A while ago I was skimming through a fitness magazine at the hairdressers while waiting for the dye to set, and an article about setting goals to keep motivated to exercise caught my eye.
One point in that article was, that you should consider your overall situation in life when setting your goals: if you’re a CEO and have to keep a family life rolling, don’t set an exercise goal that requires 7 hours of training a week.
Makes sense, right? Similarly, if you have a brand new full-time job plus a volunteering position that takes up to 10 hours a week, it can hardly be the right time to think you can dedicate one hour daily to language learning. (That was me last August–September–October.)
On the other hand, I’ve just recently read a couple of inspiring posts about the benefits of setting your goals higher than what seems realistic by Katie from Joy of Languages, and about how joining a language challenge can be a good idea even when your life is as stressful and busy as can be, by Elena from Hitoritabi.
All that rings true to me as well.
Somehow, I think my goals for learning Swedish last year were simultaneously too ambitious for the time and energy really available, and not ambitious enough, so that in the little study time I had, I wasn’t really challenging myself.
I did sort of make a plan in August to start working my way to eventually reach higher levels. I was inspired by the post by Katie Harris about aiming for fluency in French, and I thought I’d want to make my perhaps somewhat lighter version of aiming for fluency in Swedish from my living room.
What I did not realise was that somewhat less effort would mean way less progress.
I did listen to podcasts and audiobooks, read books and chat with a tandem partner in Swedish – quite regularly even – but I didn’t really challenge myself, I didn’t really do what was difficult. And I certainly didn’t put a lot of time into studying. And so I didn’t really make progress, and my motivation dropped (and then hibernation happened).
However, those perhaps a bit half-hearted attempts to improve my Swedish still taught me something important about my current level and what it will take to make progress. I realised the inevitable truth: I really am sitting firmly in the intermediate plateau, and the way I was practicing last year won’t be enough to get me out of there (within the next 20 years at least).
So now, thinking of what my goals for this year should be, I know I’m going to have to be more specific, more systematic, and more ambitious. And at the same time, more humble and realistic.
What should I work on?
Kerstin Cable from Fluent Languages talks in her recent Fluent Show podcast episode about intermediate plateau, and says some really wise things there. Two things especially caught my attention:
- It doesn’t help to assume that your progress will be as fast as it has been.
- You should think what is especially difficult, and work on that.
I won’t have too much time for learning Swedish (I can’t dedicate as much time to language learning as I’d like to, and I’ve decided to focus on Russian). But I still really want to work with improving my Swedish. So I’ll just have to accept that it will be slow. And I’ll have to identify some specific areas that I find difficult in Swedish, and set some goals related to improving those.
Now, following the advice of Kerstin, I tried to think what I’m most frustrated about in Swedish right now.
First of all, it’s clear that speaking is the area I want to improve the most. My reading and listening are pretty much somewhere in the C levels already. With listening, I’ve had problems mainly just when I’m with a group of natives and try to follow their conversation. My reading skills I even dare estimate to be on level C2. An “I can read and understand the main points of a text about sustainable public procurement in Danish because my Swedish is so good” kind of a level.
But speaking… That’s where the biggest frustration lies.
But what about it exactly? My tandem partner keeps asking me, what is it I want to improve, because he finds I speak well enough to get by anytime. But for some reason, I’m not happy.
The thing is, I’m not really able to discuss anything of particular interest to me. I can discuss general everyday matters with ease, but if I try to explain about my job, my volunteering, why I love learning languages, or anything like that, I find that I express myself very clumsily and lack the necessary vocabulary.
That is something I think I want to work on next.
Aiming for more sophisticated conversations (with whom, though?)
I can’t remember which of the “bigger names” of language learning and polyglotism it was, but I remember reading somewhere this approach of working towards fluency:
- Choose a certain topic of personal relevance,
- Concentrate on practicing discussing that topic, learning the vocabulary and expressions needed and using them as much as you can,
- When it starts to feel easy, pick another topic and start specialising on that one.
That approach somehow resonated with me and it’s been on my mind a lot lately. It seems like exactly what I want to do with my Swedish right now.
I’ve tried to think of some topics I’m passionate about and would like to be able to discuss, here are a few:
- Scouting, volunteering
- Project management, time management and productivity
- Language learning (of course!)
- Nature and outdoors activities
That seems specific enough.
But there’s one problem: I don’t really know for what I would be learning all that!
The thing is, I am learning all my languages mainly out of linguistic fascination. So I have no practical reasons to learn to talk about scouting or language learning in Swedish. I only have a few Swedish friends, I don’t really get any chances to talk with them and they’re a bit too used to speaking English with me. And I really don’t know if I ever get the chance to spend time in Sweden again and to find Swedish friends who would be passionate about the same things as me and want to have sophisticated conversations about them with me. It sounds slightly far-fetched.
I guess somewhere deep inside I’m just thinking that perhaps, if I keep learning the language, someday I will get the chance to make friends I wouldn’t have otherwise, friends with whom I can discuss languages or scouting or what have you. That’s one of the reasons I’m into learning languages in general. You never know who you’ll meet!
However, another wise thing Kestin Cable said in her podcast was that if you don’t put yourself in a situation where you need C1 level of a language, you’ll never reach that level. So just hoping I’ll need it someday isn’t really going to help me get to that level.
And I really want to find a reason to need C1 level Swedish.
Which brings us to my goal for Swedish learning in 2018.
My goal: To find the reason to have a goal
The conclusion of this (once again, not very short and quick) post:
My goal for 2018 is to find a reason to need C1 Swedish.
That means I’ll actively look for as many different forums and situations as possible, related to the things I normally do, such as my job, scouting or language learning, in Swedish. So not just find a language exchange partner or a tutor, but to connect with Swedish-speakers with similar interests, people who might have some interest in speaking with me for other reasons than helping me learn the language.
Sounds simple, but I think it might be tricky to do in practice.
Have you been in a similar situation, where you have to actively create yourself the need to use a language on an advanced level? How did you manage? Let me know in the comments!