Starting to learn a new language is great. So, you can use a few new words or phrases in conversation and you feel amazing! However, generally that initial burst of motivation doesn’t last forever. Just like when you set a resolution to start running, after the first couple of weeks, you may find it more and more difficult to keep going. Maybe you see less progress or just don’t find it as interesting. These are some of the hardest times when you are on your language learning journey. Motivation has left and now how do you keep going? Never fear, I am here to help!
Today I am going to share my 5 top tips for staying motivated for the long term whilst making progress on your language journey:
1. You do you…Make it personal
Deciding to learn a language is usually a very personal decision. People start it for many different reasons. Travel, love, mental challenge or simply something new to try… that’s why it is important for YOU to set your own goals. Choosing a generic goal that you see someone else using and succeeding with, can seem like a great idea. They have learnt the language with this goal so it must work, right? Wrong! That goal will be specific to that person; their personality, lifestyle, ambitions and more.
One goal I see people setting a lot is … “I want to learn X language” but this is too generic. It’s not enough. Be more specific. Having a specific situation in mind you want to be able to perform in will instantly allow you to relate to it in a very personal way. Take a look at my post about where to start on your journey for more details.
If you are an introvert, like me, having a goal to do a large presentation in front of hundreds of people would be very overwhelming and hinder my progress. However, a goal like ordering food in a restaurant or checking in at my hotel is much more my speed. Especially because I love food…. or maybe even a little obsessed! These are the things I like to do when I travel so it will be really practical for me to achieve these goals.
The more specific you are with your mental picture, the easier it will be to determine what language skills you need to achieve it.
2. One problem at a time
Your goal will normally require lots of different skills to make it happen. So, break it down into bite-sized chunks to make it easier to digest. You wouldn’t try and eat your dinner without cutting up your food, would you? You will still achieve the same result, a full tummy, but the experience would be much less enjoyable… or maybe even impossible!
I recommend that you tackle the language one problem at a time. Choose a specific area of your mental picture you want to learn and work on that first.
Let’s take my example of ordering food in a restaurant. To do this I need food vocabulary, basic expressions used in a restaurant and greetings. So, I learnt food vocabulary from online cooking videos. Youtube is an amazing resource… and it is free! This covered the cuisine of the area that I am visiting, improved my food vocabulary and helped with my listening skills so I will understand the waiter when he talks about the food. One problem and one solution.
The real benefit to this strategy, apart from the ease of planning and success, is an increase to your motivation. When you reach the intermediate and advanced levels, it is very easy to feel like you are stagnant. You study all the time but make no progress. That is completely normal… Trust me! I have been on the intermediate plateau in Italian for a while. This feeling can be a real blow to your confidence and a drain on your motivation. However, if you tackle a problem at a time, it is a lot easier to see that you have achieved something. Each problem solved is a new skill you have learnt and a boost to your motivation!
3. Make it Fun, Make it Practical
When it comes to learning a language, having fun is essential! Sitting and doing a really boring activity is an easy way to drain my motivation, patience and my will to live. Just because it is “useful” will not be enough to make you do it regularly until you’ve learnt what you “need” to know.
For example, I know running is good for me. Healthy body, healthy mind… and all that (So my other half keeps telling me!). But just because it is healthy, doesn’t make it any easier to get my butt out of bed at 6am to go for a run. I hate waking up in the morning and the health benefits are no real incentive to shift myself. On the other hand, a brisk walk on my lunch break, with some fresh air and open fields, is a much more enjoyable way to get the same health benefits. Language learning is the same.
Very early in my journey, I learnt that the traditional “book” method of study, that we learnt in school, doesn’t work for me. I needed to find a different way to study that would fit my personality and make the process fun. I do this by learning from context. Rather than just memorising the words that I am told are useful. Reading comics is one of my favourite activities. So, it is natural to make this a language activity. That way, everything I am learning is useful for me and is time well spent.
4. Dedication over motivation
I heard a really great quote from Shannon at Eurolinguiste:
Motivation is like your worst best friend. When you want it, it is never there and when it is there you don’t really want it.
I think this is the perfect description of most language learners journeys. You start really motivated and make loads of progress. Then over time motivation disappears and you are left alone with nothing to help you along the way. Other times you are motivated but you have other things to do, life gets in the way, and time is wasted. That is why it is important to focus on dedication and routine.
Ever started your Christmas holiday with all the plans in your head for productive ways you would spend the time? And then January 2nd arrives and you have done nothing on your list? Yep! Me too… That is all down to routine. When you stop waking up at a regular time and doing all the normal things that give your day structure, it is easy to let things slip. Motivation is there but the dedication is lacking. So, it’s important that you create your own realistic language learning routine and stick to it. Consistency is key!
Look at your schedule and find spaces to fit language activities. I use this technique to plan my online lessons. I know I can make an hour every Thursday morning at 12 o’clock, so I found a tutor on italki and book the lesson at the same time every week. Now I don’t even worry about planning it in because I know that is lesson time. Even when I am tired, grumpy or hangry (it is just before lunch after all) I still have the lesson. Afterwards, I always feel a great sense of achievement because I have learnt something new. And so, the motivation returns and I want to learn even more.
5. Make it a part of the day to day
If you use the habit stacking I talked about before, you will be able to combine your studies with things you already do; creating the opportunity for bonus language time. Chores, commuting, singing in the shower…(much to my fiances dismay) that will help to make it easy to find the time. But now you want to make it a part of your life. Immerse yourself in the language. You don’t have to live abroad to be surrounded by the beautiful sounds of the language.
Change the language on your phone. Speak to a language partner with voice memos. Watch silly Youtube videos in the language when you want to relax. After you see the language as something fun you will start doing it in your “down time”. This is when the real immersion begins!
You are sitting down after a long, hard day at work and want to find something to do. You switch on Netflix and turn on a film. But this time, you watch the latest Netflix original in Italian instead of English. You still enjoy a great film with the added benefit of an extra hour (or more) of listening practice and exposure to the language. Doing the dishes and want to listen to some music? Then load up Radio Garden and find a live transmission from the country you are dreaming of visiting.
Using your “down time” as “language time” is bonus language exposure; which can only be a good thing! All the benefits of being in the country without the hassle of packing up your house.
There you go! My 5 top tips to stay motivated and power your way through fluency. What are your language goals? How do you stay motivated? I would love to know in the comments below.
Until next time…
Ciao for now