There was a discussion on Twitter lately about whether it makes sense to the aspiring polyglot (or even the average language learner) to automatically set C2 (high advanced) as their lifetime proficiency goal for every language they’re learning. C2 is the highest level on the CEFR proficiency scale, and represents a highly educated, near-native proficiency. Others in the discussion concluded that a high-intermediate level (B2) would be a more logical proficiency goal for them. Advanced levels are hard to reach and even harder to maintain, and are not always necessary. https://twitter.com/polywerden/status/1125982184760840192
I replied that I’m less interested in proficiency levels. Instead, I create a “bucket list” of things I want to be able to do in my lifetime–such as listening to news broadcasts or reading literature. I then arrange the list from the easiest goal to the hardest, and it becomes a continuous source of motivation, which an arbitrary proficiency goal can never be. https://twitter.com/and_e_r/status/1126332816759726080
Having said that, I’ve only created a list for French so far. (See my article, “My goals with French.” https://oregonpolyglot.com/2018/07/17/my-goals-with-french/ )
My current language project is German, so today, I’m writing my “bucket list” for German and sharing it with you, my readers.
My final goal (so far) is to become a multilingual tour guide. I asked a tour guide which language she gets the most request for tours in (besides English), and she said German. So, I’m learning German.
This year’s goals
Stepping back to the beginning and working my way up to the tour guide goal, my first goal for German is to complete the Add1Challenge. I’m currently one month into this 90-day challenge. Around 100 people are participating this round, but in a variety of languages. I’m one of four people taking the A1C to learn German. We each study independently but use the large group for support and accountability using a social media platform called Slack. The challenge is designed to help us to learn focus, study habits, and conversational skills. At the end, we will be able to converse for at least 15 minutes entirely in our target languages. I can do that already, but with difficulty. At the rate I’m improving, I should find it an easy skill by the end of the 90 days. If anyone wishes to follow my progress, I post a video every 30 days of myself speaking German on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIlQVD0LsA5qYSNp5qtR-AA
I want to pronounce German well, and for this, I bought the Mimic Method German Master Class. I plan to start it soon and finish it by the time I finish A1C.
Another reason I want to learn German is because it’s one of five languages for which a tremendous number of courses and resources have been created (along with English, Spanish, French, and Italian). I bought a lot of beginner German courses that I was curious about and want to try all of them out (even if I don’t finish all of them). Many of them are courses that are out of print, and some of them are so old that they come with audio cassettes. I’ve already completed a few of them: German for Children, Paul Noble Complete German, Dr. Blair’s German in No Time, Pimsleur German (Level 1 only, that is, the first 30 lessons), and Michel Thomas Total German, plus some Deutsche Welle podcasts. I’m currently on Michel Thomas Perfect German, Language Transfer, All Audio German, Yabla, FluentU, and other courses. There are a few more waiting after these. By trying out a variety of courses and methods, I hope to expand my repertoire of methods which I can use to learn other languages. (For example, I use elements from the Michel Thomas method to learn Korean grammar successfully.) Also, I’ll be in a better position to recommend courses to people who ask for recommendations.
My next goal is to prepare for my 30-year university reunion in October. I earned a B.A. French degree at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. Minnesota is far from Oregon, so this will only be my second visit to Concordia since graduation. My plan is to arrive a day early and hang out in the foreign language department. Concordia offers bachelor’s degrees in French, Spanish, German, and Mandarin Chinese. I want to converse with the current students and teachers in these languages. Maybe I don’t have time to learn Mandarin before then, but I at least want to use Spanish, French, and German as well as I can. A1C will make me conversational, and the beginner courses will keep expanding my vocabulary and improving my listening skills ahead of the reunion. It will be like a Polyglot Conference for me.
When I decide to move on to intermediate courses, Deutsche Welle has one that I’ve always wanted to try (but which is too advanced for me now). It’s called “Top Thema.” It’s at the B1 level and includes a lot of simplified news articles–but about interesting cultural topics rather than just the usual politics and economic articles of daily news reports. The variety of topics is vast, so it should greatly broaden my vocabulary. Each article includes a monolingual glossary (i.e. totally in German), the one-page article, and an audio recording. About 100 articles are published a year, going all the way back to 2007. In other words, there are over 1000 articles available. I’ll use Lingro to help me. Lingro is one of those free dictionaries that lets you read something from the internet, click on a word, and see its translations into English or another language. I’d like to read as many articles as I can until I lose interest.
I would love to be able to read the news and listen to news broadcasts in German, then discuss current events in German with native speakers. When I can do that, I feel like I’ve “made it” in that particular language–even though there are many other things I might not be able to do yet (such as understand slang, watch movies, watch YouTubers, read and write scholarly materials, give public speeches, write business letters, etc.). I generally shy away from U.S. news because it’s “close to home” and often makes me sad or angry. Foreign news topics (such as Brexit) have less impact on me personally, and I’d be more likely to follow it. There are intermediate resources after “Top Thema” which I can study at the B2 level, to help prepare me for watching live news broadcasts.
Finally, I want to create a series of YouTube videos about Oregon history–in German. This will prepare me for a possible career as a tour guide, after I retire from IT many years from now.
Observations and conclusions
If you find yourself losing motivation to continue learning a foreign language, write yourself a “bucket list” like this, arrange the goals from easiest to hardest, and start working on the first one. Also take note of anything you’ve already accomplished in that language, such as courses you’ve completed or skills you’ve learned. You will then be unlikely to lose your motivation again.
You might have noticed that my “bucket list” for German is different than my list for French. Some items are the same and some are different. Each language has a unique list. I plan to create similar lists in the future for my other languages. And your lists will be different than mine. Another interesting observation about these lists is that French is a lifelong enterprise but I can meet all of my German goals in just a few years.
I find that these lists take some of the stress out of learning, while arbitrary proficiency goals like “B2” or “C2” can add stress and demotivate most people (but not everyone). Proficiency goals can also lead to learners evaluating their own proficiency levels inaccurately–or worse, can persuade people to do boring, stressful studies for proficiency exams that are of no use to them personally.