Not surprisingly, Jeremy Dean's recent e-book, Spark - 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything, has some very relevant suggestions that apply to language learning.
Learning a language takes time, focus, and a certain amount of effort. As we juggle our time, demands from work and family, and our need for rest and recreation, language learning can easily fall by the wayside.
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to keep your language learning motivation on track, even when you're hitting a few obstacles.
Here are my 3 main takeaways from “Spark” for language learners :
1. Stay self-aware all the way through
The e-book “Spark” is set up as 17 steps and you are asked to “stop and think” at each of them. I think it's a helpful approach for looking at your language learning goal as well.
Choose a realistic goal for your language learning
A good way to do that is to check with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Also called the CEFR, it describes foreign language proficiency at six levels.
What is really useful is that each level gives you a description of skills (see page 35 of the PDF that you can download.) For example: a B1 (3rd level) proficiency - which is a good goal to shoot for - means the following:
“I can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversation on topics that are familiar, of personal interest or to everyday life (e.g. family, hobbies, work, travel and immediate need or on current events).”
Know why you want to learn a foreign language
- Is your wish connected to a trip you're planning?
- Do you have friends or family you want to converse with?
- Is learning the language job related?
- Or are you doing it for the pure pleasure of mastering another language?
Know where you are on the road to your goal
- Are you an absolute beginner or do you already have the basics down?
- Are you a re-learner of a language you learned in school or college?
- Or are you re-learning a language you knew as a child or from living in the country?
Your rate of learning and acquiring a native-like pronunciation will very likely be influenced by your language history.
As you go along, you can always adjust your goal up or down.
2. Figure out coping skills that work for you
One of the steps in “Spark” is called “Modelling.” There the author talks about a “coping model.”
It's pretty easy to figure out why Blogs about language learning are so popular. The good ones are written by bilinguals or multilinguals, who share their experiences and can show us how to deal with and overcome difficulties.
Learning a language has its ups and downs, and sometimes we find that we have to cope with discouragement, boredom, and a sense of failure.
We can learn a lot about coping skills from others, especially from language learners who are similar to us. (Jeremy Dean of “Spark” reminds us that beginner problems are different from expert problems.)
Here are a few typical struggles/challenges others can help us to cope with:
Fear of speaking in the foreign language
Just think about the times you've avoided situations in which you would need to use your new language. There are excellent coping strategies for that, as we reviewed in How to Overcome Your Foreign Language Anxiety.
What about the many everyday words in your target language, which you learned and then couldn't remember in a casual conversation? Memory tricks and apps for learning and remembering vocabulary abound.
Frustration with grammar issues
Not to mention German cases and how articles and adjectives change for a case. Or remember how tricky the French subjunctive and conditional verb forms are.
When learning a foreign language, we also need to absorb how it functions, i.e. its grammar.
However, learning grammar is something you do in context, and not by rote memory. I have found this article by Mezzofanti Guild's Donovan Nagel very reassuring: You Don't Need To Study Grammar To Learn A Foreign Language.
Inability to improve our accent
Are there times you get a little nervous and suddenly start speaking with a strong native-language accent? It happens to me.
Having a foreign accent is not a terrible thing, but you'll want to be able to control it to a certain extent, simply because you want to be understood.
3. Figure out ways that keep you going
To keep your momentum, you have to “do” something in the language you're learning. Avoidance or procrastination won't move you forward.
These two tips come up directly in “Spark.”
1. Think about your last effort to motivate the next one.
In language learning terms, it means for me, for example: When I complete a lesson with few mistakes it encourages me to do the next one even better.
2. Set up mini-goals with very specific actions.
For example, when I drink my second cup of coffee in the morning, I'll do a part of a lesson; and before I go to sleep, I'll review the last 10 words I learned during the day.
Here are a few more momentum-keeping tricks that have worked for me:
- When you finish a lesson, tell yourself what your next step will be. Then, when you pick up the next day where you left off, you'll know exactly where to start.
- Schedule a lesson with a tutor or a session with a language-exchange partner. Just knowing that it will be coming up, raises your level of enthusiasm and engagement. It also might prompt you to prepare a few questions and answers.
- The bottom line is to “do something.” Maybe you don't feel like doing a full lesson, or you don't have time for one. But if, instead, you can listen to a song, read a short newspaper article, play a quick language game, etc., you've taken another step rather than stopping cold.
And all along, it's worth keeping the following in mind:
- Becoming fluent in a language gives us a sense of competence, that we're good at something that's challenging.
- Learning on our own gives us a sense of autonomy.
- Having a second, or third language connects us to others who have a different take on life. It opens up our world.
And even if you can't emulate well-known Polyglots, such as Benny Lewis (Fluent in 3 Months), Gabriel Wyner (Fluent Forever), or Olly Richards, Alex Rawlings, Steve Kaufmann, et al, their perspective and experience will inspire you.
No one can learn a foreign language for you. You have to find your own path to do so. (See our recent post on Lingohut: Finding the Adult-Path to Language Learning.)
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.
Disclosure: We purchased the "Spark" e-book, and have no affiliation with it's author or with Psyblog. Several other links above are to a partners' program or an affiliate with revenue-sharing, should you decide to buy or subscribe.