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How To Stay Motivated When Learning A New Language

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How To Stay Motivated When Learning A New Language

Due to the amount of time it takes to see progress when learning a language, it’s easy to lose motivation along the way. It’s quite natural for the enthusiasm you had at the start of your journey to wane, making you want to give up. Doing more interesting things in the language can revitalize that fervor and push you to continue learning.

If you’ve reached this point in your language learning journey, you’re probably feeling miserable, and possibly even hopeless about the prospect of ever speaking your chosen language. Your first thought will be to give up, choose another, or simply hang up your language learning boots for good.

Before you do that, though, you should try to identify why you’ve lost motivation, because the solution might actually be a lot simpler than you think, and might not involve kissing your new language goodbye.


Identify the reason for your loss of motivation

A loss of motivation whilst learning a new language will usually come down to one or more of the following things:

  • you’ve reached a point where things are getting harder and more confusing
  • you’ve been studying for a while but don’t feel like you’re learning anything
  • you’ve lost interest in the language
  • resources are too scarce and that’s holding you back
  • the reason(s) why you started learning don’t apply anymore

90% of the time, motivation loss is attributed to the first 3 points. That’s good news, because there are solutions that don’t involve permanently abandoning the language.

Note: You should know that the first 2 points are common stages in the language learning process. Read about the other stages in my post The 12 stages of language learning – what you need to prepare for.


Problems and solutions

Things are getting harder/confusing

There will come a time in every language learner’s life, whether they be seasoned vets or doe-eyed beginners, when their new language starts to confound them. In the beginning, the language draws you in with its perceived ease. This is usually the point in a course where you’ve been introduced to simple vocabulary and grammar, and you can make basic sentences.

Or perhaps you’re further into your studies and you’ve hit a snag. You find yourself getting more and more perplexed and frustrated. You got comfortable before, not realizing that this was only the start of a long and complex relationship.

This is, I’m afraid, one of the many stages of language learning that you simply have to endure in order to progress. I can assure you that it doesn’t last, not if you put the work in and have patience. This is literally all you need; not some miracle, and certainly not to give up. There will never be a language quirk or point of grammar that you cannot learn or solve. I can attest to this.

Example: German declension. Oh, the horror! These are basically the rules governing how and when to change nouns, depending on their cases. This scared the living daylights out of me at first. But after sitting down and drilling everything in, I was fine with it.

Sometimes it doesn’t take more than dedicated study – a couple of days working on the thing that’s confusing you – before it finally clicks. Sometimes it takes a little longer to sink in. But there’s nothing, at least in linguistics, that is impossible to understand if you study it long enough.

Seek out explanations online or in books. If you’re having a problem, you can guarantee that others have had the same one, and have sought help from the interwebs. Read up on everything, and practice until you’re confident you understand.

This will almost always solve the motivation problem, and should encourage you to stay motivated when similar issues crop up in the future.


No signs of progress

Another very common stage in the journey to fluency, it’s easy to lose motivation when you don’t think you’re making any progress. You’ve probably spent many hours on the language – collecting up vocabulary like free dollar bills, working on your pronunciation, laboring over points of grammar. Yet, you don’t seem to be moving forward.

This is called stagnation, and it crops up often, so get used to it. The thing to remember is, if you’ve been working as diligently as you can, you’re already doing everything you need to. Nothing beats stagnation like perseverance and patience. 99% of language learning boils down to those 2 things.

What may look like lack of progress is actually your brain equipping itself for what’s ahead. When it has all the information it needs, you’ll start to see results. I call it a breakthrough; clarity. It happens suddenly, unexpectedly. That’s why it’s imperative that you continue learning and feeding your brain. Trust that it knows what it’s doing, even if you’re not immediately aware.


You’ve lost interest

“Bored” by greggoconnell is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Losing interest in a language you were once pumped to learn usually stems from not having fun with it. Maybe you’ve thus far been studying it, but not actually living in it. You’re still in the phase where it’s just this thing you’re learning, and you only associate it with work, not play.

There’s a pretty simple solution to this. Do fun stuff in the new language! Watch movies, shows, play video games (if available), take part in forums, write poetry, read books, learn jokes, meet new people… Do all the things you usually do in your native language.

You have to switch things up so the language doesn’t get stale. You can do this easily with target language content. And the best part is, while you’re having fun you’ll also be learning. Learning encompasses all methods of language acquisition; it isn’t just text books, or flashcards, or courses. It doesn’t ever have to be boring.

Example: I watch German soaps… a lot, and I do so for fun. I’m invested in the storylines. I’m killing 2 birds with one stone, in this respect: entertaining myself and learning.

By getting involved with target language content, your connection to the language goes beyond that of a foreigner. You start to feel connected to the culture itself. Once this happens, I can almost guarantee your motivation to learn will return.


Scarce resources

“Empty Library Shelves” by cybrgrl is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you’ve lost motivation because you’re having a hard time finding learning material, there’s not really much that can be done. Unlike the previous 3 points, this one isn’t so easy to solve, because it’s usually out of your control.

This comes about when you’ve chosen a more obscure/less popular language. Your reasons for doing so are your own, and no one should ever hold that against you. But you need to seriously consider how much you can really achieve through independent study, and how much would rely on complete immersion.

It might be that, in order to learn you’d need to move abroad. Or, at the very least, spend a few months in a country where the language is spoken. To stay motivated, try to find natives to chat with on free apps like Tandem. If possible, take short, inexpensive trips to the country a couple of times a year. While over there, you’ll be able to find lots of target language material.

If none of this is practical, then it might be time to drop the language and pick up a new one. The thing about staying motivated is that you can only do so if you’re able to see solutions. A language with few resources means that, once you run into the issues from points 1-3, you likely won’t be able to overcome them.

Giving up a language here might be tough mentally, but it could be for the best in the long run, and will save you a lot of time and headaches down the line. For more details on giving up a language, check out the post When to give up learning a language.


Reasons for learning no longer apply

There are a number of reasons when this might occur, and they usually involve a change in some personal circumstance. Perhaps you were dating someone who spoke a certain language as their mother tongue, and you started learning it out of love. Or maybe you were planning to move abroad, but your plans changed.

Whatever the reason, you no longer have the motivation to carry on with the language, because whatever prompted you to learn in the first place is gone. Try to find something redeeming about the language, something independent of your initial impetus to learn it; establish a connection to it in its own right.

If that’s not possible then you should consider abandoning it and moving on to another that’s more suitable for you. Life’s too short to learn languages we don’t want to learn.


Final thoughts

Staying motivated is so important in a time and labor intensive hobby like language learning. You should always seek ways to maintain your enthusiasm. Do whatever it takes. Have fun. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, because this will kill motivation faster than anything else.

Appreciate that a lack of motivation doesn’t always mean you should give up a language, it could simply mean you need to change the way you learn, or just have patience.

Sometimes, however, it does mean that the language might not be for you. Once you’ve established that this is the case – through the various means listed above and in the 2 other posts I linked to – then you should feel no shame in letting it go and focusing on a different language.

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