Ten minutes

Have noticed with my oldest daughter recently (she’s currently 6). If she is able to commit even ten uninterrupted minutes to an activity everyday then she makes massive amounts of progress.

Reading for example. She’s currently learning in two languages. And just these small, focussed steps, make a huge difference.

This made me think of language acquisition (or any other skill for that matter). I remember hearing, from multiple places, if you can’t commit at least 30-60 minutes a day to acquiring a new language then you won’t make much progress.

Ok, well that’s a very arbitrary number that’s going to set a lot of people up for failure.

It would be better to start with ten minutes per day. Ten, 100% focussed, minutes.

Commit to doing ten minutes every day for a week. Language acquisition is a marathon, not a sprint.

Ten minutes sounds like too much? Do five. the point is to form the habit, not torture yourself with something new that you’re not yet good at.

After a few weeks, you’ll start to see some progress. You will gain momentum and committing additional time will be easy. Even enjoyable.

This tactic can be applied to any artistic endeavour. Piano for example.

Start small. Form a habit. Gain momentum. Keep going.

Deep? Consistent? Or Both

Does this task require us to go deep? Or does it require consistent commitment? Or perhaps, both?

Most meaningful things we do likely require us to block off a large chunk of time and go deep. Perhaps we are creating a new business plan, or planning an event, or maybe even writing a book.

Trying to tackle these types of things in 15-30 minute increments doesn’t work. It’s difficult to find ourselves deep enough to be effective. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take small measured breaks (like outlined in the Pomidoro method). What I’m saying is we should block off a large chunk of our day to dedicate only to that one thing.

On the other hand there are things that require consistent commitment in smaller chunks. Learning a language would be my favourite example. It’s far better to spend 30 minutes everyday as opposed to 3.5 hours every Saturday. In the later example we experience a diminishing return very quickly and maybe only 30-45 minutes of the 3.5 hours remains useful. Our brains simply aren’t set up for this type of ‘marathon’.

Or maybe it’s both. An example would be writing a business plan. The initial draft should condensed and completed in large chunk(s) of time. After that initial phase you might be able to get away with editing small pieces in 15-30 minute increments.

Yelling at foreigners

If you ever encounter a situation where there is a language barrier between you and who you are communication with, raising your voice isn’t going to help.

No matter how loud you speak, the other person likely isn’t going to understand you. Instead rely on hand gestures and other non verbal communication queues.

Yelling may seem efficient, but it’s surely not effective.

Teach myself

In Polish the verb for learn and teach is the same word. Learn has the addition of a reflexive pronoun (się) to identify that you are talking about yourself. Essentially you are saying to teach myself.

Learn – Uczyć się

Teach – Uczyć

I like this because in order to truly learn you have to be willing to be taught. And in order to truly teach you have to have willing learners.

Anytime we want to teach someone something we need to make sure they are first willing to learn.

What I think about Duolingo

Gym memberships cost money and they don’t want you to come.

Free language learning apps (Duolingo) want your attention, but at what cost? Well to start, maybe the cost of delaying your progress.

If it’s too hard (spoiler alert, actually learning a language is hard) then users will go away. If users go away they they won’t be able to maximize their advertising revenue.

I remember that last time I used Duolingo. I chose an easy lesson simply to ensure that my streak was extended. Think about that, I was sacrificing an opportunity to learn, just so I could continue my streak. This is the downside of “gamification”.

Duolingo isn’t all bad however, they do make it easy to get started in your language of choice. If you’re thinking about starting to learn a language, Duolingo is a great place to start. Just be aware of the potential pitfalls and be ready to change things up once your progress slows, or you get bored (which will lead to slower progress).

Po polsku | In Polish

Dzisiaj zdecydowałem pisać coś po polsku.

Czemu? Bo to niesamowite. Uczę się języka polskiego. I mogę coś pisać!

Oczywiście jeszcze robię bardzo dużo błędów. Ale mogę się komunikować z ludźmi a to jest najważniejszy.

Today I decided to write something in Polish.

Why? Because it’s unbelievable. I am learning Polish and I can write something!

Obviously I am still making lots of mistakes. But I can communicate with people and that’s what’s important.

Language is learned outside the classroom

If we know the best way to acquire a foreign language isn’t by studying grammar and through typical “classroom” style of learning why do we continue to do it?

When we are kids we don’t learn languages (or anything) by studying a textbook. Can you imagine learning to ride a bicycle by sitting down and reading step by step what to do? Sit on the seat, Left foot on the pedal, hands on the handle bar, push off, etc. It simply doesn’t work, we would be paralyzed by focusing on every tiny detail.

So why do we keep falling victim to this method?

My theory is this: grammar, at it’s most basic level, is something our matured minds can grasp on to quickly. When we start learning this way we really feel the quick wins, we can see the progress, and it is easy.

The same goes for learning vocabulary. We decide we will learn 5 words a day, we can see the progress. But what is the point of learning 5 words a day if we can’t actually use them when we speak?

We are obsessed with the short-term progress and lose sight on methods that, while uncomfortable, will provide long term results.

Language mistakes

I used to be afraid of making mistakes and embarrassing myself while speaking in Polish but now I don’t care.

This is a common problem among language learners. The fear of making a mistake inhibits them from moving forward. In fact this is true about more than just languages. Being scared of failure is an excuse not to try.

I like to think of the downside. What’s the worst that can happen? In the case of foreign language learning there is your perception of frustration, maybe you have to change topics, and sometimes the mistake can even be funny.

The best way to acquire a language

You can sum up (what I think) is the most effective way to acquire a language in one sentence.

Consume content that interests you in your target language. 

That’s it. No secrets. It’s hard to sit down for 1 hour and study grammar (unless you like grammar). It’s not hard to sit down and read/watch/listen about a topic you enjoy (in your target language, of course). 

Speaking is important to but it shouldn’t be the primary goal. 

Input drives output. We can all consume more in our native language than we can speak. You can read and understand a complicated piece of literature but it’s highly unlikely you could replicate it in natural so each. The same is true in any second language.

Focus on input and the output follows, without much effort.

If you’re interested in learning any language you should check Steve Kaufmann. He has ton of great insights and has greatly helped shaped my opinion on above.

Everyone should learn a foreign language

In the past five years learning Polish has been the best decision I’ve made. For starters it has allowed me to effectively communicate with my wife’s family. Which in my opinion is priceless. I don’t know if I would be considered “fluent” but at this point I like to think that I can get by. It’s exciting.

Based on this experience I think everyone should learn a foreign language.

Opens up a new world.

Being able to consume foreign language content in their original language is game changing. No matter how well a piece of content is translated it loses something in translation. Learning a foreign language opens up an entire new world of quality content.

Establish deeper connections.

I mentioned this above but it’s worth mentioning again. Connecting with someone in their native language allows you to really know who this person is.

Practice discipline.

It takes discipline and commitment to learn a new language. It’s something that you have to do everyday in order to see progress. If you stick to it you see results and it’s super rewarding. I can’t think of a better way to practice “delayed gratification”.

Boosts brain power.

It’s pretty widely accepted that challenging your brain and continued learning is important for brain health. Learning a foreign language is just one of many ways to challenge your brain and keep it healthy.

I’m sure I’ll be writing more about foreign languages on my blog in the future as it’s one of my hobbies. Stay tuned for more.