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How to learn a language
How to learn a language

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5 Staying motivated over the long-term

Earlier in this session, you heard about my experiences learning two different languages, and how my surroundings impacted on my results. Your surroundings, or learning environment, are just one of many factors that impact on your motivation. Without motivation to learn, you stand very little chance of succeeding. On the other hand, if you maintain your motivation, you can learn quickly.

As this course draws to a close, I would like to offer some thoughts on staying motivated in your language learning. Having passed through every motivational peak and trough imaginable, I have learnt a few tricks along the way, which will hopefully prove useful to you. This section might be useful for you to bookmark and return to in the future, perhaps at a time when motivation becomes a concern.

Tip 1 Ensure you have support from others and design a study routine

When it comes to the grander task of staying motivated, you will find that these two factors carry much of the weight. With others around you who share a passion for languages, you will be inspired. With a solid study routine, you will discover that progress begets progress. Before you look elsewhere for you motivational ‘fix’, ensure you have the basics in place.

Tip 2 Base your learning on things you enjoy

As a beginner, you do not have a lot of choice when it comes to study material; you will be confined mostly to textbooks. However, as you become more proficient, you will start to be able to understand material intended for native speakers – books, blogs, films, podcasts, etc. – which gives you a lot more choice over what to study with. When choosing study material, try to pick things that are enjoyable for you, as this will prove more motivating than educational material. A good question to ask yourself is: ‘What do I read/listen to in my mother tongue?’ Then try to find something similar in your target language.

Tip 3 Get out of your comfort zone

As learning a new language does take time, you will inevitably find yourself settling into certain routines; attending class, reading textbooks, practising with your language partner. As we have already noted, routines are essential to help you learn. However, you also need new stimuli to keep learning and take your skills up a level. When you feel like you are stuck on a plateau, do something to yank yourself out of your comfort zone. Speak with someone new, travel to the country, try reading a whole book. In general, what I call ‘grand gestures’ help to open up new avenues for improving your language skills.

Tip 4 Set audacious language goals

Another way to push yourself, and defy your own expectations, is to set goals in your language learning that might, at first, appear too ambitious. However, you never know what you are capable of until you try, and it is often in the trying that you discover new possibilities. Audacious language goals should align with your personal or professional interests. Here are some ideas that have occurred to me in the past: give a speech at a friend’s wedding; write an article for a blog; study an online course to learn a new skill; start a YouTube channel and upload weekly videos. Of course, all in your target language!

Tip 5 Do not learn in a vacuum

The purpose of learning a new language is not to study it, but to actually use it. Nevertheless, it is common for language learners to never truly shake off the identity of being a student. Consequently, they might keep learning and learning, until such time as they are ‘fluent’ or ‘ready’ – a feeling that may never come. If you have been learning your target language for a while, and are very much still in study mode, consider whether it is time for you make the language a more complete part of your life. Rather than study your target language in a vacuum, use it for real purposes. Make friends, read the news, do online searches, listen to music, read books… in other words, lead your daily life using the language. It may be difficult at first, but there is no surer way to stay motivated and give your new language deeper meaning.

Activity 8 Reflect on how you can implement the tips

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

Which of these five tips could you integrate into your learning moving forward? How will you go about it? Write a short paragraph where you try to be as concrete as possible.

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Your answer will of course be personal, but think of your language learning goals and the resources, activities and communities you have come across in this course. And remember that in order to be a successful language learner, you might have to try doing things that are beyond your comfort zone!