10 Things I Learnt About Language Learning in 2017


Every year there’s some new things I learn about language learning. 2017 was no different. Here’s 10 things I learnt about language learning in 2017.

Every year there's new things I learnt about language learning. 2017 was no different. Find out what I learnt about language learning in 2017 here.

For my end of year Clear The List post, I chose to do something a little different – look back at what I learnt from language learning in 2017.

Hosted by myself and Shannon of Eurolinguiste, Clear The List is your chance to set monthly language learning goals + achieve them as part of the community. We share our monthly goals and encourage you to do the same. Check the bottom of this post for more info on how to join in.

It needs to be prioritised

When other stuff was going on and I had closer deadlines throughout the year, that stuff became more important and language learning got pushed to one side.

You can definitely fit language learning int your life, heck, I even wrote a short ebook called Finding Time In Your Life For Language Learning (which you can get when you sign up for the Little Language Library for free right here!)

But the thing that we don’t always do is prioritise language learning. And you can imagine what happens when we don’t prioritise language learning? It doesn’t get done. Boo.

Lesser studied languages are a different ball game

Learning Guaraní has been a real eye opener. It’s very different to just learning Spanish or French or another language with plenty of easily accessible materials. It takes a little more work to find stuff (and good stuff at that) but when you do, it makes it all the more rewarding.

The hardest thing I’ve found with Guaraní, personally, has been finding good audio content to learn from. There’s a surprising amount of not too awful PDFs out there, both course-based and academic, but on the audio front…hmm.

I don’t know, maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, or maybe this is a regular problem for people learning lesser studied languages. If you’ve had experience with this, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments.

Travelling and keeping up a language learning routine is hard!

This has been the trickiest thing this year and I’m still getting used to fitting language into my day beyond just Duolingo, Memrise and Clozemaster. But I’m getting there and look forward to getting even better at this next year.

It’s much easier when we’ve been in one place for longer to keep up a routine, but 3am buses don’t lend themselves well to keeping a streak!

Generally, I’ve found that each place requires a slightly different routine: is there wifi in the room? how long are we there for? will I be working during the day or do I need to do work early morning aka eat into my study time?

There’s lots of variables and they do, well, vary depending on where we are and what we’re doing there.

Not everyone learns equal

With Ashley learning Spanish, it’s been interesting for me to see someone who’s never learnt a language on their own do it for the first time.

One thing I’ve learnt (or rather, something that’s been reinforced for me) is that not everyone learns equal. For example, Ashley doesn’t listen to music as much as me, so using music in his learning routine just isn’t going to be engaging. Yet music is always huge for me!

It’s also been interesting working with Shannon from Eurolinguste and other language learners on the early months of Language Study Club – something we’ll share fully later in 2018 – as everyone feels different pressures and problems differently, and deals with them differently too.

Planning is important

Planning has been a part of my language learning for a long time now, but now we’re travelling, the difference has become so much clearer. When I’ve taken the time to plan out my routine for a week, I’ve actually got stuff done, even when we’ve been moving around.

However, when I’ve not allowed myself time to plan, I’ve not been learning as well as I could have done.

Home or away, The Solo Language Learning Planner is a great tool to help you make the most of taking time to plan your language learning in 2018. Click here to learn more.

And it’s not just applicable for learning. If you’re teaching languages online, planning is just as relevant. Learn more about The Online Language Teacher Planner here.

It takes guts to say “I’m 100% fluent”

A tour guide told me he was 100% fluent in English, which made my language brain go into overdrive listening for verb tenses and pronunciation. But I realised I would probably never feel comfortable enough in any language to say I’m 100% fluent. And if you do, are you opening yourself up to scrutiny or is that just language-obsessed brains like mine?

Either way, it takes real guts to say you’re “100%” fluent, and I don’t think I ever would say that, and I’m totally happy with that.

For a while now I’ve known that I’m happy with lower levels in multiple languages than perfection in a select few.

Even the languages that I’m best at, I find myself using the same stuff (that I learnt relatively early on) over and over again.

There’s not been many occasions on this trip when I’ve found myself deep in conversation with a Spanish speaker about immigration or the environment (both topics that I had to study at A level).

So as awesome as it would be to say “I’m 100% fluent in 100 languages”, it’s just not necessary.

Even a few words can make all the difference, and even then it’s not always about getting those few words absolutely perfect.

