I’m running into the doldrums of language-learning, making slow, even imperceptible progress. What do the following language-learning activities have in common?
- Translating sentences in my book;
- Translating actual news articles or podcasts;
- Visiting a Somali cafe.
They are all a) great activities and b) very time-consuming.
In the beginning stages, I could pick up a book, run some flash cards, or work a couple exercises. I could accomplish something in 15 minutes. Now my exercises require 30-60 minutes to accomplish something, yet my schedule still prefers 15-minute language-learning chunks.
Without consistent progress, I’m running out of steam and motivation, so I find it even harder to make larger chunks of language learning time. How do I get over this?
Hitting the intermediate level wall
I’m hitting a roadblock with Somali and it feels familiar because I hit the same one with Farsi a couple years ago. After about two years I get the basics down pat, but then I no longer make much progress. The intermediate level of language-learning demands a different style than the basic level.
I know most of the basic grammar of Somali and a good amount of vocabulary. I know the verb conjugations, the noun declensions, the focus particles, and various word derivation rules. Some details might slip my mind occasionally, such as plurals of nouns. The vocabulary is sticking because I’m using flashcards daily on Anki.
As a result, my experience shows me that the intermediate level requires work that is more tedious for me. I can understand the snappy dialogues in my book. That’s exciting, but I learn little. Reading a real newspaper article or listening to a real news podcast requires several minutes per word. I learn a lot, but I have to set a bigger period of time aside. If I stop the article I’m translating and come back, I’ve got a lot of work to remember before I re-start.
Going to Somali coffee shops gives me a great boost, but these visits are also time-consuming. The cafes are all 10-20 minutes away, so I have to plan on about 30 minutes of travel time. If I stay for 40-60 minutes, then I have to dedicate an hour or an hour and a half—which is a long chunk of time for me right now. I love doing this, but there’s not place to fit it in my daily or weekly plan right now.
Podcasts have not been helpful because they move too quickly for me to catch new vocabulary. I can seize on the common words, like “is,” “but,” or “new,” but other words might be swallowed up by speed or dialect. I had the same experience with Farsi, though I listened daily to Farsi SBS and BBC for a few months.
What do I do? I have a couple of ideas:
I haven’t been working on exercises in my book. I think I could still gain something there, but it’s a more grueling process than before. I as said, the grammar is pretty clear. Putting it into action, sentence by painful sentence can be agonizing. simply because I have to bring all the rules and vocabulary together.
Another idea is to consolidate short, daily language sessions into fewer, longer ones. Perhaps I shift to 1-2 hour-long sessions per week instead of daily 10-15 minute sessions.
What do you think? I need your help. How do I get through the intermediate doldrums?