For the last six weeks I have been participating in a 6 Week Challenge for languages. The purpose of this is that for six weeks you intensively learn a language in order to see rapid progress. It works best if you are a beginner or intermediate learner, but it could work if you were advanced, your progress just might be a little less noticeable. You are basically keeping a log of how many hours you’ve spent learning your language of choice and then are ranked on it. You send your study times to the 6 Week Challenge Bot on Twitter (@6WCBot) and it keeps track of your score. I like competition so this was great for me. I can see how it could go sour for some people, but I was never jealous of those with better scores than me. I viewed it more as leveling up, like in a video game.
For this 6 Week Challenge (from here on referred to as 6WC) I chose Esperanto. Up until just a few months ago I didn’t even know Esperanto existed. I learned about it from Benny Lewis over and Fluent in 3 Months. He suggested learning Esperanto as your first language would help you learn a second. This is because your first language is always the hardest. Esperanto is also one of the easiest languages to learn. It’s completely phonetic (everything is pronounced exactly as it is spelled) and the grammar is regular, no exceptions. Compared to the two languages I have studied, English and Japanese, Esperanto grammar was a breeze.
Also if you study Esperanto and sincerely try to converse in it as quickly as possible, you will build confidence that will carry over into your next language. You would only really need about two weeks to learn enough to converse in it. You could easily get through a course like Kurso de Esperanto (it’s 12 lessons) in two weeks. Or you could check out the courses on Lernu (my favorite is the beginner course Puzlo de Esperanto). If you start using the chat feature on Lernu (or find a Skype partner) after the first week, your confidence will sky rocket.
Honestly, I procrastinated using the chat feature at Lernu because I was scared. I realize now that that is a horrible excuse and a silly thing to be afraid of. My first experience chatting in Esperanto was actually an accident. I wanted to see if anyone was on the chat feature, but wasn’t going to be on if there were too many people (another sad excuse). Before I could close the chat function someone messaged me. I really had no choice but to talk to them (or be rude, but that’s out of the question for me). So I dived in.
Now let me tell you something very, very important. That experience changed my whole outlook about language learning. You could even say it changed my life. When I began talking to him (the guy was from South America) in Esperanto, knowing he might not speak English, I began to feel incredibly excited and happy. It’s really hard to put into words the feelings you get when you can speak coherently to someone in another language and understand them. There’s nothing in the world like it. It’s more of an adrenaline rush than anything I have ever experienced. It’s really a shame that so many people don’t experience this.
Was my speech perfect? Heck no! The first guy I chatted with even said I typed “like a beginner,” but also offered encouragement and said the people on Lernu were always kind and willing to help. The point isn’t to be perfect; the point is to start conversing now. If I could give you only one piece of advice it would be to get the idea that you have to say or type everything perfectly out of your head. Perfect will never come. My native language is English and I think I am very good at it. But I still make mistakes every single day, probably hundreds of mistakes. (I am constantly forgetting words.) So if I make mistakes in my native language, even though I’ve been speaking it for twenty-four years, why the heck should I wait to speak a foreign language until I can say everything perfect? That’s absurd! Start speaking NOW.
So, now with that and other chat experiences under my belt, I am no longer afraid to chat in another language. When I begin my next adventure I am not going to hesitate like I did for Esperanto. I’m going to dive in head first.
As for my Esperanto level, I’m not sure how to classify that, probably upper beginner. I want to be intermediate, but I just don’t think I’m there yet. So I want to continue to improve it, even if it’s only one lesson or chat a week. I definitely want to become fluent in it. It’s such a neat and beautiful language.
So tomorrow I say goodbye (sort of) to Esperanto and hello to Japanese. I will continue to learn Esperanto (yay for iPod apps!), but at a much, much slower rate. I will also continue to chat in Esperanto since I have made some cool friends who speak it. 🙂 Do you guys have a summer language adventure your heading out on? I would love to know!
To a summer full of adventures!