5 Ways Learning Foreign Languages Change Me in 30 Days

2016-04-05 23.08.38
Forgive my handwriting: this is my notebook for learning Turkish. I was learning how to tell time and date, and discuss seasons and weather.

Being a linguist does not make me a polyglot (as you might expect me to be), but it doesn’t harm to become one. Recently I reviewed my year resolution, and a few foreign languages emerged from my list. I decided to brush up my Japanese, and to start a totally new language: Turkish. I picked Turkish not out of a better career prospect, but totally out of my interest and curiosity as a linguist. Ultimately, it feels great to become multi-lingual!

To implement my language learning plan, I have selected two online platforms: Duolingo for Turkish, and Memrise for Japanese. I lay down two simple rules to keep myself going without overwhelming myself: (1) spend at most 30 minutes each morning for each language; (2) keep a note for each language so that I can always refer to it whenever I want to. My goal at the moment is to be able to read and write at intermediate levels within six months (discussing everyday topics, reading simple stories).

I’ll have accomplished my first 30-day streak for Turkish, and 10-day streak for Japanese by 7 April 2016. Here’s a summary of what I’ve learnt so far:

  • Turkish (~15 hours): around 200+ words covering different areas (e.g. occupations, animals, clothing, places, food, numbers, date and time, colour, etc.); expressions for greeting; cases (nominative, genitive, accusative, locative, dative, ablative, possessive, plural); tense and aspect (present continuous, simple present); imperatives; postpositions (something like prepositions in English)
  • Japanese (~5 hours): 50 sounds, Hiragana and Katakana, basic greetings and vocabulary

What surprises me is the number of items I have learnt within 15 solid hours, with note-taking and practising: 250 words is already good enough for very basic sentence making. In around 3 months or 45 learning hours I can chat with my Turkish flatmate. I’m not confident to say I remember everything I’ve learnt, for I still haven’t used them in conversations or writing; through this one-month learning streak, however, I notice some positive changes helping with my daily productivity, as well as long term goals:

  1. I become more self-disciplined.

    To not end the streak, I have to practise the languages in the morning before I’m too caught up in my work. This means I get up earlier, and sit comfortably in front of my notes right after breakfast. It becomes a part of my morning routine and I’m more determined to practise once my blood sugar rises, and the morning coffee wakes me up.

  2. I set small goals for a bigger target.

    I have short bursts of enthusiasm about everything. This means I can spend hours on one thing, and totally forget about it the next day. As I restrict myself to practising only for a short period of time, I focus on the long term goal more, and my enthusiasm can be evenly invested. Duolingo and Memrise allow their users to set daily goals, so I set finishing 3 exercises on Duolingo, and 15 minutes on Memrise. It turns out I’d spend a bit more time on each (including taking notes and checking dictionaries), but I’d stop and move on to other tasks once I have reached my goals. This also requires self-discipline to control the ‘greed’ of cramming in a lot in one go.

  3. I become more organised.

    With small goals, I can now fit the daily practice in one or two pages on my notebook. If the task is too big and I don’t have the time to jot notes all at once I’ll slowly give up. Now I have two notebooks for practising handwriting Turkish and Japanese. Typing will also do (as I’ll explain next point), but handwriting reinforces my memory, including the muscle memory to get the characters correct (especially Japanese).

  4. I rely less on my own brain.

    It doesn’t mean I don’t memorise vocab or grammatical patterns at all; this is not an exam and I can always have my phrase book with me whenever I forget the words (I already do during the course of writing this). As the courses progress, notes have to be tidied up and organised. I choose to rely on digital organisation tools like Evernote. Evernote works on all my devices and I can clip any useful resources online with just a few clicks. This kind of “brain dumping” eases a lot of pressure when there are a lot to process. The Turkish suffixes are a headache, but I’m going to revise them after writing this. I’ll show you some of my Evernote entries as I progress.

  5. I get interested in language even more.

    As a semiotician interested in understanding how language functions, there are so many ‘aha’ moments when I find similarities among languages, and these moments motivate me to explore more. For example, ‘kitap’ means ‘book’ in Turkish; I found that ‘kitap’ is closely resembling ‘kitab’ in Arabic as I was curating content. That small discovery makes me curious about how the /b/ sound is written in Arabic. It is definitely interesting to find out the links, and eventually it stimulates my curiosity further to different cultures.

The 5 changes do not just make my language learning more effective; it also fixes some of my daily productivity issues: I get up earlier to accomplish more, schedule for work-life balance, set small goals for my other writing tasks (e.g. my thesis), and stay interested in different things in life. Most importantly, this motivates me to write more to share what I’ve learnt!

Do you learn other languages? Feel free to share your experience with me!


  1. I’m putting my focus on Spanish and mainly studying with Duolingo. Really excited in your progress here ;-)


    • Thank you! Of course I was just making myself happy by listing what I’ve learnt (and forgotten on my way to new items), but I’m really looking forward to another 30-day streak, and ultimately the 1000-day mark just like you! :) Congrats again!

      Liked by 1 person

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