Lately I stumbled across one peculiar thing about myself. I watch so many videos on YouTube and TED, take so many courses on Udemy, Skillshare and read countless books on completely different topics. I’m not going to deliberate what might be the purpose of such striving desire for knowledge, but at some time I realized that it’s necessary to learn some system of learning which can be used to learn effectively almost any skill.
So, while I was doing my regular round of videos on YT, I came across a very useful strategy of learning how to master almost any skill which first might seem very difficult and time-consuming.
The strategy is called the 4-stage rule. You can watch some video about it here, and in a nutshell the idea behind this strategy is the following.
In order to learn any skill, you should pass through each of these 4 stages. I will demonstrate them using my own example, my own challenge so to say, which I’m going to embark upon during this summer – learn Hungarian language from scratch.
The first step is to understand what the skill consists of and decompose it into smaller sub-skills. For example, in the case with learning a foreign language, sub-skills would be learning the pronunciation, grammar rules, vocabulary and typical phrases. If you learn to play the guitar, then you will probably think about learning main chords and learn how to strum.
Step number two. You have to start learning each of these sub-skills, but what is important here, in the amount which is enough to start communicating at a very basic level. You shouldn’t try to learn the very details or extensive rules, because you risk losing your motivation.
In my case with learning the Hungarian, I know that there are some sounds which are pronounced completely different from those I know of. So, I will first start with learning them. Then I want to learn main grammar tenses (present, past and future, singular and plural, etc). Of course, I will need to learn new words, so I will try to learn some 5-10 words every day or two along with the most common phrases.
At this stage, you should start putting your knowledge into practice. If you learnt a couple of phrases, start using them even if you talk to yourself. Use flashcards, name what you see in your target language and try to make simple sentences.
Step number three. Find motivators that will keep you on yr learning path.
Okay, you started learning, but after the first 50 words you notice that you can’t remember them, you make mistakes and it keeps you frustrated. This is the period when most people give up learning because they understand that it’s a hard work. At this stage more than ever you need some external motivators. For a person who learns a foreign language, it could be a tutor or just a friend who practices the language with you. (BTW, a great site you’ve probably heard of which lets you connect with other people around the world united around the same aim of learning languages and which enables you to practice your target language for free or on exchange for practicing your native language – italki.com).
Phone applications which track your progress and provide you with some points for learning new words or completing exercises can be another great motivation tool. I personally use Duolingo (available for most languages) and certain other apps for specific languages.
Another tool which makes me feel committed to keeping learning the language is my own motivation scheme. Obviously, when a person learns a foreign language he looks forward to visiting the country of the target language. So, in my case for every 30 minutes I spend a day on learning some new words and phrases or doing exercises, I reward myself with 3-5 dollars which I set aside to my separate imaginary account which I will use later on to sponsor my trips to that country. It keeps me motivated and it really works!
Stage number four. Practice. Practice. Practice.
After you have split you goal of learning the skill into subskills (step 1), started working on each of the skills to get the very basic knowledge (step 2) and found motivators which will keep you learning along the way (step 3), the next step is just keep practicing. You have probably heard the rule of 10,000 hours, which implies that every person can become an expert in practically ANY field if he devotes 10,000 hours of his time to learning it. It’s difficult not to agree with that rule as all famous and successful professional sportsmen, programmers, musicians or businessmen have been practicing their respective skills since the very childhood. However, in most cases when we want to learn something new, we do not need to become top experts and, to be frank, we won’t be able to (due to the lack of time, resources or other commitments). So, let’s say in our case 100-200 hours will be enough to master the skill better than most of the people around us. And this is just 3-6 months of 1-hour of practice a day.
To cut it short, although we do not need to practice a skill for thousands of hours, at the end of the day the time spent on practicing will determine how good we are at it. So, keep practicing until you are satisfied with the results and then you can decrease the pace of learning. As for me, my current goal in learning the Hungarian is to understand about 500 words, be able to use basic polite phrases when necessary, talk about the weather, for shopping needs and to ask directions. When I master these, I will take a break and will think whether I will continue to improve it at a next level.