Learning a language: 7 great ways to stay motivated

Lars Wagoner's picture
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Are you or do you plan on learning a language? If you are, congratulations - you’ve made a great choice… but there is something you should know (if you haven’t figured it out yet). You will lose motivation at times - it will make you want to quit learning the language, but if you power through, the reward will be huge. Apart from knowing another language, studies show you'll be more adept at solving problems and other tasks that are mentally demanding. Those are just a few examples of the many benefits that come along with learning a language, because it's not just a language - it's a deeper understanding of a culture, it allows one to succeed in an unfamiliar environment (a different culture, language or country) and it shows respect to those who speak the language or live in that country.

There will be difficult days, and that’s normal. These bumps in the road could be caused by something in your personal life, or just by lack of motivation. I think Zig Ziglar’s view on motivation sums it up perfectly:

 “People often say that motivation doesn't last. 
Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily.” 

If you’re currently in one of your language learning lows, here are 7 great ways to stay motivated while learning a language (in no particular order):

Learning a language: 7 great ways to stay motivated

1.    Document the process

Whether it’s writing down everything you learned every day, or video recording yourself speaking and reading out loud, documenting the whole process, from start to finish, can really help you take a step back and evaluate your progress. For me, seeing what I’ve done thus far is super motivational.

Even though this might seem useless to you when you start learning a language, after a while, you can look back on how you spoke and see how much progress you have made. While I was learning Spanish, it was pretty cool to look back and see how much I had learned. It motivated me to power through the tough and discouraging times and cherish the days of happiness.

I wrote a weekly journal and recorded myself speaking. I recommend doing both, but if I were to choose one, it’d be the latter - just because you can see and hear how you express yourself in the language. 

Here’s a video I did with my sister 2 years ago in which we speak a bit of Spanish. It was recorded 18 months after moving to Spain (we start speaking at 0:33):

 

2.    Have a schedule 

Having a schedule - and sticking to it - will help you get in to a routine of learning this language. While making your schedule, you should keep in mind that different languages require more or less time to learn.

I’m learning French and I put in about 6 hours a week. For me it's the perfect amount of time because it’s not too intense, but I also learn a lot. 

I recommend doing something in your new language every day (just so you’re constantly practicing).  

3.    Find a language learning partner 

Learning a language is something that takes lots of time, dedication, practice, and can get very lonely if you’re on this adventure by yourself. The best solution to this conundrum: learn with someone else! Whether it’s your mom or your favorite dog’s owner, your companion will pick you up during hard times, dust you off, and set you back on the road of success (you should, of course, return the favor). 

But, Lars, everyone I know:

a) Doesn’t have enough time to learn a language with me

b) Has no interest whatsoever in learning a language with me

c) Already speaks said language

If nobody you know in person is up to learning a language with you, there are tons of online communities (social media groups, online forums…) with members that will most likely support you and your endeavour. For example: http://www.fluentin3months.com/forum/ , http://linguaholic.com/ , https://www.reddit.com/r/languagelearning

4.    Set goals

Goals. No, I’m not talking about ‘relationship goals’ or ‘squad goals’ - I’m talking about the goals one can achieve with hard work and dedication. Think of them like checkpoints in a video game, or the landings on a big staircase (bit of a stretch, but you get what I mean). They can be big and ambitious, and they can be small and frequent. For learning a language, I’d say a mix of both is good. The bigger goals should be stretched across long periods of time, and the smaller, but not any less important, goals in between. 

If you have extremely demanding goals placed too close to the starting point on your language learning timeline, you’ll be running the risk of getting discouraged because you overestimated your capabilities. If you just go one small step at a time, after a while, it’ll become one giant leap for your fluency. 

Some examples of goals:

Smaller goals

Be able to tell the time within 2 weeks, completely understand a song in the language within a month, know the days and months within 3 weeks, etc.

Bigger goals

Be able to tell what happened in your week with proper verb conjugation and use of adjectives and nouns: within 3 months; be able to understand most/all of a normal conversation and be a part of it without slowing down the flow: within 6 months, etc.

These goals might sound too easy or too hard depending on your language of choice, so do some research to see how long, in theory, it should take you to learn a language.

Here are the most common languages to learn and their respective difficulties (in number of weeks):

  • Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch take 23-24 weeks (575-600 hours)
  • German takes 30 weeks (30 hours)
  • Russian, Greek, and Turkish take 44 weeks (1100 hours)
  • Mandarin, Japanese, Korean and Arabic take 88 weeks (2200 hours)

More info can be found here: http://www.effectivelanguagelearning.com/language-guide/language-difficulty

5.  Get inspired

GET INSPIRED. Find people, things, whatever motivates you to learn a language. If you haven’t found inspiration yet, go on YouTube and search for your language of choice - there are loads of polyglots online with amazing inspirational material. 

One of my favorites is Benny Lewis (fluentin3months.com). When I was learning Spanish, I would watch his language learning progress videos. He also has an insane amount of content on his blog for many languages. I personally find his videos about his Mandarin learning journey really interesting. 

Finding people that are going (or went) through the same thing you’re going through is also a great way to potentially meet new people, which, as stated above, is also a good way to stay motivated.

 Learning a language: 7 great ways to stay motivated

6. Explore the culture

Let’s say you’re learning French, and you’re feeling uninspired and unmotivated. Why not watch a French movie, or listen to a song in French? Whatever language you’re learning, there is a deep culture attached to it, and exploring said culture can give you the motivational push you need. 

So make some crème brûlée, throw a French themed party, hang up a picture of the Eiffel Tower, do something that involves the culture of your language of choice.

7. Don’t push yourself too far

And, last but not least, don’t tire yourself out. Related to not setting goals that are too ambitious, doing too much too quickly is a fantastic way to deplete all of that energy that you had at the beginning of learning a language. Obviously, challenging yourself is great to keep your mind at its best - just know where the limit for you is.

Treat this process like not one marathon, but around 50. Learning a language will take a lot of time, there’s no short-cut (… yet, if you’ve discovered or invented something to speed this up, let me know please), so just take it nice and slow. There will be ups and downs and it won’t be easy, but that’s just part of this amazing journey you’ve decided to take.

These are my best, hard-earned tips at language learning, and I hope it helps you.

Have you learned a language? Are you learning a language now? Do you have any more tips for staying motivated? Let me know in the comments below! 

Happy language learning, amigos.

 

 

Lars Wagoner is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program. He has lived in Spain for 2.5 years, traveled South East Asia for a year, and has visited over 25 countries.

 

This article was originally published in 2016, and updated in 2017

 

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