Maybe it was silly to think that I could hit the ground running on the first day of a new language while traveling in China. Being in an elaborately traditional Chinese wedding ceremony the few days before the start date — when I should have been collecting study material and arranging Skype sessions — didn’t make it any easier.
Now it’s the third day after I was ostensibly going to start studying German for four hours a day, but the only studying I’ve managed to accomplish so far is an hour of DuoLingo on the bus ride back from Kaiyuan to Kunming. And that was only possible because I’d installed it on my phone last year on a whim.
I did contact a few potential conversation partners on conversationexchange.com, but haven’t arranged any sessions yet. I also found a few potential Anki decks of common German words and phrases, but gave up on downloading them after the internet connection in Kaiyuan proved too slow.
This isn’t an excuse or a complaint. Neither of those attitudes would be productive. This is just a description of the current situation of this experiment. Now I can decide how to continue.
To reiterate, the premise of this experiment isn’t to become especially good at German, or to spend a month studying as effectively as possible. Considering my minimal experience, that would be presumptuous. The goals of this exercise are simply to discover what techniques work best and what challenges I haven’t anticipated, and to uncover what questions I haven’t thought to ask yet. In other words, I hope to get better at starting a new language effectively.
I liked the idea of starting on the first of the month, but clearly that’s arbitrary. Since it’s already the third and I haven’t really started, I could decide to make the month of studying start tomorrow or the next day, once I’m back in Taiwan, and just go into September. Or I could be even less of a perfectionist, and just chalk up these days of not studying as part of the learning process. It actually doesn’t matter right now which one I choose. These are just the neuroses of someone who is too obsessed with doing things the “right way” — when in fact there is no right way. All that really matters is that I start studying as soon as I can.
I was thinking of using the last week in July to prepare all my studying material beforehand, and then start full steam ahead on August 1st. But now I think it’s more realistic to just start as best I can with what I have, and continue to look for more resources as I go. The only constant is that once I get back to Taiwan, I will spend four hours a day working on this. As much as possible, these will be the same four hours, from 10am to 12pm, and from 1pm to 3pm.
I have an outline for an ideal day of studying. I doubt I’ll be able to conform to this perfectly from the get-go, but it’s something to aim for over time. I can periodically refer to it as a reminder of how else I can improve my studying regimen:
10:00 – 11:00
Active listening & watching practice: Pre-made lessons, podcasts, educational videos, simple entertainment videos, Pimsleur and other audio.
11:00 – 12:00
Flashcard reviews. Anki. DuoLingo.
12:00 – 1:00
Lunch. Rest or passive listening (news, podcasts, TV shows & movies without English subtitles)
1:00 – 1:30
Writing (Lang8). Prepare questions and topics for conversation practice.
1:30 – 2:30
Conversation practice / Skype (clearly this might be hard to schedule at the same time every day)
2:30 – 3:00
Create new flashcards from conversation topics and other items that came up earlier.
If I don’t have enough good material for any of these sections, I can spend part of that time looking for material instead of studying.