Part IV of my abandoned book on learning languages. Struck by how much my writing has changed even in the two years since I wrote this.
Previous parts here, including context on where this came from and why it never went anywhere.
or, Creating Habits that Automate Your Growth
You've been through the exercises in Chapter Four, have explored the language and culture you're interested in, have found fabulous treasures and gems you are excited to explore more, and have committed to letting the language nurture a new you, in your adopted language. Congratulations! This is exciting progress. What you uncovered in your experiment will serve as the starting point for the habits you will begin to develop in this chapter.
Principle #2: Follow beauty, curiosity, adventure, whim. Do things in your language that are fun, that you enjoy, and that are meaningful and relevant to you.
The prime directive at the beginning is to focus on input that you enjoy, which you hopefully have a head start on from the previous chapter's exercises, though at this point the idea is to cut out translations, subtitles and the like. The faster you find and do things you enjoy, the faster you can start creating the positive feedback loop I described, where you're picking up the language without even thinking about it because you're having fun. You don't need to force yourself to do anything because the thing itself is intrinsically motivating. You enjoy doing it, and it just happens to be in your adopted language. The more you pick up the language and understand what's going on, the more excited you get about continuing to do things in your adopted language.
Speaking of subtitles, a quick note on them. I've heard some people advise, for example, watching a movie in a new language with English subtitles so you can still follow along. I think this is poor advice. If there are English subtitles, most likely you'll read them and not even pay attention to what's being said. You'll tune it out completely. It's a crutch that keeps your mind from needing to stretch itself, and keeps you in your comfort zone. If you're worried about not understanding anything, think of ways to circumvent comprehension. Watch your favorite movies dubbed in your adopted language, so you already know what's happening. Watch TV and movies meant for kids. Watch action movies where understanding the dialogue is less important than enjoying the eye candy. Even sitcoms, cheesy cop series, and the like do a good job at providing visual cues to what's going down on screen. Honestly, I've been surprised at how much I can pick up on from context when I'm first starting a new language. Think of it like an experiment or game. How much can you piece together about what's going on? Then again, there may be some types of media you want to hold off on. If I don't understand much of a language yet, I'll save the visual-cue heavy media for when I have time to actively watch it. For the dialogue and exposition heavy stuff, or audio files, I'll leave it playing in the background while I'm working or doing other things.
Oftentimes it's hard to find copies of series or movies online without the subtitles. In that case, I do what I can to ignore the subtitles. With a bit of effort and awareness it's possible. Though at one point when I was learning Spanish I even went so far as to cover up the part of my screen where the subtitles appeared!
Be ruthless in culling things that don't light a spark in you. Some time ago I thought it would be fun to get an education in French classic films, so I found a list of the top fifty French classics and found copies of as many of them as possible. Working my way through them, there were several I absolutely loved and even more that I still enjoyed quite a bit. But I couldn’t stand about half of the movies. I thought to myself that, having made the list, I had to finish it. My perfectionist, completionist side came out full force. I forced myself to watch the movies I hated. I began to lose my excitement for watching the movies in the first place, and found excuses not to watch them! Of course, I wouldn't let myself watch movies not on my list, either, because that would be cheating my list. But in being attached to the outcome of finishing this arbitrary list I was sacrificing the broader goal of developing my French through the Natural Method! Eventually I realized how silly I was being. If one of the classics didn't grab me in the first ten minutes or so, I didn't bother to finish it. Life's been much better since. Some good advice I got from my friend Jordan Luke Collier- don't let your need to achieve interfere with your ability to experience and enjoy. Don't do anything in your adopted language you don't enjoy, that isn't fun, or that you don't find meaningful or relevant. It'll kill your passion for the language and you probably won't learn very well anyway. Save the things you hate doing for your native language, and think of your adopted language as your sacred space, at least for now. "Do not tell lies, and do not do what you hate." Some of my favorite advice from Jesus Christ himself. Pretty much all we need to live a damn good life right there. We never arrive, and this is as good as it gets, right now. You either love the process, even if it's hard or frustrating at times, or you commit existential suicide. Suffering by doing what you hate is hatred of life itself. The end goal should never be to suffer, so don't make yourself suffer now. An example to clarify. Writing, for me at least, is not fun or easy. It is hard. Sitting down at my computer to write and putting the first words on the page is one of the hardest things I do each day. But I still love the process, the struggle, the sense of clarity it brings to me. Publishing this book will give me a high for probably about three days, then I'll be back to where I am now. This is as good as it gets.
Think back to the last question I asked in the previous chapter. If you were already fluent in your adopted language and living abroad, what would you be doing? Do those things now. The ends are the means! And do as much of them as possible. I'm not going to mislead you. It will probably feel weird at first, perhaps hard to enjoy, hard to get a sense of flow or immersion from it. You know the feeling where you become so engrossed in a movie or book or song that you forget yourself? I love that feeling. It will be hard to find in your new language, at first, because everything's so unknown and new. Give it time. It will come back, probably sooner than you think. I can think back to moments in each language I've learned where this first happened, when I was engrossed in a book or TV series (I find it happens more so in series than movies because of how much shorter a movie is than a whole season, and I tend to binge watch) and I suddenly came to and realized I'd forgotten that I was listening to a foreign language. It's a very, very cool feeling.
In case you're wondering, this rule excludes studying grammar, writing conjugation tables, memorizing contextually-orphaned vocabulary, or anything that you would be doing in a traditional language class. If on the rare chance you do genuinely enjoy doing these things, then you are probably a linguist or training to be a linguist. No one else has an excuse to do these horrid things after reading this book, not when you're first beginning at least. I'll cover in the next chapter some exceptions to this rule, but for now, take it for granted. After all, you didn't study grammar in your native tongue until you already spoke it pretty much fluently, albeit childishly (to be fair, you almost certainly were a child) and even then it likely didn't improve your writing or speaking. Input has to precede output, in whatever language. Garbage in, garbage out, as the old programming saying goes. To speak well, you've got to listen, a lot, to people who speak well, which is anyone in their native dialect. It never ceases to amaze me how people say they "don't speak the proper language, so you shouldn't learn from them". I have a friend from Toulouse who tells me this constantly, "don't learn from me, we don't speak real French in Toulouse!" The dialect of Toulouse has just as much claim to being French as the dialect of Paris.
The same goes for writing. To write well, you've got to read lots of good writers. In fact, this is pretty much the most common advice aspiring professional writers get, and probably the only advice that matters.
In summary, learning grammar in a language is meaningless unless you already have a functioning mental model of the language in your head. The only way to get this model is through repeated, long term exposure, hence the focus on fun and meaningful. Which brings me to an important corollary to this rule.
