👏🏻 Method 👏🏻 Review — The Language Learning Challenges

If you have used social media as part of your language learning processes, or you are in language learning interest groups, you might have encountered various challenges that try to push you to speak or write in your target language. This includes the Lingua Franca Challenge, the 30-Day Record Yourself Challenge, and the 30 Day Language Learning Challenge. Details surrounding these have popped up every now and then on language learning websites, or suggested by the language learning community on social media interest groups. In my personal experience, I have challenged myself to learn fundamentals of various languages in a calendar month, ranging from Vietnamese to Welsh.

These challenges serve to push, motivate and prompt learners to pursue activities that can help boost their language learning process, often complementing methods such as the Teach Yourself language coursebook series. Daily challenges may feature a given prompt to write about or present, often in a video no more than a minute or a short essay no longer than a couple of paragraphs. Prompts include introducing yourself, talking about the weather, what you hope to achieve from learning your target language and introducing where you live. Challenges can be taken individually or as a group, often with predetermined goals set before embarking on the challenges. Therefore, while we review this method as a whole, we will make distinctions between group learning, and individual learning. Examples will also be drawn to give contexts in which this method can help or hinder a learner’s progress.

The Lingua Franca Challenge

On social media, there are interest groups that motivate one another to learn a foreign language of almost any kind. The Lingua Franca Challenge is one such example, which takes this sort of motivation and pushes it to a relative extreme. A language is nominated and then voted for to be the language every member in the group should strive to learn, and this cycle repeats every six months. Within the first three months of the challenge, English and the target language may be used, as members pick up the basics and fundamentals of the language. However, in the later three months, only the target language is allowed in posts in the group, as it serves to be the main language of communication in the group, hence the term “lingua franca“. Variants of the challenge exist, mainly to cater to less well-known, or less readily-learned languages, especially indigenous and minority languages like Hopi or Hmong. The working principle still remains, however.

Members can choose whichever learning methods they prefer, and post their progress, questions or sharing into the group discussions. Despite different language goals in mind, the Lingua France Challenge still aims to foster a nice community spirit, where everyone learns a language together. Having joined in 2015, my first Lingua Franca Challenge was Turkish, which I tried to pursue to learn the basics. It was nice to see people posting, or commenting to one another in Turkish and English (later, only Turkish), and it helped motivate me to pick up the language at a comfortable pace.

From my personal experiences, the Lingua Franca Challenge is a good platform for learners who want to learn a new language, but are unsure of which one to pursue, or wishes to find people with similar learning aspirations to better communicate with one another. Writing and speaking would probably be the most significant learning benefits from joining such a challenge, as posts and sharings allow members to practice, minus the embarrassing moments of slipping up as one would if they are talking face-to-face with a native speaker. Everyone in the group is there to learn, and help one another achieve their respective goals.

However, as the majority of members are learners of the elected language at any point in time, getting feedback may not be as reliable as you would get from speaking to a native speaker. There are still native speakers of the elected lingua franca in the group, though, who may be willing to help should they be active there. Nevertheless, the Lingua Franca Challenge is a versatile challenge for any learner, given the relative free-form approach to support language learning, while maintaining a community of similar-minded people.

30-day Challenges

One of the more well-known 30-day challenges is the 30-day Record Yourself Challenge, also known by the hashtag #30DRYC on social media like Instagram and Twitter. The general outline of the challenge is as such: Each day, you will record yourself talking about a given theme in your target language for about a minute, and post it onto social media with the hashtag (if you like). This happens every day, for 30 consecutive days. Daily prompts can range from topics related to self introduction, to talking about your language goals, in your target language. There are variants of the challenge, typically as different themes, with one separate set dedicated to complete beginners in their target language.

Learners can also put a little twist on this challenge, opting to write about 100 words in their target language regarding the daily topic, honing their writing skills instead of their speaking skills. Alternatively, they could do both together, turning what they have written into a script for their short speech or presentation. Although largely an individual effort, the use of the hashtag may have created its own community as learners watch their peers’ attempts at the daily prompt, or see how they have progressed in their target languages. Feedback is not really guaranteed, since this is a rather individual challenge.

Having used this to practice writing in Russian, I find this challenge a great experience to get started in a target language. With daily prompts for about a straight month, it allowed for sufficient daily practice, especially when starting out to find inspiration for writing or speaking topics. Perhaps one of the challenges that learners would struggle with is the commitment to post daily updates on their social media (if they want to). As feedback is generally not given, learners may still not know if they have made mistakes to learn from in speaking or writing. As this challenge goes on for a month, some mistakes could turn into habit, having some consequences later on in the learning process. Overall, the 30-day Record Yourself Challenge is great for learners to show their steady progress in their target language in writing or speaking to their peers or friends. While focused on these two aspects, they are nonetheless important for personal expression in various topics, something that learners will increasingly experience in their language learning journeys.

7-day Challenges

If you need a short-term boost in motivation, or craving for avenues for practice, 7-day challenges often aim to serve such purposes. Often targeted at learners who have encountered a so-called “road block”, or need an inspiration to write or do anything related to the daily prompt in their target language, this type of challenges often feature a task learners must try to complete before the day ends, be it talk to a person in their target language, learn news words in their target language, or write out, in simple sentences, goals in their target language. These tasks often take up less than 10 minutes each, totaling up to under an hour, making it somewhat feasible for learners to squeeze in time in their schedule to attempt the challenge.

The main experience I have had with the 7-day challenge was the one planned out by Mizuki Tao on fluencyspot, for the Finnish language, arguably one of the hardest languages to pick up. When subscribed, you will be part of a mailing list that sends you an email daily, for seven days, presenting to you the tasks of the day. Speaking, reading, writing and listening are all part of the package, regardless of competency level. After completing the tasks of the day, learners reply the email notifying fluencyspot that they are done, and sometimes they might receive a short personalised message from the creator as a reaction to a learning experience they shared.

Appended to the end of each task, comes suggestions for resources learners can explore as they attempt the task at hand. It is often useful for new learners who are getting a grasp of language learning, but more experienced learners would have their own methods in mind to practice.

Overall, I think that the 7-day language challenge is suited for learners who are trying to find short-term motivation for learning a language, although this motivation can quickly die off mid-task, or shortly after the end of the challenge. One concern would definitely be losing passion for the language over time, though that may not always be the case. Perhaps seven days may arguably be too short of a time frame for such challenges, especially if learners wish to cultivate a long-lived interest in their target languages.

Final Remarks

We have taken a look at three types of language learning challenges, each with their own set example. Given the diverse aims and objectives for each respective challenge, we cannot really give a conclusive, one-size-fits-all rating, but rather look at the limitations of each challenge in terms of feedback and commitment issues (though the latter lies more on the learner than the format of the challenge). In any case, these challenges still serve their main aim at motivating learners and their peers to practice their target languages for a set period of time, and are generally well-received by the language learning community.

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