Is A Habit Formed?

Ever since my teenage years, I have thought it would be good to learn a foreign language.  (My desire to write has been around nearly as long, but my ability to summon it has been slow in arriving.)  I took classes in high school and college.  The methods used would not allow it to stick.  Yes, I could memorize nearly as well as anyone.  For responding to “How are you?” in German and Spanish, I could regurgitate the desired response.  If they asked me what I wanted or what I needed, I became the immobile animal awaiting the oncoming vehicle on the country road.  While the pain ended up not being physical, I got very frustrated that nothing ever stuck.  Yes, a few phrases refused to fall out of my ears and into the abyss.  The phrases are few, and the lack of retention has been humbling.

Within the past 5 years, I have been regularly trying to use my computer or phone to learn a language.  On one vacation, I did a phone session near midnight so I could maintain a “streak” within the application.  (I believe it was Duolingo.)  I have tried Rosetta Stone, Babbel and a few others with the hope they would use their brief tryout to convince me they were the one.  Most of them relied on memorizing.  With no explanation, it left me guessing what response the application wanted.  I learned nothing of lasting value.  I learned to “game” the program and guess effectively.  If I told someone I was learning a language, any question they offered left me humbled.  Why study something if I couldn’t use it?

About 3 weeks ago, I realized two things.  I needed to be very consistent in my studying of a language.  After looking at my schedule over the past few months, I have been consistent in walking.  Was there a language learning method that would allow me to study the language while walking?  The application I chose, Pimsleur, promotes itself as “a method to learning a foreign language while driving.”  For me, it gives me a valuable way to learn a new language.

I believe my first 3 weeks on this program have been effective for these reasons:

  • They group the lessons into 30 days per level.  With German, there are 5 levels.  If building a habit can be done in 3 weeks, I have achieved that today.  Then, in just over 4 weeks, I will have a basic understanding of German.  My goal is to go on through the other levels.  But, I am going to allow myself to celebrate the accomplishment of the first level.
  • I don’t have to click my mouse to go to keep the lesson moving.  Each lesson is about half an hour.  My phone starts and ends per lesson length.
  • It has greatly reduced my audiobook time.  This is okay; I have already achieved my reading/listening goal for the year.  Yes, I like listening to books while I walk.  My walks are long enough that I can still find some time to listen a little, too.
  • In fact, my walks are long enough I can go through the lessons twice.  The first time through I may hit the “rewind” button a couple of times.  After a 15-20 minute break of book listening or thinking, I will listen to the same lesson again.  I know what is coming, and I know where I had trouble with the first time through.  At the end of the second lesson, I usually feel confident I understand the day’s concepts.
  • The lessons include a daily review.  It doesn’t feel like a review.  Each builds on the previous lessons. There are also online tools available.  For me, Pimsleur seems to know exactly when to include an old (or rarely used) word in the lesson.  Most times I can recall the word and better lock it into my long-term memory.
  • They encourage you to do only one lesson per day.  Since this doesn’t count replays, it doesn’t feel like an overwhelming commitment.  When the next lesson comes up and I can respond to questions in German with minimal hesitation, it proves my belief in the learning system.

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