Rudey's Room

How to Create New Habits

When I mention I teach French, people often lament, “oh, I wish I’d kept up my French.”

Simple: Spend a month in the south of France, lounging by the Mediterranean,

Vacationing on the French Riviera

and shopping the fresh markets, like the Marché aux Fleurs in Nice.

Don’t pinch me. I like to dream.

Absolument, you can invest time and money:Take classes at Berlitz or the Alliance Française, or travel to a Francophone country. Your language skills will soar.

But if, like me, you want something more integrated with your daily life …

In January, I learned about a free, 5-day online program called, Tiny Habitsfrom a friend of mine (the writer of the blog Wellfesto).

Stanford professor BJ Fogg, has researched habits for 18 years. He says a “Tiny Habit” is a behavior:

  • you do at least once a day
  • that takes you less than 30 seconds
  • that requires little effort

Daily was questionable. But thirty seconds and effortless, I could do.

So, I logged on to create some French habits.

First, I wanted a quick answer when someone inquired about resurrecting their French (or any language). Use it or lose it is accurate. Language will deteriorate in your mind if you don’t keep it active. So how can one reacquire language sans limitless time and money?

Second, my New Years’s goal was to immerse my daughers more consistently in French. I was patchy at best. And to advance (or at least, maintain) my level. It sounds silly since I spend my days drenched in French, teaching French.

Yet without upkeep, my advanced level drops off fast as I regurgitate 1000 core words to build my students’ base.

This year, I’ve had the fortune to have Parisian teacher in my classroom with me. It’s as though I’m studying in Aix-en-Provence again, but she bids me adieu next week.

My 3 French habits are the following:
  • After I buckle my seatbelt in the car, I pull out my ipod to listen to French music.
  • After I enter my classroom in the morning, I grab my French/English index cards.
  • At my prep time, I turn on the French radio.

Fogg advices to figure out how to “anchor” the behavior into your daily life. He says, “Plan to do the new tiny behavior after an extremely reliable habit you have, what I call an ‘anchor.’ ”

I always put on my seatbelt. That is a set habit. So I linked a desired habit to this anchor. Systematically. For the habit-forming week, I got in the car, buckled my seatbelt and set my ipod to a French CD.

My other two habits are week-day habits. It’s easier for me to anchor the new behaviors to my job as I am at school Monday through Friday.

He also recommends you do a little planning to make the habits flow with your daily routines.

The first habit inspired me to create several play lists of French music – both children’s and adults’. Les Nubians, Autour de Minuit, is a soul-ruling favorite that we sing daily at alarmingly loud volume. My youngest calls it, “Mommy and my song.”
Music crosses borders like nothing else, and is a fantastic way to keep your language juggling fluid and natural. When the music fades away, the words stay.
This radiates for me when my youngest says, “ça sent bon” about dinner. This is a phrase she learned in the lullaby I sing, Fais dodo, Colas mon p’tit frère, and connected to our life seemlessly.
I put my spired index cards on my desk, and taped a Post-It to my computer, “Practice Fiches!” I add words that I hear from the radio, from songs, from the 1000 French words app, and from Sarah – the Parisian. I spend five minutes a day flipping through them.

I downloaded the app Radio Française on my iphone and my ipad. This app has hundreds of French-speaking radio stations. I opened a tab on my desk to Radio France. I trade between listening to Radio Nova – a global Paris station that marries funky beats and French – and Radio France. Often, the stations are little more than noise as I’m buzzing in and out, and all around my classroom preparing for my next series of classes. But turning it on is now a habit.

Other options: Watch the news at TV5 or France 24, listen to podcasts and audiobooks, and read blogs (I’m a fan of Chocolate & Zucchini).

Bottomline about language:

  • Keep it interesting to you. Some things are exciting at first, but turn boring after a few gos.
  • Keep it at the right level. The website French About has quizzes to help you gauge your level, and you can sign up for daily words and quizzes to keep it afloat. Then tune into a radio station that matches your speed. Or search itunes for catchy songs. Print the lyrics, review the words, and unveil your inner rock star. Or change the language on your favorite movie to French.

Being consistent with your level and learning tastes is key to optimizing your language learning acquisition.

Is there are a “Tiny Habit” you would like to add to your life?

Ciao for now.

3 Responses to “How to Create New Habits”

  1. brynnharrington

    I love the idea of french music in the car, and I’m not even aspiring to speak french. It’s just so much cooler than the German music I’d have to listen to if I were working on my language skills. Loved this post and the idea of your days interrupted with French potpourri. Oh, and thanks for the shout out! 🙂


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