A Language Learner's Guide to Mindset, Mantras & Emotions

Psychology and mindset are a big success factor for learning another language, so in this article I will look deep into the eye of the success storm and share the best ways that you can find a growth mindset for language learning success.

This article is great for language teachers and students and features lots of practical tips and a podcast episode.

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#clearthelist September 2019: The Eleven Languages I Spoke in One Month

Welcome to my language progress and goals update for the new month. My focus languages are Mandarin Chinese and Welsh.

You’ll read about the 11 languages I spoke in August 2019 and catch up with top episodes of the Fluent Show podcast.

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How to Maintain a Language While Starting a New One

You've climbed the hill of your first foreign language. Your confidence is growing, and you're beginning to think about learning the next language.

How can you keep an older language fresh while starting on a new one? Do you have to worry about forgetting everything you've learnt within weeks?

Read this article to find out how to plan for success in multiple languages.

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The Most Popular Language Exams (And Why They're Great For Independent Learners Too)

Language exams can add to your routines and make you a much better language learner. At the end of this article, you'll find a handy list of popular tests and exams in a whole bunch of languages.

language exams.png

Listen to this podcast to hear from Gareth and me on the Fluent Show:

Why Take a Language Exam or Language Test?

You may find yourself wondering why a language test would be useful for you at all, especially if you’re not studying for work or school. But there are a few excellent reasons to dive into the idea of test prep.

1) Gain a Solid Framework Instantly

Self-guided language study is a bit haphazard at times. You may lack the support network of a group class, and you may not have found the right tutor yet. You may even find yourself changing resources a lot of the time. One day you spend half an hour on Memrise, the next day it’s back to podcasts. If you find that your entire language learning system is not as good as it could be, working towards will help you grow from solid ground. Language exams are built on the four core skills principle of listening, reading, speaking and writing.

Read more about the core skills in my book Fluency Made Achievable

2) Achieve More, Faster

Believe it or not, putting a smaller goal such as a specific language test at the next level in front of you will make you feel better. It’s a bit like going on marathon training. You could try and run the whole 26 miles all in one go, and then you’ll feel frustrated when you haven’t got there after 1 hour. Or you could practice little and often, and aim for a level that’s the next sensible goal. As you approach the 5 mile marker for the first time you’ll feel pretty proud and you’ll know you can build onto this foundation. The same mindset will work for you when you aim to pass the right exam instead of spending all your days wondering “how long until I’m fluent?”.

3) Get the Benefit Without The Fees

Language tests are created for applicants to universities, aspiring immigrants or job applicants who need to prove that they can function at the required level in a language. This has two big advantages for you as an independent learner:

First of all, the tests are not about rote learning and recalling 1000 words. They are about how well you can function in your target language. Can you read the paper, can you understand your boss, can you convince a friend to see your movie choice? For anyone dreaming of true functional fluency in another country, language tests are perfect.

But secondly, if you’re not actually planning to move to your target language’s country, you have got a fab deal. Buy a test prep manual, join a test prep class, research a test…but don’t go and take it because you don’t need to do this. You can mock test yourself in ways that are cheaper than some of the registration fees charged by test providers. For example, work with a tutor just to check your answers or become a study buddy for a learner at your level.

These days, most accredited language tests are designed in line with the Common European Framework for Language Proficiency (CEFR), which is split into levels A1 to C2.

You may also see websites that refer to the amount of study hours a student has put in to achieve this level, but it’s a lot more helpful to think about it as the answer to the question “What can you do with your language skills at this level?"

The aspect that I like best about this framework is that it does not focus on numbers. Instead of checking which vocabulary words you know (like the scary/horrible American GED), these tests are about interaction. They are exactly what language learning is about in the 21st century. If you’re hoping to speak to a real person soon, then this system is exactly right for you.


