Motivation is an important element of the language learning process. For each of us, language learning motivation is linked to something slightly different but I will try and give you some universal tips on how to stay motivated when learning a foreign language. Hope you’ll find them useful!
Check out my video on this topic as well and don’t forget to subscribe to the 5-Minute Language Youtube channel!
1. Develop your internal language learning motivation
Some of us are motivated by rewards – having a delicious piece of cake or a glass of wine to celebrate an achievement like learning a set of vocabulary or successfully transcribing the lyrics of your favourite song in your target language. Although this can be a nice way of rewarding yourself, such behaviour also carries some risks. For example, it may encourage you to complete tasks or achieve goals even if you’re not actually enjoying the learning process itself. Instead, what you enjoy is the reward. It motivates you in a way that’s external (linked to the reward) rather than internal (linked to your engagement in and satisfaction with the learning process).
Developing your internal language learning motivation is a much more sustainable way of sticking with your language learning goals. One way you can do this is by associating positive experiences with the learning process. Combine language learning with doing things you enjoy. Possibilities are endless – listen to podcasts when exercising, read recipes in your target language if you’re into cooking, read articles about politics in your target language if that’s something you enjoy. That way, the process of learning is a reward in itself and you eliminate the need for any external rewards.
2. Find your favourite learning style
To make the learning process engaging and exciting, you should also identify your preferred learning styles. There’s no point using flashcards if it’s something you hate. If you don’t like to read, get an audiobook instead. The most important thing is not to follow ‘trendy’ learning strategies but ones that work for you.
3. Be clear about your goals
Defining your language learning goals is another important element of staying motivated and focused on whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. What does success look like for you? Try to visualise it. Write it down and come back to it regularly to keep the mental image of success fresh in your head. Every time your motivation decreases slightly, remind yourself of what achieving your goals looks and feels like.
4. Remind yourself of why you started
In an article on the Smart Language Learner blog, Kevin Chen talks about “rekindling the fire” that brought you to language learning in the first place. What was it for you – a film you loved, a friend you made, a song you heard? Bring the emotions that led you to take up the language back to your heart. You will see an increase in motivation straight away.
Bonus tip: use the Motivation Journal
The Motivation Journal is a simple tool I’ve created for you guys to help you keep motivated, stay on track with your goals and celebrate your language learning achievements. Make sure you check it out and let me know how you get on!
5. Break down your goals
Achieving fluency can seem very overwhelming, especially when you’re only just starting out. That’s why it’s important to break down your ultimate goal into smaller, more achievable ones. Trying to learn French? Why don’t you see your first three months of learning it as: learning the 100 most common words, learning to introduce yourself, and learning to have basic conversations about the things you like? This seems much more achievable than simply ‘becoming fluent in French’, doesn’t it?
6. Treat learning as a series of ‘projects’
Benny Lewis from Fluent in 3 Months says that he finds it helpful to think of the different stages of the language learning process as little ‘projects’. Define your projects by coming up with specific reasons why you’re learning the language. For example, I’m learning German because I want to be able to watch the film ‘Goodbye Lenin’ without subtitles and it is my ‘project’ for this month!
7. Celebrate your language learning successes
Celebrating what you’ve already achieved is how to stay motivated when learning a foreign language. We often focus on the future and the things we haven’t learned yet, and sometimes forget about all the impressive things we already know and do. Recognising what you’re already good at helps you see the impact your learning effort has on your language skills. So, don’t forget to say ‘well done’ to yourself on a regular basis!
8. Embrace your mistakes
In a post on the Omniglot blog, Jeffrey Nelson says that an important aspect of staying motivated is embracing your mistakes. Many of us get slightly demotivated when we realise we made a language mistake or when somebody corrects us. Jeffrey says that we should stop seeing mistakes as something negative. Instead, we should see them as a necessary element of language acquisition – something positive that allows us to get better!
9. Don’t compare yourself to other people
Instead of comparing yourself to other language learners, compare your current level to your level in the past, for example last month or last year. That way, you will be able to see the extent of progress you’ve made and boost your motivation. Always comparing yourself to other people can have the opposite effect.
10. Make language learning part of your routine
You don’t want learning a language to become a chore. There’s nothing less motivating than learning something just because you feel you have to. The key is to transform your thinking about learning so that you don’t see it as an addition to your day but as an intrinsic part of your day. There are various things that you already do as part of your daily routine – it may be exercise, watching the news in the evening, having lunch with a friend. These things are engrained in your day. Try to make learning a language one of them.
11. Try something different for a change
Having said that it’s useful to incorporate language learning into your daily routine, it’s also important to have a good balance of your set learning activities and things you haven’t tried before. Donovan Nagel at the Mezzofanti Guild says that variety is a crucial element of staying motivated and not getting bored. For you, this might mean checking out a new podcast, language blog or a new memorisation technique, or swapping your language exchange partner for a new one for a month.
12. Tell other people what you’re learning
Speaking publicly about what you’re learning is a good way of increasing your accountability. This is something that language bloggers do regularly (for example, Lindsay from Lindsay Does Languages and her monthly goal reviews, Shannon from Eurolinguiste and her language updates, Lauren from Fluent in 3 Months and her Russian video challenge) but you don’t have to be a blogger to do it. You can share your goals and progress on social media, participate in online challenges (Instagram language challenge or Add1Challenge) or just tell your friends about your language goals and progress. You’ll want to impress them next time they ask you how it’s going, which will hopefully keep you motivated.
Is motivation really important?
Check out this episode of the 5-Minute Language Podcast to hear what I think about whether motivation is really important (or not!) when learning foreign languages.
What are your top tips for staying motivated when learning a language? Share them in the comments below!