Breaking up big tasks into smaller tasks makes them less daunting and much easier to attack with a confident attitude. Over the last few years as I've made my yearly language missions, I've seen a pattern emerge in my method: I've noticed that I tend to break up my year into four seasons of langauge learning. In years when I've used this strategy, I've had great success, and in the years when I've had less structure and mini-goals, I've had results that were less satisfying.
Each year with a new language, my skills begin as cold and lifeless as the winter season in which they begin. Much like shoveling a path out of my door, I find this initial phase of language learning to be filled with hard work and very slow progress. In winter I have to concentrate on absolute basics, and lots of them:
- Alphabet and pronunciation
- Learn how to read/write
- Basic useful phrases
- Vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary
- Core verbs
- Simple present tense
- Lots of nouns
Eventually the cold melts away. Trees and flowers begin to blossom. Spring time is full of life, and this new language begins to spring to life. The spring time is growth, and that means grammar:
- Verb conjugation in all tenses
- Noun declension in all cases
- Proper sentence order
- Lots of writing exercises
- Lots of time on Lang-8
- Lots of google searches in my target language
- Start reading blogs and tweets in target language
By summer, I know pretty well how it all works, at least at an academic level. But it doesn't come naturally yet, and there's still a lot I don't know. At this point it's all about language acquisition:
- Read voraciously.
- Books, short stories, newspapers, magazine articles.
- Start watching movies and trying to follow along in target language.
- Look for email friends, pen pals, chat partners.
- Start using the language (at a slow pace) for actual conversation.
Finally, as autumn arrives and the leaves start to fall from the trees, the language too starts to fall into place. From here out, the mission is fluency:
- Speak as much as possible.
- Talk to friends, talk on skype, talk to myself... whatever it takes. Be talking.
- Listen to everything. Understand what you hear.
- Find natural ways (in context) to improve vocabulary.
- Learn some jokes.
- Learn some tongue twisters.
- Learn some slang.
- Get comfortable.