How To Find the Motivation To Learn Languages

It can be difficult keeping up the motivation to learn languages, because anything worth doing takes time, and languages are no different. This tweet appeared on my twitter feed a while ago…

I guess I lost my motivation to learn languages. 😥 I mean I thought I was taking a break but I just can’t bring myself to continue anyhow. Any advice? Please, help me 😭😭

Learning languages is like any hobby that requires practise, or any other long term project. Yes, it is something that requires time and effort, but for most of us it is something we do for fun or to improve our life in some way. If the motivation to learn languages disappears, it becomes work.

People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.

Zig Ziglar

There are many reasons we blame for a lack of motivation to learn languages. However, research shows that motivation follows action, or to put it the other way, one way to increase motivation is to increase action.

Let’s look at some of the things people blame for a lack of motivation, and what we can do about them to increase our action, and consequently our motivation.

It is taking so long, and I feel like I am not making any progress.

Language learning takes time.
Language learning takes time.

I personally find each language takes a different amount of time, depending on my interest and engagement level.

Learning languages to a high level takes time. Yes, I know the name of this blog is “Learn Languages Fast”, but even people who learn *fast* still take time. And the longer it takes, the more likely we will struggle at some time with our motivation to learn languages.

My first “other” language (outside of 2 years of school French) was Dutch – I probably at present sit somewhere around A2/B1 as far as conversational skills go. (I can read and write a little, but nowhere as well as I can converse.) I got to that stage after about 12 months (in two stints) living in the country, and 18 months in the middle writing letters.

My next language after Dutch was Auslan. I got to around a C1 level after 7 years of living in the community. For neither language did I undertake more than three months formal learning.

When I was learning Dutch and then Auslan, my processes (by memory… after nearly 25 years, so don’t quote me!) were something like this:

Dutch

  • 3 month exposure = A1
  • 7 month exposure = A2
  • 12 months in-country contact + 18 months remote practising = B1

Auslan

  • 20 hours = A1
  • 6 months (once/week) = A2
  • 18 months (once/week) = A2/B1
  • 2 years (once/week) = B1
  • 4 years = solid B2
  • 7 years (inc. daily exposure) = C1

In other words – you can expect to learn a lot to start with, and be able to express simple things quickly (mostly because you have learned by rote), but it simply takes thousands of hours of exposure to acquire real fluency (and near native skills, if that is what you are aiming for). Especially in the expressive skills. (I talked about this in my post “10,000 hours to get fluent in a language? Or just 20 hours?“)

It is much easier (for me, anyway) to learn to speak in a language (because I know my own thoughts) than it is to understand what someone else wants to communicate, especially if you are not used to their typical vocabulary set or communication style.

Having said that – I seem to understand a lot of what people are saying, at least in general, before I can adequately communicate very much at all.

I don’t have anyone to practise with

Finding people to practise languages with, either writing/reading or speaking/listening, can sometimes take some time. However, there are many online as well as face-to-face options that you can explore.

ITalki is a web based network where you can connect with not only paid online language teachers, but also “community tutors”, many of whom are happy to do language exchanges, written or spoken. Many people find the personal connection really improves their motivation to learn languages.

Conversations help me learn languages.

HelloTalk  is another platform many language learners use to find the 21 century version of a penpal in their chosen language/s. It can be downloaded as an app onto your smartphone, or you can connect from the web service.

Many larger cities have MundoLingo groups or other language exchanges to meet speakers of other languages.

Meetup.com is another online networking service that allows people to advertise classes and face-to-face meetups, and many conversation groups and classes can be found in their directory.

Facebook also has a multitude of groups, some local that have face-to-face meetings, some purely online, where you can connect. Some groups include a “mentor” opportunity, where native or more fluent speakers offer their time to mentor students of the language.

Local classifieds websites such as Craigslist, Gumtree in Australia, and the various partners of Gumtree like Kijiji, Maarktplaats and others, often have local tutors offering their services for reasonable prices. I have previously had a wonderful French tutor that I found on Gumtree. I also tried a few others that weren’t as good. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and effort.

