Framing my 2013 Goals (II): The 10-Year Language Plan

2012 has been a pretty good year for language study. I’m not sure how specific I was about language goals at the beginning of the year but by the end of it I will have made the following progress:

  • Learning all my level-3 kanji
  • Re-learning all my previous kanji to a high level of accuracy
  • Learning to read in German
  • Familiarising myself with the 1000 most-used Russian words
  • Learning how to write hangul

I’ve really applied myself with these goals and it’s been the first year in ages that I’ve seen real concrete progress with various areas of my language studies. Having very specific tasks (a certain set of vocab to learn, a certain number of flashcards, a particular number of kanji to practice or a given number of pages to read) each day, week and month made it fun to challenge myself and was far more effective than just a general “improve my French” kind of goal.

This got me thinking… I might not be able to master a language in a year, especially while trying to maintain several at once, but I can make progress on certain aspects of each language if I have specific targets, and that’s far better than no progress at all or actually losing skills and vocabulary as happens all too easily. I have a problem in particular with speaking because I know that comes much more easily if you’re in the right environment and surrounded by native speakers, so it seems a bit of a waste of time to expend effort in that direction on my own for minimal results. But reading, writing and listening I can work on on my own.

I was really amazed this year to see what progress I could make in German just by reading and plugging away at vocabulary searches and flashcards. At the beginning of this year I didn’t understand hardly any of what was written on the page and now I can pick it up and get the gist quite easily – I might miss a couple of key words of vocab but to be honest that could happen in French or Japanese too, depending on the level of the book, so I don’t think it’s bad for one year and a limited background in German. I’m looking forward to experiencing the same development in Russian next year. Being able to read and understand a new language is just the most incredible feeling – it’s like all this stuff that was hidden before is suddenly open to me. And all it took was making myself push through the pages each day and a bit of vocab drilling around the edges.

The other thought I had was that I don’t really want to be doing this job forever – it would be cool to be good enough at languages to be able to use them in my work, eventually. And so I came up with the 10-year language plan which will (loosely) take me to the end of 2021, the year I turn 40. In that time I hope to learn the 7 main languages I’m most interested in, to different degrees, and focus my studies on different aspects of each for each particular year. I also thought it wouldn’t hurt professionally to actually finish my ACCA, which I need to do by 2017 anyway if I’m going to do it. If I managed all of that I reckon my professional prospects (if music doesn’t quite work out ;)) would be pretty good in my 40s.

I will come back and write about my specific goals for 2013 in a later post, but the general flow of activities will go something like this:

  • Basic vocab intro
  • Reading (Harry Potter is a great way to start!)
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Speaking

And the order of languages will roughly go:

  • Japanese
  • French
  • German
  • Russian
  • Chinese
  • Spanish
  • Arabic

and they’ll cascade through the different stages in turn.

One year I want to see how much I can learn of a new language just using my commuting time (train and walking time) and one language I would like to learn to speak from scratch by living there, if I have the chance (the way I learned Japanese). I also have a list of “incidental” languages that I’d like to learn just for fun but not to a professional level. So lots of different challenges.

Having this plan has gotten me quite excited about improving my language skills and that alone is a benefit!

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