Corollary: Don't stress in the beginning about output (speaking and writing). Focus on input (listening, watching, reading).
The exception to the stricter zero-output-at-the-beginning corollary is if you're already in situations where you need to use your adopted language like if you're already abroad. In that case, have fun with it. Revel in being a beginner, and allow yourself to make mistakes. Explain your lack of experience to the people you meet and invite them along on your language journey as accomplices. Otherwise, trying to produce output before you feel ready for the challenge will likely just stress you out and create poor habits before you’ve begun absorbing the patterns of the language.
Principle #3: Let your language act upon you and change you. Surround yourself with it and habitualize it. Stack the deck by making it impossible not to be submersed in your language.
It occurs to me that this entire method is one big application of the old advice, fake it till you make it. I'm learning French right now. Essentially I'm faking being French until I actually become French, in a way. In my case reading, listening to public radio, journaling, watching movies or TV shows, listening to music, connecting with friends, listening to audiobooks and podcasts, surfing the web, and reading magazines are all things I would be doing anyway, in English. They are things I enjoy doing. But what would a monolingual French person who enjoyed these things do? They'd do them in French!
Use anything enough and the act of using it becomes second nature. It becomes a habit. To become a habit, you have to do the thing regularly. The more enjoyable the activity is, the more you'll do it and the faster you'll internalize the habit, hence the reason why rule #2 exists, and before this rule. This holds true for languages. If you put your native language habits on hold, and replace them with habits in your adopted language, then you are well on your way to fluency. At that point it is a question of time.
I'd also reckon that language fluency, whether native or not, is really just a fancy way of saying exactly that: that you've built habits in that language, and let those habits shape you for a certain amount of time. I'm fluent in English because, for the past 25 years, I have had English forced upon me. For 25 years, I've had to not only constantly listen to those around me jabber in English, I've also spoken it myself nearly every day. I'm constantly surrounded by the English written word as well. For the most part, I didn't have a choice in the matter. I didn't choose to be born in the United States. Though, for the record, I'm glad I was. As a mewling newborn, I had to learn English to interact with the world and communicate with those around me, so I was naturally curious about it.
My point is, that's the situation we want to be in as language learners. Think of developing language habits as a way of rewiring your brain to function in your adopted language. You're essentially saying to your brain, "You might as well start soaking this stuff in because it's not going anywhere." Except that as adults we get to choose, and as Steinbeck said, "think of the glory of a choice!"
When I talk about language habits, I'm referring to patterns of behavior that, when done in an your target language, help create an immersive language bubble around you, regardless of where you may be in the world. One that I'm trying to develop to help me learn French, for example, is to have a French radio station streaming while I'm at my computer working. That helps create a French bubble around me regardless of the fact that I'm currently in rural Oklahoma. I also try and watch any movies I want to see in French. If I regularly read certain magazines, I might switch my subscription to a French e-zine version instead. For a while I was subscribed to an Italian motorcycle magazine, for example. The idea is to do these (enjoyable) things regularly enough so as to create a situation similar to the one when you were a baby learning your mother tongue. Without you realizing it, your brain starts soaking everything in and, bit by bit, you start understanding. If it takes thousands of hours to reach fluency, then we can leverage our habits to maximize each day and reach that number fairly quickly. If you were really gung-ho and created habits that put you in contact with your target language for 16 hours a day, for example, over the course of a year that sums up to almost 6,000 hours of exposure. Not bad.
Remember the Aristotle quote, "We are what we repeatedly do"? Form patterns and habits in your adopted language as described above, and those patterns, like mountain springs, will run down to the deep lakes of your subconscious. Our actions, repeated ad infinitum, shape who we are and how we think in ways that we've always suspected, as Aristotle's quote shows, but are only just now beginning to understand.
Researcher are only just now beginning to understand how malleable the physiology of the brain is. There's a concept called neuroplasticity. Basically, researchers are finding that our brains physiologically change according to the input they receive. So "fake it until you make it" is neurologically sound advice- your brain picks up on your new repeated behaviors and rewires your brain so that your psyche mirrors your external behavior. Your brain is reshaping itself to bring your internal model of reality in line with the new stimuli it's receiving. Different stimuli prime our brain in different ways. An empty pantry or low quality, flimsy appliances might prime our brains for scarcity. Professional equipment primes us to be and act professionally in our work. This is why when you dress well, you perform better on tests. The point here is that we can use this to our advantage to achieve desired change.
Creating language habits or patterns then is a kind of neurological priming. In my case, my brain is receiving consistent French inputs over a long period of time, and based on what we know of neuroplasticity, my brain actually physiologically changes its structure in response. My brain is creating what I think of as a French identity, slowing building an internal (French) model of reality that can make sense of my new external (French) reality. To my old English-speaking self, this input is nonsense and gibberish. But my nascent French-speaking self is gradually unlocking the ability to make sense of it all. I'm not learning the language; I'm becoming the kind of person that can understand the language. Learning a new language is an act of personal re-creation. So again, the means are the ends, and the ends are the means. If you were already French, what would you choose to do?
It is worthwhile to spend a bit of time covering some of the mechanics of habit formation. If you can do something for thirty days in a row, it will be easy to continue doing it. Besides being enough time to etch a bit of a groove in your mind and make the beginnings of a habit, it's also more manageable than vague concepts like "forever", or "indefinitely". Think about doing something or giving something up forever and your stomach probably turns. Think about doing it for thirty days, and it seems doable.
It's also important to think not just about adding or removing habits, but about replacing. A new habit probably means you have to get rid of an old one to have the time. Getting rid of an old habit means you do something else instead, so you don't fall back into it. What mother language habits are you removing, and what other language habits are you replacing them with?
Something I haven't tried but might prove fruitful for you if you're having trouble giving up old language habits. In his slow-carb diet, Timothy Ferriss recommends dieters incorporate a cheat day, once a week. The idea is that everyone's going to cheat anyway, so why not minimize damage and psychological backlash by planning to cheat? That makes it easier to be strict the six other days. You might consider a mother language cheat day, once a week.
Think about little rituals you can build into your day as habits that routinely put you back into touch with your target language, like going to bed to soft music in your language, or listening to an audiobook as you drink your morning coffee.
Habitual behavior is important, but even more powerful can be set-and-forget automation. For example, a habit might be for me to boot up French public radio each time I sit down at my computer. Automation would be to set my browser home page as the streaming link for French public radio.
