10 Challenges to Kick-Start Your 2021 Language Learning Goals

Hi there guys, gals, and non-binary pals, and welcome to this post (and my new-look blog, yay!) all about some language challenges that should kick-start your learning in 2021.

Now, language challenges are something I’ve written about before because I just enjoy them so much. Plus, even though I’ve not been blogging as much as usual these last few months, there are a few challenges I’ve been maintaining that have kept me on track with my language learning.

They’re great for the solo language learner, too, as they provide a great sense of community that can be missing from this hobby – even if you’re not all learning the same language, working towards the same (or similar) goals can be a lot of fun!

So, onward with the challenges! I’ve rounded up nine that you can take part in this year – with a bonus category that might just make you a challenge convert.

10. The Super Challenge

I know for a fact that this challenge originally began all the way back in 2012 because that’s when (and why!) I started this blog! The premise is straightforward. All you have to do is read 100 books and watch 100 films in your target language.

And if you’re thinking, hm, that sounds like a lot, there’s better news: to standardise things as much as possible, a ‘book’ in this challenge is 50 pages long, so much shorter than your average novel, and a ‘film’ is 90 minutes.

Basically, 5,000 pages and 9,000 minutes per language.

This, plus the 20-month duration (yeah, this challenge began all the way back in May 2020, but you’ve still got plenty of time!) means that this challenge is entirely achievable and should yield great results. Anyone can read nine pages and watch 15 minutes per day, right?

Well, the trick to this one is: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. After eight years, I’ve never managed to complete this challenge – but 2021 is my year!

Want to join? There used to be a Twitterbot but it’s been down for a while, so right now your best bet is to head over to the Language Learners’ Forum and announce your intentions. Or just carry on by yourself – that’s always an option, too.

Announce yourself here.

9. Tadoku Challenge

A reading-based challenge that’s been running for probably as long as the Super Challenge (or longer? I can’t remember), Tadoku has an even simpler premise: just read.

That’s it. Pick your language(s) – up to three – and read as many pages as you can during that time.

I’ve always found this challenge incredibly useful, even if I don’t manage to take part in every round every year, because the fact that you’re measuring number of pages means that you’re more focused on getting through them. This means you’re less likely to linger over words you don’t quite know.

Basically, it’s a really great way to improve your extensive reading skills.

Again, you can track alone or head over to the Tadoku site, where you can register, choose your language, and compete against others on a leaderboard. One caveat: make sure to update your pages fairly regularly, as the organiser has pointed out that competition is much the point of using the site and you might be removed for just dumping them all in there at the end.

Register here.

8. Language Learning Reading Challenge

This one is a reading challenge but you don’t have to do all of it in your target language if you don’t want to.

Every year, Shannon at Eurolinguiste runs a book club all about languages! It’s one book per month and all done on categories, so in theory you’re not being forced to read anything you don’t want to. Plus, you can tailor the books to your particular goals and interests.

For example, in April, you’ll be expected to read a children’s book in your target language. In November, the category is a book written by a language blogger.

There’s a Facebook and Goodreads group for this challenge, as well as the chance to participate as a blogger by sharing your reviews.

Read the post here.

7. Language on the Move Reading Challenge 2021

Another kind of book club challenge, this list has a more linguistic slant, especially sociolinguistics. All the books are recommended reading, but there are some interested-looking inclusions, like The Sydney Language by Jakelin Troy, or Language and Symbolic Power by Pierre Bourdieu.

(Honestly, all the books look fascinating and although I don’t think I’ll manage to read them all in 2021, I’m going to add them to my TBR!)

The Language on the Move team are adding reviews and conversations about the books all of next year, so keep an eye out for those on their website and over on Twitter.

See the full list here.

6. 30-Day Speaking Challenge

Why not start your new year by practising an oft-neglected skill: speaking!

The 30-Day Speaking Challenge does what it says on the tin – every day, for 30 days, you record yourself saying something in your target language. Then you upload a link to that recording to the appropriate Google Sheet (provided when you sign up), and other participants will comment to give you corrections and advice.

However, out of all of the challenges on this list, this is the only one where you have to pay – participation is now $10 per month. My one piece of advice to you would be: make sure there are a few native speakers of your target language before you take part, especially if your target language is not widely spoken.

For example, when I took part back when it was free, there was basically no one who could correct my Scottish Gaelic. However, there were plenty of corrections for German and Mandarin Chinese!

Register here.

5. Language Diary Challenge

The Language Diary Challenge has always been a popular challenge over on Instagram and it’s good for your output skills too!