You can also try local churches and cultural groups – sometimes they don’t have a website, but you can call their office, or call in and speak to someone, and they might be able to put you in touch with someone who is a native speaker in your target language. This is especially true in larger cities, but if you live outside a major centre, sometimes you can use a cultural centre in a larger town or city to track down someone closer to you. You may actually find that you can help improve someone else’s motivation to learn languages by having a one-to-one language exchange.

I just can’t be bothered being disciplined with it

Man Watching TV
Daydreaming is easier than discipline!

Discipline has always been my biggest downfall when learning languages. Even when I love the idea of being able to communicate in a language, even when I don’t really mind the study, the actual discipline of sitting down each day to do some study always seems to come waaaaay down the list…. after really edifying activities, like Netflix! 🙂

Every language learner has different things that work for them. Some people are super disciplined, others not so much. I tend to the “not so much” end… I love the results, but the process… not so much.

Here are some of the tactics I try to use to find motivation to learn languages.

Underpromise, overdeliver

I tell myself “I will just do 5 minutes of vocab revision before I eat lunch”… or, I do it while eating lunch. Of course, I often end up doing 10-15 minutes, which then makes me feel amazingly awesome for exceeding my commitment!

Promise yourself…”Just 5 minutes!”

Writing down my goal

I find that if I write a note and stick it to the wall that reminds me WHY I want to learn the language, I am more likely to follow through. Often I like to make it a poster (super simple – I’m no artist), or add a flag, and stick it next to my desk.

Really connect with my reason for learning

I am not someone who actually enjoys the language learning process in and of itself. I enjoy the fluency it brings me, the opportunity to connect with others, in a language that is important to them. I like to be just another one of the group, not the tourist in the room. So when I am choosing a language to learn, there mostly has to be a friendship attached to it – either an existing one, or a potential one.

The only time this is not the case is when I am dabbling – like the Language Jam events and 21 Day Challenges.

Living the target language, and NOT Studying

A lot of the time, I just don’t study. Instead, I find ways to use the language in my life, and just use that practice to improve my skills. It might look like this…

Watching YouTube or other programs

I like to listen to motivational speakers – so I found a French one. I like watching travel shows – so I found a French one.

“Go to church” 

I would consider going to a church service in my target language if one was nearby. The bonuses for those who are familiar with the church environment is that many things are the same, despite the language and cultural differences.

Songs are often translated from English (which means the content is known), bibles can be bought in many target languages, or bilingual (or downloaded onto apps), the community is usually welcoming of new people, and if you attend a similar denomination to that with which you are already familiar, the order of service may even be identical.

The other option is to search for churches that live stream, or record and upload to YouTube, Vimeo Livestream

Learning hobbies

Learn how to knit in Spanish

I find fun activities to do, then learn about them and follow instructions in my target language. Obviously this depends on the hobby and the language. But it is possible to buy books to read in most languages… and if your hobby is drinking coffee, find or create a conversation group in your target language! Online, if you must!

Join a club

If you live in the country of your target language, consider getting out there and being social! When I was learning Dutch, I joined a swimming club, and went to a coffee shop run by young adults as safe place for the community (no drugs, no alcohol, skits and other performances for free). Often the local community centres or information centres will know where you can find out about local clubs.

Learn French in a Wine Tasting club

If you don’t live surrounded by the target language, try asking language schools, cultural centres or target language churches if they know of hobby groups in their language. They often have craft groups, outdoor recreation groups, photography groups or even just mum’s groups and coffee groups (especially for women) that they are usually happy for anyone to join, even if you don’t share their faith.

Listen to music

Learn Korean listening to K-Pop

One technique many language learners use to both increase knowledge of vocabulary and grammar, maintain their motivation to learn languages, as well as learn more about the culture and communities of a language, is to listen to music. It can be pop music or folk music, or even faith based music, so long as the lyrics are available for you to read and the words are clear enough to hear.

One of the huge bonuses of using songs to learn languages is that they tend to be a bit repetitive, so you hear the same phrases over and over… but they don’t get boring in their repetition. AND the lyrics can become earworms, so you remember them and rehearse them even when NOT listening!

Write Journals

If you are a journal writer (or even if you aren’t), taking five minutes to describe your day can be a terribly effective way to improve your understanding of the language.

And if you make it a gratitude journal, you can improve your mood and get your mindfulness activity done for the day, all at the same time!

