Soundtrack: Optimistic – Radiohead
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
“I’d like to start practising more, but I don’t have time right now”.
“Maybe next month I’ll be able to dedicate some time to speaking”.
“Work is killing me this week, but next week I’ll definitely book a lesson with my teacher”.
When something feels uncomfortable, we find all sort of excuses to postpone it or avoid it altogether. And “not having time” is one of the most common and most widely accepted excuses. We all know it, we all love to say it and to proudly wear it like a badge: we’re so busy, busy, busy with work, life, family… we just can’t find a second for that, not now.
Alright, then. If not now, when?
Will you quit your day job to dedicate all of your time to language learning next month? Or will your whole family go on a 2-week holiday and leave you plenty of time for yourself? Maybe you’ll win the lottery and you’ll be able to pay someone to take care of everything in your house?
Not so likely, is it?
Next week, next month, next year, you’ll still be as busy. The time won’t be any more “right”.
Now is the best possible time to start building a habit, practising a new skill, to begin to learn a language or to take lessons. Just start right now, as slowly and as small as you need to.
Walking the talk: my March challenge
In March, I decided to take part in the 30-Day Speaking Challenge organised by Jonathan Huggins. I had read about it on other language blogs, but “never had time” to look into it.
When I finally checked Jonathan’s page, his words resonated with me.
“Speaking your target language doesn’t have to be stressful and nerve-wracking. Many people think that the only way to practice is by speaking with a language partner or a teacher, but you don’t necessarily have to interact with a native speaker directly to gain confidence or to develop your speaking strategies. It’s actually possible to get lots of speaking practice by making recordings by yourself and sharing them to get feedback.
The 30-Day Speaking Challenge encourages you to work on your solo speaking practice on a daily basis. If you can commit to recording yourself for a few minutes every day, little by little you will start to make small improvements that gradually add up. Regular, daily practice helps bring about transformative and noticeable progress.”
Just by reading these words I could say the challenge is introvert-friendly, anxiety-free and that it builds on the principle of working slowly and steadily. That is, it matches with all of my language learning beliefs.
I was intrigued, but still, the sirens in my brain went off and reminded me: you’ll be super busy in March!
And that was undoubtedly true. On the 4th of March, I moved countries again and I arrived in Sweden, to an apartment that needed furnishing and a whole new life. I knew I would have things to do, and in fact, I still have, after almost a month, a lot of stuff to fix.
I had my excuse ready and nicely wrapped, but I didn’t use it. Instead, I subscribed to the challenge and I announced it on social media as well: it was official, I was going to do it.
In March I’m trying the 30-day Speaking Challenge by @jhugsint while being busy moving to Sweden. A challenge, indeed! But if you wait until it’s the “perfect time” to do something you’re never going to do it, right?
Want to join? https://t.co/1lpgQwSDXu #languagelearning
— Elena Gabrielli (@hitoritabi_lang) February 28, 2018
Why did I join in such a stressful moment of my life?
As I said before, I don’t think there will ever be a perfect, magical moment when everything in life goes smoothly and I can dedicate all the time I want to language learning.
And yes, March was probably not the easiest month for me to dive in a new challenge. I knew, though, that postponing it once would have made it almost automatic to postpone it twice, then three times.
I told myself: now – when I feel enthusiastic, curious, looking forward to starting – is the right time.
The challenge required a daily commitment, however small, that I wasn’t sure I could actually maintain. Still, if I recorded myself speaking only on 5 days out of 30, it would be 5 times more than the previous month.
A little bit is still better than nothing. Trying and failing, even if it hurts, is more useful than giving up before any attempt at doing something.
So I went for it.
How did it go?
When you join the challenge, you’ll receive daily speaking prompts and motivational emails. Then, when you submit your recording, native speakers can leave feedback and corrections for you. Unfortunately, Swedish is a relatively small language so there was only one native speaker who could give me some feedback.
As expected, I didn’t manage to record myself daily. A few days into the challenge I had to admit that, after hours spent building Ikea furniture, I didn’t have the energy to turn on my computer and do my speaking homework. In the end, I completed about one-third of the tasks.
At the same time, having moved to the country where my target language is spoken, I did have the chance to speak almost every day.
I also managed to stay on top of my studies, to regularly dedicate some time to learning using authentic materials, to do the homework for the lessons with my online Swedish teacher.
What did I learn?
For one time, I was probably a bit optimistic about the hours of study I could accomplish this month. I had set for myself an ambitious goal, knowing from the start it would have been hard to stick to it.
Joining the challenge has been a positive experience for me.
It gave me the motivation to record myself speaking for the very first time. The intelligent, well-thought prompts helped me learn new useful vocabulary and expressions. And at my own pace, I’ll go through all of the prompts and work on them, even if I don’t make it in time for the actual challenge. On top of that, I realised that I am actually able to speak about a wide range of topics and that gave me confidence.
There is also one more precious lesson I’d like to share with you.
This time, I wanted to head towards a possible failure and to prove to myself it’s not a major drama. It is, in fact, one step closer to a future success.
I didn’t learn as much as I would have by completing the challenge, but I learnt something.
I fought the irrational fear of recording myself speaking and I shared my imperfect recordings with others.
In other words, I stepped out of my comfort zone. Doing so, I stretched and expanded it a little bit. There are a few more things that I can do without feeling discomfort and a few more that are just a couple of steps away now.
Looking at things in this perspective one wouldn’t call it a failure, right?
So if you’re thinking about joining a language challenge but you’re not quite sure it’s the right time… You can try the best you can. The best you can is good enough.
When is one time things didn’t go as expected for you in language learning? What did you learn from that experience?