You may study a language as part of a course or for work. You can also set yourself up on a course and study alone, but give yourself a certain timeframe or goals.
Many experienced language learners shy away from formal courses for a variety of reasons…
* it’s too slow
* it’s too restrictive
* it’s too expensive
* there’s not enough time
Personally I have done some great courses in languages over the years, so I will definitely not downplay the important aspects of language learning in formal group environment. However, when you look at courses, think of how the course meets your needs and suits you as a language learner. They are certainly not for everyone and you might be better thinking about other options.
I cannot describe each and every type of course in this blog. If I did, it would be a fairly boring read and not very useful. I will therefore discuss what I am doing at the moment with Polish.
I have published a video in Spanish about my current language learning activities. In the video I simply say that I am studying Polish in Poland and that I did a week of study before I arrived in-country, so that I would not be dependent on English (or any other language). A week is usually not a lot of time to do the preparation for an in-country stay. I would have liked to take longer before arriving in Poland myself. However as the language is similar to Czech, which I have already studied, I felt a week was a good compromise and adequate to get the ball rolling.
So, what did I do and how did I do it?
First of all I found a flat with native Polish speakers and contacted them to rent a room for a month. This would be the guinea pig group to hear me murder their language first hand for at least a few weeks.
Set boundaries for expectations on both sides. I communicated with the people in the flat before I arrived in English, as it was easier and quicker for me (and them) to do that. I mentioned that I would like to learn Polish during my stay so they were aware of my goals. I also told them that I could already understand the language because of Czech.
Then I used busuu.com, Polish in Three Months (which was on my shelf from years ago) and a flashcard programme on my iPad for vocabulary learning (AccelaStudy Polish).
When I arrived in Poland I could string together enough words and sentences to make basic conversation (A1/2 level). This was only possible because of my Czech and my Polish was littered with mistakes, but understandable to Poles.
I explained to my new flatmates in Polish that I would really like to speak Polish with them as much as possible. They expressed a desire to practice English too (which is a common experience for native English speakers abroad). I said that I would be happy for them to practice a little English with me, but that the main goal was for me to use Polish. They accepted this well and were very encouraging. They also corrected me a lot, which was fantastic.
So now the scene is set. On the first day in Poland, I first went out to a bookstore and bought a book called “Polish in 4 week” – an intensive course meant to take you to B1 level in just 4 weeks. I am highly sceptical of how possible this is with no previous knowledge of a Slavic language, but I think it is no far off the mark if you can already speak one, two or more fluently. I also bought a book for students wishing to reach a C1 level in the language. This is to spur me on to complete the first course.
Every day I do a few hours of Polish studies around my normal job. I use my iPad to go through a set of words on a particular subject (my aim is to go through 200 new words a day), I also read through Polish in 3 Months and the new course, which comes with a CD ROM too.
The main way I improve is to solidify my learning by going out and speaking to Polish people in the city. I ask after words, grammar points and to be corrected. People are very accommodating and are happy to talk to me. Using my other techniques of reading signs, trying to name/say things in my head and really activate the language in my brain help to bring on the level of my spoken Polish.
I set myself a month to do this as the timescale gives me an end goal. Whilst I will definitely not beat myself up if I am not perfect at the language after my time in Poland, my hope is to be better than I was at Polish before I arrived.
I will make a video in Polish at the end of my time here to show you what I have been learning. This is purely to record my level in the language after a month in-country. Don’t expect miracles. Like I always say, language learning is a marathon and not a 100m sprint!