All you have to do is use your target language every day (if possible; if not, just as much as you can), either to write captions on images you’re uploading, or upload videos of yourself speaking, or… whatever you’d like. Be creative!

Use #LanguageDiaryChallenge and you’ll get plenty of people commenting on and liking your posts – so there’s a nice community behind this challenge, as well as the opportunity to get corrections from people who know your language. There’s also sometimes the chance to win prizes; the overall challenge is semi-curated by Sam from Discover Fluency, who plans all sorts of fun things for participants.

Oh, and if you’re not one for Instagram, there’s a Facebook group you can always join instead.

Find out more here.

4. Free and Legal Challenge (FLC)

This is another challenge from the Language Learners’ Forum – and I’m not certain that it’s ever been completed.

It’s one to look at if you’re wanting to challenge yourself when learning a new language this year.

The rules are that you can only learn your language using free and legally-available online materials. There are a few flexible amendments that you can read over on the forum, but essentially, if you can get it online and you’re not breaching anyone’s copyright, then you should be good to go.

And this is one I’m taking part in this year as I finally embark on studying Arabic!

I’ve tried the challenge before but flaked out on my language choices and the fact that this is definitely a time-heavy challenge – but I really do want to make clear that language learning does not necessarily have to be an expensive hobby, so long as you’re willing to put in the time and dig about a bit for resources.

Read more about the challenge here.

3. 365-Day Challenge

If you’re anything like me and have struggled with your consistency when it comes to language learning, then the 365-Day Challenge is for you. This’ll be the challenge’s third year over (again!) on the Language Learners’ Forum and it’s another easy one that’s fun to start at the beginning of the year.

Your commitment: study a chosen language (or languages) for 30 minutes every day.

That’s it.

Well, there’s a bit more to it, like, if you miss a day, you don’t just lose one point (to keep everyone a little competitive about hitting a high score). You can also sign up at any point throughout the year (sign up at any point in January and your finishing date will be a year from then; sign up in February and your finishing date will still be 31st December 2021). Plus, you can focus on more than one language for the year, which makes things a little more complicated.

But at its most basic level, it’s 30 minutes of a language every day.

I’ve already signed up for 2021. I’ll be doing a ‘generic’ block, which means I can switch between my languages of choice (German, Mandarin, Spanish) and I’ve set myself a specific goal – I’m going to spend this 30 minutes per day reading. I already said I want to complete at least one Super Challenge, so this is the way to do it!

Find out more and sign up here.

2. 6 Week Challenge

So, this one isn’t a January start, but if you’re looking for a boost when that initial rush of a new year starts to fade, then the 6 Week Challenge could be the thing for you.

This is another challenge that’s been around for ages (and I’ve written about before), but it basically works on a six weeks on/six weeks off schedule. So, there’s a start in February, in May, in August, and in November.

Choose a main target language, track your progress using the Twitterbot and see if you can get the highest score (a.k.a. number of minutes studied)!

This is a good one if you’re not 100% sure which language you’d like to learn in 2021 and you want to take a month or so to think about it. Play around in January and then commit to some more intense study time for six weeks into March – and by then, you should be at a pretty good level!

Read more here.

1. Make Your Own Challenge!

Okay, but what if none of those challenges appeal to you – but you still like the overall idea of a challenge?

Why not make your own?

Take a look at whatever you’d like to work on, pick a timescale, narrow it down to a particular type of skill or idea, et voila! You’ve got a challenge!

Here’s some ideas:

Study

  • Complete X number of lessons in X weeks/days/24 hours. (These could be iTalki lessons, textbook chapters, anything you can think of!)
  • Complete a textbook in X amount of time.
  • Learn X words.
  • Do X grammar exercises or chapters.

Reading

  • Read X pages.
  • Read X books.
  • Read X articles (from X news site/Wikipedia/blog).
  • Read X words on a subject.
  • Do a readathon. (You can find these on Twitter a lot, or make your own – for example, I’ll be doing one based on the 24in48 Readathon the first weekend of January, where I’ll be trying to read for 16 hours out of 48.)

Listening

  • Listen to X podcast episodes.
  • Listen to the news daily.
  • Listen to the radio daily for X minutes.
  • Watch X episodes of TV. (With or without subtitles that are in your SL or TL.)
  • Watch X films.
  • Transcribe X minutes of audio.

Writing

Experiments (+ some extra challenges!)

Let me know if you’re signing up for any of these challenges this year; I’m planning on doing a whole bunch of them. And here’s to 2021! May it be far better than 2020 has been.

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