  • TOEFL, most popular in the USA
  • IELTS, the most common exam in Britain and Australia

Both exams are accepted widely throughout the English speaking world. With both of these, you don't study towards a specific level exam. Instead, you're tested and your result will indicate which level the testers found you are at.


  • Goethe Certificates from A1 to C2
  • ÖSD, the Austrian language diploma which assesses the Austrian dialect of German


  • DELF and DAF are the official French government language exams and offer tests ranging from A1 to B2 and the DAF as the higher option
  • TCF, the Test de Connaissance du Français also has a Québec option if you're looking at Canadian French in particular


  • DELE is the official Spanish government language exam and awards diplomas from A1 to C2


  • CILS, the Certificazione di Italiano come Lingua Straniera is particularly useful for people aiming to study at Italian universities, and also available from A1 to C2. It's offered by the University of Siena.
  • The popular CELI is available at levels UNO, DUE and TRE. View all options at the University of Perugia website.


  • The JLPT is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test or Nihongo Nōryoku Shiken. It doesn't follow the usual framework to the letter but instead runs from level N1 to N5.

If you haven't found a language exam that interests you on this page or want to find even more options, read further on Wikipedia.

Do You Think a Test is Right For You?

In my own experience, I have prepared students for Goethe Exams at levels B1 to C1 and found that it really focused our lessons. And I'm not a stranger to language exams myself, having taken the IELTS before moving to the UK many moons ago.

Have you ever taken a language proficiency test or prepared for one? Would you do this in your language learning?

Share your opinion about formal language exams in the comments!

#clearthelist May 2019: Learning 2 Languages at Once (Plus: Lots of Resources for Chinese and Welsh!)


Hello and welcome to Clear The List, the monthly language learning round-up about language learning goals and progress. This blog round-up is hosted by my friends Lindsay Williams and Shannon Kennedy, and April marks a full year of my language goal-setting using this process.


What Happened in April 2019?

The month of April started off very intense and ended a lot more relaxed. That’s how I like it!

In the first week, I was finally lifting the curtain on my new German course, German Uncovered. It’s an incredible feeling when that first student enrols and all the work translates into their language progress. I held a welcome call with co-creator Olly Richards for our first gang.

This month, I was also busy preparing for the next German retreat. These retreats are an amazing opportunity for intermediate and advanced students to visit another country, discover more about culture, and practice their language through immersion. The June edition is now fully booked for German, and you can get on that waiting list for the next event if you like.

Sign up here for news about the next German retreat.

The Fluent Show

What a month! I was so proud to release my interview with one of my favourite language authors, Dr Roger Kreuz who wrote Becoming Fluent. Roger is a psychology professor and associate dean at the University of Memphis, and our conversation about language learning was wonderful and inspiring.

If you follow the Fluent Show, you’ll know that I have a soft spot for the psychology of the language learner, so this interview was definitely a highlight of the year.

Listen to the podcast episode with Dr Roger Kreuz here

Language Goals and Progress

I’m currently working on two target languages as a learner: intermediate Welsh and very early beginner’s Chinese.

Welsh Progress

In the Welsh language, my level is now pretty functional as long as I maintain a lot of contact and produce a lot of my target language on a regular basis. And I do mean every day when possible.

In the month of April, I found it most difficult to get speaking opportunities. I didn’t arrange any meet-ups with my local conversation partner, my tutor was busy, and when I spoke to my friend Nicky it was in English because he was a guest on the Fluent Show.

Instagram yn y gymraeg

Instagram yn y gymraeg

In the first half of the month, I was also struggling to find time and mental energy to learn Welsh. But once Easter came around and my workload eased up with Fluent, I feel like everything got better! I started by switching on Radio Cymru for a few mornings, then added a bit of S4C.

But the best part was creating my new Instagram account, @kersydysgu. Inspired by some wonderful Fluent Show listeners who have done this, I decided to try out the idea of a fully separate, and ONLY IN WELSH insta account. And my daily contact is through the roof because I’m already spending way too much time on the app. What a fantastic way to get more contact and write in Welsh on a regular basis.

