Learning Languages: Realistic Goals

Be fair to yourself and set realistic goals. The first time I ever decided I would study a language seriously was when I was off to Japan as a student. The school I was headed for sent this nice little “guide to student life” kind of book with each page in Japanese on one side and the same information in English on the other. Glancing through it, I casually remarked to my now wife (then just a friend mind you, not a long-suffering spouse) how I figured I'd be able to do away with the English part in a couple of months.

After she finished spitting out her food in amusement (she had already figured out enough English and knew what kind of work we were talking about), she proceeded to tell me that to read the Japanese portion of the book I'd have to begin memorizing about 2000 characters, plus two additional writing systems and all the grimmer grammar and vocabulary needed.

The point is this: go ahead and laugh at me.

No, no the point is be realistic in your goals, and be realistic in the amount of time and effort it will take to reach your goals.

Fluency in French in three months? Hah!

Enough French to get around Paris and maybe chat with someone in a park? Good to go.

If you haven't studied a language since leaving school, experiment a bit with what kind of learner you've become since then. Look at how much time you'll really have to devote to the language and be fair to yourself. This is supposed to be fun.

Look again at your goals and choose a method/class wisely. If you just want a smattering of phrases and a few extra words, look for a class along those lines. Enrolling in the first semester of what the rest of the class sees as the beginning for four years of college-level Turkish is only likely to end up in flames.

Check with colleges and universities nearby, but check also with the YMCA, a local community center, churches whose members are largely from the target language country and so forth. Consider putting up a sign in a grocery store in an ethnic neighborhood looking for a tutor, or to exchange an hour of English for an hour of Bengali.

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