As I write this, I’m on week 5 of the 6 Week Challenge with Arabic (more on that later!). This is my second time participating. Last year I joined the challenge with Russian. Both times have been… interesting, and I figured I’d share my experiences.
The 6 Week Challenge is a challenge to upgrade your language skills in one language from beginner to something more worthwhile, and to see if you can find more time to study languages when competing with other participants in a global highscore. 6 Week Challenges start on February 1st, May 1st, August 1st and November 1st every year, so there is a rough 6 weeks on / 6 weeks off pattern. Note that you can only do the 6 Week Challenge with a language that you’re a beginner at or lower-intermediate at most. This allows for a more just comparison between participants.https://6wc.learnlangs.com/howto
The first time I participated, I had just finished Russian at CEFR A1.2 level after a year of weekly classes. It was summer, classes were over, and the idea of spending some extra time on Russian during the down time was alluring. So I made a plan for the challenge:
- Study the textbook we use in class (Paspoort voor Rusland)
- Study around 10 new words daily from my Memrise decks + keep up with vocab reviews
- Use Drops for 5-10 minutes a day
- Write a short Russian piece on Lang-8 once a week
- Do a language exchange on iTalki
- Participate in Russian study group (a group we set up with a few classmates)
- Watch lots of movies and tv-series (for fun)
- Lots of reading from beginners’ books (Stories in Easy Russian A2, etc.)
By the time the challenge would be over, classes were starting again. Seems perfect, right?
And actually, it was! (with a few sidenotes)
I kept track of everything I did in an app and categorised my activities by reading, listening, speaking, Memrise, Duolingo, textbook, etc. I ended up dropping Drops (hah) and adding a lot of listening (podcasts, musicals, etc.) but otherwise mostly stuck to my plan. In the end I spent 71 hours and 8 minutes on Russian over the course of 6 weeks! And got third place in the challenge 🙂
- Listening: 25 hours 50 minutes
- Memrise: 16 hours 3 minutes
- Reading: 7 hours 54 minutes
- Speaking: 6 hours 40 minutes
- Duolingo: 5 hours 1 minute
- Writing: 4 hours 9 minutes
- Grammar+textbook: 5 hours 23 minutes
- + some leftover minutes
Listening was surprisingly fun. I especially enjoyed the Slow Russian Podcast and ended up listening to that one a lot. I kept on top of my Memrise reviews and read quite a bit. But I’m most of all proud of all the speaking practice I managed to get in. Speaking has always been my weakest point, but I found a reliable language exchange partner through iTalki who was looking to learn Dutch and whose ability was on approximately the same level as my Russian.
So what did I accomplish by doing this challenge? First of all: burning myself out a little, haha. I had pushed pretty hard and by the time the challenge was over I had to take a break for a few weeks. I also really missed spending time on my other languages: I was on a pretty good Ainu roll before the challenge started but decided to put that on hold. I haven’t worked on it since then, unfortunately.
But on the plus side: I noticed serious improvement in all my Russian skills. My listening skills got better, as did my reading skills. Most of all, I got a lot more comfortable at speaking! During the challenge I had slowly started chipping away at the mental barrier that kept me from talking freely. My pronunciation improved immensely too. I call that a win!
Arabic is an interesting case. It’s a language that I was interested in learning at some point, but absolutely not yet. Maybe 5 or 10 years from now? But then I got the opportunity to take an intensive three week course that cost me nothing but a little bit of free time (joke’s on me). The start of the course coincided with the start of the 6 Week Challenge, so I decided to participate again.
Two weeks in, I had spent a ton of hours on Arabic. Besides the three hours of class a day, there was often at least three hours of homework and studying to be done (and this was after my regular work hours). I was exhausted, and I realised that while I enjoyed the language, I wasn’t completely enamoured with it and definitely not really interested in continuing. I decided to quit the challenge (and Arabic) after the 3 weeks of class were over.
The day after classes ended… I was still studying Arabic.
I decided I would make the most of the 6 Week Challenge, with a complete ride-or-die attitude. After all, I had a decent level of Arabic under my belt (solid A1 level), and it would be a waste to quit. Basically, I was learning (some) Arabic from absolutely zero in 6 weeks, and that was too good to give up.
Classes were structured by the textbook we were using, Mastering Arabic. To back this up, I studied the vocab that goes with the textbook on Memrise.
After classes had ended, I was looking for a way to maintain what I had learned and found the solution in Duolingo. Probably not entirely by coincidence, the Duolingo course is structured the same way as the Mastering Arabic textbook and uses much of the same vocabulary and themes. It turned out to be great way to review what I had learned so far.
By now I have finished the entire Duolingo course (which, at this point, isn’t that long yet) and will continue to level up the different lessons. I always have trouble remembering vocabulary though, so I was really missing a Memrise course to go along with Duolingo. I put out a request on the Duolingo Arabic forum to see if someone was willing to work together on a Memrise course. I found someone who had a list of all the words that appeared in the course and then created a deck on Memrise. I find that creating a deck, even if you never end up using it, also helps you remember vocab.
I haven’t been studying actively besides Duolingo and Memrise, but I’m trying the immersion route during down time. I’ve been listing to Arab music a lot (and got completely addicted to Mashrou’ Leila! + Spotify’s Arab Indie playlist is a gem), watched a few movies and am currently watching the Egyptian series Secret of the Nile (which I am enjoying a lot more than I’d like to admit, hah).
Overall, I did things differently than the first time I joined the 6 Week Challenge with Russian. Back then I spent almost no time on any of my other languages (with the exception of a few things I watched in Japanese). While I had zero time for anything else while Arabic classes were on, I low-key worked on most of my other languages after classes ended. I even picked up Mandarin again on Duolingo, something I hadn’t done in months, and even a new language (to be revealed!).
The challenge isn’t over yet, but I’m already considering what to do afterwards. I don’t think I will seriously continue learning Arabic. After Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Russian (still my current love) I just don’t think seriously learning Arabic is sustainable. Hell, I gave up on half those languages as it is! I will probably try to keep up with the Duolingo Arabic course, and see if I can keep my current level (and maybe even improve a little). But low-key.
The 6 Week Challenge is actually not the only challenge I’m participating in. I’ve also joined the longer Language Super Challenge, the point of which is to watch the equivalent of 100 movies and read the equivalent of 100 books in approximately 500 days. I’m doing the ‘half challenge’ with both Japanese and Russian.
There are many more challenges out there, with different purposes. Just Googling gives you a lot of options, whether you want to spend more time on your main target language, or want to try something entirely new.
In my opinion, if you find a challenge that matches your goal, it’s worthwhile doing!