Fluency: The ability to speak or write a foreign language easily and accurately.
Proficiency: A high degree of competence or skill; expertise.
When you step back and imagine yourself speaking a foreign language, what do you see? Do you see yourself strategizing with a coworker in an overseas business office? Having lunch with your new foreign friends at a cafe? Perhaps you appreciate knowing the more “colorful” words in a foreign language; you imagine yourself responding with the perfect retort to the elderly neighbor next door who hates your loud music and frequently swears at you in Russian. Regardless of where your imagination takes you, not everyone shares the same vision of how they plan to use a new language. We all have different motivations and use language for different purposes. Yet, most of us adhere to a linear language learning process that contains no personal customization.
Don't be discouraged
Language learning schools, textbooks, online software and games define our perception of language learning – a process for the masses with the end goal of helping you achieve fluency in a new language. Yes, fluency – the Mount Everest of your language learning journey. Maybe you are just starting to learn a language, or still have a long way to go. You might look at all these boring programs and books that promise fluency overnight and tell yourself, “It’s hopeless. I’ll never be fluent.”
Many of us share the perception that anything short of reaching fluency is failing – which couldn’t be further from the truth. Being able to enjoyably connect with anyone in a foreign language is an incredible accomplishment. It's an interaction you would never have without learning new words in a new language. And guess what? You don’t need to be fluent to share such an experience.
Forget about fluency
What if you forgot about fluency and everything you think is expected from a language learner, and instead focused on a much more tangible goal? What if you asked yourself, “how can I be proficient in a particular area of a foreign language that is most useful to my life?” The answer won’t be 400 hours of studying (the suggested time necessary to reach fluency). Depending on the topic, it could be as low as 4 hours. Benny Lewis, a polyglot famous for speaking over 10 languages, managed to speak to a Polish local after studying Polish for just one hour. He didn’t focus on abstract goals; he focused on a tangible goal he could accomplish easily.
Rethink your language learning goals and make them less intimidating and more attainable. Doing so will truly simplify your process and make your efforts instantly rewarding. Come up with a first goal that you know will keep you positive and energetic early in your learning process. In fact, David Zen, a Los Angeles based multi-linguist, only recommends to “[learn] stuff you can start using immediately in any conversation. The more of a connection there is between the material and your life, the quicker you’ll remember and be able to use it in real life.” Numerous polyglots follow the exact approach that David Zen highlights, and so should you.
Create an action plan
Our team at Verbling created a simple worksheet which you can download here that helps language learners like you define your first goal in learning a new language and quickly visualize an action plan. Commit to learning a foreign language at least one hour a week (if you do not commit to a routine, your results will be very difficult to achieve). Set a reasonable deadline for achieving goal #1. Try to keep this deadline at anywhere between 3 weeks to 3 months from now (anything longer than 3 months could take away your sense of urgency). Print this page, fill out the worksheet, and put it in an easily accessible place. That way, you can easily remind yourself of your goals.
Now that you have a feasible goal in mind, how do you ensure that you set yourself up for success? Assuming your goal requires speaking and listening, Verbling is a perfect fit.
Most language learning services define the language learning process for you. They have rigid curricula and quizzes that are not necessarily focused on the topics you want to cover to reach your goal. Verbling is an open platform with no rigid curriculum; Verbling does not force you to learn a certain way or a certain topic. On Verbling, you can learn what you want, when you want, with whatever teacher you want. You own your language learning process. Work together with one of Verbling’s hundreds of qualified teachers to create a customized plan that covers the exact topics you highlighted in your worksheet to accomplish your initial goal.
Share your language learning goal worksheet with your Verbling teacher. Ask him or her, “how many lessons would it take for me to become proficient in these topics? Do you think my deadline is realistic? How can you help me achieve my goal?” For example, if a student decides that his first goal is to learn enough Italian to be able to discuss Italian “calcio” with other soccer enthusiasts, he should ask the teacher, “will 10 lessons with you help me learn how to diss Mario Balotelli to my Italian soccer friends?” No matter what your teacher’s response might be – or where their soccer allegiances lie – you will know how to accomplish your goals a whole lot faster than you originally thought.
About the author:
Alex Alpert is part of the Verbling team and speaks Hebrew, Spanish, and English. Aside from managing business development and marketing for Verbling, Alex enjoys traveling, comedy, music, and Capoeira.