I'll give a more in-depth example of how I might go about this at the end of the chapter, but for now, here are types of media and habits you might consider implementing. Notice how for the most part they piggyback off of things I might already be doing anyway, which helps make them easier to remember and implement. The important thing is to really sit down and think through your day. Where can you add in more contact points? Even beyond habits, how can you set up your environment in such a way that even if you wanted to reach for a mother tongue media, all you'd find in its place was in your other tongue? This topic is the source of the next section.
Media and sample habits to correspond
The analogy I've heard before for habit setting, and that applies just as well to the specific case of language setting, is that of a chess board. New chess players try and go right for the throat, and check mate the enemy king as quickly as possible. Expert chess players instead take the long view. How can they arrange the board in such a way that the enemy king has nowhere to go, and a check mate unfolds naturally? For us as language learners, this means setting up the environments we spend the most time in such a way that we have no choice but to forgo our native tongue and adopt our new tongue. The same way a dieter might rid their house of tempting junk food, yes, that means temporarily removing easy access to your favorite native language content. So when you boot up your computer, you want it to be full of adopted language content. Your internet bookmarks and home page. RSS, Twitter, email, and podcast subscriptions. The books on your shelf, your kindle, your iPad, your nightstand. The music on your Spotify account. Getting the picture?
I'm going to focus on digital technology because it's so ubiquitous nowadays and really can be a huge boon to your efforts if you put the time in up front to do it right. Three devices form the cornerstones of my language learning. You may use other tools, and I encourage you to think about how you can use these to design for your desired outcome (easy, constant immersion) by making slight changes to your existing technology habits.
My smartphone. Can we all just take a minute to appreciate how incredible this tiny little supercomputer that fits in our hand or pocket is? With just this device, an unlimited data plan, and plenty of battery power, you can put into practice all of the language learning rules in this method. You can use it to create a kickass micro-immersion climate, consume fun content in your L2, and chat with friends from around the world to practice your language skills. You can do everything from listen to internet radio, read books and magazines, or do exercises in an app like Duolingo, all in your adopted language. Ditto for iPods and tablets.
I've played around with lots of different setups, and my big takeaway though was this: Find 2-3 apps that form the backbone of your immersion, and put them on your homescreen. Tie them to rituals throughout your day so you get in the habit of using them regularly. I'd recommend experimenting to find the apps, and media, you most enjoy. In my case, I've used two apps far more than any others: a French radio app with several talk show channels, and Duolingo (more on that in the next chapter).
Beyond that, I'll go even further and say to make sure your smartphone home screen is nearly all language related. This way, the cards are stacked in favor of language immersion and it will be as easy as possible to choose a language-related app instead of a non-language related one. Again, it's all about setting the chess board in your favor. I'll give a fuller list of the apps I would use, to give you some examples to start off with. All of them are free. More great news: at least for Romance languages (speaking from experience here) finding immersion materials is easy. The hard part I run in to is actually making a habit of consuming the immersion materials. It's a bit of a paradigm shift: I want to learn French, so I should do things in French. A French person would listen to French radio or watch movies in French for fun. Why wouldn't I?
First and foremost, you need to hide or eliminate the apps where you spend the most time and are most likely to use your native language. Either hide them deep in the menus or uninstall them entirely. For me, these were Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail. I left Gmail installed for work, but deleted the shortcuts and new email notifications. Twitter and Facebook got uninstalled. The reason is simple, you will spend more time on them than you will on the apps that will help your immersion. To learn a new language, we must first empty our mother language cup so that it may be filled with the fresh elixir of our other language.
Here are my thoughts on the apps I chose to replace them and that went on my homescreen.
b) My Kindle. This has been one of my best investments, period, particularly for language learning. I've filled my kindle with hundreds of books in five different languages. Target language ebooks can be easily found online. For the honest folks out there, an easy way to get foreign language ebooks from a foreign Amazon marketplace (like amazon.br, amazon.it, etc) is to switch your account briefly to that country. You keep all your digital content and account information, but you can shop from that website instead. This is important because, for example, you can't get Brazilian ebooks on the US Amazon market. So if you're learning Portuguese, you can switch your marketplace to Amazon.br, download all the ebooks you want, and switch back to the US marketplace. All your content transfers. On that note, I think that because of the way the EU works, if your marketplace is set to, say, amazon.es (Spain) you can still download Italian, Portuguese, etc. ebooks. I have included a tutorial in Appendix C.
Foreign language dictionaries built in to the Kindle allow you to tap an unknown foreign language word and have it defined for you, right there. Even cooler, the Kindle tracks the words you've looked up and creates a flashcard deck built into the device. On the front of the digital flashcard, it shows the sentence the word came in with the unknown word underlined. You're getting the word in it's context, which is huge. On the back, it defines the word. You can also highlight entire passages you like and transfer them easily to your computer. For readers, a Kindle really does change the way you approach learning to read in your adopted language. I highly recommend one.
c) My computer. I've loaded my computer and external hard drive with hundreds of gigabytes of TV shows, music, and movies in the languages I've learned or are learning. There are plenty of sites where you can stream media from the internet, which I occasionally do. I still prefer to have the hard copies, however, because it makes it much easier to open them up at my leisure and watch or listen to them. Learning to navigate around torrent sites is a must. They can be tricky because of the risk of getting a virus, so more on this in Appendix D if you're ready to try them out. Bookmarking or homepaging streaming media sites you really enjoy should definitely be one of the first things you do. As I mentioned before, I usually leave a TV show or movie playing in the background as much as possible. In fact, as I write this I'm listening to a French dubbed episode of How I Met Your Mother (Season 8, Episode 2 in case you're wondering). It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that I learned Italian by watching How I Met Your Mother dubbed in Italian hundreds of times over the past couple of years. And yes, I really like the show.
Some final thoughts on technology. Keep a pair of headphones on you whenever you go out so you can maintain your immersion. I'll go into more detail on balancing your social life with your immersion in the next chapter, by the way. If you drive, keep an auxiliary cable in your car to hook your media up to your car's speakers. Finally, finding websites with good, reliable content can be something of a chore. I encourage you to start your own list, as it will be different for each language. However, I've included some of the resources I've found in Appendix E.
What do you enjoy doing in your mother tongue that you could do in your other tongue?
Why are you learning your adopted language? What do you want to do in your target language that you could start doing now? I'm repeating this question because it is probably the most important one to answer!
What can you still enjoy with low fluency?
How can you constantly surround yourself with your L2?
What kinds of media do you consume on a regular basis? Can you find media in your adopted language to replace each of those? Can you experiment with new media? Refer back to my list earlier in this section for ideas.
How can you automate bringing new media into your life as much as possible?
What daily or weekly rituals can you incorporate into your life to reinforce your immersion on a regular basis? For example, I would often do a weekly audit of my immersion to see what was working well and what needed to be improved.