So please, don’t worry about being or becoming “100% fluent”. If all you can say off the top of your head is a ‘thank you’ and it gets you a smile, then you should be happy with that for now.

Music is still my favourite thing

Reggaeton has become a regular part of our day. And when I say reggaeton, I don’t mean one song after another, I mean three songs at once. Minimum. From different directions. As someone told me on Instagram a few weeks back, welcome to Latin America.

I love it, but I realised that there’s been a LOT of great music in 2017 in English, which meant more time listening to Lorde, Paramore, and Harry Styles (yup, not ashamed, that’s a cracking album!), and less time listening to music in other languages.

But since we arrived in Latin America, I’ve found myself more drawn to listening to reggaeton and Spanish music, even when I’m picking what to listen to myself! Shock horror!

Quick projects are fun!

I love doing shorter projects from time to time with my language learning. 2017 was no different.

I learnt some basic Slovak for a month in May ready for the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava, and in July I took 12 lessons in 12 different languages for the italki Language Challenge.

I loved both of them and they reminded me how much fun it can be to throw in a quick language project from time to time.

Even if you’re focused on one language right now, if you find yourself getting stuck in a bit of a rut, don’t be afraid to try a quick blast in another language as a distraction if that’s what you need to get back on track with your main language.

I love not knowing every language in the world

I used to feel a sense of panic almost at the thought of there being more languages in the world then I could ever learn. Argh! But since starting Language Stories, I’ve learnt that I actually love there being languages in the world I don’t yet know about.

There’s so many languages in the world that it’s just not possible to learn all of them, perhaps even to learn all of the names of them!

So with that in mind, from working on Language Stories, I’ve learnt how much I love exploring languages I initially know nothing or very little about.

You can do the same by listening + watching Language Stories too.

People want to share their language

I’ve been honestly so humbled by the openness of people to share their stories and languages for Language Stories. I begin each conversation by explaining a little more about the project and telling people why I’m doing it. One person (who you’ll hear from soon!) interrupted me on that bit and said “I get it. It’s just good. We don’t know why we do these things but we just do because it’s good and we feel it and it has to be done.” That’s exactly it. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Seeing consistently episode to episode how willing people are to share their stories is very inspiring and we’re really enjoying creating the first series of Language Stories. The podcast + videos are different so there’s multiple perspectives from which to enjoy the stories. I hope you’re enjoying listening and watching too!

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What did you learn about language learning in 2017? What are your goals for 2018? Share on your blog with Clear The List or in the comments below!

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About Lindsay Williams

Why hello there!
I’m Lindsay and I do Languages. I blog, vlog and teach all things language. I blog about languages right here at Lindsay Does Languages, and about travel over at Mundo Trundle. If you’re looking for language learning inspiration then stay a while. You might find just what you’re looking for. :)

  • Oui In France

    Such an interesting post, Lindsay! I, too, think it’s majorly ballsy when someone says they are 100% fluent in a language. The people I feel are the most fluent are the modest ones who know there is always more to learn. Sharing. 😉 Happy Holidays to you!

  • Elfin Waters

    “Even a few words can make all the difference, and even then it’s not always about getting those few words absolutely perfect.”

    Lindsay, this is beautiful.

    It’s so interesting how you’re able to know a smattering of a language and get so much mileage out of it. I think that’s something we can all learn from. How to get more out of what we do have. Trouble is, most of us even if we have good levels are able to feel like we’re complete beginners.

    And thanks for sharing how difficult it was for you to keep up your language learning while traveling and how important it is to plan ahead! Was so curious to hear how that was going to go!

    Happy New Year to you and Ashley!

    • Thank you Elfin! I’m glad you can relate! I’ve found so many times that a simple thank you in a language can make a huge difference alone 🙂

  • This is such an incredible list of things to have taken away from 2017. Looking forward to what 2018 brings for you!

  • Nate

    I love how you pointed out that you love learning through music and your husband doesn’t enjoy it like you do. It’s a good reminder that a person can reach the end result through many different paths; the important part is that you have continual forward momentum.

  • Dorothée

    Like you, I realise how I need to put my language learning as a priority. In 2017, it has been put aside too much, I’ll do better this year!
    I have difficulties to deal with unexpected events and then to keep up with my routine… so I won’t contradict you on this point either!

    For 2018, I’ll try more focusing. First trimester will be Icelandic 🙂