This week in our D.Min program we were tasked with reading Josh Kaufman’s book The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast! Kaufman’s book is basically a guide on how to break down skills into component parts and tackle the learning process in an organized and logical series of steps. Kaufman greater and more impactful learning experience. Our task after reading the book was to attempt to learn something using Kaufman’s process and blog about it. Here is how I worked through the process:
- Choose a loveable project: I currently speak and write Spanish fairly fluently. I have lived in Spain for 9 years, and do all my work and life in Spanish. I have enjoyed learning Spanish, and am still learning. However, Spain is a country of many languages. Many of my co-workers and friends come from Catalunya and their primary language is Catalan. Moreover, I often myself in Barcelona for work and meetings, often feeling a bit strange being in a city in the country I have lived in for 9 years, but not being able to speak the language! Since, Catalan is related to Spanish (kind of a hybrid between Spanish and French), I thought it might be fun and not too hard to begin to learn Catalan, while also maybe giving myself an edge with Catalan friends and co-workers.
- Focus your energy on one skill at a time: Languages have many components parts. Pronunciation, grammar, verbs, vocabulary, conversation, etc. Obviously, I am not going to learn to be fluent in Catalan in 20 hours, but I could begin to master some of the basics (especially since it is similar to Spanish), so that I can build a base for continuing to grow in the language
- Define your target performance level: Here once again, my goal was not to master fluency in Catalan, but to me it seemed the best first step that was plausibly within my ability to master it would be pronunciation. Could I quickly understand the Catalan alphabet and then be able to phonetically read and pronounce Catalan verbs? This was my target performance level, which would then allow me to further develop my Catalan skills and then move onto other skills.
- Deconstruct the skills into subskills: For pronunciation, there is the need to master consonants, vowels, dipthongs, and then the forming of words.
- Obtain critical tools: This was an easy step, as there are a number of websites that give free Catalan lessons, for instance: http://livemocha.com/pages/languages/learn-catalan/ There are also books and lessons that can be obtained.
- Eliminate barriers to practice: This was one of the hardest steps in the process, as work, family, and unexpected interruptions made it hard to focus for extended periods of time, or even collect information. Going forward, if I truly want to learn Catalan, I need to set aside specific time each week.
- Make dedicated time for practice: This proved to be the key to moving along and advancing. Setting aside an hour here and there to work on learning the alphabet and practicing on pronunciation, made a big difference. While, I chose a fairly easy part of the language to begin to focus on, specialized time on working through how to pronounce words in Catalan allowed me to master that skill fairly easily.
- Create fast feedback loops: This was probably the hardest step for me. Particularly, with learning a language the best way is regular interactions with native speakers. I have a number of Catalan friends, but they all live in Barcelona, and this week was unable to spend time talking with them. Going forward, I will need to schedule Skype times with Catalan friends to speak and hear Catalan. Perhaps I can find a native Catalan speaker in my city.
- Practice by the clock in short bursts: Kaufman points out that focusing short amounts of intense time learning the skill, then taking breaks, is the best way for our brains to acquire a skill. For grasping Catalan pronunciation this was a very capable way of learning quickly.
- Emphasize quantity and speed: Our brains need to be immersed. Working through a fast amount of words, sounds, and pronunciations helps to familiarize oneself quicker with a large amount of information and skill acquisition.
In the end, I was able to get a good grasp of Catalan pronunciation. Now I feel comfortable attempting to read Catalan and sound out words. I feel like I probably have a solid base for continuing to learn Catalan. My biggest need is to have constant, regular time speaking and hearing Catalan with a native speaker. Kaufman’s book is a big help in logically and practically working through learning a new skill. Languages are complicated systems to learn, especially with out the help of a teacher or an immersion process, however, Kaufman’s book can be a big help with learning a new language on your own.