Happy 2019 everyone! Hopefully you haven’t fallen off the bandwagon with your New Year’s resolutions already. If you did, read on, because jumping back on may be easier than you think.
Because I admit, I finished Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge (this month’s Book Club book) already quite some time before the new year started. I just couldn’t put it down, and even though it’s not the best piece of literature in the history of the world, I’m a total convert. I’ll share my thoughts about the book in a separate blogpost, but some of its ideas already inspired the topic of this month (learning Spanish).
A Penny’s Worth
One of my January Learning Spanish Resolutions is to make additional efforts daily. To spend a little time working on my Spanish every single day, and to make that a habit. That resolution made me excited and terrified at the same time. I know myself, I’ll want to do a lot and I’ll want to do it perfectly and before I know it, I’ll spend a shitload of time doing Daily Additional Efforts that I can impossibly keep up with.
Jeff Olson made me see this differently. His slight edge philosphy is largely based on the same principle of habit-creating. That is: repeating a certain activity or type of behavior every day in order to make it go automatic, like a habit. However, those activities or behaviors don’t have to be Grandiose, Impactful and Earth Shattering like my brain seems to think. Quite the opposite: they need to be small, seemingly unimportant, and easy to do. Almost just as easy to do as it is easy not to do them. Successful people, according to Olson, do all those insignificant things that unsuccessful people don’t do. And over time, those insignificant things accumulate, start yielding results and make you successful.
The insignificant things are like pennies. A penny is quite an insignificant amount of money. But if you save a penny a day, every day of every month of every year, for a lifetime, you’ll have quite a lot of money even though it was an easy thing to do each day. This is just an example about money, but according to Olson, you can use the same tactics in every area of life that you want to improve. Just find an activity or behavior that’s the equivalent of a penny’s worth and do it every single day.
Ten Words a Day
So, something that’s easy to do for me is learning words. Contrary to most people, I actually enjoy learning words and I’m good at it too (which is probably why I enjoy it). Therefore, I chose learning a few words a day as my new daily habit for January (and the rest of the year).
To speak a language fluently, they say you need to be able to actively use between 4.000 and 10.000 words, depending on the language and the type of words you know. Since I want to reach a B2-level in Spanish by the end of the year,1 I figured ten words a day (= 3.650 words at the end of the year, on top of the words I already know or have to learn for class) will get me quite far. Admittedly, it’s easier not to learn ten words than it is to learn them — so this is probably a euro’s worth rather than a penny’s worth of Spanish each day — but hey, learning Spanish is only a temporary goal. Most of my other goals should be turned into lifetime habits, but I definitely won’t be learning ten Spanish words a day for the rest of my life, thank you very much.
A Spreadsheet of Words
I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t create a spreadsheet for this daily habit. I googled Spanish high frequency words, opened up Excel and typed up ten words for every day of January (I’ll have to repeat this exercise before the beginning of every new month). Each set of ten words includes one verb, of which I’ll have to learn its conjugation in the present tense as well. Just to get used to using those conjugated forms. Since I learn best through writing, I use the app Vocab to learn the words.
In the very unlikely case you’re Dutch and you’re learning Spanish as well, you can download the pdf of my January words spread below (it features Dutch translations). I’ll try to remember to update this post with a new pdf every month.
Photo: Traffic sign of which I’ll soon don’t need the English translation anymore
There are loads of different ways to describe language proficiency, but I went with the description on this website: Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.