How Can I Inject Fun Into Language Learning? (Special Guest: Olly Richards)

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Learning a language is the challenge of your life.

It requires motivation, discipline, empathy, and some serious grey cells. It's an art because you learn to express yourself freely, beautifully, and you paint pictures with new words. It's also a science because you need to experiment with what works and what doesn't work.

But How Much Fun Can Language Learning Be?

In today's podcast episode, my guest is Olly Richards from I Will Teach You A Language. Olly says he used to learn languages for fun, going out with friends, and enjoying a great social life.

We had an incredible discussion - click play below to listen to it in full.

Now he's still learning them, but his motivations have shifted to intellectual gratification. He still gets fulfilment and a sense of achievement out of learning a language but in today's show he joined me to ask

"How Can I Inject FUN Into Language Learning ?"

Olly cites a few reasons in this youtube video, for example:

  • He is busier than he used to be, mostly because he works a lot.
  • He considers himself a social learner, but he doesn't have access the fun part of social interaction.
  • He pursues the intellectual achievement, which means books and rules rather than pints and parties.

In January I sent out a tweet that caught Olly's eye and opened up the question about fun. Here it is:

Golden Rules of Daily Language Learning

  1. Make contact with your target language on a daily basis

  2. Find a convenient way of making that contact - the more convenient it is, the better

  3. Prioritise fun and find something you enjoy in your target language

Olly saw that I talked about fun, and it was on his mind we got together to have an in-depth discussion about having fun while learning languages.

The Discussion

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Debate Team

Fun or No Fun, That Is The Question

Enjoying something does not mean that you are not learning anything. In fact, it is often a huge motivator for learning a new language - but both Olly and I agreed that fun and motivation are NOT the same thing. Fun and enjoyment also matter in language learning, because they add motivation. But can the fun ever be in the learning, or is it always part of the result?

Olly says:

"I care much more about speaking a language than the learning process. For me, the real fun is speaking the language."

Language Choices

We have to acknowledge that a language that's easier to learn can be more fun, because you can use all you learn just that little bit quicker. But does that mean your motivation to learn it will fade just because a language is "difficult"? Not necessarily! Deciding which language to learn is about much more than just thinking whether you'll enjoy it.

Conquering A Challenge

Adding to that, it's also fun to discover that you have achieved something you found difficult. But is that fun? I argued yes, but Olly wasn't sure - he thinks it's more about the results. We both found that conquering a challenge is a big motivation and so are the results. But the challenge itself may not always be the fun part. It can be the opposite of fun when something is way too difficult.

It Has To Be Interesting

The #1 fun killer? Boredom!

If you're all about the results and you work through those verb drills...but you're falling asleep over them...that's definitely not fun. It might still be productive though!

Olly thinks it's impossible to have 100% fun in language learning. There has to be a disciplined aspect, there has to be some routine...but if you were to focus on that exclusively, you'd lose sight of why you even started in the first place. This is especially important for those of us stuck somewhere in intermediate levels, when the honeymoon period is over and new words feel like "ugh, another one" instead of "wow, a new one".

7 Tips: How To Enjoy Language Learning More

So what can be done? How to plan for fun? Here are a few tips emerging from our conversation:

  1. If you have been feeling frustrated or under stress, take the pressure off and focus away from the results for a little bit. Try doing the opposite for a while and see what happens.
  2. Adjust your expectations of what "learning" looks like. and
  3. Be sillier, and try to use art, music, poetry to expand your mind and explore language. This isn't always easy to do, so consider reaching out to a coach or tutor to help you find a new way of looking at language.
  4. Embrace your own personality and work with who you are. If you enjoy play and your hobbies include juggling and clown skills, it's a safe bet that you may enjoy reading and telling jokes in another language. I also see this with analytical-minded engineers I work with, who love focusing on creating the most effective flashcards and routines based on data and hard facts.
  5. Curate your social life! Put the books down and spend lots of time with speakers of your target language, and make sure you end up in situations where your target language will actually be spoken.
  6. Change it up. It could be that you're bored because you've done the same thing too long. Olly finds that the ideal time to switch to a new activity is after a period of 3 weeks, and changing things more regularly is beneficial.
  7. Choose the easy language! This tip is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it boils down to the fact that you have to ensure you're making progress in order to keep enjoying what you're doing.

What About You?

Do you have fun when you're learning a language?

Do you think it's possible to have 100% fun in language learning?

Do you enjoy the language learning process? Or do you only really love speaking to people?

Join our discussion and share your answers in the comments below! I'm looking forward to reading how you treat "fun" in language learning!