Posted on by Peter Rettig

7 Ways to Stay Motivated When Struggling to Learn a New Language

Mountain Climbing

In January 2013, I read on an article, The Ultimate Guide to Motivation – How to Achieve Any Goal, and applied its “8 Ways to Motivate Yourself From the Beginning” to our blog 8 Zenhabits for Language Learning.

I had also planned to apply its “20 Ways to Sustain Motivation When You Are Struggling” to language learning and, finally, here are the first 7 ways: (Sentences in quotes are taken directly from the article above.)

1. Hold yourself back – It's often easy to race through the first few lessons of a new language course, in our case, maybe to see how the games work, maybe to find out how much you already know, or maybe just because its fun to score points. All of that is fine, but if you are really serious about learning – HOLD BACK. Your brain can't absorb more than +/- 20 new words a day. So rather than pushing on, look forward to the next lesson tomorrow. "Keep the energy reined in, harness it, so that you can ride it even further."

2. Just start – There are days when you just don't feel like practicing. But, "instead of thinking about how hard it is, and how long it will take, tell yourself that you just have to start." Take your language book, tablet, laptop, or power up your PC or Mac, and just start. "After that it all flows naturally."

3. Stay accountable – Committing yourself publicly on an online forum, to friends, to your spouse or partner, or even to the language program you chose, is a good way to help you stay motivated. After all, you would not want to let them know that you gave up! (We, at GamesforLanguage are currently experimenting with this accountable aspect by letting motivated users play and learn for free as long as they practice regularly. If they don't, they'll have to pay to continue.)

4. Squash negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones – Language learners may indeed tell themselves: I'll never get those French sounds. Or: Those Spanish tenses are much too hard. Or: Those German cases are impossible.

We totally agree with Zenhabits: "It’s important to start monitoring your thoughts, and to recognize negative self-talk. Just spend a few days becoming aware of every negative thought. Then, after a few days, try squashing those negative thoughts like a bug, and then replacing them with a corresponding positive thought. Squash, 'This is too hard!' and replace it with, 'I can do this! If that wimp Leo can do it, so can I!' It sounds corny, but it works. Really."

5. Think about the benefits – You most likely had your own very good reason for learning a foreign language in the first place: family or friends, work or travel, study or research, etc. Whatever it is, imagine the benefits you'll derive from being able to understand, discuss, negotiate, or simply communicate in a foreign language. Keep your original reasons for learning and the benefits in mind and they will surely energize you.

6. Get excited again – Why do you suddenly have second thoughts? Because learning is harder than you anticipated? What thoughts got you excited in the first place? Was it the prospect of traveling abroad? Taking a job in another country? Whatever it was, try to recreate that wonderful feeling of excitement. It'll get you going again.

7. Read about it – Struggling with and having second thoughts about learning a new language is an experience shared by many. But today you can easily find blogs and articles by those who have struggled through but who got there in the end. Reading stories about others who made an effort to learn a language and have succeeded in becoming fluent may just be what you need to get your motivation back. If they can do it so can you!

So keep the picture above in mind: When struggling up a mountain, the view will get better and better and the feeling of having reached your goal will stay with you for a long time - not dissimilar to the feeling you'll experience when you begin to understand, read, write and participate in a conversation in your new language...