posted the clip in my guest house room.
Progress is not very dramatic at the advanced level. You’re pushing forward along a very broad front. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you can sense any improvement in the clips below.
Whatever your level, in the grand scheme of things, ninety days still not long and you might only notice change over a longer period. That’s certainly been the case with me for Basque.
- Even if you really are on a “plateau”, with no visible progress (but probably a lot below the surface), your recording dates are useful milestones during the period of your project.
Plus, hearing your own voice can help you evaluate how your accent and intonation are coming.
I’ll post soon in more detail about how I prepared for the C1 exam – on the content of those thirty minute slots – with tips which should be useful if you fancy setting yourself the target of a language exam whatever level you’re at.
Do you already use these or other logging techniques? Let me know about your experiences in the comments section below.
30 Day Advanced German update:
60 Day Advanced German update:
90 Day fifteen minute German conversation with native speaker: