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!

Episode 34: Language Learning is Too Hard and Inconvenient, And That is No Excuse

Welcome to an episode of the Creative Language Learning Podcast that both Lindsay and I have been very happy to bring you. We covered some topics very close to our hearts, had lots of fun and kept it under an hour. Yay!

Here's what you will hear:

  • Progress reports of how Lindsay and I have both been using our sponsor appHelloTalk. It's a free app for all smartphones and puts you in touch with speakers of 130 different languages, so go ahead and download it. Thank you HelloTalk for making our show possible.
  • Important questions about how to pronounce the words of the Messiah by Händel (the KANYE of his day), leading to the question of identity and why learning a language will never stop you from being the foreigner. Super interesting conversation about how languages can expand who you are, but they don't change it.


After feedback and wonderful reviews from you listeners, Lindsay and I went hardcore on all the many reasons why people tell us they can't learn a language. Listen to the show to find out all about how to respond to the following arguments:

  • "It's confusing, and so much harder now that I'm an adult."
  • "I've not got the brain or memory for it."
  • "Everyone else is learning English, why should I bother?"
  • "It's HARD!!!"


Languages spoken badly this episode: Korean, Welsh, