An outsider might look at my career like Batman looks at Two Face: one side at a time. But to me, my IT background and Spanish translation and coaching company have a lot more in common than you might think.
Maybe it’s because my brain’s different (“gifted”, my teachers called it growing up), but the way I look at it, the world has a lot more in common than one might think. Whether that’s simplifying and translating what that Java Script error actually means, reading and making sense of SQL, or translating websites from Spanish to English, to me, it can all be boiled down to three questions.
- What do you see?
- What does that mean?
- How can that be communicated efficiently and effectively to your target audience?
When I was studying for the PMP exam (Project Management Professional, for those who are not fluent in Alphabet Soup), I learned the inputs and outputs of each phase. Basically, any project – big or small, government or private, internal or external – follows the same phases of project development. From initial scope and conception, to planning and execution, to actually doing the work, and finally doing a formal close or debrief; every single project follows these same five phases. Isn’t this amazing! No matter how special you think you are, you conform to the same phases as a larger company or organization. Within each of these phases, there are inputs (information gathered and deliverables* reviewed) and outputs (deliverables created or information gleaned).
Language is no different. We have inputs (things we listen to, like music or podcasts; things we watch, like shows and movies; things we read, like articles and books) and outputs (speaking, writing, and thinking). The key to language learning is balancing inputs and outputs.
Similar to a project having too much information but not enough deliverables, it’s easy to gather language inputs and forget about outputs.
Until you start thinking in another language, you have no hopes of becoming fluent.
For those looking to become fluent, the next steps in my analytical, project manager brain are to set aside specific, attainable, measurable, realistic, and time-based goals, then program reminders for small steps in order to reach your goals. Simple, right? Break down your super-large goal (become fluent) into smaller steps, then practice each day until you get that.
But life happens. Worldwide pandemics happen! Suddenly, stress and fatigue are everywhere… which is where another software development practice comes into play: Agile project management.
Agile project management (or simply “Agile”, for us nerds who can’t be bothered to read a whole phrase) is exactly what it sounds like: agility. Flexibility. (Something, historically and hysterically, my Type-A brain has trouble with).
If we have our big goal, our smaller, more attainable sub-goals, and a plan, Agile says to simply follow the plan in super-small increments. Focus on a week’s worth of language work. Balance your inputs and outputs and spend 2-5 minutes on each piece, each day. How was that? Continue doing small sprints of work. Check in constantly. What can you do today? Do it, and check back. How was it?
Does your goal change from “language fluency” to “carry on a small-talk conversation with another person”?
Historically, Agile is used for iterative software development (build a button, check said button with the users – is it OK? Thank you, next), but Agile is also a mindset. For example, let’s say you follow your plan to make your fluency goal a reality until a pandemic hits. Then, you’re laid off, and your time is spent job hunting, doing freelance projects, and focusing on paying the bills. If that happens, you have a decision: would you want to pause your goal, or do you want to scale it down? Does your goal change from “language fluency” to “carry on a small-talk conversation with another person”? Does the timeline creep until June of next year? Don’t worry, Agile says. Your goal will be there, and it’s more important to react appropriately than to be in your bunker drawing up plans that may never happen. Agile focuses on doing, not planning.
It doesn’t matter which project management style resonates the most, because the key is this: we get so caught up in our rat race lifestyle and in the planning and perfection of our goals that we forget to actually do something we enjoy. Yes, big things need planning. Yes, it’s good to have goals and dreams and ambitions. But don’t fall out of love with a hobby because you got hung up on the mechanics of it. Take it from someone whose brain and background works a little differently: our weaknesses are sometimes our biggest strengths, and sometimes, our brains might work a little too hard. Take a moment, close your eyes, and remember why you’re doing something. When you act with intention, the attention will come.