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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In Language Learning, Are Apps All Amazing? Are All Apps Amazing?

In this episode, we caught up, talked about a new directive on language use in a very special setting: Childbirth!

We also discussed language learning apps and how to make the most out of them, so if you're enjoying Duolingo but you're STILL not fluent, this is the episode for you.


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How to Stay Motivated in Language Learning (Even When You're Not Feeling It)

language motivation

In our latest podcast episode, my co-host Lindsay Dow and I found ourselves discussing one of the big topics in language learning: the ultimate struggles, good moments and bad moments.

These are true for every language learner we've ever spoken to, so if you're suffering from one of these issues, you are most definitely not alone. And since I've recently spent a bit of time hitting the books to learn more about the science of language learning in linguistics and psychology, I've added 4 research-backed motivation tips to help you love language learning again.

The Ultimate Good In Language Learning

1) Understanding Something You Didn't Expect to Understand

No matter if it's a few words of an overheard conversation or the name of a shop, there is magic in that moment when you realize you know this language. When you understand something new, you participate in unlocking the world around yourself - truly a moment worth waiting and working for!

And as Lindsay points out, this is one reward that never goes away after you cash in. Language learning is an eternal project, and that good feeling is going to be yours time and time again as you improve your skills.

In scientific research, the good feelings and sense of joy you gain from using your intelligence and learning something new are called intrinsic motivation. This describes actions you undertake out of interest, curiosity or because you find something personally rewarding (and not because you're getting paid or instructed). Those moments of feeling smarter and experiencing your personal growth are the internal payment you give yourself for all the hard work of language study.

Becoming aware of them and making a note when you do feel awesome is a great way to stay motivated later in the game, so try keeping a learning diary or sharing your achievements with others whenever you understand something new. You can even start today by commenting here on the blog!

2) Showing People That You Can Speak Their Language

I had this moment in an airport café once. My waitress was just dropping off the bill and as I that noticed the little Polish flag on her name tag, I said "oh, you speak Polish!" She stopped for a few minutes and we started chatting about Poland, Germany and languages, with me demonstrating the very few Polish words I know. But as soon as I even said czesz (hello), her eyes lit up. She said she was so excited and pleased that someone was learning her native language, and how rare it was for this to happen in London. I was excited too, so happy that I'd managed to make her morning.

Even when you can only say 5 words in someone's language, your interest and respect for their home can really make their day. Have you ever found yourself in that feeling? For me it's one of the most wonderful things that can happen to a language learner, and it always keeps me going and trying.

The reward of connecting with new people is a motivation for many language learners. Social psychologist Robert Gardner called this the integrative motive, recognising how language learning motivation can be affected by how much you want to talk to people, how much you want to connect and how curious you are about your target language's culture.

Does that sound familiar to you? If you're feeling like you need a boost for studying, try connecting with someone new. It could be a native speaker on italki or a friend at an event - what matters is that you remember how great it is to connect with people who speak your target language.

The Ultimate Struggle in Language Learning

We are all such busy people, and it's hard to put a foreign language up there along with other priorities like family care, paid work, or (for me) editing a podcast. Life's crazy, you guys, and that's why I have put time management at the top of all our language learning struggle charts.

Procrastination is a big issue here too. You sit around and find yourself doing the dishes or pairing your socks before you'll even look at that vocab list again.

How can we beat procrastination? My top tip is to ease off the pressure, make your language learning journey more interesting (yes! more videos - sometimes!) and set yourself smaller, more challenging goals. So forget "getting fluent" for now, and ask yourself how you can get a little bit better this week.

The Ultimate Bad in Language Learning

What could be the worst thing about language learning? There are so many great reasons for learning languages, yet something stands in your way. What is it?

For me, one of the biggest boulders in the way of your fluency dreams is feeling like you are not good enough. Research has actually backed this up, showing that low self-efficacy (that's when you think you won't be able to do it) and low self-worth (that's when you think you are too stupid or forgetful or ) really do knock the motivation out of

What solution could there be? Try embracing the Growth Mindset, in other words find the benefits of being lousy right now. It means that you've got infinite scope for improvement, and there is a lot of evidence to show that nothing in language learning is beyond you right now.

