Last year I picked something that I had to stick to for a year no matter how hard it got. Today I hit day 400.
I would encourage virtually everyone to set aside some daily time for a habit that you can one day master, starting small and expanding it only as you grow more comfortable. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you care about it. These are my thoughts on learning a new language.
In my high school days I had developed a passing interest in Japanese. I didn’t get very far into vocabulary or grammar, but I learned the Kana (ひらがなとカタカナ,) which count for two of the three Japanese writing forms. Kana is comprised of 46 letters for each set, but common Japanese writing also uses an additional 2,000+ Kanji. I didn’t get that far. Learning a new language requires an intense amount of study and it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you consider it all at once.
Years have passed since my high school days and common teaching methods have improved. I really recommend spaced repetition apps like Duolingo or Memrise which use a flash card style approach that allow you to study in short sprints. I think this is the key to getting hooked. In fact, 15 minute blocks of study seem to be the perfect, bite-sized duration to target for new language learners. Good lessons will make you want to do more, and grueling lessons won’t be long enough to set a bad tone for your day. Little by little your skills compound. Once a stronger habit takes hold your study time will pass by in a flash. It took around 6 months for my overall mindset to switch from “just putting in my time” to actively working to gain mastery, and I naturally adjusted to longer and more frequent blocks of study.
You should be prepared to have some rough days. On bad days you can just fulfill your minimum obligation then set it aside. Remember that the discomfort of new lessons will pass and these will soon become easy and familiar landmarks in your mind. Consider this when you review old topics as well since those were all foreign to you at one point. Expect challenge but don’t worry; and time will take care of the hard parts.
You will eventually want to go deeper with your studies. I recommend you develop good principles to facilitate this: be patient with yourself, and make the best use of your time, (i.e., use time actively instead of passively.) This doesn’t mean to intentionally seek struggle. You want to learn the easiest way that you can, of course, but understand that there’s rarely a shortcut or perfect system. This applies to every practice.
My learning resources for Japanese
Duolingo, Wanikani, 8020japanese, and Tofugu are great for most learners. I recommend to go the cheap or free route when starting out with most new hobbies and these sites have a lot of free resources. There’s also a nearly unlimited amount of Japanese learning YouTube channels. You’ll want to spend some time finding teachers or communities that you resonate with. Treat it like you’re applying for an apprenticeship and you have to find someone that keeps your interest.
Being able to talk to my favorite Japanese photographers through Instagram this year felt like an amazing milestone for me. I’m also proud to feel more comfortable with screwing up and the vulnerability of the process. What a way to learn about yourself, and it starts out with such a small commitment.
Whatever you want to do for a year, I hope you not only stick to it, but do it consistently, and have a wonderful time with it. You never know where it could take you.