As a first-time self-instructed language learner, this summer was a learning experience in many different ways. Coming in with almost no expectations, our 8 weeks of intensive study taught me quite a bit about how to successfully structure and execute a language-learning plan of my own making. While it can be difficult to put the experience into words, see the tips below for some of the most important lessons I’ve learned during my time studying Hmong in the Multilanguage Seminar.
1.) It is important to understand how an intensive summer course differs from a “normal” language class. Setting aside the difference between a formal classroom and self-instructional learning for a moment, the nature of our course requires a different mindset than what you might bring into a “normal” language class. First, there is the question of fit: does it make sense for you to take an intensive summer course in the first place? For many students, the summer is a time to relax and recharge, pursue exciting opportunities outside of academia, or even catch up on some research they’ve been putting off. The intensive nature of this course makes that difficult; in order to make the class worthwhile, you have to be willing to dedicate a large chunk of each day to faithfully completing the course activities in addition to your own curriculum. Second, unlike in the Fall or Spring, when a majority of your peers are taking classes, you might also find yourself being the only one having to dedicate yourself to studying over the summer, something that only gets more difficult as the weather gets nicer. For me personally, it helped to take a step back, think through my motivations for language learning, and then move forward with the summer course. I worked to find ways to incorporate my study into my other summer activities: speaking Hmong over a dinner with my partner, focusing on the Olympics in my mentor sessions, and even complaining in my target language when our air conditioning didn’t quite get the job done. If you’re just starting out, it is worth taking the time to consider your summer holistically in order to better integrate your language study with all aspects of your life!
2.) Routine is essential to meeting your goals, but variety makes routine possible! I’ve found that having a set routine is crucial to meeting all of your language-learning goals. For me, that looks like writing my journals right before bed, responding to my classmates as soon as I wake up, meeting with my mentor at the same time each week, and reading in my target language after dinner each day. Having a rhythm to my days helped me find a weekly rhythm, and in doing so I was able to ensure I was making timely progress towards each of my goals. With that being said, I need variety to avoid burnout. One time experiences were the highlights of my summer; rather than breaking my routine, they added to it, leaving me feeling excited about the process of language learning. Some examples included speaking Hmong with a vendor at the farmer’s market. understanding a joke I saw in an online video, being able to understand my mother-in-law as she gave me instructions on how to set up a bird feeder at her house, and walking with my partner while naming off all of the animals we saw around us. These experiences weren’t scheduled or expected, but were crucial in achieving my goals this summer. For that reason, I’d tell anyone in a similar program to create and respect a routine that works for you, but also embrace the unexpected opportunities that pop up; those are, ultimately, the things that will allow you to keep going.
3.) Embrace your strengths but work on your weaknesses. A key lesson that I learned from the first two weeks of our course, focused on metacognitive strategies, was the importance of having mastery opportunities. These are times when you’re able to successfully use the language, showing yourself and others the progress that you’ve made. In part because of this, I spent a large portion of the summer focused on my strengths; the high that I got from comprehending a passage immediately or being able to express my thoughts succinctly pushed me forward, motivating me to continue working. at the same time, I wish I would have spent more time working on my weaknesses. My biggest struggle is pronunciation, but I shied away from spending large chunks of my time directly addressing my difficulties in that regard. In hindsight, I wish I would have used the burst of energy I got from focusing on my strengths to directly address my weaknesses, intentionally designing my curriculum to focus on both simultaneously.