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Can't do ALL THE THINGS right now.
December 15, 2012 3:09 PM   Subscribe

In 2013 I will have 2-3 hours a week to spend learning one or more of the following: French, guitar, advanced math (stats, calc). Which will benefit most from this limited amount of study effort?

(Long and poorly edited. Sorry.)

Some background: In 2013 I will be spending most of my time outside of work studying for the CPA exam. I originally planned to ignore all other pursuits, but that's not realistic for me - it's healthy for me to have another semi-intellectual hobby to step away to (I already knit, but that's something I do to feel semi-productive when I watch TV), and planning in advance means it's less likely to make me obsess to the point of ignoring my CPA studying.

So I plan on spending 2-3 hours a week on another hobby (or maybe 2?) to keep my sanity mostly intact. I don't have a specific goal for any of these, because then it'd be too easy to get sucked in. But I'm still not sure which to choose:

French: I played around on duolingo for a week and really enjoyed it. My goal is currently more to be able to read/write the language than to speak it, so I would supplement duolingo with a book on French for reading comprehension and a couple of French language books. I am pretty good with languages and I had a year of French in college, so this isn't starting from scratch.

Guitar: I have a guitar. I can play 15 chords. Or so. I haven't picked it up for a while. I can't afford lessons at the moment. I don't have a specific style I'm interested in, but being the analytical person that I am (not like this question is an indication of that or anything), and because I don't have a natural ear for music, I'd like to learn some music theory (I have a book on music theory for guitar but I haven't read it). Also I'd want to learn to read music beyond the basic vague notion of it I got from learning piano in the 2nd grade. I have a classical guitar playing book that would work for this purpose. I guess working through these two books would be what I'd spend my time on for guitar.

Advanced math: I'm a little late to the game with Khan Academy, but I found it recently and it's fantastic. I had a semester of Stats in college, and I got an A but didn't really understand it. And I've always regretted stopping at precalc in high school. So for this hobby I would be working through the Khan Academy lessons. On the off chance I finish those, I'd probably delve into stats a bit more.

Guitar seems like it'd use a different part of my brain at least, and that's a plus, but the learning curve is a lot steeper (for me), and I'm not sure I'm ready to deal with that level of frustration. Maybe it's worth putting off until I have time and money to devote to lessons. On the other hand, I feel like I could learn placement of a bunch of notes on the fretboard and that would make things a lot easier once I do have more time to devote to practicing.

French sounds like the next best to me, but when I studied foreign languages in the past, I spent close to 2 hours a day learning and practicing. My progress was usually pretty quick. I honestly don't know if 15 minutes a day is even worth it - I've never tried that. I just worry that I'll spend 2 hours a week but never accumulate the knowledge or vocabulary needed.

Math: none of the above problems apply, but it's the one that would feel the most like studying. Definitely interested enough to learn despite this, but would need to find ways to add some extra fun to it.

Once I pass the exams, I hope to have time to devote to all of these things! I just want to feel like I'm making progress on one of my other goals instead of letting this damn test take over my life completely. I use the term 'goal' here loosely: I can't have specific goals for any of these hobbies next year if I want to keep them contained to a few hours a week. Also note that I fully plan on making time to be brain dead in front of the TV, go out with friends, and take care of myself.

tl;dr: I want to make some progress in either math, French, or guitar in a year while only spending 2-3 hours a week studying/practicing. What's my best option?

Bonus: other resources for any of these?
posted by riddler to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I vote for French, especially because you say you're more focused on reading/writing than speaking. I'd read a short grammar book and then spend the 15 minutes a day on drilling vocabulary with a good flashcard app like Mnemosyne or Anki. After a few weeks you'll be ready to start reading children's books like Babar (or Asterix or the Little Prince or whatever, depending on your current level), which will keep you engaged, and you may be surprised how fast your reading comprehension grows from there.

If you wanted to learn to speak French well in 15 minutes a day, I think that would be tough, especially since it's not the easiest language phonetically. But reading, sure.

Honestly, guitar is doable too but I think it'll take a lot longer. I spent years taking classical guitar lessons as a lazy teenager, and some of that time I was only practicing a couple times a week in addition to the one-hour lesson, so maybe 2.5 hrs total per week, and I was teaching myself rock songs half that time instead of practicing what I was assigned, and I was still making noticeable progress. But I made a lot more progress during the times I was putting in more like an hour a day.
posted by pete_22 at 3:54 PM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Which excites you the most? Why do you want to learn each of these three? What do you enjoy about learning/practicing them? What do you imagine yourself doing once you've mastered the basics of each of these? Thinking through those questions might give you some direction.

This is a hobby, so presumably you want to do something that you'll find rewarding and enjoyable. My guess is that you'll benefit the most out of the one that you really love doing, as it will be something that you can integrate across areas of your life. You seem to like French and math, but honestly, you seem not that pumped about learning guitar.
posted by quiet coyote at 4:15 PM on December 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

French. It's hard to learn advanced math without solving problems or digging into proofs. This might not describe you, but I played bass guitar once every month or so when I dropped weekly lessons. I'd only suggest picking guitar back up if you plan on starting or joining a band to offset the lack of lessons.

Plus I mean, you could go to France! I'd be jealous.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:42 PM on December 15, 2012

French, especially if you go back to Duolingo. I pick up languages easily, and I knew a few before I started learning Portuguese on Duolingo. I don't spend more than 15 minutes a day on it, and it does stick with me. Good thing you want to read rather than speak, though; their program seems to emphasize passive understanding rather than active sentence-producing.
posted by melesana at 8:19 PM on December 15, 2012

I'm going to go against the grain so far and vote for guitar; I think low/intermediate skill on a musical instrument edges out low/intermediate skill in a foreign language for long-term hobby-level usefulness and pleasure-bringing. To me it sounds like you *are* interested in guitar: you have a guitar, you know 15 chords, and you have books on music theory and classical playing technique. That's certainly more than most people! I think improving your music reading skills is a good main focus there (rather than music theory)--that will help you progress faster if you're able to start lessons.
posted by drlith at 5:29 AM on December 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd also go with guitar. 20-30 minutes practice a day will bring real rewards. However, the main advantage, as I see it, is that making music for yourself tends to be intrinsically satisfying, while the other two skills probably find more of their satisfaction in application. Since time is limited, you might not find yourself in a postion to get the most out of them. Of course, in the end, the answer is 'the one you like doing most', which is entirely personal.
posted by howfar at 7:28 AM on December 16, 2012

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