What tech do you use every day? How can you "set up the chessboard" to create your adopted language microcosm?
What apps on your devices should you uninstall? What apps can you experiment with?
Find a streaming media website, and make that your homepage such that it begins playing as soon as you start your browser. I recommend something like public radio that is not too distracting while you work, but it depends on what you like.
Plan out the next week. Each day, focus on ONE aspect of your environment to "arrange". For example, your computer, your smartphone, your bedroom (when I lived in Spain I taped Spanish newspapers all over the wall, something I first saw my sister doing with Japanese), etc.
A Recap of My Current Language Project
"I began learning French several months ago, on December 6th ...
In fact, as I speak I'm listening to an internet radio station. I don't understand it, much as a 6-month old baby wouldn't understand much. But that doesn't matter- give it time. Over the course of the months, and perhaps years, I'll start understanding more and more."
I would have written that in early 2015. I am writing this on December 6th of 2016, exactly two years after I first began learning French. I can say that indeed, I've been able to understand that internet radio station for a while now. In general, if I'm actively listening I can readily understand everything I hear in French, unless it's heavily ridden with slang, idioms, or jargon, because those are the parts of French speech I haven't much been exposed to yet. I can converse. My accent and pronunciation still have a long way to go. One French friend told me a few days ago, "sometimes you can really massacre the French language." Which is part of the process. I struggle with abstract concepts but can get my point across. Today I wanted to say "back to back" in French but couldn't think of how to say it so I said it in English. To be forthright I have applied my own method rather spottily, often going extended periods of time without any French.
Looking back, I started reading early with Le Petit Prince as well as the Harry Potter series in French (both of those are a go-to for me in a new language), followed by the Count of Monte Cristo, the unabridged version. I'm a natural reader, but eventually I stopped making time for reading French books. I wouldn't say I've read substantially yet in French.
I watched a lot of How I Met Your Mother dubbed in French, often leaving it playing in the background. The other series I watched seriously in French was Mad Men. I've also seen quite a few movies in French, dubbed and particularly natively-made French movies (some recommendations: Le Samourai, La Salaire de la Peur, Pierrot Le Fou, Amelie). I also often listen to French public radio, on a not quite daily basis. I did the Duolingo exercises for French over the course of a year or so until I finished them, too. I've played several videogames in French, like the Mass Effect series, Total War, and Skyrim. Finally, I spoke a bit of French with some friends while I lived in Bangladesh towards the end of 2015 (probably a half a dozen small conversations in total), and I've started videochatting with a French friend once or twice a week for the past two months. Less than twenty hours of actual speaking, certainly, which surprises me that it's so little.
There you have it. That's it. Even half-assing the method, I've still made substantial progress- understanding near everything, speaking decently. I'm not sure what to compare it to, except my experience learning my other languages. But, I do have a theory about why I didn't progress as far or as fast as I did with, say, Spanish, where I reached native level fluency in less than two and a half years, almost the same amount of time I've been at French. I'll cover that in more detail in Chapter 7, but essentially, I didn't have the same motivation and discipline in creating foundational habits. All in all, I'm pretty content with my progress. I've never taken a French class, and the closest thing to "work" I've done in the language was to slowly work my way through French on the language learning app Duolingo. Which is funny because about the only thing I'd regret investing time in if I never used French again would be the Duolingo exercises.
Sharpening Your Sword
From Chapter Six, you should have an idea of how to build on the exploration you did in Chapter Five and begin arranging your environment to build sustainable, enjoyable habits that will begin shaping you as a nascent, adopted speaker of your new language. Ideally, you've even begun taking action to start the process. In this chapter, we'll cover your next steps after you've begun forming your foundational habits.
Principle #4: Push your boundaries sustainably. Do small pieces of focused activity in your language each day. When you feel ready, challenge yourself to use the language in contextually meaningful or real world situations.
I want to highlight here the need to push your boundaries, sustainably and in accordance with previous principles. After all, the reason you're not yet fluent in your adopted language is that it's completely outside your comfort zone at this point! The immersion environment is the first step in pushing your boundaries, and the constant contact it provides with your language will give you the sheer ass-in-seat time you need over the course of many months. But just like expressing yourself in your native language in particular contexts can be frightening to even think of, for example, public speaking or taking charge in a large group, so are most of the real-world situations in which you’ll be using your new language. Building the habit now of pushing the envelope will make calling upon the language in new and unfamiliar circumstances all the easier in the future. Plus, many parts of the path still remain unknown, and consciously exploring them in a playful way can accelerate your progress and compliment the general immersion environment you’re creating. Reading and writing in particular need this kind of focused attention, mostly at the beginning, until you’ve created critical mass in the skill. I say to do small pieces of this focused work each day to avoid burning out! It's much better in any field to do an hour of practice for seven days in a row rather than seven hours of practice in one day.
This warrants a quick aside about concepts like work, practice, and study, especially since I made such a big fuss about focusing on things you enjoy and denigrating traditional methods of language study. Our culture tends create a false dichotomy between work and play. We work so that we have time and money to play. Ultimately this justifies doing things we hate in order to be able to zone out and go wild during our recreational time. Though often what this means is we're so drained after work (study, practice, whatever) that we wind up vegging out on the couch watching Netflix incessantly. We're trained to compartmentalize our lives in this way, and I am convinced this is both unnatural and healthy. Remember what I keep saying saying: the means are the end. The way we work has to be an extension of how we play, and vice versa. In applying this principle, don't undo the others! Focus on doing work on your language that you enjoy, and as soon as it becomes drudgery, stop doing it! I already talked about this in relation to something like writing this book. It is work. It is hard. But I enjoy the process and I can play with it. Fun, enjoyment, meaning do not come from the absence of struggle, they come from the presence of the right kind of struggle. Without struggle, we grow bored and listless. There is a reason why after a week-long vacation we're itching to get back to work! Don't avoid struggle, conflict, and tension in your life. These things give it meaning, richness, texture, depth. Do practice choosing it consciously. And it is a practice, because we must unremember so much of what we've been taught thus far: follow orders and do what I say because you don't know who you are or what you need. Seek certainty and security and answers, not ambiguity and adventure and mystery and questions. Don't make mistakes because mistakes are bad and your value as a human being depends on not making mistakes.
Well, you will make mistakes. But make the right kinds of mistakes, the kind you can laugh at and learn from and build on. In fact, mistakes are crucial to calibrating your own internal sense of who you are and what you need to do. Identity is a result of action, reflection, and recalibration. It is not an abstract theory we reason out.
