For many years I studied French at school, and even though I got good grades and went on to study French at college when I actually tried to speak the language to a native speaker I just couldn’t.
So what went so wrong with my learning?
The fact is that we are not taught languages in an ideal way at school. Often pupils study languages for only a couple of hours per-week with a non-native tutor without an accent. Sadly some teachers think that grammar exercises will be enough to learn a language! In addition to this pupils learn in large groups so the language is not tailored to suit individual preferences. Teachers also tend to overly criticise mistakes – I hate to break it to you, but those big red crosses on school work aren’t kisses from the teacher!
Most importantly no one is actually engaging in meaningful conversation with each other. Ironically if that were to happen the teacher would send you out for talking! If you want to learn to a new language, well, you actually have to practice by speaking it and making mistakes in order to progress.
So it took me years to learn French in school and I still could not have a conversation with a native speaker. However, since leaving school I am learning languages, such as Spanish and Mandarin Chinese and having real conversations with native speakers within only a few months, but how?
The 90 Day Language Plan
Even Impossible says “I’m Possible“. To be able to have at least a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker of your target language in just 90 days you need to be prepared to focus, practice and have a plan. I tend to focus on 90 days in 3 separate stages.
Stage 1: Days 1-30
The first thirty days are critical to planning and getting to grips with learning a new language. Ensure you document these stages by recording your progress. I spend the first 7 days thinking about what my current level was and goal setting. You need to immerse yourself as fully as possible. I recommend getting a personal tutor and some language exchange partners. To start with schedule in at least 2-3 lessons per week.
For my first lesson I learnt the most important phrases… “I don’t speak Spanish“, “How do you say… in Spanish” and “Please can you write this down for me“. You’re going to start encountering a lot of words and phrases that you don’t know, both with your private tutor, and when you practice languages on your own. Enter these words in to Anki, a journal or write them on paper flash cards to help you remember them. For me the first month is all about vocabulary building.
- Days 1-7 FIND A TUTOR or two and then schedule them in!
- Plan for the first 30 days and factor in things like holidays and time spent with family.
- Set up any social media sites you have in preparation for language learning, check out my blog on how to do this, here
- Join our supportive and encouraging language learning community on Facebook or Twitter .
- Go to the library and rent out some language learning resources!
- Have a look to see if there are any MOOCS available in your target language.
- Check out the links that I have used (listed at the end of this blog).
Stage 2: Days 31-60
After your first month, it’s time to focus on exposing yourself to the language as much as possible. After a month of personal tutoring, you’ll have the ability to have short basic conversations. However, I do find it is around day 30 when my motivation levels start to dip. So remind yourself why you are learning this language. You might consider doing a course or attending a meetup group in the local community in addition to your personal tutor and language exchange partners. Be careful of slipping in to English. Try to make it a rule to speak only in your target language. Now is the time to start finding language partners. Check out Hello Talk App and Couch-Surfing to find people who speak your target language. Attempt to spend at least 45 minutes everyday practising your language. At this point, because you have a basic grasp of the language spend more time socialising with new friends and learning about their culture.You should start trying to think in the new language. I tend to go over what I have learnt that day and have found by doing this I start to sometimes even dream in my target language!
- Review your last 30 days, what worked well, what didn’t? What do you need to study more of? Then plan for the next 30 days! I call this the RLP stage – Review, Learn and Plan.
- Schedule tutorials and DO the homework they set! Really does make a difference.
- If you have not done so within the first 30 days ensure you find some language exchange buddies NOW! Make sure you do some equal speaking time in their target language too.
- Flash chats! The Hello Talk app is fabulous for this. 5 – 10 minute verbal or written chats on random subjects. I try to aim for at least 1-2 flash chats every other day from day 60.
Stage 3: Days 61-90
By day 60, you should be in a good position to speak your language. You just simply need to keep practising. Have deeper conversations with your tutors and language partners. Continue studying new words every day and practising the ones you’ve already learned.Watch movies, read blogs and books in your target language. If you need to, turn on the subtitles. Don’t worry if you have trouble, because understanding a movie can be more difficult than having a conversation. It’s pretty amazing what you can achieve in just 90 days with intense focus. If you don’t believe me then check out these videos from the Add 1 Community.
- Review, learn and plan (RLP).
- Start to prepare for having a 15 minute chat with a native. What topic would you like to talk about?
- Will you do another 3 months in current target language and maybe achieve B2 or if you are B2 move on to C level? Maybe even tackle another language?
- Have FUN, learning a language does not have to be boring. It can be rewarding and can increase your social network as well as look good on your CV.
The Resources I Used:
Please note many of the resources listed here are low cost or even FREE!
Add 1 Challenge – Supportive community and lots of wonderful resources.
Facebook! – How to use Social Media to Learn a Language.
Italki – Pay per lesson or buy packages for professional tutors. You can find language exchange partners for free on here.
Best wishes with your language learning. Let me know how you get on or if you have any advice please post below or on our Facebook or Twitter Page.