How many tracks are too many tracks?

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How many tracks are too many tracks?

Postby luke » Mon May 31, 2021 1:31 pm

iguanamon made famous http://www.language-learners.org/2016/02/07/the-multi-track-approach-to-language-learning-guest-post-by-iguanamon/.

What sort of thinking goes into your balance between accomplishing a particular "track" and how many tracks you're following?

Does how disciplined you are affect your decisions?

Does the duration of the track come into your overall plan?

Does the portability of your track come into play? Can you make your tracks more portable?

Some concrete around the questions:

I'm doing 30 minutes of Anki and have 3 decks. If I only had 2, I could give the others a bit more time and would finish those tracks a bit sooner.

The FSI Basic Spanish course has once again become the centerpiece of my courses. I do drills in the car, review earlier units with the manual, preview future lessons with the manual, and have an FSI deck. Don't know that that's too many tracks for one track, but it's what I'm doing. (this is primarily speaking and structure (grammar in non-grammatical terms), but not conversation per se).

On the YouTube front, I've set out to watch the 300 episodes of the telenovela, La fea más bella, which is about 200 hours just to watch the whole thing once. I watch other stuff when I don't feel like focusing on the story, but that's not a track, per se.

I'd set myself the goal of 30 minutes of extensive reading per day and was doing pretty good for a few weeks, but have found the telenovela track taking time away from this.

Cien años de soledad is getting about an hour per week following a good actor/reader on youtube.

Using Spanish gets dabbled into in the restroom. Not systematically, but giving particularly challenging lessons some time over the course of a few days per lesson.

Started a Don Quijote track with Anaya's El Quijote adapted text. This fits in with extensive reading, but I've not been disciplined in reading 30 minutes per day.

i can see several of the tracks taking 6-12 months or so on their own.

Paul Nation has his notion of "the 4 strands". I saw another polyglot using 3 tracks in her example.

What do you all do?
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Re: How many tracks are too many tracks?

Postby Le Baron » Mon May 31, 2021 5:04 pm

I never read that excellent post when it was originally published (though I've lurked around here and at the other site for a little while prior to joining). Most of it makes sense to me because much of it is what I do; though perhaps I'm more inclined to see a course through to the end just to psychologically reinforce the principle of not dropping things before they're finished.

However this speaks to me:

As you progress through your course, the outside resources will become more and more important as the course becomes less of a focus. At this point the course becomes more of a tool to solve the problems you’re having rather than serving to teach you from scratch

I try to dip into native materials quite early and exactly as described: shorter podcasts, news items (larger newscasts are often broken down into 2-3 minute reports on you tube and videos work differently than just audio), short articles... I do read of course, but initially I like to focus on listening because the fact, imo anyway, is that hearing your target language is going to be the primary way in which you will be encountering it if you're going for conversational interaction, which I am. Same story for listening to podcasts watching films/TV.

So just as in that article I listen mostly in the morning and afternoon (though I do also review minimal notes in the morning) while on the go; saving the course/books/study for later when I can sit and focus.
I choose podcasts that aren't particularly intellectual or very specialised. E.g. podcasts put out by middle-of-the-road newspapers and on topics with which I have some familiarity. This is easier in a larger language like Spanish with a large amount of content.

I don't use Anki as a major tool. I find it dull and hardly ever remember the words/phrases I put into it. Iguanamon's point about learning them in the course of study, then encountering them in reading/listening is what I follow. It can be hit-and-miss, but in general most of what you learn (from courses) is stuff that turns up in ordinary use and it ends up in a sort of perpetually reinforcing circle where you learn things, then recognise in use and then see them again in a course or reading which fixes them in your mind in use context .

This multi-dimensional approach is really one of the closest ways you can recreate 'immersion'. In that situation you get similar input, hearing native speech around you; having to work out small things like a sign or written notice; watching a short news bulletin (which is handily repeated almost verbatim at regular intervals).
I had this luxury when learning Dutch and could speak at reasonably acceptable level long before I entered the government's language requirement course - which I did because it was offered and free. I never followed a course for French, because I had a basis. Reading and listening and interacting in diverse ways was the main trajectory. Same with German, though I did also take a short course and an exam.

In short... :roll: being course-bound is probably never a good idea. Especially for a long time before venturing out, because it's likely the learner will experience a high level of discouraging disappointment going from that to native content. Admittedly there's better stuff around these days as content providers see that the gaps between low intermediate > high intermediate > advanced can be pretty cavernous.
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Re: How many tracks are too many tracks?

