Learning a language takes time. Depending on how much time you have at your disposal, learning how to communicate in a foreign language can take anywhere from a month to several years. From what I’ve noticed, one year of consistent effort (daily practice) is usually enough to have a casual conversation in a new language.

Today we’re not gonna be talking about how often you should study a language (we’ll leave that for another time), although I’d like to point out that in a lot of cases daily practice is counter-productive because you can easily burn yourself out.

So today, I’d like to deal with an important practice that many people seem to dismiss. That is, keeping a record of language-related questions.

It’s a simple concept but so many people (including myself before) don’t bother with it, so they lose many opportunities to gain extremely useful information.

Allow me to explain what keeping a record of questions is about.

Questions are spontaneous. They appear whenever and wherever they will. As you’re buying your Monday groceries, you might wonder how to ask for a product that’s easy to use in the language you’re learning. But when you’re alone, the only thing you can often do is write a note about it so that you can look for the answer afterwards.

However, without having a written record of your question, you’ll easily forget about it and will never get the answer until the question reappears at some point in the future. Mental notes just don’t work.

Whatever it is that you’re learning, the learning process requires you to adopt new habits. Many of the habits will feel troublesome to you at first, but without them you can’t progress. People often say that they’re only dabbling in something when, in reality, they’re not confident to say that they’re learning it, because it would create expectations and pressure.

Here’s a short list of expressions I recently wanted to know how to put into Chinese…

If it’s tomorrow then I can go.

Not salty enough.

I don’t live in Japan anymore.

If I have to…

Had I not recorded the questions when they appeared I probably wouldn’t know how to say them now. But because I saved them on my smartphone, I was able to come back to them later when I was hanging out with my Chinese friend and ask.

(If you’re curious to know the answers, here they are:)

rúguó shì míngtiān de huà, nà wǒ kěyǐ qù

búgòu xián

wǒ yǐjīng méiyǒu zhùzài Rìběn

rúguó wǒ bì xū

I specifically wanted to emphasize recording your questions, because they’re directly related to you, and how you use a language. What we need to learn first and foremost is how to express our own thoughts.

When you have the questions ready, you can just ask your teacher, friend, consult an online forum, or look them up on the Internet.