Project Management Techniques and Language Learning

Your strategic vision is nothing more than a clear description of how you see yourself living in the future.  Projects are one-time activities that support your strategic vision.  They differ from your everyday activities, such as washing your dishes or cleaning your house, because if accomplished they have an irrevocable change in your life.  The result, if the project is well chosen, is very positive.  The project moves you closer to the type of life you seek.  Projects are a great paradigm for language learning and an amazing amount of useful study of how to manage projects is available for you to use for free.

Business people have used project management techniques for over a century.  For example, Henry Gantt first developed what became known as the Gantt chart between the years of 1910 and 1915.  This illustrates the relationship between the schedule and current activities.


The Gantt chart is nicely organized and clearly communicates what should be completed on which day.  An activity name could easily be “Ordering in a Restaurant,” with sub-activities of “read a menu” and “speaking with a waiter.”  If you can estimate how long it will take you to learn that skill you can place it on a calendar and keep yourself accountable.  The way to figure out how long (and possibly how much) it will be to learn a skill is through a WBS.

This is a work breakdown structure (WBS).  It is a rough outline that has a clear category of work or skill acquisition.  The biggest problem I see with people wanting to be “fluent” is that they can rarely define what that means.  A WBS solves this problem by breaking an objective down into its most elemental activities.  This is the principle of “keeping it simple” at its finest.  It can be as simple as you see here, whether using high-speed office products like a monster-sized post-it note and smaller post-it notes, whiteboard or a smart board.  You must choose a single clear objective of what you what to achieve and then break down into subtasks that can’t be made into anything more basic, commonly called “work packages.”  The SIELE is a recognized test for Spanish language fluency.  Here is a WBS that I made for achieving a C2 (proficiency level) score on the SIELE.


The main objective is the SIELE test with a suspense (deadline) for completion of December 2019.  Notice how I broke the test down into its subcomponents.  My goal is not some vague notion of Spanish fluency.  It is a score of C2 on the SIELE.  The fact is that Spanish fluency may be an “effect” of achieving that goal (which I talk about in other posts) but Spanish fluency itself is probably too notional to be practical using project management techniques.  Each large yellow lined post-in directly below the hand-written objective is one of those sections with a note for how long it is.  Languages in general and language tests, in particular, are very amenable to being broken down into manageable chunks.  I may be overwhelmed attempting to learn all the SIELE subjects, but I don’t really have to attack the problem that way.  I look at one section of the test and break that down into what the activities of that section are.  Then I learn how to do those activities to the best of my ability, ensuring that I am tested by a coach.

Ideally, each of your work packages contains the following elements:

  1.  Defines the work. (clear task)
  2. Identifies the time to completion.  (minutes, hours, days: whatever is useful)
  3. Identifies the cost. (usually in dollars, if it is self-learning I use my hourly consulting rate.  If I am using a paid service I do the math and figure out how much that is per hour)
  4. Identifies the resources required.  (books, websites)
  5. Identifies the person responsible. (usually you, but I use this to identify my teammates)
  6. Identifies how you will measure progress.  (visual reinforcement in this regard is helpful.  Everyone hates quizzes and tests but they will always be an effective tool for this.

Many of the other notes on the WBS require some explanation.  The large yellow notes underneath the rainbow of small post-it notes are actually tasks not directly part of the SIELE but ones that I find extremely useful in learning any language.  One of the most important would be the 1000 most common words that occur in that language.  That is vital to any beginner and it is a high payoff task.  One of the most effective ways to knock that out is to build a flashcard deck of those words in Quizlet or another application.  Most of these applications recognize the proven value of spaced repetition and there are modes to see and review the 1000 words in the most efficient and effective ways possible.  Another key task noted on the large yellow handwritten memos at the bottom of the page is the elemental sounds of Spanish.  At least one paid service, the Mimic Method, believes in the value of learning these well first, and this could prove to be effective for some people.  There is a great review of this service on Spanish Hackers.  Fortunately for Spanish, in particular, there are really only five vowel sounds to learn and perfect.

What comes next is entering the WBS on some sort of spreadsheet or software so that you have a time-based list of what needs to be accomplished.  When you set dates to the activities you are going to know whether you are ahead of schedule or behind schedule.  You won’t feel a little bit bad because you kind of think you are behind in achieving your language goals.  You will definitely feel A LOT bad because you know exactly how far behind you are.  However, that is a good tool for you and your coach and will put you on the quickest and most effective path towards your strategic vision of language fluency.  Either you suffer some now for the sake of learning or a lot later for regret of not taking action today.




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