If only we’d all be a little kinder to ourselves.
I read it all the time on social media: fellow language learners beating themselves up for not studying harder, longer, more often. It seems like everybody feels they’re not doing enough.
In fact, Covid lockdown has made things worse for many. Faced with all that extra time at home, how have we not turned into super-productive learning machines, devouring languages by the barrowload?
But far from egging us on, this type of chat is goal-wrecking. Feeling that we aren’t doing enough can be hugely demotivating. All that self-flagellation can have the opposite effect.
You simply give up.
I raise my hand at this point. I am as guilty of self-criticism as the next learner.
I’m not doing enough. I’m not spending enough time on language X, Y, Z. I’m a bad student! I must try harder.
The thing is, it is difficult to fit learning into the busy lives we lead. No question. Few of us have the resources or options to be full-time, always-on students, and learning sometimes boils down to a bit here, a bit there.
But this was my biggest mistake: I thought a bit here, a bit there amounted to nothing.
So, to try and prove myself wrong, I started logging what I was actually doing. And the result was a bit of a surprise.
Looks like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, at the time, none of this felt like a lot. These bits and pieces were often just ten minutes or so, snatched around busy working days. Several of them were fairly passive activities, like listening to a podcast, or watching a short programme and making brief notes.
But just look how they add up.
The fact is that often, we simply don’t realise the cumulative effect of what we do. But the little and often approach pays dividends if you have a hectic rest-of-life in the background.
Logging logistics – the simpler, the better
So, how best to approach this?
As a productivity nerd, I’ve experimented with methods until the cows came home. Truth be told, there are as many ways to journal and log as there are learners. It’s worth trying out a few approaches to find what works for you.
Recently, I hit upon a winning formula that was immediately effective, but gradually morphed into something more streamlined. I started a logging cycle by creating monthly language report cards for each project. It worked really well straight off the bat. But since then, the multiple documents have slowly melded into a single list in recent weeks, and now it works even better. It’s highlighted one of the few hard and fast rules of learner logging (there aren’t many):
The simpler the logging method, the better: it is much easier to keep it up.
At first, I also tended to separate the more ‘meaty’ learning activities from repeated daily language habits, such as app work with Anki, Drops and Duolingo. Instead, I track these as regular tactics following the 12-week year system of goal setting. They have become so ingrained that I don’t even count them.
But there I go again, diminishing my efforts to nothing. Not counting these daily tasks as real work was another reason for getting a false impression of my efforts. The antidote – I moved my daily tick boxes to the same place as my log. So another rule learned:
Keep all of your logging, large and small, in one place: don’t overlook any of your efforts.
The magic of logging
When you get logging down to a tee, something magical begins to happen.
The act of filling your list up becomes a motivator in itself.
You start to take pride in that busy list of flag-lined milestones by the end of the week, and develop a mindfulness for even the smallest learning activities you might otherwise have written off as nothing.
The heart of that magic spark is the imperceptible accumulation of riches – in this case, educational ones. Just like regular savings pile up in a bank account, so do your little and often moments. The least you can do for yourself is make these many, miniature wins visible.
Logging needn’t even be in list format. I have a pad on my desk that I use to scribble down my language notes. During lockdown, I paid no attention to the number of pages I was filling up. But, one day, I suddenly realised that I have written reams and reams. It never seemed like a lot – but little, and often, it really was.
Smashing it – and not even realising it.
The language jotter that sits on my desk. Before I knew it, it was full.
I wrote this post as a personal pep talk – I needed to celebrate my efforts, and stop belittling them. But I hope it suggests a way for you to get that same satisfaction if you feel the drag and don’t feel what you do is enough.
Look a little closer – you’re smashing it and you don’t even realise.
Use logging and journaling to remind yourself that you’re doing a good job, and give yourself a pat on the back more often.