If you follow the plan I've outlined in this book, at this point you'll already have a head start on this principle. Setting aside thirty minutes a day to investigate your language and taking a week to arrange your environment have already started building your habit of taking daily action in your language beyond what is automated by your environment and your habits. In fact, that's a good way to look at this principle: another foundational habit that will propel you towards your goal of fluency in a different but synergistic way to the other habits. However, it will never replace the more basic habit of simply being exposed to your language being used, over and over again. Doing something focused and active in your language each day does several things for your progress. It satisfies our intellectual mind by giving a sense of small wins over the course of each day or week. Coupled with doing things you enjoy or find fulfilling, this will help keep you patient and motivated over the long term. Beyond a sense of progress, the focused study will also catalyze your progress because it will be based on problems you have in trying to understand and use your language. You will have the practice before you have the theory, so the theory will have true meaning and help you put the pieces in your head in place, rather than being dead, sterile dross. Finally, it also maintains your awareness of your goals, efforts, and progress. It's easy to get lost in the daily routine of life and lose context for why our daily rituals and activities are important. Taking time to actively do things in your language rather than always passively consume can provide something of an antidote to this. This can be as simple as actively listening to a radio broadcast and trying to summarize it in a couple sentences to make sure you understood it.
The easy trap to fall into is to constantly search for new pieces to add to your immersion environment. In fact, I'd say from experience this can easily become an enervating compulsion. It is quite draining to spend excessive amounts of time and effort scouring the internet for novelties and baubles. Which is good, because there are plenty of other things to focus on.
Focused study in your language
Let me be clear about this: you do NOT need to study how your language works to become fluent, just as you didn't to learn your native tongue. However, done properly and in accordance with first principles, doing so consciously can certainly help. This can be done in a structured way, such as with a software program like Duolingo, or it can be done more informally where you simply look up a rule or pattern that has been causing you a lot of grief. In between are systems you build yourself, with some degree of self-imposed structure. A common device you'll find among others who use this kind of method are digital flashcard programs, often fancily called Spaced Repetition Systems (SRS).
We've already covered my thoughts on most traditional language learning courses and tools. However, I've still used Duolingo, completing all their exercises for three languages: French, Italian, and Portuguese. Overall, I must applaud them for making a free program to help people and making it quite professional and engaging. Still, I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it's easy to digest because of its small, short exercises that take only five to ten minutes apiece. I would set a goal to do a certain number a day and do them on my phone in between bigger tasks. It supplemented my passive input and it gave me a sense of progress and completion, especially important in the beginning phases of learning a language. The exercises themselves I don't find to be that fun or engaging, but Duolingo is addictive because of its gamification system, as you level up and earn badges and such.
On the other hand, the exercises themselves are boring. They are random phrases thrown together to illustrate a grammatical concept, and as such are far removed from my experience of life and what I'm interested in. They're not meaningful to me. This, of course, is the same issue we see with any mass-produced course or product. Looking back, I'm also not sure the exercises themselves really helped me. I can't think of a single instance where I said something and thought to myself, "Damn am I glad that we covered this in Duolingo!" Again, I think the chief benefit was in keeping a portion of my conscious energy each day directed at my language, so that I was constantly refreshing my attention to my goal and my awareness of it. But as always, trust your own experience. You won't learn a language just by using something like Duolingo, but using it probably won't hurt.
If there's a context when looking up and reflecting on the descriptive rules of a language is good, it is when it is personally relevant to you. This is a very different approach than what you might see in a class or even if you were trying to work your way through a self-study product. You're presented with a pre-designed curriculum which is completely disconnected from what is actually going on in your life or how you have been or plan on using the language. Probably this product's idea of language exposure is having you listen to trite, watered down "Lessons" where two people converse in such a stilted way that they sound like morons, and about topics that no one I'd want to be friends with could ever be or get interested about. These lessons are designed to illustrate several artificial points or aspects of the language, and that probably don't sink in as lessons for you because they are completely theoretical to you at this point. You've never actually stumbled over them in real life, so try as hard as you might, your mind wanders. But intellectually, you get the pattern the product recommends, so like a silly child's game, you "fill in the blank" and get an A. You shrug and daydream about the pretty brunette sitting in second row.
Now imagine this situation, which has happened to me on innumerable instances. You're watching a movie you're really enjoying, and there's a word or phrase they keep using that seems key but you just can't understand. You can see how a key part of understanding the plot hinges on getting this concept. Or you're talking to a friend and trying to explain something you care about, but you keep faltering on one type of sentence construction. You explain around it, but damn, would knowing that one thing have made that conversation ten times easier! Unable to stand it any longer, you go online and look it up. You have a Eureka moment and feel like running through the streets naked. It makes sense now! And you never forget it. Maybe your friend corrects you a couple times when you try out your new turn of speech before it's completely calibrated. But similar conversations go much more smoothly in the future.
Yes, I've hammed up these two scenarios to illustrate a point. A very real point: when we're presented with something we "should" learn next, no real learnings occur. We might intellectually understand something, of course, but real knowledge is embodied. Real knowledge arises from a burning need or desire in us to solve a real problem in our ability to interact with what was or is meaningful and alive for us. In the context of language learning, when a tricky pattern or turn of speech stirs up such a curiosity, annoyance, or frustration that we have to look it up, for our own piece of mind, then we are almost certain to internalize it.
Designing your own self-study regimen
Indulging in spontaneous informal research based on a real need in your language learning journey is useful and motivating, and you should by all means do it. You should also seriously consider designing your own study method at some point to supplement and expand your spontaneous efforts. Think of it like prospecting for gold. You find a nugget in that there bend of the river, so you dig a bit and find more. Maybe that's all you find, so you move on. But maybe you can tell there's more gold, a lot more, under the ground. So you come back and set up an ugly open pit mine and dig out all the gold and in the process turn the area into a future EPA Superfund site whose land is so degraded it's been deemed "irrecoverable".
Joking aside, think about a self-study regimen as a way to deepen your understanding of the mechanics you uncover in your spontaneous research. Or you can ignore any particular mechanics and simply focus on topics and themes you enjoy, like motorcycles or cooking recipes. In this case it can simply be a way to bring laser-focused attention to a portion of content, and let your mind soak up what it needs to.
This can be as structured or unstructured as you want it to be. Some possibilities all across the spectrum might include:
-You spend twenty minutes a day perusing the website or YouTube channel of a hobby you enjoy. If there's a word you don't understand, you look it up on your phone and make sure to write it down in a notebook you keep with you.
-You practice writing characters or your language’s alphabet for fifteen minutes a day.
