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A few weeks ago, I put out a call to readers to tell me about one of your Big Goals, and I offered to design customized, mini action plans to help you get started on the first few steps. This is part of that series.

Anonymous writes:

My goal is to learn basic German. My biggest obstacle is general laziness, a lack of motivation and a little fear. I need to prioritize this over Netflix (sad, I know) and make it something I focus on in my free time. I’m afraid because I hate being bad at things and I don’t want the difficulty of learning a new language to deter me. I was a language major in college, though, so you’d think I wouldn’t be scared of learning a new one!

So, Anonymous, two things:

  • I studied German in high school and struggled with it mightily. The only phrase I remember is “Ich bin eine papierkorb.” (I am a trashcan.)
  • I have lost so many productive hours to Netflix. I hear you.

Learning a language is no small thing, and some people spend a lot of time and money while ultimately failing to become fluent and giving up. Let’s look at free and easy resources first, build some bite-sized practice sessions into your day and work on sticking to them long enough that they become natural to you.

1. Gather your tools.

If you haven’t yet, test out a few phone apps for learning languages and pick your favorite. I really like Duolingo. It’s free and has an app for smartphones as well as a website version.

You’ll probably also want to pick up a German dictionary and phrasebook – or, since this is 2016 and we’re not barbarians – find those things online and bookmark them.

Have everything you need ready and at your fingertips.

2. Employ strategic bribery.

I really like bribery as a tactic for working on goals.

Netflix is the best/worst thing to happen to our society. Endless entertainment on demand!

But oh god, like… endless entertainment on demand.

So, back to bribes. Put some bribes in place all over your living space. Piggyback these bribes onto something you already do regularly out of habit, like firing up Netflix.

This might mean writing “15 MINUTES OF GERMAN” on a Post-it Note and sticking it to the front of your TV. Before you’re allowed to turn it on, spend 15 minutes working on phrases. Brainstorm some other places in your day where you can work in these bribes.

You can still do the things you like to do for fun! I would never suggest that you give up an entire evening to study – in fact, I think forcing yourself to do things in huge doses is a bad idea and usually drives people to give up.

Instead, build small periods of practice in around things you like to do, once or twice a day.

Research shows that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit, depending on the person. That means you’ll need to be your own worst critic when deciding how long bribery is necessary. Keep it in place until practicing becomes second nature.

3. Set some deadlines to keep yourself on track.

Most people work better with deadlines, even if we don’t like to admit that we need them. With learning a language, this is tricky because there’s no hard “checkpoints”, but let’s try to hammer out some general ones.

Here are some ideas:

  • In one month I’d like to be able to string together complete, simple sentences in German.
  • In three months I’d like to be able to write one complete paragraph in German.
  • In six months, I’d like to be ready to practice conversation with a real, live German speaker.

Put those dates on the calendar and set reminders in your phone to do to keep those deadlines fresh in your mind. If you’re super To-Do list oriented, break your deadlines down into as many smaller steps as you want. Just don’t overwhelm yourself.

4. Find someone to practice with.

You’ve already said you’re afraid of being bad at things, so this step will be especially hard.

The absolute best way to practice a language is to talk to someone who speaks that language.

I would bet cash money that this is why a lot of people give up on learning a language. Meeting it up with a stranger to babble terrible German at them sounds weird as hell.

The key to making it less weird is to find a native German speaker who wants to babble equally terrible English at you in return. Someone out there is willing to engage in this incredibly awkward endeavor with you. You just need to find them!

This way, nobody is the expert and you can both share a good-natured laugh over your silly newbie mistakes. You can help each other to improve.

A quick google reveals oodles of online sites for finding language learning partners. Conversation Exchange looks simple and free, so that might be a good place to start.

I wish you the best of luck. I hope that you’re screaming at your television in German in no time!

How about you, readers? If you’ve learned or are learning a second language, do you have any favorite tips or tools to recommend?