This post contains affiliate links. We only recommend products we believe in.Two months of intensive study? Check. Five days getting my bearings in a new country? Check. Two very surprised Drops founders? Check, check, and check.
I’ve done several language projects before:
But my latest project is different from anything that I’ve ever completed in the past. Why? Because this time around, I had to keep the entire project a secret until the big reveal.
The last two months, I used Drops as part of a covert language mission. It was tough keeping it under wraps, but the secret’s out and I’m ready to share exactly what I did to go from not knowing a single word in Hungarian to communicating on a basic level in just two months.
So why did I decide to learn Hungarian?
You see, the founders of Drops, Mark and Daniel, are both Hungarian. As are other members of our team. They all speak English amazingly well, but I wanted to do something to surprise them. But more importantly, show that when it comes to speaking one another’s languages, the effort wasn’t one-sided.
And I thought, what better way to do that than use the very thing that brought us together? And so, my secret mission to learn Hungarian with Drops began.
Because the Drops team is spread out around the world, we set aside time every so often to meet up and work together in person. The first get together after I started to learn Hungarian happened to be in Hungary, so the timing was perfect.
My goal: by the time our trip to Budapest rolled around, I would speak enough Hungarian to get by in a brief conversation.
Beyond that, I hoped to learn enough Hungarian to get around in Budapest during the week I was there.
When it comes to picking up new languages, I tend to repeat a process I’ve refined over the last few years as a serial language learner. But this time, I wanted to try something different.
As a learner, I’ve used Drops for several years, but always as one resource of many. As a part of this project, I wanted to try Drops differently. Rather than it being a small part of my overall strategy, I wanted to make it the focus.
During the two months I prepared for the big reveal, the majority of my study time was spent with Drops. I did use other resources on occasion so I could get more context for everything I was learning (and I’ll also share these tools in this series).
To get ready, I wanted to chat with someone who had already traveled the path I was about to walk on. Someone who had also completed and documented a two-month Hungarian mission. So I reached out to my good friend, Benny Lewis, of Fluent in 3 Months. Here’s the conversation he and I had about learning the Hungarian language:
From the day I started the project to the day I surprised Daniel and Mark in Budapest, I had about two months to study.
To make sure I got the most out of that time, I set regular milestones I wanted to reach every few days, and in this series, I’ll share what these were and what I did to reach them. For now, here are the milestones:
In Drops, there’s a feature we call the “dojo”. It’s where you review words you’ve learned and get to focus on the vocabulary you struggle with most. The catch? You can’t access the dojo until you’ve learned your first 50 words.
The first milestone I set for myself was to get into the Drops dojo by day three. I wanted to not only learn new words with Drops, but also master them by getting in focused review sessions as a part of the dojo.
The next milestone I wanted to aim for was finding someone with whom I could practice Hungarian. Once I found that person, I would set up a consistent time to chat. Getting a chat on the calendar is an important way I keep myself accountable. When there’s a date on the calendar, I won’t procrastinate or bail. I’ve made a commitment and I stick to it.
Learning lots of vocabulary is really important. That’s why I wanted to make Drops the focus of this project. My goal, however, was to chat with my co-workers in Hungarian, so I needed a little bit more than words alone.
When I learn a new language, I often use scripts to help me prepare for conversations that might come up, so my third milestone would be to write a short script introducing myself and asking my conversation partners questions about themselves.
Once I’ve had a few weeks with the language, I like to schedule a lesson with a professional tutor. That way, I can get feedback on my progress, get context for the language I’m learning and have the chance to interact. Where do I find tutors? On italki. They have amazing teachers who offer affordable lessons.
It can be intimidating to try to figure out an entirely new language on your own, and that’s why I like to work with someone who can tell me (honestly) how I’m doing. Do I think it’s necessary to have a tutor? Perhaps, but you can get a lot out of regular conversations with an exchange partner, too. Both have costs — tutors cost money and exchange partners cost time (with an exchange partner, you’re splitting your time 50/50 so that you each get the chance to practice your new language with one another). Which you choose will depend a lot on this factor.
When I first start studying a language with a tutor, many of our first lessons are either scripted (I prepare a short script and practice it with the tutor) or guided (the tutor prepares a lesson plan and we work through it). After a few lessons like this, however, I like to break away from plans and scripts and try using the language without the help of a lesson plan or notes.
Throughout the challenge, I planned on studying daily with Drops. My goal was that by the end of the project, I’d have had the time to learn all the words currently in the app.
Our team did an incredible job curating word lists with highly relevant and practical vocabulary, so much of what I learned with the app was immediately applicable to my ultimate goal. Additionally, my experience has shown me that learning tons of vocabulary up front is an incredible way to make huge strides in language learning from the start.
We planned on having the big project reveal at the end of our week in Budapest. Up until that moment, I wanted to use Hungarian as much as I could while visiting the city. I needed to do it when I was on my own, so my opportunities were limited, but I was sure to take advantage of them.
As I mentioned, I was in Budapest, Hungary with the rest of the Drops team at the end of the project. The Final Mission was how I determined the success of my project.
How did I measure my progress?
By whether or not I was able to use enough Hungarian to surprise Mark and Daniel!
That moment will, of course, was caught on video and you’ll get to see their reactions at the end of this series about the challenge.
Now that you know what I’m planned to do, let’s talk about how I’ll do it.
One of the strategies I’d like to explore as a part of this challenge is how much I can accomplish with a limited number of resources. I plan on using three:
I’ll post regular updates about this project, so be sure to subscribe to follow along. You can also visit this project summary page to find links to everything in one place as it becomes available.
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