Over the past few months, as I’ve been trying to improve my classical-guitar playing, I’ve read numerous books about goal setting and routines to aid playing tricky pieces but also to maintain motivation – nothing makes you give up more than stuff you can’t do! Some of things I’ve learned for music, though, have also proved useful for me in language learning.
‘The Practice of Practice: How to Boost Your Music Skills’ by Jonathan Harnum has been particular useful in exploring the problems of a ‘fixed mindset’ (intelligence is fixed, fail at something will lead you to completely give up) and the benefits of a ‘growth mindset’ (intelligence grows through effort, work and challenge. To persist in the face of failure). So, rather than avoid challenges, or ignore critique and feel threatened by others’ success, it’s useful instead to:
Keep Trying – learn how to overcome this.
Seek Challenges – if I fail, I will learn something.
See Effort as a Key – harder I work, the better I get.
Pursue Critique – what can I learn from this comment?
Feel Inspired by Others Success – I want to do that.
In addition, such thoughts have also proved helpful in considering long-term, mid-term and short-term goals. In music, this means I break down a single practice session in terms of immediate goals (learn a particular section), micro goals (focus on right hand arpeggio pattern or left hand finger movement and placement) and nano goals (now putting it together by slowing down the arpeggio and even looping a small section). I’ve also found it extremely useful in my language learning. When time is of the essence for me, at best an hour or two a day, any time where I’m studying a language it has to be carefully organised; I need to make the most of the time I have. So, this idea of immediate goals, goals for that specific time, is something I will often use.
To give an example, recently I have been doing a great deal of input of Italian. This week, though, I decided I wanted to do my own writing, be that to write about current events or making comments on things I’ve read. I want to post comments in Italian on LingQ rather than asking questions in English. This will hopefully lead to my long-term goal of being an active participant of the Italian book club at GoodReads. So, back to today then. I was working through an Italian textbook which gave me the task of filling in gaps as I listened. As I did so, I was left with a couple of questions not really explained in the book at the point. I understand why they didn’t explain but I still wanted to know and I didn’t want to write about my own day (as the book asked for) until I understood these points further. So, the following was one of those points broken down into goals.
Immediate goal – understanding ‘mi riposo’
Micro goals for mi riposo
Nano goals for mi riposo
As I mentioned above, spaced repetition was also used during these tasks. This is particularly useful in making the most of my time and also learning things I don’t understand. Again another book, Michael Griffin’s ‘Learning Strategies for Musical Success’, helped me with my music but also the example of spaced repetition has helped my language learning too. Naturally, most language learners, me included, use spaced repetition particularly when learning vocabulary be that with Anki, Memrise etc. However, use it for grammar points? Consider nuances with the language? Hum.
Both types of repetition can be useful provided full attention is maintained during that time. As Griffin goes on to argue, ‘if concentration wanes during blocked repetition, progress can stagnate and possibly deteriorate’. For myself, I probably work with both possibilities. But in terms of SR, I’m always careful in what I choose for A, B and C. For example, I wouldn’t have three new things for SR. There is nothing more off-putting than struggling to follow three different tricky pieces of music – really doesn’t boost my confidence nor my enthusiasm to play (especially if I only have that thirty minutes and nothing else for the rest of the day). Instead, I would have pieces which vary in focus and also vary in my competence. – two-three bars struggling and slow, focus on dynamics at 70bpm, consistent placement as I play tremolo. So, in terms of language learning, then, I will follow the same pattern rating my current competency out of five to ensure a balanced and motivating session. Similar to my music practice, I would also choose three different language focuses. I wouldn’t, say, choose three verb types to practice. That would just get confusing in my head. So, for example, today I focused on the following
A = Basic expressions – I’m sometimes forgetting the formal and informal version of general getting-to-know someone (name, age, live, work). 3/5 competency.Task: Translating English in Italian (there is a glossary of phrases in my textbook, so I’ll just cover the Italian)