Manding (Bambara, Dyula, & Malinké)

How to Succeed in an Intensive, Self-Directed Language Program

Intensive summer programs can be mentally and physically stimulating as well as challenging. When the program is self-directed and designed, the learner has even more responsibility for achieving what they want out of the program. Here are some tips when trying to do your first self-directed language intensive!

1. Take care of yourself.

Taking care of yourself is non-negotiable. How can you devote time to language study with poor health? A good language learner needs proper diet, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep to be successful. Additionally, taking care of your physical body will also boost your mental abilities and energy level. Creating spaces that are distraction-free and conducive to learning can help clear your mental space when study time arrives.

Near the end of my Multilanguage Seminar experience, I became ill (probably from staying up too late every night during my language teaching conference in Week 6), and because of this, my progress significantly slowed down. Since missing one day in the course is equivalent to missing a week in the academic year, I had a lot of missed assignments I needed to catch up on. Taking care of yourself will help you to stay on track and not fall behind.

2. Figure out a rhythm that works for you

Since all work in the Multilanguage Seminar is asynchronous, it can seem like you have a lot of freedom to do what you want in the course. While the course is indeed flexible, it can be stressful to receive constant notifications throughout the day about your coursework or classmate discussions. Furthermore, doing the course at inconsistent times of the day might work out for people with already busy schedules, but can be a drain on energy.

The key to succeeding in a self-directed course is to figure out the schedule that works for you. Are you more active in the morning or the night? Do you tend to work in shorter or longer chunks? What type of space is most conducive to your learning? Use the first few weeks of the course to experiment with different schedules, and then decide which might be a good fit. And remember, it’s okay to shift your schedule if your circumstances change.

3. Stay engaged and ask questions

One downside of doing asynchronous work is that you don’t get a lot of live interactions with your instructor and classmates. Just remember— interactions with these people are what make the class so valuable! Make sure to engage fully in online discussions, ask lots of questions, and share your own concerns and curiosities. Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

4. Take reflection seriously

The Multilanguage Seminar is structured into two parts: a two-week SLA-theory crash course, and six weeks of putting these theories into practice. Throughout the seminar, these weeks are filled with smaller reflective, including journal entires, language website updates, and Slack channel discussions.

In the first part of the course, there was a lot of discussion in my cohort about the value of these seemingly trivial tasks. It can sometimes feel mundane writing in a journal entry every day and then having to respond to others’, especially when nothing exciting has really happened for you or for them that past day. However, keeping up the practice of journaling is critical. Like the language website updates, journaling helps you to synthesize your learning and reflect upon it. If we do not reflect upon our experiences, we do not learn from them. Because the self-directed learner is the one in charge of the course, they are also in charge of continually reflecting.

5. Learn to “own” your language learning

In the end, you are responsible for learning your language; this was my biggest takeaway from the seminar. Nobody is going to push me after completing this course to write a journal entry or to update a website page. But I will continue to do them in my own way, as much and as regularly as I can. Why? Because I’ve realized the power that reflection can have on learning, and I am the only one who can really make myself do it. When I finished my course, I didn’t exactly reach the level I was hoping to reach when I set up my plan at the beginning of the summer. And yet, I couldn’t blame the demands of the SLA-theory portion, and I couldn’t blame the everyday demands of my work schedule. Even though some of my impediments were unforeseen and some were self-inflicted, I know that I am the one who drives the progress of my learning. If I want to level up, I have to put in the effort to see the proper results. While this might sound intimidating at first, it is also a great feeling of freedom and self-accountability. Participating in the seminar helped me to change my views on language learning, from something that I liked to do to something that I commit to for life.


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Resources for Self-Instructional Learners of Less Commonly Taught Languages Copyright © by University of Wisconsin-Madison Students in African 671 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.