Chinese Progress

My other language is Mandarin Chinese. I had set myself structured goals for this language for the first time last month.


My goal was to watch a bit of Easy Mandarin on Youtube, but I did nothing. Listening fell flat in April. I don’t enjoy many language instruction podcasts and I’m too low level for any natural input that I know.


My very tentative goal of an italki lesson was realised last week. Hooray! My first tutor listened to me counting to 10 and saying “living room” and “desk” at random, then declared my pronunciation very good and my learning “a mess”.

And fair point! I had not even noticed how little I had spoken apart from sounding out the words in my apps, and how little I could say in the way of dialogue. I was incredibly motivated after that and greeted her the next time with a full introduction, including where I live, my age, and my family. Take that, language mess!

I’m very pleased that I got my head around tones and basic pronunciation before the lesson, and I’m now hoping to take some regular classes. Good reminder: It isn’t really ever too early to work with a good tutor. They know what they’re doing!


Most of my learning is still reading-based, so I kinda met my goal by default.


I think I did quite well! My notebook is in regular use at the moment, and following up the lessons has made a big difference here.

At the moment my approach is to write in pinyin and also Chinese characters, but I’m not trying to memorize any of the characters. I’m thinking stuff like 我 and 你 will start sinking in automatically.

I’m using Google Translate and the Pleco app a lot for writing at the moment.

Daily Contact Goal

Every month, I log my “daily contact” with the Welsh language. In April, it was difficult to keep anything going during the launch of German Uncovered. But once Easter rolled around and I took some time to rest, Welsh returned to my life. In the last week, my Welsh instagram account made it easier than ever and I’m on a streak.

Total: 17 day out of 30.

I also track how many times I’ve spent 10+ minutes on Chinese, mostly for fun. In April, I checked this box 7 times. Often, this signals way over 10 minutes but it’s not about the minutes. It’s about the habit.

Goals for May 2019

This month is an unusual one. I’m travelling for the first 2 weeks, to Machynlleth in Wales and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. In the last 2 weeks, I’ve got a full-time responsibility away from Fluent, so I’ll have to see how work fits around it.

Welsh Language Goals

Again, I don’t feel I need to actively split my goals into listening, speaking, reading and writing at this intermediate stage. I just want to feel like I’m as good or better, and that will be about contact and speaking.

Spending the first few days of May in Machynlleth is a good start, and in the second half of the month I hope to get started on Say Something in Welsh Level 3 and get back into meeting my speaking partner.

Chinese Language Goals

In this language I’m a total beginner (很高兴认识你) and will benefit from the goal structure. So let’s go!


Ready to try again with YouTube for Chinese beginners. I’m looking for dialogue-based or story-based input here, rather than someone explaining greetings to me in detail.

If you want to recommend a channel or listening resource, leave me a comment below.


This is the easy one for any beginner, all my apps and my textbook are reading practice. No specific goals.


I’ve already booked one Skype lesson and hope to complete 3 by the end of the month.

(By the way, this month on the blog I have a brand new italki review - check it out if you have not tried out italki before.)


Three goals:

  • to follow up each language lesson with a page or revision notes,
  • to write 4 notebook pages about myself or my family (these pages are full really quickly when I write in English + pinyin + characters),
  • and to figure out how to type pinyin.

That’s it! Plenty to be getting on with.


Many people have been asking me to list the resources I use for learning my languages this month. Here they are:

Chinese Resources

Welsh Resources

What are Your Language Goals for May 2019?

Have you ever studied Welsh? Are you a Chinese beginner? Juggling 2 languages like me?

Leave a comment below to tell me all about how you’re getting on, and what you are planning to study next.

Be sure to check out the Clear the List linkup full of inspiring language goals and reports, hosted by Lindsay Williams and Shannon Kennedy.