The italki Language Challenge is a great way to practice planning a deadline into your language goals because you only get a month to earn those badges. For those who are planning to take part in the New Year Language Challenge - good luck, you've taken another step forward in reaching your language goals. All goals should be planned with a deadline to work toward. When we have a limited amount of time to complete a project, the project becomes a lot more urgent. Since a month is too short a time to achieve your ultimate language goal, which is probably “to be fluent in X language”, the Language Challenge helps you accomplish a smaller goal to get you closer to that ultimate goal.
Here are two mini-goals that will enable you to focus and are guaranteed to set you up for conversational success.
1. Have a one minute conversation to build vocabulary
This is a super effective mini-goal I practice in my own language learning projects. This is a goal often given to beginner students and it can continue to be effective for intermediate and advanced students when used properly.
This mini-goal is best used to expand your vocabulary in a specific subject. Since the conversation is so short, you can only talk about one thing, which helps narrow the focus of the vocabulary.
Let’s say you were really focused on business English for the last few months because you’re starting a new job in the States. You’ve been living in Los Angeles for the last month and you feel really confident with your office vocabulary. You want to start making friends outside the office and, for example, you’re going to start on a new gaming hobby. (I write what I know and gaming is a cornerstone in my life. I love talking about games and can use this hobby in every new language learning project. So what subject can you talk about endlessly?).
Imagine you’re going into a local game store and want to ask the person behind the counter about the different game nights that they’re hosting. (I’m partial to board game stores, though e-sports bars in Berlin were a great place for me to practice my German).
Ask yourself the questions you want to ask the store. For example:
- Do they host open game nights?
- Are there active groups playing your favorite game?
- Are there trivia nights where you can mingle with regulars?
- Is there a place to post an LFG (looking for group) message?
Then answer the questions yourself. Answer the questions a few different ways to dig up more vocabulary:
- “Yes, we host open board game night every Monday.”
- “No, we don’t keep an LFG board.”
- “No one plays that game, but this similar game has a group looking for a member.”
Don’t worry if the answers are only for a particular situation, the dialogue you write is to practice vocabulary for your conversation class.
Send your teacher the dialogue you’ve been practicing and ask him or her to use the vocabulary you’ve been practicing in other contexts during your lesson. One problem many language learners have is recognizing words they know because they don’t build connections between vocabulary and the wider world. Your goal is to be able to understand those words when you hear them, no matter what context they appear in.
2. Tell an epic story to practice intonation and rhythm
A common goal my students talk about is needing to give presentations at work. There’s a lot of worry about being able to speak confidently and not sound like a robot for ten (or more) minutes.
This worry comes from not being comfortable with English rhythm and intonation patterns. I find it’s much more effective to practice these skills with a personal, emotional story than with a business presentation.
This method teaches you how English speakers use emphasis and tone with exaggeration. Over-emphasizing your emotions helps draw attention to how those emotions are expressed in English. Once you are able to feel the pattern of a language, it’s easier to apply it to an area with less exaggeration.
Imagine you’re hanging out at the table with friends and want to talk about an epic dungeon crawl campaign you played in college. Depending on your level, you’re going to approach this method a little differently.
Record yourself telling the story in your first language, try to keep it under five minutes to avoid overwhelming yourself. Transcribe the recording, then translate it with the help of a teacher. Ask your teacher to record themselves telling it so you have a good imitation source.
Practice telling the story in English (or your target language) by imitating your teacher’s recording: starting with the conclusion. Get really good at saying the final two sentences of the story, then work backwards. You want to focus your attention on the way your teacher pauses, raises and lowers their voice, and when they emphasize part of a word. Exaggerate all of these things you notice as you imitate.
When you meet with your teacher, practice telling the story from beginning to end, making it as epic as possible.
Similar to how a beginner would approach this, except your first recording should be of yourself telling the story in English (or other target language) as much as possible. When you come to a word you don’t know, use your first language. Transcribe the recording and translate the words from your first language into English. Show your transcript to your teacher for a comprehension check, then ask them to record the story.
Then it’s time to start practicing the story! Start with the conclusion and work backwards just like in the beginner’s instructions. Remember to exaggerate your emotions; try to give twice the amount of emphasis to a part you notice your teacher gave emphasis to.
No goal is going to take the same amount of time for every person. The amount of time a goal takes depends on how much of a foundation you have already built in that skill. The same goal may be a monthly goal for a beginner and a weekly goal for an advanced student.
Effective communication requires combining vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar. It’s great to be able to build all those skills in parallel, but some skills will come easier than others. When you notice one area starting to give you trouble, create a mini-goal to improve that skill for a week or two.
And if you’re just starting out, I highly recommend starting with the pronunciation skill. Being able to confidently speak and listen to a language is your express ticket to language fluency.
Good luck on your goals and happy practicing!