It also helps to stop for a minute and look back on what you've already achieved. Learning a foreign language to "fluency" (whatever that means to you) is a long-term game, a journey in which you are always travelling forward. So give yourself some credit. What can you do now that you couldn't do a year ago?

How to Beat Your Language Learning Demons

Fear of forgetting words, fear of speaking, fear of judgement. Is that you? If you connect to those negative feelings, scroll back up to the good parts of language learning. Sometimes it's worth investing a little time in your own mindset before you go back to the books and apps.

Two things that make the negatives worthwhile and reward you so much:

1. That moment where you understand something and you didn't expect it

2. That other moment where someone's face lights up because you're learning their language

Which good moments can you add? I'd love to hear your stories in the comments below. And of course, stay encouraged and keep going. You can totally do this.

For more information about coaching and access to lots of free toolkits and worksheets, hop onto the Fluent Language Newsletter today - can't wait to say hello to you on there!

Festive Fluency Tips: How to Learn German This Holiday Season

I hope that you're enjoying a great start into the holiday season. One of the happiest activities during this season is decorating your home. Have you ever thought about how it could boost your language learning efforts?

german christmas study

Why This Is So Effective

You often spend so much time with books and screens that it becomes difficult to put language love into your life. Here are some of the easiest, most effective ways to bring language and Christmas together in your house this year.

Decorating your home with German items, signs, and Christmas cards triggers a priming effect. Similarly to Spaced Repetition Systems, it will remind you of your target language in situations where you don't expect it. Your brain stays switched on, reviews the right vocabulary for the season, and helps you learn a language.

Weihnachtsdeko: Quick German Christmas Decorations

For a German feel to your home, start decorating early and put out an Adventskranz (advent wreath). This wreath features four candles. As you count off the Sundays before Christmas Eve, a candle is lit every week so that all four candles are finally lit in the Christmas week. The ritual of lighting a new candle can ring in a natural break in your day, so it's an opportunity to take 5 minutes to combine it with the recital of a German Christmas song or listening to a festive song.

Crafty parents and lovers make their own advent calendars, too. You can do some basteln (crafting) of your own by collecting 24 little presents, wrapping them individually and putting them in a box or 24 empty toilet roll tubes. Note that the German advent calendar features only 24 presents as the German festivities and present-giving are held on Christmas Eve.

During the Christmas season, German homes will light up with candles and Christmas pyramids. The Räuchermann, a little incense burner figurine made to look like a smoking man, is also a classic at Christmas. Each year I excitedly light mine, even if my British husband complains about the smell. Make the incense burner work for your language studies by using its German name, naming the utensils you use for lighting the incense, or lighting it to ring in your regular study sessions every week.

The Christmas tree is another essential. Germany's tree goes back to pagan traditions of the Middle Ages. South West Germany and the French Alsace are the original regions where the Christmas tree was introduced more than 500 years ago. These days, the Germans export Christmas trees to many other countries including Denmark, France and Poland. Traditional German tree decoration stays away from tinsel and glitter in favour of wooden decorations, fabric ribbons and real candles. And just in case it catches fire, here's a German video demonstrating how to put out a tree fire.

german christmas

Combine Decorating and Labelling

Labelling is a vocabulary review method that I discussed in detail in The Vocab Cookbook, and for language learners it should become the next step you take in your decorating. Label the new items and look out for the words associated with the new items.

For example, if there is a Christmas card from a friend wishing you Frohe Weihnachten und ein gutes neues Jahr!, where is a good place to display it in your home? Label it Weihnachtskarte, and if you are using an electronic flashcard app this is the time to add a picture to the card.

For those of you who choose not to decorate your home, here are a few other ways to engage with the season and still learn a language:

Christmas Markets

If you think that running around the Christmas market in a panic halfway through Christmas Eve is a common German image, you'll be surprised. The markets traditionally run from late November to the week before Christmas. They do sell many gift items, but are also used as a chance for families, colleagues and friends to get together over a mug of hot mulled wine.

