How to Measure Your Language-Learning Progress

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measure-language-progressSorry!

You can’t learn a new language in a month.

No matter what they promise you, it’s not going to happen. (At least not until they invent a language chip they can insert into your brain.)

Learning a new language is a rather lengthy process. It’s not something you do for a while and then you’re done. Some would say it’s a lifetime project.

Yeah, it may get easier later on, but to actually get that far in the first place, you need something(s) that keeps you on board.

One such thing is measuring your progress

The Importance of Measuring Your Progress

Although measuring your language progress can be fun, you’re not doing it to have a good time.

Instead, you do it to increase the likelihood that you’ll reach your goal of speaking your target language.

How?

Consider this:

  • You actually see your progress. Bad-day blues often makes progress invisible to you — as if you haven’t learned shit! Certain measuring methods immediately put you back into reality by showing that you’ve made more progress than you think. And if they don’t, that’s great too:
  • You know when it’s time for a change. If your measurements tell you you’re not progressing anymore, you’ll know it’s time to shake things up. Some measuring methods even let you know what language skills deserve more of your attention. The more detailed you measure, the more you know what’s working and what isn’t.
  • The more you do, the harder it is to quit. The urge to quit your language learning altogether can be seriously diminished by seeing you’ve spent 250 hours battling with your new lingo. If you walk away now, all that time will have been for nothing (almost). Set up a simple routine to track how much time you devote to your language learning. Don’t be afraid to be specific.

Basic Progress Tracking Methods

Something is better than nothing.

Waaaaayyyyy better. 

But if you can, try to use various methods simultaneously.

If you use just one method, chances are it will skew the results. Positively, or negatively.

You get a more accurate idea of your overall skill in your target language if you use several methods. If you can’t do that for whatever reason, then stick with a single method for now. Perhaps you can add more later.

With that out of the waaaaayyyyy, let’s go over some basic progress tracking methods:

  • Using Spaced-Repetition software like Anki is one the easiest ways to measure your progress. At least when it comes to vocab. You can easily see how many words you’ve learned and often even whether your recall rate is rising or falling.
  • Tracking Time Spent on learning your new language. It doesn’t only help you rethink your stance on quitting on your target language altogether, it also helps you keep yourself accountable for the time you study. During my language learning I’ve always used this simple method, even when I didn’t use anything else to measure my progress. You can track global time spent, or as detailed as you like.
  • Re-reading texts or short stories after you marked what you understood of it the first time you read it. This is simple but powerful at the same time. Read a text or short story and mark what you understand. Leave the story alone for a few weeks and re-read it. Although not exact (but what is with language learning?), it’s a method that can give you clues whether or not you’re on the right track.
  • Listening to music or video content. Then leave it alone for a few weeks. Come back to it and see if you understand significantly more than the last time you heard this.
  • The Feedback from Speaking your target Language is invaluable. I’m not a big fan of having real-life conversations from the get-go, but you should definitely start conversing when you’re in the intermediate stage. Do people repeatedly ask you what you just said but you can understand them fine? Your speaking needs work! Do people talk with you like you are a native but you have trouble understanding them? Get off your butt and start working on your listening skills!

Dialang – The most convenient solution?

Ok, let’s get real here:

Measuring your progress helps.

But if you go all out on it…

It is extra work.

Good for you then, that there’s FREE software that can test you on every skill except speaking

It’s called Dialang and it was developed by several higher education institutions. It compares your test results against the Common European Framework for language learning(CEF). It even offers advice on how to improve your skills.

Dialang offers tests for the following 14 languages:

  • Danish
  • Dutch
  • English
  • Finnish
  • French
  • German
  • Greek
  • Icelandic
  • Irish-gaelic
  • Italian
  • Norwegian
  • Portuguese
  • Spanish
  • Swedish

You can download and install Dialang, or use the online version.

Dialang-Placement-test-o

Dialang is more of a long-term measuring tool. Scores will change little over a week or two, but testing your skills every month or so is a great idea.

Dialang isn’t perfect. For example, you have all the time in the world to answer the questions — something which you wouldn’t encounter in a real world situation. Nevertheless, it’s quite a convenient solution to measure how you’re doing with your target language.

Do Something

Measuring progress offers many benefits to the language learner (Yep, that’s you and me). 