-You take an afternoon to look up the translations for all the objects in your room. You write them on notecards that you tape to the object. My sister used to do this when she was learning Japanese!
-You spend thirty minutes a day reading a book you enjoy. If you come across something you don't understand, you look it up and write the meaning in the margin. If there's a passage you really enjoy, you copy it into a notebook you keep with you. Note- I personally don't recommend ALWAYS doing this- looking up everything you don't understand when you're reading. It makes it impossible to enjoy the book! I'll go into more detail on reading later in this chapter, but what I instead do most of the time is just skip things I don't get or rely on context cues, which is how most of us read in our native languages anyway. I can however see the value in periodically setting aside time where you consciously try to understand everything. Just don't do too much of it, otherwise you'll find yourself hating it. Be in it for the long haul.
-You read ebooks on your Kindle and look up words you don't understand using the Kindle's built in dictionary feature. Every Sunday, you sit down in the afternoon and review these words using the Kindle's automated flashcard feature.
-You listen to a short radio broadcast. At the end of it, you attempt to distill your understanding of what was said into a few sentences. You start doing this in English, but as your familiarity with the language grows, it starts feeling natural to mix in some of your language as you pick it up. In six months, you're distilling the broadcasts completely in your language- perhaps crudely, but you're excited about the progress.
-You play a clip from one of your favorite movies, with that action hero you really like and secretly wish you were. You slow down the dialogue and try to mimic it as best you can. Eventually you try recording your voice and playing it back to yourself to fine tune your pronunciation and accent even more.
I encourage you to think of what you're already doing in your immersion and how you can regularly incorporate small chunks of active study.
Spaced Repetition Systems (SRSs)
I mentioned SRSs before. If you look around at people who write about similar methods online, SRSs are often mentioned. I bring them up here because they can be a useful part of your independent study. I used them briefly for Spanish and Italian but to be honest I've been too lazy to really get into it. So you can certainly learn your language without them, but then again, you might find them incredibly useful and handy. I wrote about the strengths of weaknesses of Duolingo from my perspective. The big problem I had with it was that simply put I didn't care about what the exercises were about. Well, you might think of an SRS as a way to design your own Duolingo-type exercises, except you fill it with exercises you do actually enjoy.
Essentially, SRS is a fancy term for a digital flashcard deck, though to be fair, they are a bit fancy. Unlike a regular flashcard deck, SRSs automatically adjust the length of time before you see a card again. If you miss it, you will see it again almost immediately. If you get it right, it'll be a while before you see it again. The more you get it right in a row, the longer it goes away. This is psychologically sound, because the better you know something, the less you need to be exposed to it. But it still needs to be periodically activated. So even if you have something down pat, the card will still come back in six months, say. What's nice is that it's completely automated. And you can add text, pictures, and even sound to the cards.
If you're interested in using an SRS, I've learned most of what I know from Ajatt.com (All Japanese All the Time). I'll link to a couple of his articles in Appendix A, because he provides a very in depth guide and has developed quite a neat method and library of material on using these.
Khatzumoto on ajatt.com outlines two ways to make a flashcard. One is the "vanilla" method, where you copy a sentence that is difficult for you onto the front of the card. On the back are definitions of the terms or constructions you're struggling with. These definitions might start out bilingual, with the goal to switch to monolingual in your language as soon as possible.
The other way is what Khatzumoto calls "MCD". MCDs focus on one word to learn at a time. You put a sentence on the front, and simply put a blank in where the word is that you're trying to learn. So the idea is that you really have to use the context of the sentence or passage to understand the word before you can fill in the blank, which is great for training because that's how we all learn new vocabulary naturally in our native languages. On the back, you put the one word (or character) that was cut and, if necessary, a definition of it.
As always, this is no excuse to force yourself to do something you find boring. The content of the sentences or passages you're studying has to be something you enjoy and find engaging. Khatzumoto recommends constantly grooming your deck of flashcards to delete those that no longer interest you.
Personally, I've used the SRS called Anki, which includes an android app called AnkiDroid that can sync with your desktop version. I've also heard that Duolingo is coming out with their own SRS.
Naturally Occurring Output
At a certain point, perhaps several months in to your immersion, perhaps sooner, some kind of output is going to naturally come out. Don't feel the need to force it. We're used to traditional language methods in which we begin talking from day one, before we even have a sense of what the language sounds like. After being surrounded by your language for hundreds or thousands of hours, day in and day out, you're going to start trying it out naturally. By then, you'll have an idea of what it should sound like. In each language I’ve read, after listening to or reading my language, it sticks in my head. I’ll repeat, aloud or to myself, phrases that I heard, or even put together nonsense sentences. I’ll start having a nonsense conversation with myself, or thinking in that language, even for five minutes at a time. This is a very fun, interesting stage to be at, and if you’re there, I congratulate you! Take this as validation that something is going on underneath the surface thanks to your dedication in applying the principles of the Natural Method. At this stage I particularly love playing videogames. I've already described why: they're fun, engrossing, and require me to actively listen to understand what's going on before I can react accordingly. I'm interacting in the language, albeit in a virtual reality.
As your comprehension improves and you have a feel for speaking on your own, it’s natural to explore ways of practicing and using the language you're learning with others. On the one hand, some of what we talked about in the previous section on mechanics veered somewhat into the idea of creating output, as well. I also mentioned how as a form of focused practice you might consider actively listening to audio you enjoy and trying to consciously mimic what they say and how they say it, perhaps going so far as recording yourself to compare. Yes, you hate your voice. Everyone hates their voice. It's not because it sounds bad, it's just because it sounds different to the way it does in your own head. Unless you're already, for example, living abroad, I'd say focus on these forms of practice first.
There are a few different schools of thought out there. At one extreme, for example, the philosophy is to put off speaking as long as possible to avoid locking in bad pronunciation and grammar. When you speak, write, or think it should be because you've heard or read a native speaker say something similar or in a similar way. So the emphasis is on lots of immersion to slowly download the native speech patterns and pronunciation. On the other end of the spectrum the philosophy is to speak from day one, embracing and having fun with your mistakes, and course correcting your speech over the course of the process. You will suck much more at the beginning but you get less hung up on being perfect and in many ways you can progress much more rapidly in terms of tangible, concrete results: real interactions with real people. I'm somewhere in the middle of these two. I like having a somewhat solid foundation so I know what the language sounds like and I can speak somewhat extemporaneously without needing a script, but I don't consciously put off seeking interactions with people. When I get curious about it and it feels like the right time I'll do it. I'll make fun of my own mistakes and practice "speaking around" something I don't know how to say. So that is what I can recommend to you. Focus on getting a solid foundation first, and as you feel more comfortable practicing speaking on your own, get your toes wet by arranging a conversation or two in your language, as I describe below. Reflect on the experience and see where you need to go from there.
