Language learning inspiration from the Tour de France

Every year, France plays host to the largest annual sporting event in the world: Le Tour de France. For 23 days, competitors cycle 2000 miles through 21 different stages, covering mountain ranges and coastal villages. With all of its twists, turns, rapid sprints and gruelling ascents, we couldn’t help but compare the event to the process of learning a language. So, whether you’re about to start learning a language or you’re close to reaching your goal, get on your bike and come along for the ride with us!

Stages 1-5: Prologue

It’s day one. You’re lined up at the start of the race and can’t wait to get going. Though your nerves are threatening to take over, you set your sights on your end goal as you wait for the sound of the starting pistol.

At this initial stage of learning a new language, it’s likely that you’ll feel that you’re advancing quickly with all of the new vocabulary you’re using each day. While it’s essential to keep your end goal in sight throughout, it’s equally as important to focus on how you’re going to get there, to ensure you stay motivated and don’t lose your enthusiasm if progress feels slow sometimes. The most helpful thing you can do for yourself at this stage is to find a method of learning which you enjoy. Whether it’s listening to podcasts, using apps, writing out colourful notes or going to language ‘tandems’ (pardon the pun!), you’ll be much more likely to reach that final ‘Champs-Elysées’ stage if you enjoy what you’re doing.

Stages 6-10: Flat

You are still filled with excitement and passion for the challenge you’ve taken on, but the further you advance, the more you realise how much is ahead of you. From here on, there’s no room for freewheeling.

You’ve reached the point in your language-learning journey where you’re starting to make real progress and you can already feel the endorphin rush! So far, you’ve been learning colours, numbers and days of the week but, to be able to advance further, it’s time to get stuck in to the grammar and move on to more complicated learning points. At this stage, make sure to keep enjoying what you’re doing and try to immerse yourself as much as possible in the language you’re learning, whether that’s through listening to the radio in your new language every day, watching TV shows with subtitles or attending evening classes to keep your ear tuned to the sounds of the language.

Stages 11-15: Mountain

Uh oh… You’ve hit the dreaded ‘wall’ and everything feels like an uphill climb that might never end. You’re at the back of the group, other people keep whizzing past you and you can’t help but compare your progress to theirs. Make sure not to back pedal, you can do this!

Anyone who has spent time learning a language will undoubtedly be familiar with ‘the wall’. This is when things start to feel more challenging than the earlier stages. As learning a new language isn’t something that can be done overnight, it’s only natural that there will be peaks, troughs and the odd plateau along the way. If you find yourself in a language-learning rut, why not try different activities and introduce some variety to your learning?Try something creative, like using Post-it notes or flashcards to help you memorise vocabulary. Changing your regular routine will stop things becoming monotonous, and will reinvigorate you, providing the motivation to get you to the next stage! Most importantly, as the saying goes “if you fall off your bike, the best thing to do is get back on and keep pedalling”.

Stages 16-20: Time trial

The end is in sight, and it’s time to get your head down and perhaps even switch up a gear. Maybe something has reminded you of why you decided to take on this challenge in the first place or perhaps you’ve had a sudden burst of motivation. Although there are still some mountains to climb, your confidence is coming back and you’re racing along the route towards the finish line. It’s all downhill from here!

One of the largest hurdles in any major challenge is the fear of making mistakes. In language learning, the most important thing to do at this stage is to think about how far you’ve come. When you have the opportunity to put what you’ve learned into practice, don’t be embarrassed, just go for it. There’s an Italian expression, sbagliando s’impara, which means that it’s only by making mistakes that you actually learn. Once you have this breakthrough moment and realise that nobody will laugh if you get a word wrong, there will be no stopping you! This is also the stage where you begin to feel comfortable in the language and your confidence grows, so enjoy the feeling of ‘freewheeling’ as you put your language learning into practice.

Stage 21: Champs-Elysées

Bravo ! You’ve won the yellow jersey! After countless ups and just as many downs you can be proud to say that you’ve accomplished what you set out to do at the beginning.

At this stage, it’s important to remember that reaching this level doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be mistaken for a native, or that you won’t muddle up a verb conjugation now and again. What it does mean is that you can deal with a variety of different situations in the language you’re learning, and that you are no longer afraid of making mistakes. Language learning is a lifelong journey, not a race, and there is so much to enjoy en route. With some of the skills you’ve already picked up, you’ll be ready for the Giro d’Italia or the Vuelta d’España next!

Of course it’s not just about the language: just as the cyclists who have completed the Tour de France will have built their stamina, developed their fitness and hugely increased their mental focus, you will also have acquired a whole range of additional skills and attributes that go along with learning a language. Whether it is developing confidence, boosting your memory, becoming more creative, widening your cultural awareness or even making new friends, there really are no down sides to learning a language. So, which language are you going to learn next? There’s an open road ahead with so many beautiful scenes and experiences to be discovered and enjoyed. 


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