Keeping track of #02: Language learning

How and why I track my language learning efforts

Last Friday, I explained how I track my sleep using a Fitbit Flex wristband and why I think this can be useful. Today, I will explain how I monitor my language learning efforts and what I hope to accomplish this way.

The languages

I decided to only monitor the time dedicated to the languages I need to practice, i.e. those I am trying to learn, relearn, or improve. It would make no sense for me to monitor my practice of French, my mother tongue, or English, which I almost consider a second mother tongue. Instead, I currently keep track of my efforts in German, Spanish, the American Sign Language (ASL), and Japanese. When I decide to relearn Italian, Russian, or to start a new language, I will so the same for it.


I started learning German in school when I was 12 or so, mostly to please my mother. The early years were useless as our teacher spent more time disciplining some of my classmates than actually teaching us the language. After that, I had two teachers who couldn’t understand why I hadn’t learnt the basics and seemed to believe I was a lost cause. The last teacher I had in high school was very nice and I managed to get a 75% on my final exam, which made me really happy. Unfortunately, after that, I decided that I never wanted anything to do with German and didn’t make any efforts to maintain him.

It took me six years to change my mind, and unfortunately, by that time, I had forgotten most of what I had learnt in high school. For two years, as part of a Master’s degree in foreign languages, I took a German civilisation course aimed at independent users (B2) and had to work like crazy. A few years before, I would have given up within two weeks, but I was too motivated for that. Instead, not only did I catch up with the other students, I got the best mark on ever single exam.

The progress I made in reading and writing was astonishing, but in the end, I still couldn’t hold a conversation. So last October, I joined italki and The Mixxer, got in touch with German native speakers who were learning French, and started skyping with them two to five times a week. This decision definitely paid off: not only did I finally learn to use German outside a classroom, I met lots of different people, some of which I call my friends, and have strengthened my connection with the language for good.


I took three semesters of beginner’s Spanish during my Bachelor in English studies and had a really good time learning it. Unfortunately, I didn’t use Skype at the time and didn’t keep practising, which led me to forget it – or so I thought. During the Master, the only Spanish course I could take focused on literature, but I had enough on my plate with B2 German and forgot about it. I always thought I would “relearn” Spanish at some point, but I had no idea when, until a few weeks ago when something in me clicked and I felt ready to dive back in.

American Sign Language (ASL)

Two months ago, I began learning ASL using online resources. It made no sense for me to learn a sign language different from the one used in my country, but the possibility of learning a sign language through English rather than through French – as would have been the case with la Langue des signes française (LSF) – was somehow more appealing. I must have learnt about 250 signs that way, but my initial goal was only to get used to the language until I could decide whether to keep learning it and find online partners or to learn LSF instead and join a local class. I still have a few weeks to decide.


Again at the university, I took a semester of intensive Japanese hoping to become conversational much faster than with a beginner’s course, without realising how much work it would require on my part. As it turns out, it went way too fast for me and I fell behind after only a few weeks. If I could do it again, I am sure that I would have much more motivation and could achieve good results, but at the time, I didn’t have much willpower and gave up. Naturally, I always wanted to give it another shot, which I decided to do about two weeks ago. As with ASL, I am only trying to get used to the language again, without any specific goal in mind. So far, I have mostly been learning vocabulary and basic sentences.

Italian and Russian

I took a beginner’s course in Italian during the first year of my Master’s degree and had to switch to Russian in second year because there was no follow-up to the Italian course. Both years, I tried my best and got very good marks, but could only hold very basic conversations in the end. I would really like to relearn Italian as I live very close to Italy, but I am afraid that learning it at the same time as Spanish would confuse me. As for Russian, I find it very challenging and would love to learn more, but I have no intention to do so for the time being. So these languages are on the back burner for now, but I intend to relearn them eventually.

The activities

Instead of merely keeping track of the time I dedicate to each language, I decided to monitor the following activities: vocabulary acquisition (in words learnt), reading (in words read), writing (in words written), translation (in words), listening (in minutes), and speaking (in minutes). I deliberately ignore the time spent reviewing known vocabulary or studying grammar, for instance, to push me to practise what I learn as I learn it (for instance, writing sentences that use known words and new rules).

With data on the types of activities that I practise the most and the least, I should be able to better balance my language learning by blocking off time slots for the activities I tend to neglect. This data will also give me a better idea of how much of my time language learning actually takes up and inform the design of a new weekly schedule. For instance, with two week’s data, I know that I dedicate on average 71 minutes to language learning on a daily basis, with at least 11 minutes and at most 139 minutes on a single day. Each learning session lasts 30 minutes on average – at least 1 minute and at most 98 minutes in one go.

Featured image: Learn sign language at the playground by Valerie Everett on Flickr, resized and cropped by me.


2 thoughts on “Keeping track of #02: Language learning

  1. Pingback: 11 language learning questions | Keeping Track

  2. Pingback: Who I am: 3 things about myself | Keeping Track

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