It will increase the chances of you learning your target language to fluency.

Detailed measuring brings detailed results — which allow you to fine tune your language learning — but it isn’t for everybody. Good, then, that you don’t have to complicate things. If you find you’re better off with one of the simple methods, then stick to that.

The most important thing is that you measure something. It’ll help you stay the course, which, ultimately, is what counts most when learning another language.

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Comments

  1. paulsscubadive says:

    I am learning a number of languages. I do not need to use a “test” to see if I am progressing, as I know when I can understand the language spoken to me, or read the text with full understanding that I am making progress. I am using Duolingo for one of my languages, and it has a built in function that makes you go back and reao (redo) some of the previous lessons. I know when I read some of my old lessons with full comprehension, that I am making progress. Duolingo has lots of “tricks” to keep you going.
    I guess tests are good for some people, but I just like progressing without any “angst” from tests. Gee, I did enough of them at school. I learn languages for a great many reasons, and that keeps me on track! I know when I understand more and more of the language(s), that I am on track. I am a fan of Benny Lewis and I did follow his advice in seeking native speakers from the “get-go”. Again I had some prior knowledge of the language from years back so when I commenced to re-learn my first foreign language, speaking it from the start was not a problem. I think speaking is very important, as after all speaking is what language is all about. When we were at school we studied the “guts” out of the grammar, but could not carry out a conversation. I now hold conversations on Skype on a two / three weekly basis. I am rambling on here so I will close. Good blog, just that I do not need “tests” to keep me going!

    • Noel van Vliet says:

      Thanks for sharing your views, Paul.

      I appreciate it.

      Here are mine:

      Conversing is extremely important and can be a good motivational tool as well as a DEmotivation tool, depends on the person. Most people will get extremely frustrated if they start conversing from the get-go as they can’t express themselves or understand what’s being said to them.

      Yes, you can have a little conversation here and there, but if you’re just starting out conversing shouldn’t be your main method to learn a language.

      Cause if you do so, you’ll have fossilized errors in abundance. I see this all the time. Yes they are communicating with other people, and if you’re not competent in that language, it may even seem impressive, but the amount of errors, the lack of conjugating of verbs etc. is often really bad. Yes, you’re conversing earlier, which may give you a rush of motivation, but you’ll be conversing WELL way later, if at all.

      As you progress, conversing should become gradually more important, until it becomes one your most important tools to master the language. But using it as such in the beginning is not only a waste of time, but can actually hurt you in the long run. (The only exception being that you absolutely hate all other language-learning activities.)

      Now, we shouldn’t confuse conversing with speaking. You should always start speaking directly if speaking means replicating the sounds of your new language, or creating sentences on your own with feedback etc.

      I agree with you that the way they taught languages in schools sucked (heard it’s better now, but can’t confirm this). Of course, you should never study grammar in isolation, unless you want to. 🙂 But why fear tests? They give you an indication of how you’re doing with your new language. If you fear to know how you’re doing with your new language, then learning one becomes extremely difficult, even conversing would be hell.

      All the best,
      Noel

      • paulsscubadive says:

        Thanks Noel,
        I am conversing with people who say “whoa” if I make a mistake. I do not “fear” tests, as good old Duolingo has many sentences spoken directly to you, and goes “red”, “bong your wrong”, if you make a translation mistake of the oral words just spoken to you.
        When I was at school (many years ago), all we had was to study the grammar, have “unseen” passages of writing to translate etc. Boring and none of us could speak the language (fluently) after years of study.
        I think many people have many different learning styles, where the style you like is the one that will give you the final result of being able to speak (and read / write) the language. You can never have too many language courses. I use multiple sources for language learning, text books, teachers, Skype, videos, Duolingo, listening to foreign radio through the Internet etc etc. My Skype language exchange person and I read a book in (parallel) languages and correct each other as we go paragraph by paragraph.

        Cheers, Paul

        • Noel van Vliet says:

          Sounds good, Paul.

          I agree with you, learning from multiple sources is absolutely essential to maximize your progress. I’ve written about that in the past.

          It seems like you have an outstanding language partner because most of the time it’s hard to find the right person. If I were in your shoes, I would really treasure and protect that relationship. Not only do you teach and learn from each other, most likely the relationship also makes it so that you hold each other accountable for staying the course. Great stuff.

          Noel

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