Stats, progress charts, analytics, metrics–whatever you want to call them–aren’t helping your language studies, period.
Progress charts are a type of metric, a way to measure something you’ve done. Unfortunately, of all the language learning websites and programs I’ve used, none of the progress charts I’ve seen are any good. Why not? Because they don’t tell you what to do next. Have you ever seen a chart that tells your vocabulary increased by 24% more this month than last month? Great. Now what? Isn’t there a better way you could be spending your time than looking at statistics all day?
A good metric not only tells you wether you’ve reached a goal or not, it also tells you what to do. If I’m learning basic listening skills, a good set of metrics should tell me which sounds and tones I need to work on. A bad metric offers eye-candy and little information.
I like to watch people look at charts. Their eyes bob around for a bit; then their eyes focus for a second and clarity washes over them– it’s at this point that they’ve processed the useful data. But they don’t stop looking!! It’s like their mind shifts into another state. They seem focused, but their thoughts aren’t. That’s why I consider most of these charts to be eye-glue: you get stuck staring at them instead of taking the next step to improve (or taking a break).
Like seeing your name on the high score list in a video game, checking progress charts makes you feel good. Every time you check, the pleasure centers of your brain are firing off in delight. That makes you want to look at progress charts more often, for longer periods of time. You become addicted. When once you checked your progress every week, you start checking every day, every hour.
Unfortunately, checking your “progress” so often doesn’t help you improve your language skills. At one point or another, you need to tell yourself to stop looking at progress charts and start doing what you need to improve. Don’t fall for the false encouragement that progress charts give you.
Everyone needs encouragement once in a while, but it doesn’t need to come from stats. I believe the best encouragement comes from within, but if you really need a pick me up, how about this instead: when you need some encouragement, just send me an email ([email protected]). Tell me what you’ve been doing, what your goals are and how you think you can reach them. I’ll write back with some words of encouragement. If you do have some useful stats, I’d warn you to use them sparingly, lest they become less useful with overuse.