Planning my language projects

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I’ve already made some confessions here on the blog, but here are some more of them:

  1. I’m crazy about organising things. I love lists, spreadsheets, calculations, timetables, .. just everything.
  2. I love to plan things ahead – sometimes even more than bringing something to action
  3. I’m obsessed with optimizing my processes

One thing resulting from these habits: My template for a language learning plan.

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I created this plan some time ago in order to organize and keep track of my language learning projects. In this blog post I would like to give you some suggestions for your own planning and therefore I just guide you through my plan step by step and you can pick what fits best to you. 

I think it will be easier for you to follow the post when you’re looking about what I’m talking about. You can find the template as pdf.

Note: This plan basically covers everything I think is important about a language project, but some things might not fit for every project, of course

1. Structuring my ideas

I usually have many ideas in my head and I need to structure them in some way. So the first thing is to plan the basic points of my project.

Project idea: Well, I guess this speaks for itself. It is important to write down your idea with your own words and as explicitly as possible. You really need to know what you’re going to do.

As mentioned earlier, I always have loads of ideas. So for me it’s incredibly important to double check if this project goes along with my many, many goals and plans in life. For example, if my current plan was to train for a marathon (which most likely will never be the case), it would be counterproductive to do a “Learn xx in 5 days to fluency” project. I wouldn’t have the time to work on both projects seriously.

How much time can I seriously spend on the project? Easy question, difficult answer. It goes along with the question about your other goals. How much time do you really have? Say, the plan is to work five hours each day on the project. Nice idea. But if you’re, for example, working full-time, have 5 children and a dog and go to tennis training three times a week, it might be a bit unrealistic to find 5 hours per day you can seriously spend on your project.

It’s also good to know in advance which resources you will need, so you can get them ahead of time. Also think about if there is something you need to know before the project starts.

Now one of the most important questions: Why do I want to do this project? This is actually the preparation for our next section which is all about goal setting. You need to be cristal-clear about your motivations for your project and which benefits you might expect. This can be everything: from pure pleasure to impressing your neighbour. Just be honest about what is driving you, you don’t need to share your motivation with anybody :)

Next important question: Which problems could appear during the project? And even more important: How to avoid them? A potential problem could be a lack of resources in your target language. Or that you won’t be able to listen to language learning CD’s in order not to wake up your grandmother. Whatever it is, think about it and try to find a solution for it, just in case.

2. Setting the goal

Let’s go on with the next part. Setting the goal! Based on your thoughts above, you need to formulate a concrete goal about what you want to achieve EXACTLY. And to say “I want to become fluent in Chinese” is not a concrete goal. What do you mean by fluent? Do want to be able to talk to strangers? Do you want to read Chinese newspapers? Do you want to attend a congress about bee-keeping in Beijing? The more concrete your goal is formulated the better are your chances of reaching it.

But sure!  In order to tell if you reached your goal, you need to define how you will measure your success. Measuring is a tricky thing, because it’s easy to measure something that indicates a result, but one that doesn’t relate to your goal. So how can we measure goals in regards of speaking capacity, for example? A lot of people work with “final conversations”, which means there will be one conversation with, for example, a tutor for xxx minutes about topic ABC. If your goal is to expand your vocabulary, you could set an amount of new words you want to memorize.

One important aspect of a project: It has determined deadline. Otherwise it’s no project. In conclusion with all the points mentioned above, set a realistic timeline for your project that is both challenging and reasonable.

3.) Plan of action

Up to now, we’ve planned the frame of our project, now it’s time to go into action.

Define at which day your project starts and on which day it will end.

Then outline your procedure as concretely as you can. For example, each day I’m going to read one article of newspaper XY before I’ll leave the house. Each Thursday at 6 pm I will revise the grammar, I’ve learned during the week. And so on and so forth. If you’re able to define your plan of action as detailed as possible, it will be easier to create habits and consequently stay on track.

As we said before, it’s good to know in advance which resources you’ll need. I just write on my checklist here on the plan where to get them, if they cost me something and then tick them as soon as I have them ready. Try to get all resources before the project starts, then you save a lot of valuable time while studying.

I also have a to-do-list for administrative things regarding the project. This is not the language learning work itself, but it’s a list for things that make the project happen. For example, subscribe to YouTube Channels broadcasting news in Japanese, or check out possible language tutors on italki or any other platform.

4. Tracking my progress

By the day defined above, the project actually starts and “all I have to do” is to conduct my project according to my plan of action. During this time I try to track my progress and write down substantial achievements or setbacks. Perfect planning is basically impossible, and it often happens to me that I need to make some adoptions to my plan of action based on my experiences.

Also, at the end of the project, this table is a summary of my milestones, the most important events during the project and reflects my positive and negative experiences.

This already leads me to the last point of the language project plan:

5. Completing my project and measuring my success

So hopefully, I was able to finish my project on the day I planned to do so. Now it’s time for the evaluation. And believe me, the evaluation is at least as important as doing the project itself.

First of all, let’s compare the actual results from the project with the goals you set. Based on this comparison you can evaluate, if you’ve achieved your goal, or not. And I think it’s necessary to write down in your own words, YES, I achieved or NO, I haven’t. In case you can add, not achieved 100% but I was close or something like that. Writing it down makes me, personally, acknowledge my result.

Now is the time to reflect the project a bit. What went really well during project and what could I have done better? This is very important for your upcoming projects because during the project you have not only studied your language but also learned more about you and your technique of learning. So I usually sum up my lessons learned for my next project.

This is my language learning project plan. For me it’s a great tool to improve my process and it makes me more efficient during the project itself. I hope you found some tips about what to consider for your personal language learning project.

You can find this template of the language learning plan as a pdf file here. I assume not everybody is into my colour scheme, so I also added a black and white version.

Your turn!

I would love to hear about your experiences in planning, doing and evaluating language learning projects.

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    • Dani

      Thank you very much!!

  • Philip Newton

    My language projects were no projects so far (with quantifiable goals, etc.). Perhaps that’s why they usually never got very far.

    The main exception was Cornish – there, I followed a „postal“ course (by email nowadays), so while the timescale was not predetermined (I could take as much or as little time for a lesson as I wanted), the units of information were, and the end goal was also (in terms of which vocabulary and grammar would be taught). Plus I wanted to pass an exam, which set a certain level of vocabulary and grammar to be known.

    That language has been the most successful of my recent languages, since it did have a better-defined goal to work towards, and I felt the lessons helped structure my time. Current goal is to pass the Level 3 Cornish exam this summer. Then maybe do Level 4 next year if I can manage it – apparently, two years are recommended for preparing for Level 4, so I will see how that goes, and what my teacher thinks.

    Thank you for your ideas on scheduling! I shall think about it a bit more.

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