Postby Le Baron » Mon May 31, 2021 5:38 pm

In the rush to opine I realise I didn't answer the questions...!

Does how disciplined you are affect your decisions?

Somewhat, though I am quite disciplined and only break routine if really necessary. In that case if I didn't get to e.g. listen in the afternoon, I don't worry about it at all because I will pick it up again the next day. I don't think it's a merry-go-round you can't get back onto if you need to hop off.
It's no use chopping and changing every day or few days though and blaming it on lack of time and 'scheduling clashes'.

Does the duration of the track come into your overall plan?

Overall I won't let up for about a year, but I'm definitely going to assess progress after 4-6 months and make adjustments. Have I understood the question?

Does the portability of your track come into play? Can you make your tracks more portable?

I'm not entirely clear on this.
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Re: How many tracks are too many tracks?

Postby luke » Mon May 31, 2021 7:43 pm

Le Baron wrote:
Does the duration of the track come into your overall plan?

Overall I won't let up for about a year, but I'm definitely going to assess progress after 4-6 months and make adjustments. Have I understood the question?


I think so. A goal like "watch 300 episode telenovela" has an inherent "you're not finished until the final episode". To me that's different than say, "watch 45 minutes of TV each day".

Same sort of "duration" component could be applied to an 80 page book versus an 800 page book.

Multiple long duration goals are a bigger mental commitment. Kind of like juggling with more balls.

Does the portability of your track come into play? Can you make your tracks more portable?

I'm not entirely clear on this.


Some courses are not well formatted for, say a telephone. (Something with a PDF generally only looks decent on a fairly large screen). So I would consider PDFs, "not portable".

A paper book is only "portable" if you have the book with you.

Other things, like podcasts and audiobooks can be very portable if they're on your smartphone and you usually have it with you.

By making something more portable, remembering a post about someone who put long novels with translations into Anki and could be reading War and Peace in the stairwell.

Some people have the e-reader that doesn't care whether you're reading on the phone, portable computer, or whereever. It knows what page you were last on.

Imagine there are other innovations on "take it with you" that not everyone has thought of.
Last edited by luke on Tue Jun 22, 2021 3:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How many tracks are too many tracks?

Postby Le Baron » Mon May 31, 2021 9:04 pm

Ah yes. I do use an e-reader on the phone with some linked audio/visual material on there, but it isn't synchronised with the computer. I use a separate, very basic (for battery life) mp3 player for audio and that is my main portable source containing long podcasts, short podcasts, news, interviews (good to hear more than one person talking), audiobooks and music which I can choose from to suit the moment.

I'm a bit old school to be honest and I don't really like smartphones all that much. I only have one out of necessity. Taking a book along to read is not a problem. I want stuff on the go to be as hassle-free as possible and listening fits the bill.

I'll wait to see what others say in this thread.
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Re: How many tracks are too many tracks?

Postby sirgregory » Mon May 31, 2021 11:21 pm

From the multi-track post:
I believe courses, in the beginning are highly useful. Courses give a good grounding in the fundamentals, and… well, you’ve got to start somewhere*. For most people, myself included, a pre-packaged course is significantly easier than coming up with something from scratch. Where I differ from common wisdom in language-learning is by recommending a couple of complimentary, simultaneous, course(s) along with some type of (very limited to start) native material from near the beginning- even when you won’t understand very much at all.

My advice would be to pick one or two courses and do them at the same time period, alternating days or doing one in the morning and the other in the evening, or one after the other in the same time period. My favorite method is one in the morning and the audio course throughout the day in “hidden moments” of time. If you, for example, do Pimsleur in the morning and then, say, a course in the evening, you’ll find that the material from one will often reinforce the other. Add in some comprehensible input- bilingual/parallel text, a short news item, a song or even a tweet and you are using the “multi-track” approach.

Pick one or a couple of courses that don’t annoy you too much. If you pick two, try to make sure they’re complimentary. A classic combination is Pimsleur (or Michel Thomas/Language Transfer) and Assimil or FSI/DLI. Do them at the same time, not sequentially. For example, Pimsleur during the commute or at lunch and the book+audio course when you can set aside a block of time to devote to it. The two courses will be teaching you different things at different stages. Don’t worry about that. This is good because you will see/hear something in one first and then later see/hear it in the other one. One tends to reinforce the other and that’s synergy! It makes the concept more sticky.