Also know that, as long as your base is covered with the previous principles and you’re regularly doing things you love in your language, putting off speaking will not hurt you in the long run. For example, after three years of on-and-off immersion in Italian, it only took about two months of Skype sessions once a week with an Italian friend to “activate” the language and allow me to converse fluently.
Pronunciation, Accent, and Rhythm
First off, there's a lot of confusion from what I've seen about the differences between the two. The two are indeed different, though related. First, everyone has an accent, even in their native language. Sometimes something of a Southern accent comes out when I speak. Who gets to decide what accents are acceptable and which ones aren't? So don't let anyone trash talk your accent. Accents are typically much harder to correct than pronunciation, but also in my opinion not that big of a deal. If pronunciation is good, then you will be perfectly understandable in whatever accent you happen to have. In fact, focusing on proper pronunciation will probably improve your accent. I think the biggest reason why we think of accents as being unintelligible is that accents are really only strong and noticeable when the accompanying pronunciation is bad. So take heart and focus on proper pronunciation in your focused study, and don't sweat the accent. That can come later, if it's really still important to you. Working with a native speaker who can correct you is a good way to practice this, which I'll cover later. To a large extent simply listening to the language for months before you even try to mimic the language will help immensely, because you'll know intuitively what it should sound like in your head from repeated exposure. And trust me, if your immersion microcosm is set up and you're hearing a language for eight to sixteen (or twenty four) hours a day for months on end, you will eventually start to spontaneously mimic the pattern. I know I've been listening to French for a while when for several hours after the exposure I'm still thinking, muttering, or singing nonsensically in French to myself.
Another aspect of how a language is spoken that isn't talked about much is the rhythm, cantor, gait, call it what you want. Is the language growled out of the throat? Sung out from the tongue? How do native speakers inflect their phrases? How does the pitch rise or fall? What do they say instead of the American "umm" when they can't think of what to say? What do they use as filler words? What kind of accompanying body language do they use? Study videos you enjoy of native speakers in your language, and make a list of all of these different kinds of fluency markers that you spot. These small tweaks will make the difference between native speakers seeing you, too, as a speaker of their language, or at least good enough, versus someone they need to discount or speak to in their (probably not so great) English.
Utilizing friends and friends of friends to start conversing. You feel ready to start conversing in your language- fantastic! This is a huge milestone, regardless of how well the conversation goes. How many people you know would even be willing to take the initiative to try out using a new language in a real conversation? That is already worthy of respect. I typically start with friends or friends of friends if I can, since it’s a low-risk context. For example, right now I skype about once a week with a French girl I met while traveling with friends in Lithuania. In this case, practicing my French is a happy coincidence of keeping in touch with her. On the other hand, when I was learning Portuguese, I didn't have anyone I felt comfortable shooting the breeze with. Instead, I reached out to a couple Brazilian acquaintances from my time in Spain, and asked if they'd be willing to Skype with me specifically so I could practice my Portuguese. Use your best judgement in how you frame it, but when you broach the subject I recommend keeping your "ask" as specific as possible, short to begin with (say thirty minutes), and pitch it as a one-off thing. That makes it more likely that they will want to try it out. If it goes well, you can discuss trying it again. If they're trying to learn English, you might offer to help them with it in exchange.
If you don't know anyone who is a native speaker of your language, think about who you might know who can introduce you to someone. When I was learning Italian, I asked a friend to introduce me to an Italian friend they had mentioned. We never Skyped, but I would chat with him semi-regularly over Facebook. I think I broached the subject of a videochat but his computer wouldn't let him. Be persistent in keeping your eyes open for new people to connect with. In my experience people have, for the most part, been awesome about wanting to help me learn their native language, but it might take a bit of effort to get connected to them in the first place.
Universities can be a great resource for this if you attend one or live near one that has study abroad programs and lots of foreign students. And I was surprised at how many foreign students attended even a university like the University of Oklahoma! You can check out language clubs (though the members will probably mostly be other learners like yourself) and foreign student associations. You may even look into what kind of classes are offered in your language. Sacrilege, you say? Bear with me. Not courses about your language- like introductory Spanish I- but courses conducted in your language about something completely different! For example, when I worked at the University of Oklahoma after I graduated, I audited an Italian Medieval Literature course. It was about something I love, literature and poetry and the like, and it just so happened that I was learning about and discussing this in Italian. Even better, I was becoming "culturally fluent" by learning about Italian literature than any Italian would have studied in school. I absolutely loved the class, learned a ton, and had a blast.
Websites like Italki and LiveMocha
Thankfully, resources exist online even if none of what I described above works out. On these websites, once you make an account, you essentially "trade" lessons with speakers in your language. Spending a session speaking English with someone gives me a "credit" I can use to have a conversation in my language with a native speaker. For a full list of resources like this check out Appendix A.
How to go about your conversations
Before you dive in to happily chatting away, it's important to think about what you want out of the conversation, what kind of feedback you want, and how you want to receive it. The idea is to be able to communicate it to the person you're talking to. Frame the conversation, and don't hesitate to give feedback on their feedback as the conversation progresses. For example, in Lisbon I once told an Italian girl I knew to correct my Italian. But she corrected so many things, and so constantly, that by the time I made it to the end of a sentence I’d forgotten why I’d said it in the first place. Eventually I just shut up and stopped talking to her. Looking back, I should have told her to tone it down a bit. Feedback is great, but too much of it, especially too early on, can be killer.
Despite what we're taught in school, it's not cheating to have to look something up! When I'm Skyping I'll often have Google Translate open on my phone or on another screen. If there are words, phrases, and constructions you use a lot but find yourself stumbling over, especially in the beginning, put it on a cheat sheet or in a notebook that you keep with you. You'll find various forms of this advice out there, which I'd encourage you to check out. For example, Benny Lewis of Fluentinthreemonths.com recommends planning your first conversation and writing your lines on your cheat sheet, like a script. Tim Ferriss has what he calls the Deconstruction Dozen, a dozen phrases that allow you to get a head start on understanding how to apply the language. They're simple sentences like The apple is red, but the idea is that if you know how to say that you can say The _____ is ______ about anything in that language. With a surprisingly small set of sentences, you can plug in basically any new vocabulary you learn to get your point across- crudely, perhaps, but you can always course correct later. Ferriss writes that he got the idea from hearing about a priest in the Vatican hundreds of years ago. This priest would hear the confessions of people from all over Europe speaking dozens of languages. Each time he met someone new he would ask them to recite the Lord's Prayer in their language. He would use this as a cipher for practicing the language. By the end of his life he spoke something like forty languages!
