Learner Autonomy in Progress
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! Though I have mentioned it several times, it bears repeating, you are responsible for your education. Waiting for others will only ever be detrimental and trying to conform to the learning styles of those around you can stunt your growth indefinitely. This is especially true when it comes to learning a new language because there are countless ways to facilitate the process.
With that said, the reality is that with freedom comes further responsibility which can, more often than not, result in analysis paralysis. There comes a point when focus on efficiency becomes detrimental as it slows you to a near stop. With that said, there are ways to ensure that the time you dedicate to working on your target language is not wasted.
The power of writing
At this point, it probably feels like beating a dead horse, but that is because it works. Keeping track of what you are doing, taking time to write down example after example of different grammar rules and vocabulary variations, having a written record of all the learning activities you partake in, has unlimited upside. Aside from the fact that the simple act of writing things down will cause you to remember them better, having a logbook will give you a physical record of your progress to look back on whenever you are feeling less than satisfied with your weekly progress.
This may seem simplistic, but being able to go back and remember which movies you watched, what they were about, and what you learned while watching them gives you the opportunity to revisit and see how much more you are able to understand the second or third time through. Most people avoid this, though, because it is easier to complete something half way than it is to face the fact that you are not as good as you thought you were. The number one reason for self sabotage is it gives one an excuse for why they failed. "If I wanted to be fluent in a second language I could be" is cope. If you could, you would; and you can.
Taking time to create a written record of your progress is essentially the same as staring at yourself in the mirror when you have let yourself go. You will come face to face with your deficiencies. You will not be able to hide away from the things you do not know. This is a good thing! In order to solve problems you need to be able to recognize that they exist.
Few things are as grounding as writing down the things you do and do not know. The best part about having a second language logbook to write in is that it is yours and no one but you has to see what you write in it. It is a tool to track your progression, nothing more. By writing early and often in your language acquisition journey, you will be able to spend less time contemplating the areas you need to focus on and more time improving your language skills.
How to use a language learning logbook
While there are endless options out there, the logbook we will be taking a look at is the one we created here at Second Language Strategies. For those who would like to try out the free version first to get a better look, you can download your FREE language logbook PDF here. If you are learning Spanish, be sure to check out our Spanish Language Logbook!
First thing to look at when you are working with a logbook is your goals. If you do not have goals then it will be difficult to ascertain which metrics you should be tracking and what areas of the language will bring you closer to your goals. Conversational is a very different goal than technical proficiency for translation or interpretation. For those who are struggling to nail down their language learning goals, be sure to check out this previous article:
Once you know what you are working towards, you can dive into the content of the logbook. What you will find primarily, is that the entire book is simply designed to get you to write everything down. Write the verbs you learn, conjugate them on paper, use them in sentences, go back and correct those sentences every week.
Write down your attempts to translate basic phrases and go back to check the veracity of your solution when you learn new things. Writing is a vital piece of the learning process and as technology becomes more pervasive in the world, maintaining the art that is writing becomes the call for all of us.
The logbook is also a place to keep track of your favorite resources so that you never have to go another day wishing you could remember the name of that YouTube channel, where you found that show in your target language streaming for free, or who that band was that played songs that spoke to you even before you were able to understand what was being said.
Learning a new language is a long process and you will inevitably encounter a wide variety of activities, orators, and content that you wish to return to all of which is worth tracking. Irrespective of how good your memory is, it would be better if you wrote down the things you learned.
Starting New Languages vs. Maintaining Old Languages
An advantage to having language learning logbooks in your home is that they are not only useful for learning new languages. They are also, fortunately, helpful in maintaining languages. At a certain point, you will be proficient enough that a few hours of input every week will be more than enough to maintain your linguistic abilities. You took time to build up this skill, it is worth maintaining and writing is the best way to maintain because writing can always improve. There is no ceiling. There will always be new words to learn, new ways to craft sentences, and more eloquent ways to say that which you wish to express.
That is where writing in a second language logbook comes in and carries the day. Yes, writing on plain loose leaf paper is always an option, notebooks are less than a dollar at the grocery store if that is the route you want to go. However, as mentioned above, sometimes a lack of structure can cause one to be paralyzed when faced with the prospect of creation.
A blank canvas is a beautiful thing, unless it stays blank indefinitely. Having dedicated areas to track different components will remove this fear and allow you to spend less time planning and more time doing. When it comes to learning a language, perfect is the enemy.
At the same time, if you are using it to start a new language, the process will be remarkably similar, though the eloquence will be visibly different. Where you may be playing with sentence structure as you are maintaining your languages, you will be working on building coherent sentences that are steadily more and more detailed when you are first starting out.
The language learning process is the same irrespective of the level you are at, only the input and challenges change. Most importantly, though, the process of writing things down will always improve, enhance, and accelerate your language learning.
On Finding Enjoyment and Avoiding Burnout
Above all else, what a structured logbook allows you to do is focus on the things you enjoy which, in turn, should help in ward off burnout. While almost everyone will encounter burnout at one point or another in their language learning activities, having a plan and focusing on what you like doing day in and day out will ensure it is not debilitating. For more on avoiding and overcoming burnout, be sure to check out this previous article:
With the logbook the most important thing for you to do is going to be reading about things in which you already hold an interest. Listening to murder mystery podcasts, watching cooking videos, playing videogames, all of these things are ways to learn a language without expressly studying it. Will you get to the point where you are looking things up so you can understand what is going on? Without a doubt.
This is good though because it gives you a jumping off point for your curiosity. Once you find something that piques your interest, do not let go of it. Chase that rabbit all the way down the hole and see how much you can learn about the things you are reading. At first, everything will be new. New vocabulary, new syntax, new stimulus, new everything. Slowly, but surely, though, you will find that you are able to recognize words on sight because they are simply associated with the topic you have been deep diving.
Fortunately, this is something you can do time and again as there are endless rabbit holes waiting to be explored in endless ways. Whether you are deep diving something on YouTube, reading books about a specific subject, or immersing yourself in a new world playing a videogame, exposure is secondary only to writing when it comes to learning a language.
While this particular post explores the possibilities of using the Second Language Strategies second language logbook, there are many ways to approach writing in your every day life. Whether you use a fancy notebook you buy at a local art shop or a composition notebook you pick up for 99 cents at the dollar store, what matters at end of the day is that you are writing more days than you are not. Remember, when you are struggling the only thing you really have to do is write about the things in which you are interested.
Becoming bilingual is difficult, but you can do difficult things and be great. So go do difficult things and become great. Here I’ve given you some of the tools, but in the end, there is no comprehensive guide, no tips or tricks to carry anyone across the finish line. Language acquisition requires time, effort, and consistency. That said, it is something that anyone of any age is more than capable of accomplishing. I’ll be here rooting for you and watching your progress.
For more content find me on Twitter or Instagram. If you are learning Spanish and struggling to keep track of your progress, be sure to check out the first of many in our Language Learning Logbook series! I look forward to seeing everyone’s progress in the months and years to come.