Journal in Dutch
  • Writing a journal causes you to seek out vocabulary that is directly relevant to you, so you are likely to remember it and use it again.
  • The act of writing causes you to think carefully about the grammar of the language you might already know, and be creative in using it to make sentences.
  • It is slower than conversation, so you have time to do a little research and get it right
  • You can send it to a site or app like HelloTalk to get someone to check it for you.

I usually keep separate journals for each language I am working on, but there is no need – if journal writing is a normal part of your day or week, there is no reason why you can’t make it a mulitlingual habit!

I can’t afford to buy a lot of language learning resources

Language learning can be cheap

The reality is that, while they might not be the most up to date, or be a complete resource (meaning you may need to use a couple of different ones together), it is quite possible to start your language learning with free resources.

The most commonly used are platforms like Memrise and Duolingo, which are mostly vocab, and there are an abundance of YouTube channels for nearly every language you might want to learn.

There are podcasts for many of the more commonly learned languages, free resources online (often designed for homeschooling), and some complete language courses too, if you are happy to use some older resources.

Try a few, see which style keeps you engaged (audio, video, written, vocab app, five minutes a day, a full text book lesson), and then if you like the style AND the resource, just keep using it. If you like the style, but not the resource, look for similar products that you might need to purchase. If it doesn’t work for you – drop it.

I don’t know what language learning resources to use.

Analysis Paralysis. The perfectionism that exists in this-here-Aspie-head often gets in my way as I start learning a new language. Which book? Which YouTube channel? Which podcast?

Reality? It doesn’t really matter. Choose one and try it. If you don’t like it, try a different one. Use what works for you.

Pensive woman choosing a book from shelving at home

My hint – if you have learned a language before using a resource that is also available for this new target language, try that brand again.

If you haven’t, and you are just wanting an introduction that will help you have some basic conversations with locals on vacation in France, Italy, Spain or Germany, I suggest the Teach Yourself Language Hacking series by Benny Lewis.

For many other languages, and for resources with a bit more depth, the Teach Yourself Language Series resources are resonably priced and offer a good introduction to many, many languages. They use a variety of activities and tools to introduce the material, both audio and written, and you can split the lessons up into smaller chunks if you don’t want to do the whole lesson in one go.

I really want to learn, but I can’t bring myself to do it.

Sometimes it is all too much.

This one is a little more complex. This is not simply a situation where a particular barrier has come up that we aren’t sure how to overcome it. This is when nothing is enough to inspire us out of that funk at all. But we still have action we can take.

In these cases, it helps to spend a few minutes working out what might have squashed the motivation you had before.

What CRAP has stolen your motivation?

Motivation to learn languages, or undertake ANY activity that we have decided to do, can wane for a number of reasons, but sometimes they aren’t immediately apparent to us. Mark Waldman is a neuroscientist, and one of the world’s leading experts on communication, spirituality, and the brain, and he has invented a tool to help us uncover these deflating beliefs.

Called a C.R.A.P. Board, the intention is to unveil all the Conflicts, Resistances, Anxieties, Procrastinations and any other problem you think you have that might be holding you back, and then help the brain to release them.

GET IT NOW

Get your
C.R.A.P. Board
Cheat Sheet
Instructions in your Inbox

close-link

The information in the cheat sheet is taken from Mark’s Facebook post about the C.R.A.P. Board technique. I have just formatted it to be easier to read, and adapted it a little for language learning.

Listen to Mark chat with businessman John Asseraf about the C.R.A.P. board and how it works.

Create a Crap Board to Defuse Negativity – Waldman & Assaraf from Mark Waldman on Vimeo.

GET IT NOW

Get your
C.R.A.P. Board
Cheat Sheet
Instructions in your Inbox

close-link

Over time, if you notice new negative thoughts and feelings about language learning come up, write them on your crap board. Each day you will notice less negative thoughts. It’s true that old memories are always “there” in your brain, but you don’t have to listen to them or believe they are true. You can even talk to them and tell them to shut up! They usually will. Then focus on your 3 deepest values for that day and the new belief you want to embed into your memory.

Conclusion

So what happens if none of this helps? Remember that we said at the start, research demonstrates that motivation follows action. That means, don’t wait for motivation to learn languages to come, just start doing!

What about you? What tips can you share, hints that have helped your motivation in the past? Comment below, and let us know!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.