Some things do consider:
-Do you want feedback at all at this point? If it's very early on, you may just want to gain confidence while speaking the language.
-Do you want to force yourself to speak only your new language? Or is dipping in and out of English okay for now?
-What kind of a cheat sheet can you prepare?
-Do you prefer for them to stop you when you make a mistake? Or wait until you finish a sentence or thought? Perhaps wait until you ask for clarification? Or should they wait until the end of the conversation and focus only on the big things?
-What in particular do you want them to focus on? Your pronunciation, your conjugation, your sentence structure? The more they can focus on one thing, the more specific and better feedback you’ll get, and it will keep you from being inundated and overwhelmed with feedback the way I was with my Italian friend in Lisbon!
In general, these conversations require that you either be a decent conversationalist or work on becoming one. Since you're the one initiating them, the onus is on you to lead and keep things moving and interesting. When in doubt, ask them questions, tell them what you want in that moment, or make an observation about them.
The ideal conversation partner is someone you would spend time with anyway even if you weren't learning their language because you like them as a person. They don't mind talking to you in their native language as though you were a toddler, and they try patiently to understand what you're saying. If they don't understand, they'll ask. They don't constantly stop the conversation to correct every single mistake, but instead periodically repeat back something you butchered so that you can hear how it should be. They answer your questions thoughtfully and patiently, even if they're stupid questions. If you find someone like this, don't let them get away! Even better is if you are geographically close to them, and can arrange to spend the day with them. Ask them to simply narrate the things they're doing to start with, even if you don't fully understand. You probably couldn't simply do this with everyone, and the time is now to nurture the relationships that will, like your immersion environment, accelerate your language learning progress.
Reading, writing, and vocabulary
The only sustainable way to build vocabulary is by reading, as I mentioned previously, and the only way you'll read a lot is if you're reading things you enjoy. Of course, it isn't fun to read something we barely understand. So we want something just a bit outside of our comfort zone. I usually start by reading The Little Prince translated into the language I'm learning, as it's a "children's book" that's really not for kids. Then I go on to the Harry Potter books. The advantage here is that these are books with simple-ish language (they're certainly not scientific treaties, for example) and that I've already read in English, so I know what's going on. If the language is especially difficult to begin reading because you need to learn a new alphabet or character systems, adjust accordingly. You could start with comic books, for example. When possible, find subtitles in your language to accompany the voices. So if you’re watching a French classic film, try and find French language subtitles for it. This will help you match up the sounds with the words and what they mean.
In looking at investigations into the way children learn to read and write naturally (i.e. before they begin attending school), it's interesting that in many cases they try to write before they even begin trying to understand what the words mean. They'll just string together words, phrases, and letters. They play around with them. Eventually they become interested in what they actually mean, asking their parents for the meaning, sounding them out, associating sounds with letters. During my brief stint trying to learn Russian, I took a proverbial axe to it and simply memorized the alphabet and its sounds over the course of a week so that I could sound out any word reasonably without even knowing what it meant. Though ebooks are super convenient and I love reading on my Kindle, I went ahead and ordered a physical copy of The Little Prince translated into Russian, just to be able to flip through it and "play" with the ciphered pages within.
Starting from scratch with reading a language, particularly one that seems alien because it uses a different alphabet or a character system, is particularly demoralizing. We forget that reading is such an incredibly complex, mysterious, and frankly difficult thing to learn, and we take reading in our native language completely for granted. Human beings have been recording their thoughts in the written word only for the past ten thousand years or so, a drop of time when you consider how long spoken language has existed. Reading is not a natural thing for us to do. It's a testament to the human capacity for pattern recognition that pretty much anyone with the motivation can learn to read.
All this is to say that learning to read and write from scratch in your language requires a bit of a zen mindset, even more so than learning to listen and speak. Obviously you want to be able to do it, and you're committing to getting there, but you can’t be committed to doing it right away or in a certain way. Instead you must simply play with the process, even when it requires concentrated study. If you were a kid learning this language, would you force yourself to read something you didn’t understand or hated? Probably not. You’d ditch it for something more fun and engaging. Because reading is always an active process, unlike watching a TV show or radio broadcast, it's even more crucial that you cull boring reading immediately, lest you turn yourself off from reading in your language irrevocably.
If you were hoping for a step by step guide on how to learn to read any language, I'm sorry, I can't provide that. Ultimately all the languages I've learned have been Romance languages, which besides being relatively close to one another, also use the same alphabet as English. But to a certain extent, all the tactical advice I can give would also just distract from the rather intimidating truth of simply needing to get used to the feeling of being a complete novice at learning to read again, getting in touch with our curiosity about what in the world those strange squiggles could be saying, and piecing it together with the help of a dictionary or app. Probably the closest thing to a how-to will be learning how to use SRSs, as your flashcards will probably be primarily text based. I encourage you to experiment with making your own deck as a well to accelerate your progress in reading and writing. I understand that many people have especially used them with success to learn the several thousands of characters in languages like Chinese or Japanese.
Having a life while learning your new language. A quick note on a common concern before I close this chapter out. While you're immersing yourself in your language and nurturing the part of you that will live it, what do you do about your old English-speaking life? Specifically, your English-speaking friendships. How do you watch a movie with friends if it's in English and you're applying this method? How do you spend time with friends if it takes you out of your immersion?
The answer is: it comes down to creatively finding ways around it, and deciding in advance how much you're willing to sacrifice.
First, if you're creative and dedicated, you can find creative ways to keep the immersion going. For movie night, propose a foreign film with English subtitles. Or half watch while you read a translated book on your phone. Hang out with your friends, but keep one earbud in, with music playing in your language. Tell your friends about your goal and enlist their help in keeping you immersed. At the very least, they'll know not to get offended if you stop spending as much time with them or if you always have your headphones on. If they're not willing to support you in this, you should ask yourself: in what other ways are they holding you back?
Just like you might decide to skip going out with friends every night and staying out late in order to be able to get up earlier to work on your career, you have to ask yourself what you have to give up or cut back on in order to move in a new direction. By no means should you let the important people in your life feel forgotten. Keep in touch, and be creative about how you spend time with them. If you take my idea of a "language cheat day" from Chapter Six, that also gives you a whole day to go wild in your native language. But there may also be people in your life that you find yourself spending time with in low-quality social encounters that you really wouldn't mind not seeing more of. Whatever you do, be conscious about it, and remember Orwell's admonition to abandon any rule sooner than do something outright barbaric.
...sees much and knows much