I would note that much of this advice seems to be intended for someone starting out as a beginner in a language. The main point is about courses vs native material for beginners. What makes it multi-track is that you're using a course (or two) plus native materials from week one as opposed to doing one course at a time without native materials. The advantage of a course is that it's the most efficient way to learn basic vocabulary and grammar since everything's nicely packaged for you. The problem with courses is that they simply don't prepare you for the real thing. Hence the use of native material early on even if it's theoretically "inefficient" at that stage. The idea is that you will make connections between your lessons and the words you encounter "in the wild" and this will help you progress faster and lead to a better outcome.

You seem to be at a more intermediate/advanced level and are using native materials pretty heavily. I don't know if it's necessary to count "tracks" at that point, but if you're trying to do an "advanced multi-track" it might be easier to allocate a certain number of hours per week for reading and listening (I count TV as listening) instead of having a "track" for each piece of content. Just a suggestion if you're having trouble keeping up with all of it.

One multi-track principle that applies equally well to beginner and advanced levels is the "hidden moments" thing. Full novels and TV shows require big chunks of undivided attention. But you can also get practice by reading short texts during the day like articles or websites. Load up your phone with audio and listen to it at the gym or wherever.
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Re: How many tracks are too many tracks?

Postby iguanamon » Tue Jun 01, 2021 12:40 am

sirgregory wrote:...I would note that much of this advice seems to be intended for someone starting out as a beginner in a language. The main point is about courses vs native material for beginners. What makes it multi-track is that you're using a course (or two) plus native materials from week one as opposed to doing one course at a time without native materials. The advantage of a course is that it's the most efficient way to learn basic vocabulary and grammar since everything's nicely packaged for you. The problem with courses is that they simply don't prepare you for the real thing. Hence the use of native material early on even if it's theoretically "inefficient" at that stage. The idea is that you will make connections between your lessons and the words you encounter "in the wild" and this will help you progress faster and lead to a better outcome.

You seem to be at a more intermediate/advanced level and are using native materials pretty heavily. I don't know if it's necessary to count "tracks" at that point, but if you're trying to do an "advanced multi-track" it might be easier to allocate a certain number of hours per week for reading and listening (I count TV as listening) instead of having a "track" for each piece of content.

The original contentions I was trying to counter is that a beginner should do one course, usually Assimil, and no other. Plus, there was this thing about doing beginner courses sequentially instead of concurrently. Pimsleur, being all audio, combined with a traditional textbook with audio course is quite complimentary and provides synergy. Challenging one's self with a short tweet, news item, poem or song lyric can also help.

I wasn't writing the multi-track approach post to address advanced learners, so, sirgregory is right. I was addressing beginners, perhaps even frustrated beginners. Now the multi-track approach almost seems to be the norm. Some learners are also overdosing on it. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing because there are better uses of time than trying to drink from a fire-hose of native materials. In the OP's case, he's doing two courses, two books and a novela plus FSI and Assimil Using Spanish. I'd cut down to one course, my choice would be FSI. I'd drop one of the books... me, I'd probably go with something easier than DQ or Cien años. at his stage That's just me. There is indeed something to be said for challenging one's self... up to a point. When I was learning Portuguese and had the basics down, I started with a 79 hour telenovela and then moved on from there.

With resources, more is not necessarily better. For me, I have learned that a language needs time to brew and marinate in my mind. The connections are more noticeable with fewer resources than more. For instance, there's a world of good use one can get out of watching a novela- really work on listening by using one's own shorthand transcription; writing down unknown words and investigating grammar. Figuring out slang from online resources; engaging with the fandom to figure out plot twists and turns are all part of more thoroughly learning from a single resource. That's when you get the maximum synergy possible in my experience.

I have been thinking about re-writing the post to better reflect the changes that have taken place since I wrote it. If things with work ever calm down, I'll probably do that at some point soon.
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Re: How many tracks are too many tracks?

Postby PeterMollenburg » Tue Jun 01, 2021 12:48 am

luke wrote:
What sort of thinking goes into your balance between accomplishing a particular "track" and how many tracks you're following?


1. Intensive reading.
2. Course content
3. Extensive reading
4. Listening (podcasts)
5. Watching (usually extensive, sometimes intensive)
6. Speaking (usually with my children, sometimes with tutors)
Edit: I forgot: 7. Writing!

luke wrote:Does how disciplined you are affect your decisions?


