If you’re following me on youtube, you’ll know that over the last month I took part in a 30-Day Language speaking challenge to practice my Russian.
In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on what I learned from taking part in this speaking challenge and examine some of the main benefits. If you want to improve your speaking and add greater accountability to your learning, I’d strongly suggest taking part in a challenge like this or even just challenging yourself to record yourself for a couple of minutes each day! And of course, if you’ve taken part in challenges like this before, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
What is a speaking challenge?
The basic concept of a speaking challenge is that you challenge yourself to record yourself speaking your target language a little every day for a set period of time. This could be 30 days or it could be 3 months. The specifics are really up to you and the people you’re doing the challenge with. You could do the challenge yourself alone or you could join or start a group to work with. You’ll probably find it easier if you’re part of a group because working with others will give you the motivation and support you need to complete the challenge.
So what are some of the main things I learned from participating in a speaking challenge?
#1 Trying and making mistakes is better than doing nothing
I made a lot of mistakes in my speaking challenge videos. And I’m grateful that the challenge gave me that opportunity.
Mistakes are a valuable part of learning and if you take part in a challenge like this you’ll have the chance to make lots of them! (and learn from them). Of course, we all want to speak perfectly but before we can do that we have to go through a period of making mistakes. The sooner you make these mistakes, the sooner you can correct them. Trying and failing is infinitely better than doing nothing. At least when you try, you can learn from what you do wrong.
One of the best things about speaking challenges is that they force you to embrace imperfection. Making a new recording every day is hard and it can be difficult to keep up when you have a lot going on in your life. There’s no time to go back and record everything until you speak perfectly. And besides, that’s not the point. If you edit out your mistakes, then you can’t receive feedback on them and that’s one of the key parts of a challenge like this.
#2 You need feedback if you want to improve
Of course, making the same mistakes over and over again is not very productive. That’s why it’s important to receive regular feedback.
Speaking challenges are great for this because they tend to foster a strong sense of community. If you help out someone who’s trying to learn your language, they’ll likely help you too. By working together with your fellow challenge participants you can receive almost instant feedback on your mistakes and then work on correcting them before making your next recording.
#3 Working with others boosts motivation
Learning as part of a community doesn’t just mean you can receive feedback, it also helps boost your motivation. When you see others sticking to the challenge and recording every day, it motivates you to do the same.
You also add accountability to your learning because you know other people are expecting you to upload your recordings each day. There will inevitably be days when you’re busy or don’t feel like practicing. On such days, the extra accountability and motivation provided by the community can help you keep going.
#4 You don’t need to know every word in order to communicate
When someone asks you a question, it’s easy to get flustered if you don’t know all the words you need in order to respond.
But the truth is that in order to communicate with people, you don’t need to know every single word.
In the middle of the speaking challenge, we did some particularly interesting (and difficult!) exercises which demonstrated this point. The idea was to tell a short story in our target language. However, certain keywords were taboo and couldn’t be used. This forced us to find alternative ways of expressing what we wanted to say.
This was an interesting exercise because it simulated something that often happens to all of us when learning a new language. There will be times when you need a word but you don’t know it or can’t remember it. In such situations, what will you do? One valuable solution is to explain the word or concept you want to express using whatever vocabulary you do have.
You can see the video of this exercise here:
#5 We all need a day off sometimes
Sometimes, it’s ok just to take a break. Learning a language can be tiring and when you’re mentally fatigued, sometimes you just need a day off. This happened to me during the challenge and I know some of my fellow participants felt the same way.
After all, when you’re mentally fatigued, your brain isn’t going to take in much of what you’re learning anyway. It’s better to rest, then come back and practised in a focused manner when you have more energy. This will allow you to practice efficiently and remember more of what you’re working on.
#6 Speaking every day helps you to start thinking in the language faster
When you’re speaking every day, you start to think in your target language.
By speaking live in your recordings you are literally forcing yourself to think in your target language each day. You have to create sentences and piece together the words you know to try and express yourself. That’s something that doesn’t happen when you’re reading or listening and it’s why doing a challenge like this can help you start to think in the language faster than other activities do. Most of us have lots of input activities in our learning routines already, but speaking regularly helps introduce more output into our day-to-day learning.
#7 Repetition is essential
Nothing helps us remember things better than repetition. Whether it’s a person’s name, the route to your local supermarket, or a new vocabulary word in your target language – you need to see things more than once before you remember them.
Speaking challenges allow you to learn quickly because you can repeat early and often. If you make a mistake, you can often learn from it and correct yourself the following day. You get to repeat what you’ve learned when it’s still fresh in your mind and this helps to further ingrain it into your long-term memory.
#8 Making a commitment makes a difference
Just committing to taking part in a language challenge can make a huge difference to how much progress you make in your target language. Saying you want to learn a language is one thing. Telling someone else you’re committed to taking part in a challenge and practising every day is another.
By deciding to take part you make a commitment to yourself and your fellow participants that’s hard to break. This can be a powerful motivational factor that helps you take action to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself.
#9 Perseverance pays off
In any challenge like this, you will have good days and you will have bad days. There will be moments when you feel like giving up or a particular video is too hard to record. There’ll probably be days in the middle when you feel like you’re not improving at all. But being part of a challenge like this makes it easier to persevere. And that perseverance pays off.
You might not see much improvement from one day to another, but over the course of a week or a month, you will start to see significant progress. If you actually commit to completing your recordings each day and learning from the feedback you receive, it’s impossible not to improve!
Challenges like this are great because your recordings allow you to appreciate just how much you’re learning.
Humans – by nature – remember bad experiences more strongly than good experiences. It’s something our brains do to help us avoid repeating the same mistakes. But sometimes it also causes us to lose sight of our achievements and focus on what we haven’t done or learned, rather than on what we have done. Recording yourself for the duration of a language challenge will allow you to remind yourself of just how much progress you’re making and how perseverance really does pay off.
The speaking challenge I took part in was organised by my friend Jonathan from Huggins International. You can hear his thoughts on the challenge in an interview I did with him for the latest episode of the Lingua Materna podcast. If you’re interested in participating in his upcoming speaking challenges you can sign-up here (all languages) and here (English).