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30 Days to Successful Thai Language Habits

New Years resolution

The new year is almost here…

It’s that time again: New Year’s resolution time. And this year I am serious about using the opportunity to ramp up my Thai language learning. Because even with the best intentions, it seems that I can find the time to do everything except for my Thai lessons.

Let’s see… This past year I searched for Thai language learning resources, researched and wrote posts for WLT, traveled here and there, learned a bit of photography, and teamed up with the FSI project. But I did not make a concerted effort to focus on my Thai studies. My bad.

I am not a total slacker, but I really do need to make my Thai language studies a priority. Besides, the whole point of starting WLT was to concentrate on my Thai studies, so getting the lead out is a must (especially as last year’s lead felt like a dead weight).

So I did what I do best. I exercised my google finger:

Steve Pavlina is on to something with his 30 day trial idea. Depending on where you get your advice, it takes anywhere between 3 weeks to 66 days form a new habit. That means that Steve’s thirty days will either get me there, halfway there, or not. We’ll see.

Steve Pavlina: One of the best ways to kick off the New Year is by starting a 30-day trial of a new daily habit or activity. Instead of creating a New Year’s Resolution that probably won’t stick, just commit to a short-term change. Make a January resolution only. If it doesn’t work out, you’re completely free to abandon it on January 31st, but for the first 30 days, use every ounce of resolve and self-discipline you can muster to stick to it, whatever it takes. At the end of the 30 days, you’ll be in a great position to decide whether you want to commit to a permanent change, having 30 days of success behind you.

And I can’t believe my good luck. When searching for advice about using Steve‘s 30 day method, I found a post on the how-to-learn-any-language.com forum by another language learner, emk (not his real name, obviously). He used Steve’s method for two years, successfully.

I contacted emk for permission to republish a part of his success story, and he agreed. Thanks emk!

How emk used Steve Pavlina’s 30-Day trial method to learn Thai…

emk: I studied several foreign languages in school, with predictably poor results, and tried to learn Italian on my own. When I studied Italian, I made it about 2 weeks into the course, and wound up with a nice accent and a ~100-word vocabulary. This was useful when traveling, but a bit limiting. My study skills, in other words, were well-suited to the length of a school term, but I never really had the sheer endurance required to learn a second language.

This isn’t a regular language-learning technique, such as shadowing, L-R or using an SRS deck, but more a “meta-technique”: A technique that helps you use other techniques more consistently. If you already have adequate self-discipline, this story probably won’t interest you. But if you tend to get half-way through a project and then move on to something else, you might find these tricks useful.

I was inspired by two stories:

  1. Steve Pavlina’s 30 days to success
  2. The Seinfeld calendar

The first 30 days were hard: I wanted to skip a day, here and there. But I knew that if I skipped a day, I could skip two, and that if I could skip two days, I could skip a week. (And after that, the project would be doomed.)

As of today (November 2009), it’s been a bit more than 2 years, and I’ve studied French every single day since I started. I can read popular non-fiction in French, and—if I pick the right book—I typically miss about 0–6 words per page. I can talk with my wife for an entire day in French, and I’m just starting to be able to understand the news on RFI.

Here are some tips based on my experience:

  1. Start with a simple but well-defined goal. It should be big enough to be significant, but small enough that you can actually follow through. Listening to a single Assimil lesson 8–12 times is great. “Study some French” is not a concrete enough goal, at least at first, and “learn 100 words new words in an SRS deck” is too much to keep up for long.
  2. You may find it more pleasant to “get it out of the way” first thing every morning, after you wake up, or to set aside a fixed time every day.
  3. If you have a miserable, depressing winter and you’re starting to burn out, you can set goals like “Study some French every day”. You’ll keep a small amount of momentum, and you’ll probably prevent the decay of your skills. But you’ll do less and less as time passes, and eventually you’ll need to recommit to a bigger and more concrete goal.
  4. If you commit to an overly large goal, you’ll make enormous gains, but you’ll drive yourself nuts, and possibly run screaming into the woods. Save this kind of crazy experimentation until later in the process.

There’s a real power to doing something every single day, because you can’t postpone it, you can’t let the rest of your life interfere with it, and you have to find the time every single day. And having a concrete rule makes it easier, because you don’t have to waste any time thinking up excuses.

If, like me, you’re motivated to learn a foreign language—but fear that you’ll get bored and give up—then you might want to read the two blog posts I linked to above, and consider a 30-day trial :-)

Read the unabridged version here: Start the New Year With a 30-Day Trial

What emk and Steve are suggesting ties in sweetly with Luca’s language learning method. If you have not had the pleasure, below are Luca Lampariello’s two recent posts on WLT:

An Easy Way to Learn Foreign Languages: Part One
An Easy Way to Learn Foreign Languages: Part Two

Don’t break the chain…

Don’t Break The Chain!One of the inspirations emk mentioned is the Seinfeld calendar. What you do is acquire a wall calendar that has all 12 months on one page, stick it on a high traffic wall, and then mark each successful day with a red X.

The continuous chain of X’s are supposed to motivate you to keep going with your resolutions.

Sounds good to me.

If you have an iPhone, there is an app called Don’t Break The Chain! You have a choice of a free app with ads, or a US$4.99 version without ads.

For those without iPhones, there are several online calendars: Don’t Break The Chain! and Your Seinfeldian Chain.

