How to form a routine that will help you learn anything

This is a post about creating a routine and learning anything you choose. It is inspired by a friend who wants to learn but is lacking in confidence.

I want to say: YES, YOU CAN! It is absolutely within your reach.

All you have to do is your daily homework. That little tiny bit every day that is going to make you better tomorrow.

Set an ultimate long-term goal and then use it to plan backwards your monthly, weekly and daily routine. Planning backwards works wonders.

Let’s just say you want to complete a course and sit an exam in May. What do you need to know by end of April, March, February, January? Once you know your months, go to your weeks and then your days. Balance your weeks and your days with everything else you need to do and set your daily goal.

Focus on that daily goal. That tiny bit of knowledge. Do this and forget about the rest. Be vigilant and safeguard that daily improvement. Even if it is ten minutes’ worth of reading. It adds up. I promise! Set your long-term goal, split it into smaller parts for your plan and just do your daily homework.

If you have a tutor or a predefined learning path even better! Splitting the knowledge into manageable bits and setting milestones would be the tutor’s job. Having a tutor can be a relief. All you have to do, is do as they say. Nothing to think about. When I realised that I was so relieved. I could free my mind of worry and simply follow instructions. Like what happens with kids at school. They don’t really worry about what happens or how much they know at the end of the school year. They do their homework and that’s enough.

To me that’s what youth is all about. It is about learning something new every day. Using your mind in new ways, responding to new questions, training your thought process to deliver new outcomes. I believe that therefore the young have the fresh ideas, the dreams the aspirations. Because they are constantly challenged. They function within a framework that trains their mind, that provides new information, and thus new thoughts.

We can do this too. We owe it to ourselves to do this too. We ought to claim our fresh mind, to nurture it and challenge it.

I promise you, if I can do it and kids can do it, you can do it too! Try learning for 10 minutes every day, or 5 pages everyday or whatever number fits your daily schedule. Have confidence in the process. It adds up and delivers.

After a week look back, after a month look back. See?

You did it!

Learning French in my forties. What do you want to learn?

Today I received my C1 Certificate in the French Language. According to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, C1 means that I am now officially a proficient user! A courier rung the bell at the front door and handed it to me. I didn’t even have to go to the French Institute to get the document. Very convenient since the Institute is quite a long way from home. Receiving it gave me great joy and reminded me of this journey of learning French over the last six years.

This certificate is now on my wall and I smile every time I look at it. Not only because I learned the specific skill, but also because I see it as proof that I can actually still learn something new and demanding.

Six years ago I didn’t know a single word. My 40th birthday was just around the corner. I admired French culture in terms of fashion and cooking and style. One has to appreciate the role of France and Paris in fashion and cuisine as well as literature and philosophy. There is the French Revolution and its contribution to modern history; initiating the decline of the absolute monarchies and the creation of republics and liberal democracies. There is May 68 and the fight for human rights and equality.

Apart from all that historical detail, I like their style, that “je ne sais quoi” of the French woman, the beauty and mystery of Paris.

Colourful children's books.

Children’s books

So when my children started learning French at school, I said: “Why not me? I want to learn French too!”  And so I started. I found a teacher, bought my books and began studying. My first books were full of pictures, books destined for kids about 10 years old. But it was fun. I felt so young and enjoyed this freshness so much.

I was a good student and so after about 9 months I decided to take the A1 level exams. A1 means breakthrough or beginner level. When I went there, my fellow exam takers were around 11 years old and I was practically their mum. Still I enjoyed this. In the corridors leading to the classrooms for the exam they were all at the height of my shoulder.

At the entrance the guard looked at me strangely and said: “Mums are not allowed in!” To which I replied: “I am here to take the exam myself.” That was a bit awkward.

I felt so youthful; so eager to learn more. I knew then, as I know now, there is always so much more to learn. My first exam was in May 2012. Three years later I sat the exam for B1, Intermediate user. Studying got a bit more demanding and yet again at the exams I was significantly taller than everybody else in the corridors.

In May 2016 I sat the B2 exam and things got quite serious now. This denotes a vantage independent user. The oral exam is particularly demanding since this Certificate is a prerequisite for acceptance to French Universities. I was so stressed that I left my Identification card at home. On top of everything I had to cover for the exam, I also had to negotiate a time allowance for checking my credentials. My husband was coming in a hurry to bring me my ID! Crazy! Making all those arrangements in French was so stressful! But then again, it was my fault. My stress brought me even more stress. I did manage to pass the exam though and my score was not that bad, considering… It was 17 of 25.

I am so embarrassed about this story, I didn’t tell anyone for years. I even made my husband promise he wouldn’t tell anyone. Even at this moment as I write this, I am not sure whether I am going to leave this bit in or delete it. Looks like I’m leaving it.

And after that I decided to continue learning French. I said I would learn the language, so I figured why not take it all the way. C1 Certificate means proficient user. That’s enough for now. I wasn’t the tallest person in the room anymore; not even the oldest one. Plus, this was definitely among the most difficult exams I have ever taken in my life. (And I have taken quite a few.) It lasts for four hours nonstop. Towards the end I knew my essays could do with some rephrasing or some amendments but my mind wasn’t functioning properly anymore. I literally couldn’t improve my writing any further. According to statistics, at this point it is far more likely to replace what is right with something wrong rather that the other way around.

As far as the oral exam was concerned, success! I had my ID with me! No unnecessary stress. And although I have never lived in France or had any serious practice speaking I was able to get my biggest score ever: 20 of 25! How? I was self aware and realistic enough to focus on what I could do well. Pronunciation was not going to be my forte. Technique was! I learned all there was to know about how to structure my presentation and give substance and cohesion to any theme. It worked!

Thanks to that experience I am also writing this post today. The exercise of writing essays in French again and again for the last years made me gain the confidence to start this blog. And now I can write whatever I want and in a language that comes naturally!

Before I go I would like to say this: If I did it, you can do it too! And it doesn’t have to be French. You can learn anything you want to. You just have to play to your strengths.

  • In your week isolate the time you can spare for studying, it doesn’t have to be long but you have to be systematic about it.
  • Play to your cognitive strengths. Identify your strong points and utilise them to your benefit. Are you good with structure, numbers, memorising? Or do you look for deeper connections? Does it help to read out loud or keep meticulous notes?

Don’t worry. Honestly. You can do this and find joy in the process as well! Even if it is because you are the tallest person in the room!

Colourful french macaroons,purple, pink, yellow, white. Yummy!

Colourful french macaroons

What did you thing of my experience? Send me your thoughts below!