Yes, since when I'm more disciplined I cover more activities and content. I've not been using any course content for example for the last few months as time has allowed for it. This month I intend to continue with zero course content but with a more disciplined approach to daily life and more focus on my language learning, I expect to cover more overall content this month than last - all activities included, but as time allows around other commitments.

luke wrote:Does the duration of the track come into your overall plan?


When in a more casual study mode like now, it's whatever time allows for. When more disciplined and set aside time for study, my desk study time is very regimented and strict in terms of time allocated to each activity. Then extra moments are bonuses (which is what I'm only doing currently), such as podcasts while driving to and from work, reading in my breaks or when quiet, watching a TV show in the evening.

luke wrote:Does the portability of your track come into play? Can you make your tracks more portable?


Depending on what downtime allows for depending on what activity I can do. I can't listen to a podcast on my lunch break with others around for example. I can't read a book while driving.

luke wrote:Some concrete around the questions:

I'm doing 30 minutes of Anki and have 3 decks. If I only had 2, I could give the others a bit more time and would finish those tracks a bit sooner.

The FSI Basic Spanish course has once again become the centerpiece of my courses. I do drills in the car, review earlier units with the manual, preview future lessons with the manual, and have an FSI deck. Don't know that that's too many tracks for one track, but it's what I'm doing. (this is primarily speaking and structure (grammar in non-grammatical terms), but not conversation per se).

On the YouTube front, I've set out to watch the 300 episodes of the telenovela, La fea más bella, which is about 200 hours just to watch the whole thing once. I watch other stuff when I don't feel like focusing on the story, but that's not a track, per se.

I'd set myself the goal of 30 minutes of extensive reading per day and was doing pretty good for a few weeks, but have found the telenovela track taking time away from this.

Cien años de soledad is getting about an hour per week following a good actor/reader on youtube.

Using Spanish gets dabbled into in the restroom. Not systematically, but giving particularly challenging lessons some time over the course of a few days per lesson.

Started a Don Quijote track with Anaya's El Quijote adapted text. This fits in with extensive reading, but I've not been disciplined in reading 30 minutes per day.

i can see several of the tracks taking 6-12 months or so on their own.

Paul Nation has his notion of "the 4 strands". I saw another polyglot using 3 tracks in her example.

What do you all do?


It seems like you're at risk of spreading yourself too thin with the sheer volume of material you have on your plate to work through. Were I in your situation I'd make FSI my main focus and prioritise what remains with what interests you more (catches your attention) or what you feel is suitable for you at your current level.

I'd be looking at a more diversified multi-track approach after you've finished FSI and have more wriggle room. I'm not saying don't focus on other things now, but by finishing FSI eventually, you'll then have more time to devote to all your other activities. For now, course along with your course and dabble with whatever you like. Just my thoughts, someone else may have a better idea or two.
Last edited by PeterMollenburg on Tue Jun 01, 2021 9:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How many tracks are too many tracks?

Postby rdearman » Tue Jun 01, 2021 8:19 am

You've now had the options from the self-disciplined, language masochistic crowd... How about an entry from the lazare faire, lazy fist side of the spectrum.

I have three tracks, and a goal.
  1. read something occasionally
  2. listen or watch something occasionally
  3. talk to people

Of these I do the third one the most.

The goal is "Learn the language eventually."

So over the last 20 plus years I have gotten really good at French and Italian conversation. I do OK with reading and listening, and I suck at writing.

I work under the theory that nobody is going to stand up at my funeral and accuse me of being a dimwit because I didn't learn Korean and Mandarin before I died and because I could only speak French and Italian I was a slacker.

I am not in a race. If I only learn 10 or 15 vocabulary words a week's so what?

For mandarin I recently decided to give up on characters and just learn to talk. I don't care if I am illiterate. I only learn languages to talk to people anyway.

So you can have just one track if you want. More isn't always better and as long as your walking in the right direction you'll get there eventually.
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Re: How many tracks are too many tracks?

Postby luke » Tue Jun 01, 2021 1:07 pm

sirgregory wrote:If you're trying to do an "advanced multi-track" it might be easier to allocate a certain number of hours per week for reading and listening (I count TV as listening) instead of having a "track" for each piece of content. Just a suggestion if you're having trouble keeping up with all of it.

One multi-track principle that applies equally well to beginner and advanced levels is the "hidden moments" thing. Full novels and TV shows require big chunks of undivided attention.


Time is a good measure and way to allocate / prioritize a multi-track. For me, that's a big help for discipline and focus.

A "hidden moments" I'm settling on is the Wikipedia https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Quijote_de_la_Mancha.
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