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!