With tomorrow comes the first day of May, a lovely holiday, the start of my final month at work here in Austria (until September, anyway) and the beginning of another six week language challenge!
Now, I’ve been involved in these challenges off-and-on for the last couple of years (I think?) but it’s always the summer ones that I find the most useful. There’s usually more time as school and university end and, I don’t know, I think there’s just something about having more daylight that makes me, at least, feel a lot more motivated to knuckle down and study.
However, though I’ve been involved in this challenge a lot, I’ve never really written anything consistent and comprehensive about it. That’s a shame, because as far as challenges go, this one is incredibly useful – you can feel like you’re challenging your own time or the times other people have reached and there aren’t any downsides I can think of if you’re spending more time with your target language.
So, for the people who want to take part in the six week challenge and haven’t before – or for those who have but want some tips – here are my ideas on how you should prepare for it!
1. Choose your language
This can be the tricky bit or the easy bit, depending on how your language learning is going. The rules state (and there are rules, though honestly if you break them then you’ve no one to answer to but yourself. It’s all about your progress, remember) that ideally you will be learning a new language; though considering there are four 6WCs a year, that’s not always achievable. Not everyone wants to learn a new language every time, of course. So if you want to choose a language you’re already studying, you should be below B1 level (or intermediate) in that language.
For me, that rules German out and really, Mandarin (though my level there wavers). I’m choosing Slovak this time. I’ve chosen Spanish a couple of times (my level hovers somewhere between A1-A2, I think) but I’m considering visiting Bratislava within the month – and I’m flying home from there in June – so it would be nice to spend more time on the language.
You can also log time spent learning your other languages, but that doesn’t count towards your main score. Still, it’s interesting to see which languages you spend the most time on and, if you use tags, what you spend the most time doing.
2. Choose your materials
It’s a good idea to get all of this sorted at the start, but if you don’t, don’t worry! I like to have a textbook (I know, textbooks are so school, but I enjoy the structure – plus I don’t have to go scrabbling around to find the right grammar) or a coursebook and work my way through the lessons; but I know from past ventures that I can only really push this to forty-five or fifty minutes a day. That’s a good day. On an average day, it’s going to be fifteen to twenty minutes.
That’s because, as much as I enjoy textbooks and coursebooks, they can be boring as hell.
I also usually find a memrise course or five and go through that/them (if you look at my tags, you will notice that I log a lot of time on memrise because I enjoy it and think it’s useful, but it also gives me the feeling of having done a lot of work though I haven’t done much of anything. That’s not memrise’s fault. It’s just that I will substitute it for actual work, if given half a chance). A grammar book could be useful if you’re pushing up to A2/B1 and into that sort of thing.
Another thing that’s super useful: books and TV shows and films. Find something that interests you. Maybe it’s news articles about a country where your TL is spoken. Maybe it’s a kid’s show. Maybe it’s horror films. They all count and you’re going to need something fun, because…
3. Prepare for the mid-challenge slump
Not every year, but more than a few times, I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo. The first week is great. Everything is new and characters are doing things and plots are sprouting out of thin air full of backstory and secrets…
And then, about midway through week two, it all starts to change. Eleven or twelve days in and everything starts to slow down so that by week three, it’s actual effort to open the document and add more words to it.
This is true, I think, of a lot of things. I have so many projects that I’ve started with (maybe naive) enthusiasm (see: this blog), only for that to trickle away and reveal the truth: sometimes there can be a hard slog involved and that’s when you need the effort.
Don’t get me wrong – if the idea of adding words to the document/opening the textbook/going on memrise fills you with dread, then you need to take a step back and look at why. Usually it’s just a matter of repetition; we get bored and so it’s difficult to convince ourselves that we want to do it, that it will be fun.
When you feel this mid-challenge slump (if you do – I know plenty of people who do the 6WC and never seem to slow down at all. They’re much more dedicated than I am, but that doesn’t make me a worse learner; it means I need to step up my game a little) then convince yourself to do something for five minutes. It seems trite maybe, but five minutes is better than nothing and usually leads to ten minutes and, honestly, consistency is key. This is a marathon (though a small marathon in the general marathon that is language learning) and you have to give yourself time.
If you honestly don’t want to do those five minutes, then find something to motivate you. There are motivational pictures on pinterest. There are plenty of language learners on twitter. There are language blogs all over the web. Find something that gets you feeling excited about your language again, and about the language learning process.
4. Find time in your day
One of the other problems that often comes up for me in the 6WC (especially at other times of the year – November comes to mind) is that life can definitely get in your way.
The point of the challenge, it is good to remember, is not to clock the best time (though if you do that, good on you!), but to clock any time, more time than you have been doing. So what I said about five minutes before applies here.
Take some time now and think about this question: when do you have five minutes? A work commute – do flashcards on your phone, or if you drive, listen to some audio, or read some of a book, or review some grammar. The end of a lunch break can also be used to do these things. Or five minutes after you get in from work. Five minutes between classes. Five minutes before you go to bed.
I don’t know about you, but I waste so much time in a day just clicking about on the internet (literally not even doing things, just clicking from site to site in case something interesting has popped up in the last thirty seconds) or staring out of the window on my train to work or wandering about between classes. You don’t have to fill all of this time. You should have time to relax and do other things.
But, you can probably find five minutes. See if you can think of three points of the day where you have this time to spare and then, when you have a slow day, try doing something language-related at one of these times. Hopefully it’ll get you motivated to do more later; and if not, then you still have five minutes to log later!
5. Have fun with it
Maybe this is less to do with preparation, but as far as points go, I think this applies to most things that you do in your free time. And I know I’ve already said it, but it’s that important a point, it bears repeating.
No one is forcing you to learn a language (unless you’re doing it for school or work, in which case, good luck to you and I hope you’re enjoying it a little) and no one is forcing you to participate in this challenge. If you start it and you don’t enjoy it, then don’t do it. The same goes for language learning in general.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to look for fun and it might take you a little time, so don’t give up if you don’t find something straight away. And of course, the beginning parts can be boring if you’re struggling to say and remember the first fifty words – but they can also be the most fun, because hey, that’s fifty words in a new language you just learnt. You couldn’t do that the day before.
If you find it dragging, take to twitter or blogs or one of the many language forums out there and talk to other people who are in the same boat as you. There are good days and bad days, but there’s usually someone out there who can help turn the bad day into a good one (if they turn the good day into a bad one then you don’t need those people). Pretty soon, you can build yourself a little community of super fun language learners who’ll help keep you motivated in this journey – because for most people, it continues even after the 6WC ends.
I hope you found this post useful and I hope you decide to participate in the 6WC this May-June. If you do and you want someone to talk to (about your successes and your slow days), then comment here or email me or shoot me a message on twitter. I’ve been in every iteration of that boat I could be in so far, so I know the feeling. Hopefully we’ll all get through it together!