Learning a New Language: Is It Better to Have a Plan?

How did you start learning your target language?

Maybe you took a class and a teacher guided you through a curriculum or maybe you just got curious and started using Duolingo. Either way, you probably had a reason to begin learning and an initial goal to work towards.

But what about a plan?

We’re often told that the most efficient and successful people schedule their time. They make plans and set goals while those of us who aren’t so good at scheduling fall behind.

Language learners encounter the same planning difficulties. From setting new routines to creating bullet journals, there’s all kinds of advice from seasoned learners on the best way to start learning and keep going. There’s also advice telling you there’s no best method at all.

So, which advice should you take?

The most logical approach is to make a plan and stick to it, but is it okay to follow someone else’s plan instead? What if you don’t have a serious goal and you’re just learning for fun? Should you still make a plan?

Planners vs. Pantsers

In honor of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November, I’d like to ask this age-old question to language learners everywhere.

Are you a planner, the kind of person who sets a goal and maps out a series of steps and lesson plans or fills up a calendar?

Or are you a pantser, the kind of person who “flies by the seat of your pants” and simply learns what you want until you’re satisfied?

In both writing and language learning, I tend to fall into the pantser category. I sincerely admire those who manage to make concrete plans and outlines and then follow through with them. Though, I continue to try.

However, when it comes to language learning, is it really better to be one or the other?

Are you…

In it to win it?

The Plan: Whether you’re preparing for a trip to another country or trying to pass the JLPT, planning really is essential for those with a deadline. It can mean the difference between a stressful experience and a fulfilling journey.

For instance, working backwards from a goal is a great way to break your big goal into smaller, more manageable pieces. That way, you’re more likely to feel confident about succeeding.

The Pants: There are times when winging it can lead to some interesting places. Unfortunately, it’s not the best idea if you need to reach your goal as efficiently as possible.

However, in the midst of some intense studying, a bit of unstructured learning can certainly remind you of your love for a new language.

Taking it easy?

The Plan: When you don’t have an immediate goal in mind, a bit of planning can keep you from falling out of practice. Though, too much planning can make your newest hobby feel like a chore. You don’t want that to happen.

The Pants: Leisurely study loves a pantser. If you’re learning for fun, don’t be afraid to focus on what you love.

Being flexible with your target language can also lead to the most entertaining new resources. Plus, you can always decide to make a plan if you find something you’d really like to focus on.

Busy as a bee?

The Plan: Plans are your best friend when you’ve got too much to do. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to ignore a study session. Trust me.

Take the time to make a schedule and do your best to make specific decisions ahead of time. That way, you won’t waste time deciding what to study later on.

The Pants: Leaving a bit of pants room is a good way to relax with your language when you find a free moment. You might be surprised how much of a stress reliever it can be. Just don’t rely on it too much if you hope to make a ton of progress while you’re so busy.

Just dabbling?

The Plan: If you’ve ever taken part in #LangJam, you might find just a little bit of planning can make it easier to start learning a new language. If it’s a language with an unfamiliar writing system, a plan is also a great way to keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed.

The Pants: If you’re currently dabbling in a new language, take a chance and pants it. Learn whatever you want whenever you feel like it.

Thinking about ice cream flavors? Learn some vocab. Want to sing a song? Learn the lyrics and go crazy. You’ll be able to experience many different aspects of a new language as long as you’re open to those out-of-the-box ideas.

And the winner is…

Your language goals.

Honestly, I don’t think it matters whether you end up as a planner or a pantser. What really matters is your achievements.

Whether you choose to schedule your days or roll a die, make sure your current goals are the most important piece. Making a solid plan is valuable for any learner, but a spontaneous study session can serve as a refreshing reminder of why learning a language is fun. Maybe the best option is a mix of both after all.

Set a goal and make a plan if you think it will help. Just remember that your language learning journey is your own. So, enjoy it.


Featured Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Learning a New Language: Is It Better to Have a Plan?

  1. Hi, Cassie. When I’m debating whether to start learning a new language, I look up what resources are available in that language and write them down as a list in no particular order. If there’s a shortage of resources (as in the case of Hawaiian), I just dabble in it for a while and put it away. But if there are a lot of resources, I pick fun, easy materials from the list and dabble in the language with those. Then, if I decide to be serious about the language, I put the beginner study materials in the order I want to study them in, and that becomes my plan. I don’t need any more of a plan than that until I’m almost at the intermediate level. Putting my list in an order helps me to start with easier materials and work up to more intense ones, so that I rarely feel overwhelmed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a really neat idea. I’ll have to keep it in mind the next time I start a new language. Thanks for sharing!


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