Sunday, October 12, 2008

Journaling and Making Yourself Do Your Homework

A long time ago, I wrote about something called the Mental Bank and applying it to language learning. But, I confess, I got busy in life and let it slip by the wayside. However, the idea has always appealed to me so I did some reworking and have been trying something new. Here's how it works:

When you get into language learning, it's a good idea to keep a journal. Not an "I was feeling very French today" kind of journal; something more like an accounts ledger. Decide what is the very least you can do every day (it should probably involve about ten minutes of study). Then pick a few more ambitious items, things that might take twenty or thirty minutes. These could include listening to a Pimsleur lesson, working through a section of a chapter in a Teach Yourself book or learning seven more words with the Vocabulary and Language Building Block exercises.

Once you've defined some things you could do to work on your language, set a point, dollar, pound or euro value for each activity. Then pick out a reward (that you can actually pay for!) for studying at least a little bit every day for a month. At the end of each day, take stock: Fill out the things you've done, note the assigned points and watch your learning add up. If you didn't do anything, put zero - ouch! Putting that zero will remind you that you need to find time. And the thought of putting that zero will encourage you to at least try to find ten minutes before bed - a good time to study, if you're skimping, since it will allow your brain to process what you have done overnight.

When you've earned your reward - gotten the set number of points - you can cash in and collect and start the process over. That way you've always got a little something extra to look forward to if you maintain good study habits.

It sounds like a silly game, of course, but if you're learning on your own you need something to keep you on task - and something to keep you from surfing the net or going back to the bookstore every time you don't feel like studying. If you find your learning sessions are productive - if only you'd do them more often! - give this a try. For the cost of a small notebook and two minutes a day you might just trick yourself into finding the value of learning a foreign language as you work toward more long term benefits.


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