5.3. But it sounds so hard.
As I have been describing your language learning activities, I have been envisioning you as a deliberate, reflective language learner. Now alternatively, you can just barrel on into the community and let whatever happens happenand live with the results. It should be clear that you are much better off if your life as a language learner is governed by frequent planning, evaluation and strategizing. In closing, I would like to highlight some key aspects of this deliberate, reflective approach to becoming part of a new speech community, including learning its language.
- 5.3.1 Your time commitment
- 5.3.2 When to start
- 5.3.3 Staying encouraged
- 5.3.4 Don't get stuck on your way to first base
First of all, it may have sounded as though I thought you had nothing to do but learn the language. Good. That's how it should have sounded. “Help!” you exclaim. The world doesn't work like that. If not, then do the best you can. In the ideal situation you would spend two full years concerning yourself with nothing except becoming a member of that new speech community. That may be possible if you're planning a long career in that location, and being fluent in the language and comfortable in the culture are essential to your career. But if you only plan to be in the situation for five years, it may be difficult to spend two years doing language and culture learning. A second ideal to fall back to is to use the first one fifth of your projected time in the situation for language and culture learning. Your increased effectiveness and happiness during the remaining four fifths of your time will more than repay the initial time investment. The 1/5 : 4/5 rule would seem to me to be valid whether your total stay is going to be for five years (one year of full-time language and culture learning), for two years (five months full time), for one year (ten weeks full time) or for a month (one week full time language learning at the outset). Of course, if you only plan to be there one month, and have only a week for full-time language learning, you won't be trying to rapidly develop comprehension ability for a thousand words! More likely, you'll mainly memorize a bunch of useful sentences and some of the most essential vocabulary. If you have two or three months for full-time language learning, you can proceed pretty much as I have suggested. If you are really serious, your full-time language learning will be followed by regular part time language learning.
It is extremely important that your concentrated language learning period begin as early as possible during your sojourn. The longer you wait, the more you find ways to function without using the new language and the more you become comfortable as a nonspeaker. It takes tremendous motivation and enthusiasm to conquer a new language. Once you are starting to become comfortable in the new context without the language, your motivation may no longer be strong enough to carry you through to successful language learning. And after culture-stress has had several months to wear you down, your enthusiasm will become hard to muster. When you first arrive in the situation you are on a language learning adrenaline high. Cash in on it. Let the momentum from your early energy carry you as far as possible. This is your best chance. Things will only get worse. Go for it.
Keep in mind that when I say “full-time language and culture learning”, I am including your network building and extensive social visiting and other participation in the culture as part of what fills the full time. Socializing is not something in addition to your work. It is a crucial part of your work.
Now even if you do have several months available for full-time language and culture learning, you may find it hard to imagine yourself exercising the self-discipline to carefully plan all of your language sessions, and regularly do your needs analysis, and come up with new plans of attack for new needs, and carefully build your social network, and incorporate your learning into your social visiting. You may even cringe at the idea of doing a lot of socializing (or maybe at the idea of doing a lot of planning). How will you ever pull all that off? If you think you are going to go it alone, you may well lose heart fairly quickly. You need encouragement and accountability. You can arrange this with a fellow language learner who shares some of the basic concepts you are employing. Better yet, you could arrange to make yourself accountable to someone who specializes in encouraging language learners. You will share your plans and goals with this person and get feedback. Your goals will be specific ones, such as “This month I am going to start spending time with these three people, so that I will have a second clear cluster of relationships in my social network.” Then you will report on the steps you took to achieve this goal.
Commonly, the recruitment of the initial LRP can be a big hurdle. If the right person does not easily emerge (or if no person easily emerges), you may need to begin by doing a bit of network building and creating some initial sense of mutual obligations with a number of people. I personally find a lot of internal resistance to doing all I should to recruit the necessary help that I need, and I have observed this same problem in many others. This is another area where specific accountability and even outside intervention can be crucial. Oddly, I would love to recruit the necessary help for you. I only hate recruiting help for myself. I know I am not alone in this.
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Page content last modified: 11 September 1997
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