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Guerrilla Language Learning Challenge Update 1: Are We There Yet?


I hesitated before writing this update. “It’s obvious, everyone knows that,” I thought.
And then I thought again. How true is it?
Today is about goals – and is the first update on my Guerrilla Language Learning Challenge.

1. What’s my goal again?

Compare these two sentences, both spoken by foreign language learners:
“I just want to learn Spanish well enough to communicate.”
“I want to learn Welsh until I’m able to have a conversation on everyday topics, and follow a news broadcast or a newspaper article without too much bother. Don’t need it for much else, it’s just the joy of it.”
It’s hard to judge these things, but my money would be on the second learner. She knows a bit more about what she wants to do, when, and why. It’s productive, motivating and liberating. Why?
– Productive: simply by formulating the goal in these terms, you’re defining contexts, actions and competences. You’re telling yourself the things you want to be able to do – and the places / moments for your language use (and learning!).
– Motivating: There’s not much to go on in “just learn until you’re good at it.” You tell yourself that – and then have to figure out how to make it happen. Which is a whole other story, and a tricky one. The second way of shaping your goal actually has a few starting points hiding behind it! “Right, what’s the BBC Cymru frequency then?” – or – “That newspaper we had delivered back in Wales, can we get it shipped to London?” This allows you to move. Which, etymologically, is what motivation is about.
– Liberating: Suddenly, your mission is a whole lot more manageable. You no longer need to learn this massive, shapeless thing called “German” – you only need a certain level of skill. This will no longer loom over you for your whole life – in fact, it’s doable within a much shorter time scale! The stages begin to form in your head, and the end is much more concrete and visible. How does that feel?

2. The importance of being frameworked

Now that you’re sold on setting the right kind of goal for yourself – how can you make this happen for any foreign language you wish to learn?
I alluded to the CEFR before. The Common European Framework of Reference sounds like a terribly dull idea to any language learner. And you know what? It is dull. The thing is, there are some amazingly useful bits among the dullness. Just one look at the Wikipedia page is enough for a quick treasure hunt:
1. Level descriptors. These are called “Common reference levels” in CEFR and are my favourite starting point. Note that they all begin with the magic word “can.” This leads to a very important question. Okay, you’re willing to learn a language – but what do you want to be able to do with it? Finding the level which suits you is easier with these “can-do” statements.
2. Estimated learning time. How awesome is that? Now I know how long “the powers that be” estimate that I should learn to be good enough for my level. Admittedly, this info is not very prominently displayed – and should always be taken with a pinch of salt – but since time is so valuable to a guerrilla language learner, it’s good to know how much of it will be needed.
3. Language certificates. Now that is not everyone’s cup of tea – some of you will just want to learn for the fun of it 🙂 I was extremely happy to find the Welsh certificate board (which I thought was a mythical, fabled thing), and relieved to learn more about the German and Spanish certificates.

3. GLLC Goals, wired and frameworked

Here’s what the Challenge boils down to, then.
B1 level will allow me to become an “Independent User” of three foreign languages. It’s a Threshold stage – halfway between ignorance and mastery. A good goal to begin with, if you’re on a budget – I can always choose to focus on one of my three languages later and get really good at it!
The time it will take me to get there will vary, but the ballpark numbers are between 300 and 400 learning hours per language. German will require less, since I know a bit already – and Welsh is a harder language to crack grammatically, so probably more.
The certificates are there to prove how far I’ve come: I’ll need the Zertifikat Deutsch for German, DELE B1 for Spanish, and Canolradd for Welsh. The last one I’m so happy with – I didn’t know that thing existed! The research paid off.
The last thing is the motivation. Each of those languages is learned with a particular thing in mind. This will have to wait until the next update, though 🙂

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