The Language Learning Tripod: Time
Today I’m going to continue to talk about my series of three videos on what I call the tripod, the three legs that you have to stand on to succeed in language learning, the three keys or whatever you want to call them, the trilogy. There are three, the first one was your attitude so I did a video on the kind of attitude you need to have and the kind of attitude you should avoid. Now we’re going to talk about time.
There are three things you need to succeed in language learning, as I said, attitude, time and the ability to notice. Time is key. It takes a long time to learn a language. There may be the odd genius or artistic person who can do it in 10 days, three months, whatever, but for most people it takes a long time. Luca, along with Richard Simcott and a few others, is one of those really outstanding multilingual people you can find on YouTube. He says it takes him two years to learn a language, so if it takes Lucas two years it takes a long time. Obviously, this depends. It’s going to take him two years, perhaps, to learn Japanese. I’m sure that going from Latin to Spanish didn’t take him anything like two years.
Time is the major resource you have to invest in language learning, so you want to make sure that your use of time is as effective and as enjoyable as possible. It’s very important. You’ve got to spend a lot of time, but you want to do it in ways that are effective and enjoyable and, ultimately, it’s you the learner that has to decide how you want to spend that time. Essentially, to learn a language you have to listen, you have to read, you have to speak. You might want to write and I think writing is a good thing to do, but it’s more difficult to do very often and you have to review all the nuts and bolts. You review sometimes grammar rules, you review words and that’s sort of the studying of the nuts and bolts.
So you have to decide, where do you like to spend your time? Do you like to spend your time reviewing flashcards? Do you like to spend your time reviewing grammar rules? Do you like to spend your time reading, listening, writing, speaking? You decide how to spend the time. The key thing is to spend time with the language because when you’re spending time with the language that gives your brain a chance to get used this new language and to develop the neuro networks, the connections between neurons. That’s going to enable you to speak the language comfortably.
Now, in my own case, as you may know if you follow my videos, I like to listen and read for the first little while and then, eventually, start to speak. I’m not too fussed about the grammar rules in the early stages. Just today, for example, I was listening to my Ekho Moskvy and they were talking about the recent disturbances in Warsaw. So I’m getting a Russian perspective on the Euro Cups and the disturbances between fans there, the Russian and Polish fans. I’m listening to it and I understand it all, but when I speak I make mistakes.
I still make mistakes with my cases and it doesn’t really bother me. I know that I can get in there later on when it matters and I can work on improving them, but I find it enjoyable. I’m interacting with the language. I’ve spent a lot of time listening and reading and now if I look at my Czech, for example, which I’ve been at now for about eight or nine months, just today I was reading various news articles, interviews and also chapters from The Good Soldier Svejk on LingQ. The words are already saved in yellow and as I’m reading I’m listening to it and, essentially, I can understand everything. There’s the odd word that I miss, but I’m listening to it and I understand it.
Obviously, if I listen without reading I have more trouble, but I feel a great sense of satisfaction. I’m doing things that I enjoy doing, I’m interacting with the language and yet in Czech some of the basic things, the ‘this’, ‘that’ in masculine, feminine and different cases I haven’t a clue and it doesn’t bother me. I know at a later stage I can go in there and I will focus on getting those right, but in the meantime I’m getting tremendous enjoyment out of doing the things I like to do, which is listen, read and access radio and books, I would understand a movie and so forth and so on. Other people may be motivated differently, so the thing to do is to spend time on the things you enjoy doing.
In my own view, going to a school attending a class is relatively low efficiency, unless you’re one on one with the teacher. But if it’s a class with 10, 15 or 20 people, you’re really not interacting so closely with the language. You’re not listening to it all the time. You’re not reading it all the time. You’re listening to your fellow students. It’s not something that I like to do, but it’s a social event and some people require it from the point of view of discipline for language learning. So if that’s what you like to do, do it. I just think that even if you go to class, what really matters is the time you spend with the language away from class. It’s not the time in class. It’s the time you spend with the language away from class.
The great thing about listening as an activity is that you can create time. I’m doing the dishes, I’m doing it. I’m sitting in the car, I’m doing it. That’s a very flexible way of getting in the amount of time you need. People always ask, how much time do you need? Well, it depends on circumstances. I think less than an hour a day you’re not going to make much progress, but 45 minutes to an hour a day is a very acceptable amount of time to spend and you can expect to make good progress in an hour a day.
I think with my Czech now I’m probably spending more than an hour a day because when you first start it’s very tough. It’s tiring. It’s frustrating. You’re forgetting everything. It’s less fun so it’s hard to get in that hour a day, but now that I can understand so much more, in fact, I’m doing more than an hour a day because I’m downloading stuff from the Internet, reading, listening and having more fun with it, but an hour a day.
If you are a full-time student, you can be doing six-seven hours a day. I have always felt the more you do a day that you will learn a lot faster. If you can do five-six hours a day, the intensity of that learning experience means you will learn faster than if you string it out over three years. Like I learned Chinese up to the level of the British Foreign Service Exam in about nine to 10 months, but I was studying six-seven hours a day.
So the more intensive your interaction with the language, the more intensively you spend that time with the language, the quicker you’re going to learn. The other thing about it is people always say well, how long will it take? Don’t be so hung up about how long it will take, try to make sure you enjoy doing it. That should be the goal. If you enjoy doing it, you’ll end up spending enough time and you will learn as quickly as you can learn. So the key is to find activities that you enjoy doing.
Now, some reservations… I think there are some activities that are very enjoyable that are probably, at least in my opinion, less efficient. I think reading and listening is more efficient than watching videos or movies because you are totally dependent on the words. Whereas with the videos and the movies, first of all, the dialogue is less dense, there’s a lot more action and, second of all, you’re getting a lot of hints. That’s not to say you shouldn’t watch movies, but make sure you get a balance. I think if you were to spend the next two years doing nothing but watching television in the language you’re trying to learn, you wouldn’t get as far as if you had the discipline to do a lot more listening and reading.
Just to finalize, of course, the amount of time that you’re going to be able to spend or are willing to spend is going to be influenced by your attitude. So the three elements, attitude, time and the ability to notice, are all interconnected. We’ll see that, too, when I discuss noticing. You know, if an immigrant is not happy to be say in Canada, they wish they could be back somewhere else, they really don’t want to mingle with English-speaking people, they somehow feel they should learn the language just in case they get stopped by the police or end up in a hospital, those people are not going to put in the time. If they’re very motivated, they’re thrilled to be here like I was thrilled to be in Japan, I was thrilled to study Chinese, I was thrilled to be in France, so I was very motivated because I was happy to be there. I wanted to connect with the locals.
Whatever your motivation is, it could be an interest in the culture, in the literature, a spouse, a friend, music, anime in the case of Japanese, if you’re motivated you’re going to spend the time. So there’s a real connection between how motivated you are, the attitude, your ability to enjoy it and the amount of time you spend.
So there you have it. You have to spend the time and you have to find ways to make that time enjoyable and effective. Don’t worry too much about how long it takes, but make sure that you do things that you enjoy and you find are effective and that can vary from person to person.
Thank you for listening, bye for now.
This post has been transcribed from my YouTube channel