Next time you're at an authentic German market, dare yourself to try a mug of Feuerzangenbowle which combines mulled wine with rum-soaked flambé sugar loaf. It's special! For those who don't enjoy alcohol as part of keeping warm at the Weihnachtsmarkt, there will always be some Kinderpunsch available.

If there is no market happening near you, don't feel left out though. Ask your language exchange partner or tutor to send you a video from their own market visit, showing you some items and telling you what they are in German.

German Christmas Characters

In Germany, you might get blank looks if you think that gifts are really delivered by an old man in a red coat who flies around on a reindeer sleigh and comes in through the chimney. Really. Who believes that? Obviously gifts are brought by a small angelic child! The German Christkind is a unique character, sometimes considered to be Baby Jesus himself, sometimes an angel. They come and place everyone's gifts under the tree on Heiligabend (Christmas Eve). In my house, we all used to get together for a meal and wait until the Christkind rings a bell. That's when you knew it was time for the good bit: Bescherung, where everyone got to open their gifts.

Many families sing songs like Alle Jahre wieder and Oh du fröhliche. They make the perfect basis for a merry study session. This year, I've already had a wonderful experience enriching my Welsh studies with recitals of Tawel Nos (Silent Night). The words are simple, the tunes are catchy, and you're guaranteed to pick up a few new words.

Does it Snow At Christmas in Germany?

Germany doesn't usually benefit from full snow cover to make things look romantic at Christmas. The North of the country is flat and close to the North Sea. The further South you go, the better your chances for a white Christmas. The Alps are prime territory for picture-book scenes, but Eastern Germany and Berlin usually keep up with the winter scenes too. Wrap up warm as temperatures often drop below zero and keep active by rodeln (sledging), Schlittschuh laufen (ice-skating) or Ski fahren (skiing). Germans love winter sports and always have a frontrunner in the key events of the season such as Skispringen (ski jumping) and slalom. If you are looking for festive TV shows to watch, the sports coverage of these events has excellent potential to combine repetition and easy language with an authentic winter atmosphere.

Ready to Start Decorating?

Are you building these tips into your study routine? Comment below to let me know your favourite Christmas study tricks!

If you want to be kept up to date with the blog, the podcast, and our language learning events, then don't please to join the free Fluent Newsletter.

How to enjoy Language Learning more by being lousy at it

If you are a long-term follower of the Fluent blog, you might already be familiar with my love of Pinterest. I spend the odd free minute over on that website, admiring pictures, getting inspiration and using it to learn about education and teaching..

The Growth Mindset

Today I came across a really great graphic illustrating the growth mindset (previously discussed in episode 9 of the podcast), which is such a helpful way for language learners and strivers of any kind to treat perfectionism and become ongoing learners. Adopting a growth mindset has been proven to contribute to both learning success and happiness in scientific studies. In fact, it is absolutely invaluable for adult learners because it does away with this nonsensical myth of talent.

Here's the amazing core message:

Learn to enjoy being lousy.

That is all. Mind blown? Let's move on to this graphic showing how you can do it.

Thank you,  Ryan Thomas

Thank you, Ryan Thomas

Online Perfection

When you admire people's well-prepared Youtube videos and considered posts that outline their study routines, it is all too easy to feel inferior. A fixed mindset keeps you trapped in those situations, it forces you to feel that the situation is unfair and you are lagging way behind. But the growth mindset would look at another person's success, then look at what you are accomplishing and say "I don't need approval, I want to gain more knowledge!". In fact, I cannot say this any better than Edudemic already has, so please head over and read the following article on the Growth Mindset. Inspiring, fantastic stuff.

Use Growth for Everything

If you are struggling with adopting this mindset for your language learning, think of other learning situations you have been in during your life. Driving, cooking, sewing, musical instruments. We all started out pretty terrible at those, and the more you do it, the better you get. Yes, that's all of us. German and Arabic and Tagalog are no different.

If you want to read more about using Pinterest in your language learning routine, you can read my step-by-step guide on this blog.

Three Language Learning Affirmations You Should Use (And Why They Will Work!)