I have not tried either (yet) so please let me know if you do.

There is even a sample calendar on Google Spreadsheets: Seinfeld Calendar in Google Spreadsheets.

And if you don’t want to keep an eye on your chain via a website or with an iPhone, you can always download these two beautiful calendars: Seinfeld Calendar.

The pdf’s print out on A4 or Letter, which are a perfect size for the fridge door. I’ve printed two and taped them together for separate goals: Thai lessons and using my Air Walker. I just might add a secret third…

I also found a sample spreadsheet for 2007: Don’t Break the Chain – Spreadsheet Version. It is especially suited for those with more than one resolution to follow.

In Tomas’s post, he mentions printable calendars at ePrintable.com: Free Printable Calendars you can make customise and print.

So there you have it. A selection of calendars on your iPhone, online, in Excel, and printable as well.

Making (but not breaking) a New Year’s resolution…

I’m going for it. Absolutely. Following emk’s lead, I’m headed for thirty days of Jerry, Steve, and Luca. And if you want to go for it too, I’d really love have you along for company. Baring that, I’d appreciate your support.

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My passion is promoting the Thai language. Fullstop. Oh, and traveling. I'm passionate about that as well. And photography too.

11 Comments

  1. I definitely agree if you do something every day for a month or two it definitely becomes ingrained and a habit. Unfortunately finding the time to devote every day to the Thai language eludes me at present. I am hoping that within the next year I will be able to do so in Thailand where it can be reinforced with laughs and giggles by the women folk of the family as I practice.

  2. Talen, here’s to your laughs and giggles in 2010 (I like the thought of that :-)

    I figured I’d aim for the 30 days, and then aim for another 30 after that. 60 days should see me clear to a new habit.

    As for what time each day… I’ll have to play around with it. If I start answering emails and doing research first thing, then it’s sometimes the evening before I know it. And evening is not a good time to stuff new bits into my head.

  3. For the past two years I had the same idea as Talen….I would increase my Thai learning once I was in Thailand. I now realize that I have wasted precious time that I could have been using to learn. Unfortunately I am not a morning person so mornings are out. Evenings I have the same problem as you Cat, sometimes too hard to stuff new bits into my brain.

    Sometimes ya just gotta bite the bullet though. Great timing on the post as I was planning on adding 30-60 minutes of Thai study to my schedule for 2010 come hell or high water and the resources you’ve pointed out should work like a charm to keep me on track.

    Let’s see how it goes and if either of us need a kick in the butt we can be there for each other :)

  4. I’m not a morning person either, which makes it doubly tough. But if I can keep off the computer until I wake up, I have a better chance of getting to my Thai studies and not getting sucked into working all day long.

    I have a lovely balcony to breakfast on, so I plan to switch around my morning ritual. Instead of breakfast in front of a computer, it will be breakfast with birds, squirrels, and the odd bug. It all sounds pretty good typing it out.

    So here’s to a better Thai learning schedule in 2010!

    (Or you can kick my butt ;-)

  5. If I could get up an hour earlier I would be able to do that, but the chances of THAT happening long term are slim to none. Of course with the baby due in May that schedule is very likely to change whether I like it or not :>)

    The balcony would be a wonderful thing, but not an option for me. Most days I could probably fit in 30-60 at my job (not sure how my employer would feel about that!). Looks like I’m stuck with evenings.

    Oh and now I suppose I will have to start some muay thai training as well in case I have to kick your butt ;>P

  6. Ah, babies do tend to change the schedule of an entire household. Suggestion, while you are rocking the little tyke to sleep (or walking around with him/her over your shoulder in the wee hours), how about singing some Thai lullabies? That would be an excellent way to learn an angle of Thai that most of us don’t usually come across.

  7. Not a bad idea. I guess I’ll have to ask Golf to teach me some lullabies. It should be really good to help my pronunciation and tones too. Thanks Cat!

  8. Steve, I have a magnet on my fridge that says, ‘take my advice… I’m not using it’… and if I used my own advice, I’d be sooooooo much better off ;-)

  9. William (South Africa)

    February 10, 2010 at 5:38 am

    Let me give you guys a hint (how to learn Thai)Don’t wait to get to Thailand before you start! I have been to Thailand Twice (spent a total of six months in the country, while I was there I bought lots of learning material (the best book so far is by David Smyth Teach Yourself Thai)As well as being an English Teacher I have an idea how to teach, start with the small stuff, numbers one to a hundred, days of the week, months of the year etc, download to your cell phone and replay the sound files when you have a moment, I have learnt a lot using this method and it works, when you have learnt how to pronounce what you have learnt start learning how to write the language. It’s such a simple language and very easy to learn. Good Luck!

  10. so how was the 30 day challenge for last year. did you keep it up and did it become a habit after 30 days? this new year is coming soon and I also have to develop some habits this year. I will follow your advice, even though it has nothing to do with learning a new language. I guess the basics are the same for forming a new hobby, whether it’s about studying or exercising.

  11. Hi William, I’m not sure how I missed your comment. I agree, David’s book is a good one. I even had a Thai teacher check it out and it received the highest rating from her.

    Hi Kevin, 2010 was a weird year for me. The insomnia kicked my butt and took charge so I just went along for the ride. But I’m still here. Still pounding away. I have not quit.

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