Tick Tock

So I’m definitely not getting to where I would like to be with my language goals.  That’s not to say I’ve given up or that I don’t want to continue, but lately it has been incredibly hard to find the motivation to go on with it.  My goal had been to start learning French on November 1st, which I did, but I have not been consistent with it at all.  In addition, I decided I was going to shove forward with Italian at the same time, but so far the end result has been little work with either language.  Part of the problem, and it’s a silly one, is that I have become so comfortable with Spanish, I find myself falling back on that instead of challenging myself with new aspects of these other languages.  I excuse my laziness towards French by saying it is entirely new to me and I have to take it slow, but there is a difference between taking it slow and not moving at all.  Italian I really have no excuse for.  I have more than enough resources at my disposal, yet the books remain unopened and the programs unused.  The other night I started reading up a bit on Italian grammar, which is tedious and boring, but I thought I had better have at least a basic knowledge of the grammatical rules if I wanted to make strides in speaking.  My biggest problem right now is my inability to speak.  I know a fair amount of vocabulary and can form pretty simple sentences, but how long can I walk around my apartment talking to myself like a four year old in a foreign language before I go completely insane?  My accent isn’t all that terrible, but I imagine a native Italian speaker would tell me I sound like a Spaniard trying to speak Italian.  Fair enough.  The first few times I tried to utter some French words, I thought I was having an argument with my mouth.  I could not form the words at all, but with a little practice and after listening to a few lessons, I felt like I was starting to get it a little.  This is why I don’t understand why I have such a hard time focusing on it.  There are days I am committed to learning and I do my best to practice both, but then when I have hours at my disposal (today is my day off and I have 25 hours before I have to work again) I waste it.  Perhaps I work better under pressure, which would be fine if I was under some pressure beyond my own to learn this stuff.  On one hand, I know it is more or less a hobby which keeps me entertained when there is nothing to watch on television, but on the  other hand, I have become passionate enough about it to spend a good deal of money on things that are supposed to help guide me to fluency.  Now, I’m not stupid.  I am well aware that no program offers a magic solution and the ultimate resource is my own mind and my willingness to study, but let’s face it, I wasn’t good at studying as a kid, what’s going to make me a better learner today?  I have always managed to amass knowledge in strange ways.  I never studied as a kid, but always had good grades.  Somehow my work always got done, usually after hours of pacing around, refusing to sit still long enough to read or write what was required of me.  So how is this all going to help me today in my quest to learn eight languages?  Honestly, I don’t know.  In the time I haven’t been studying, I have been telling myself I need to find a new way to learn languages.  Studying flashcards or memorizing conjugations is not an effective way to learn.  I try to watch TV in Italian or French and I try to read as well, but it doesn’t seem to sink in.  Sure, I pick up a few words here and there, but I have found that with Spanish, I can pretty much understand everything (not every word, but enough to understand the context) while in other languages, I would have no idea what was going on without subtitles.

Ok, ok, let me step back for a second and reflect.  I’m sure we all suffered through foreign language classes in high school, and I am sure that for the most of us, we came away with little more than the ability to ask for the location of the nearest rest room.  I spent four years in high school learning Spanish, but (while I can’t recall much of the actual time there) I am fairly certain I never spoke in phrases longer than four or five words at a time, and certainly I had to think it all out in advance.  Today, I can go on and on in Spanish, and, while it is certainly not perfect, I can hold a conversation with anyone who speaks the language without considerable trouble.  For this I should be proud.  In addition, although I hesitate to say I could have a conversation, if someone were to come to me today and only speak Italian, I could probably do well enough to talk with him briefly and maybe excuse myself for not knowing more.  Given that I had never been exposed to Italian prior to April of this year (about six months ago) I guess I should be proud that I can do even that much.  As far as French, it has been a little over a week since I took on this challenge, and I can say hello, my name is, good bye, please, thank you, etc, etc.  Can I ask for the nearest bathroom?  I’m getting there, but that’s not the point.  I guess my point is, despite my laziness, I have gathered up more knowledge in foreign languages than most Americans I know.  (I hear most Europeans and many Asians are at least bilingual.)  So this brings me to the question, am I being too hard on myself?  Certainly there is some book worm out there who can also pick up the various ways to greet someone in four different languages in a matter of months, but truth be told, I should be pretty proud of how much I actually do know.  I mean, I could switch into Spanish here if I wanted (I won’t) and with a little effort I could probably fake my way through a paragraph in Italian.  I can’t even begin to spell things in French, mostly due to the different sounds the language usses, but since my intention is to speak more so than write, I am not too worried about it.  I do have my blog in French but so far it only has one entry, and I used Google Translate to get me through that one.  I think what I am trying to show here is that in six to twelve months, I have picked up more in other languages than most high school students pick up in four years.  This is not making me feel better about being lazy, but it is helping me feel a little more confident that I can in fact learn these languages.

I guess what this all boils down to is a question of time.  Am I wasting time, am I utilizing my time effectively, am I not giving myself enough time?  I set my goals at three months.  Three months for what, I am not entirely sure.  For Italian, it was to be able to hold a 5-10 minute conversation without a dictionary in my hand.  As far as French, I really don’t know what I want to be able to do, if not the same thing as my Italian goal, but why three months?  I know, I know, the simple answer is I am following the lead of Benny from Fluent In Three Months.  He suggests, as do many others, that to be succesful in any learning goal, you need to have simple, realistic, time bound goals.  I think the acronym is S.M.A.R.T (Simple, managable, attainable, realistic, time bound) I thought I had done that, but as I sit here ticking away the hours I wonder if I either need to redefine my goals or accept that three months is not enough time and I should accept perhaps 6-12 months.  Benny goes so far to say you should have daily and weekly goals as well, which might help me along, but again, goals are only worthwhile if you follow through with them.  I suppose I will try to develop some new, short-term goals to help me over the next three months.  In any case, that’s enough for here today.  Adios.

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~ by James on November 10, 2011.

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