How to Stay Motivated When Learning a New Language

All is going well in your language learning, until one morning you wake up and realize that you just can't do it anymore. You look at your pile of flashcards and your grammar workbook in despair. The idea of conjugating one more verb makes your stomach twist. You're done. You may as well give up.

Not so fast!

All learners go through slumps in learning. It's normal to feel apathetic, discouraged, or even frustrated at times. If you're feeling this way, it doesn't mean that it's time to quit. It might just mean that it's time to take a closer look at what motivates you.

1. Know why you want to learn.

Motivation is at its highest when there's a specific reason for learning something new. Are you planning on traveling to an area where people speak the language? Do you want to be able to watch films or read books? Perhaps you want to whisper sweet nothings in your new love interest's language? Have an honest conversation with yourself about why you're learning.

2. Do what you love.

If you wake up in the morning excited to conjugate verbs, then by all means pull out the grammar worksheets! But for most of us, grammar is a means to an end, a way to engage with what we really love: music, movies, books, people, art, literature, culture. If you enjoy watching television, then watch a show in your target language. If you love reading, then find some books that interest you - even if you have to start with children's picture books. If you can chat with a friend over a hot drink for hours, then ask a tutor or a language partner to meet you at the local coffee shop. The trick is to think about what you already love to do, and then to do it in the language that you're learning.

3. Set realistic, attainable goals.

While it's all very well to decide one morning that you're going to become fluent in Japanese, that's such a huge goal that it's easy to get overwhelmed. Think smaller. Maybe you want to read manga, or sing along to your favourite Japanese pop song. Start with that. Dig into a song, learn the lyrics, practice the pronunciation until you can sing it in the shower at the top of your lungs. Small successes are some of the greatest motivators out there. Once you've met your small goal, set another, and another, and another - and one day you'll find that you're well on your way to being fluent!

4. Don't aim for mastery.

They say that the perfect is the enemy of the good. This is doubly true when it comes to language learning. The language learner who progresses the most is usually the one who takes the most risks, makes the most mistakes, fails the most often - but doesn't give up. Communicating is messy, creative work, and you'll hold yourself back if you strive for perfection. There's no need to drill yourself until you're exhausted. Do your best and move on. Give yourself permission to be "good enough".

5. Talk to people.

While it can be scary talking to people in a foreign language, it can also be exhilarating to put what you've learned into practice! Languages exist because humans are driven to communicate. What better way to apply what you're learning than by talking to an actual human being? No matter your level, you'll progress more quickly - and be more motivated to keep learning - if you find a patient conversation partner, either in person or online. You'll find that most native speakers are thrilled to speak their language with you.

6. Shake up your routine.

The human brain thrives on novelty. If you've been doing the exact same thing every day for the past several months, then it's only natural that you should start to feel a bit bored. Take a break from your regular routine and try something new. Watch a movie, go to a restaurant where the waiters speak the language that you're learning, go to a concert, read your book in the park instead of at your desk, listen to a podcast while walking the dog - anything new and different will get your brain ready to learn again.

7. Start now.

So many people put things off for some fuzzy future date, when they imagine that conditions will be ideal. They'll start learning Mandarin in a few years, when they have enough money to visit China. They'll start learning German in the fall, when the kids are back in school. They'll start learning Spanish next spring, when things quiet down at work. Why not start now? It doesn't have to be time-consuming - something as simple as signing up for a word of the day in your inbox can get you started on your language learning journey.

Remember that language learning should be an adventure. It should be fun. Languages are about more than memorizing pronouns and practicing sentence structures. They're about culture, art, history - and, most of all, people. Reconnect with what attracted you to the language in the first place, and you'll soon find yourself ready to learn again!