How to learn a language on your own – The Ultimate Guide (Part 2 – Do’s and dont’s of learning)

by Bartosz Czekala

 

The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.Confucius

By now you should know clearly why you want to learn a language.

And don’t you ever forget about it. Let it be your guiding light.
Now it’s time to learn how to organize your learning.

PREPARATION

1. GET READY

Describing what it means to be ready is always quite tricky.
The reason is simple – there won’t be many situations in your life when you feel really ready and the conditions are conducive.
However, in the perfect sugar-coated world your readiness should involve three elements:

  • Being ready physically

Comfort is important. Before you start learning, make sure that you’re not hungry, tired or sick.
Get some snack or a nap if you have to.
Otherwise a few minutes deep into the learning you will start having a dirty fantasies about rubbing a chocolate on your chest while being wrapped up in sheets.

  • Being ready mentally

“Never despair, but if you do, work on in despair.”
Edmund Burke

Do your best to clear your head before you get down to learning. Stress is probably the worst enemy of effective studying.
It dumbs you down drastically. Meditate, take a walk – do what it takes to unwind.
Anything is better than suddenly realizing that instead of being focused on learning you catch yourself plotting against your boss.

And come to terms with the fact that you’ll probably never be able to speak a language like a native speaker.
Let go of the ideal you nurture.
I know it all too well. I combat my anxieties and fears on a daily basis.

  • Being ready emotionally

Incite emotions and get excited. Think about all the things you’ll be able to do with your newly acquired language!
Imagine the world of possibilities! Make it vivid, so vivid that you almost feel that it’s real. Get yourself pumped.

Watch some motivational videos (like this one – Rise and Shine) or read an inspiring article.
Or maybe create a set list which gets you in the mood. Survivor’s “Eye of the tiger” seems like a natural choice here!

2. CREATE A SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT (and not so comfortable one)

Each one of us should have a safe haven. A place which immediately can be associated with learning.
The place which immediately triggers willingness to learn in you.

But it’s hard. It’s hard to draw a distinct line between your working and play space and the one for learning.
Still, try to find yourself a nook you can call your own. Go to cafe or library if you can’t find it under your roof.

Once you have it, get rid of all the potential distractions. Turn off the music*, put aside anything what may distract you.
And don’t get too comfy. If you sink into an armchair it will smell your weakness and lure you into the oppressive clutches of sleep!

A supportive environment means also one more thing. Tell your beloved ones to give you some space and keep everything relatively down.

* Unless it’s classical music – see The Mozart Effect

3. FOCUS AND HAVE A REMINDER

Now you have a place where you can learn! Congratulations!
There shouldn’t be many things left which may distract you.

Next thing on the checklist – stop multitasking. Decrease your cognitive load.
Regardless of what you’ve heard – that’s another thing which dumbs you down.

If you do two things at once, divide your attention and intelligence by two.
It basically makes you equivalent of a retarded shrimp. And I can tell you they’re not very good at learning languages.

Get yourself a reminder of why you want to learn. It can be a piece of jewelry given to you by your ancestors / wife / husband.
A picture of your dream house. Anything which gets you going is just fine.

If you’re single, hang a picture of some person who inspires you.

Do's and dont's of learning

Whenever you find yourself distracted let your reminder work its magic.

4. BE REGULAR

The chance is that if you’ve ever stuck to some routine I don’t have to convince you why it’s so extremely important to be regular.

If not, let me tell you what has been told thousands of time – it’s better to learn 10 minutes per day than to do it once per week for 2 hours.
But why? The numbers don’t add up. Well, math is a cruel mistress.

There are dozens of rules which govern learning. One which is (probably) the most important for you is:

Spacing effect – you remember things better if they are distributed over a long time span and the bigger the number of repetitions

If learning each day is not a habit for you, you should do all in your power to develop it.
Set some time aside every day for learning – e.g. 25 min at 19:00 .

5. LEARN IN SMALL DOZES

You might have heard this saying before – learning is a marathon not a sprint.
Truer words have never been said. But …

When it comes to regular learning, try to slice your learning time into pieces if you plan to learn for more than 1 hour.

We’re only human. Our attention span is anything between 20 -40 min.
After that time your thoughts start wandering into unknown directions.
That’s perfectly ok. Just be aware of this fact and prepare beforehand.

Take 10 minute break every 30 minutes. This is, of course, a mere suggestion.
You have to experiment a bit to see what works for you.

Also don’t forget about the Serial Position Effect.
We tend to remember the most items from the beginning and from the end of our studying
It means that the more breaks you have the better you take advantage of this phenomenon.

6. CREATE SYSTEMS (and why they beat goals)

I believe that goals are great starting point. But it’s only a first station in your journey.
They won’t carry you very far.
However, as great as they are, they have their limitations.

Let’s assume that your initial goal was to learn 10 words per day or 15 min per day.
If you fail to stick to this goal, you’ll start feeling bad.

“I can’t even do this one thing right”. Every time you fail, the chance that you’ll return to your learning schedule decreases. After some time, caught in despair, you stop learning.

What if you manage to actually follow through? You might be so content with yourself that you’ll stop there.

And this is a gist of problems with goals. They limit you in one way or another.

So why are systems better?
A good system is characterized by two things.
It facilitates wanted behavior and makes it difficult to yield to unwanted one.

Who needs strong will when you have systems?!

Example:
I know that I have a very strong inclination to browse various websites after a few minutes of working on my computer.
That’s why I downloaded the app which blocked these websites for better part of the day.

Leechblock – for Mozilla
StayFocusd – for Chrome

Thus I increased my chance to stay focused while learning.
What’s more, the only objects which I keep on my desk are books and dictionaries.
It considerably decreases the risk of getting distracted.

So go ahead. Think about how you can create the system to facilitate your learning.

7. (LEARN HOW TO) LOVE THE GRIND

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”Stephen King

Discover an appreciation for what you have to do.
Anybody could learn in perfect conditions. But as I said, it rarely happens. Grit is born out of pain.
Every time you force yourself to learn you build your habit. Brick by brick.

And don’t compare yourself to others and their progress. Everyone has his own fight to do.
And we all start with different gear and skills.

Just show up. Day by day. That’s the secret.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”Martin Luther King Jr.

(Source: http://www.universeofmemory.com)

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