Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Finding the Time to Learn a New Language

I can’t stop smiling every time I browse the Internet or visit a local book shop and see those “Learn Chinese in 10 days” types of guides. It’s just silly, but people still fall for it, because learning a new language is a rather time consuming project and we’re all looking for ways to make it shorter. But seriously, 10 days? Anyway, if you’re looking for methods to cut down your learning to a couple of weeks, simply don’t. There are none. Your best bet is to try and structure your time so that you can learn over a longer period of time.

I’m a strong believer in online learning (obviously, otherwise we wouldn’t have started ) and from the perspective of time consumption, it’s probably the best you’ll get. Sure, face to face language courses can be very useful, but they require you to relocate and for the most part, you can’t set your own time schedule. It’s difficult if you have to go all the way to a course when you’re feeling down and you’re not in the right move to learn. With online learning, you can simply put down the mouse and pick up from where you left earlier when you’re in the right mood again.

My suggestion is to break down your learning session in short chunks, over a longer period of time. Instead of hauling all that new information in your head 6 hours each day for a month, you’re better off taking smaller bites, say 1 hour each day, for 4-5 months. If taken in smaller chunks, information can be stored more easily and you won’t have to worry about learning saturation, tiredness or information overload. Don’t subestimate this aspect, having fun (or at least not feeling stressed out) during the learning process can do wonders.

At Internet Polyglot, we also focus on the fun aspect of language learning as a means to get information across and stored. Anything that’s fun in learning can be done in 10-15 minutes, such as playing a short word game, vocabulary quizzes, using some flash cards or playing language related puzzles. If you don’t have a lot of time at hand or if you’re just not feeling in the mood to start with an online course, those 15 minutes of playing during your lunch break will still be helpful. Obviously, the learning frame will be longer, but then again, it’s not like you put a lot of work into it :).

The only disadvantage of Internet language learning from a time-wise perspective is the many distractions that can appear on a computer. Instant messaging, online flash games, social networking sites and whatnot. They can all be very time consuming and they can easily redirect you from learning to wasting time. My suggestion is that whenever you start learning, regardless if you plan on doing it for 15 minutes or 1 hour, you turn off everything that can be a distraction. Close all tabs of addicting websites and try to fight to urge to “just check up on them” for the next hour. Close MSN, Yahoo Messenger or AOL so that no one bothers you. Myspace, Facebook and hi5 won’t miss you if you’re gone for an hour either :)

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