Let me tell you about a demon. It keeps you safe and small, makes sure you’re in your place. It stops you from leaning out too far, leaning in to new adventures, and saying yes to any kind of change or risk. It’s kind of like a helicopter parent, and lives right in your head. That demon is called self-doubt.

Scenario 1: Self-Doubt

If you’ve been on a roll, spending the last few weeks listening to target language podcasts and seeing your tutor on a regular basis, then you’re expecting progress. You’re expecting a measurable, tangible feeling that this is worth the effort. And when that feeling doesn’t arrive, you start wondering why you bother.

Scenario 2: Self-Doubt Again

And here is the other side: You may have been feeling stuck during the past weeks. The language YouTube videos didn’t make you feel like you understand very much at all. You tried a language exchange and still couldn’t tell them about your week fluently. You’re starting to…guess what?…doubt yourself and second guess if language learning is even the right project for you.

Do You Recognise These Signs?

There are so many ways that self-doubt starts manifesting itself when you are a self-directed language learner. I bet you have experienced some of these before. I know that I do, and it takes one to know one:

  • Putting half an hour into study time, feeling no smarter than before, wondering if you’re using the wrong method
  • Spending five hours online researching study techniques, and zero hours doing any study
  • Accumulating 10,000 points on Duolingo, then getting bored with it and thinking you picked the wrong language
  • Buying every new resource out there, and using none of them

If you are finding yourself stuck in one of those ruts, you need to take action as soon as possible. Shifting your mindset towards becoming the kind of person that allows success to be a natural consequence of what they do is the key to moving forward. In all my conversation with language learners and polyglots and people who are happy about learning and people who are not, there’s always one clear definition: Everyone who is a great language learner believes in themselves. This is not an optional part of studying. You can say yes or no to flashcards, textbooks and italki. But you must never say no to your own learning capacity.

Using Affirmations to Get Unstuck

In today’s article, I want you to think about building affirmations into your learning practice. Shifting the idea about what kind of person you are from “Someone who struggles to learn Italian/German/French etc.” to “A committed lover of Italian/German/French etc” will make a huge difference. J from the Compassionate Language Learner blog wrote about this very topic recently in a post declaring how they use a careful approach to identity to make sure they stay on top of language learning. If you have never tried the same thing but have ever heard that annoying voice in your head asking you if you can really become fluent in this language, then this is something you have got to read. Building that fabulous positive image of yourself as someone who learns languages and enjoys regular successes.

Stop listening to voices in your head that say you’re not smart enough. Stop wondering about age, forgetfulness or which dictionary is the best. Just enjoy the ride.

Okay, so let’s get back to the affirmations. Like Wikipedia says, an affirmation is a statement saying that something is true. The concept of using statements like this to help your personal growth might feel a bit new-agey to you, but bear with this because positive thinking and affirmations are often linked to happiness and increased performance in studies. Beware though: Your affirmations must be credible to you and at least somewhat realistic, otherwise they won’t work. The idea is not to convince yourself, but to remember what you are good at.

Let me share my own affirmation, written right onto the board that I keep behind my computer screen. It says “(Pretend) You’re Awesome”. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering that I am awesome, but I can always pretend. This reminds me to take 10 seconds to close my eyes and imagine all of the awesome things that I do. It works because I am pretending, but at the same time concentrating on a positive image of myself.

Three Affirmations To Work With

Of course you can create any affirmation or positive image at all, but maybe you need a suggestion to get you started. The following three ideas might just work wonders and get you back to your book, your tutor or your homework.

If your inner voice says: "I’m never going to be great at this"

language is in my heart

If your inner voice says: "I am struggling with my language"


If your inner voice says: "I keep making mistakes"

language learning affirmation

How To Use These Graphics

These graphics are designed to keep you remembering that you've totally got this. Pin them to your Pinterest. Print them out, post them where you can see them every day or write them down every single day. You’ll only be investing seconds of your time, but who knows, it might boost your success by 500%!

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent, the Language Learning Blog. If you are feeling stuck right now, why not subscribe to Fluent and check out our language book shop.