In my post early this year about my 2019 goals, I said that one of my plans was to improve my French (and my Polish too). This is something that I want to do all the time, every year, regardless of whether or not I have the time or tools to do so. I so want to speak another language – or multiple languages – and it is the one unfortunate thing about being born in a powerful English-speaking country that most of us are monolingual. Other languages are amazing and I wish so much that I could speak a host of beautiful languages and communicate effortlessly with people around the globe.
Anyway, because I’m an optimist, I choose to believe that speaking another language is within reach if I work hard enough for it. Fortunately, I am not starting from scratch with French, as I studied it for several years in my teens, including getting a French AS level when I was seventeen (at the time this felt like a huge achievement – now, in my mid-twenties, it feels to odd be referencing something I did so many years ago as if it still has any relevance). But, even though my last formal education in French was years ago, much of it has stuck. I am so lucky to have visited France (and other French-speaking countries like the Seychelles) a few times over the last decade, which has obviously helped my language efforts. There’s nothing like ordering a croissant in person in a rural French town to make you realise the real joy of speaking another language.
No, I have no trouble wanting to learn French (or Polish, or many other languages for that matter). It’s that, in practice, learning another language while I sit at home in London is hard. It’s hard to find good resources that teach you in an accessible way and test you on your progress, it’s hard to get a sense of whether your grammar and pronunciation are improving without someone to correct you and it’s hard to find the motivation to seriously study in your spare time with no sense of when you’ll be able to use these new skills. I’m hoping to spend a few days in Paris in the autumn, though that’s not a firm plan yet, but my French is already good enough to get around Paris (where most people speak perfect English so can fill in the gaps) and I would like to set a higher bar for myself than asking for six macarons or where the metro is. An ultimate dream would be to conduct a meeting or presentation solely in French, though that is a long way off right now. With Polish, I have no real excuse in this regard, as I can speak Polish with Jake and his family members anytime. It’s still hard, okay?
I am also railing against the unfortunate truth that there are a finite number of hours in the day and I can only have so many primary interests if I want to dedicate a serious amount of time to them. At the moment, I am still writing, reading and photographing diligently, partly because I love doing all these things and partly because I want grow my skills in these areas enough to maybe, one day, write and take pictures professionally. I mean, I am already paid to write at my actual job (which is awesome) but I would like to grow my freelance business from, uh, no clients to more than that. That means that, along with actually writing words and taking pictures, I need to be pitching articles and responding to freelance job adverts and eventually completing those projects too. I am enjoying these new pursuits so much and feel glad to have so much direction in my personal life. But it’s true that, between working full-time, spending hours on my own projects and having fun with my friends, it’s hard to get into the mindset of plodding away at French grammar or Polish vocabulary when I could be doing something else. It’s not that I don’t have the time, exactly – it’s more that truly learning a language (especially by yourself in a country where that language is not spoken) is a massive task and requires the same kind of enthusiasm I am currently bringing to blogging and photography. I am up for a few Duolingo lessons here and there but I lack the resources or the motivation to really build momentum with my language efforts.
However, I’m not giving up (obviously). I’m almost certain that learning new languages will be something I love for my whole life. But I do think I need clearer plans, rather than just telling myself to ‘improve’ – something that I thought might happen when I wrote my original goals post – and for them to be realistic given my current priorities.
So far, this year, I have intermittently done Duolingo lessons for both French and Polish. I have learned Polish vocabulary from my beautiful children’s book full of simple Polish words and practised phrases and pronunciation with Jake and his family. In terms of French, I have listened to a number of short podcasts about current French news topics and have completed a few advanced grammar worksheets online. But that’s it.
For the rest of this year, here are the specific things I want to do in order to progress my language learning:
- Read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in French
- Complete an advanced grammar workbook (and, uh, find a good advanced grammar workbook)
- Watch two French films without subtitles
- Finish French Duolingo
- Do at least five online/in person speaking lessons
- Learn all the vocabulary in the my ‘first 1000 words’ book
- Do 100 Duolingo lessons
- Learn basic grammar and sentence structure from my workbook (or Jake)
- Read one of my Polish children’s books (that Jake’s parents kindly bought me in Poland last year)
Right. This seems more doable than my previous, loose plans. I really do want to speak French and Polish fluently one day – and I guess these aims are as good as place any to (properly) start.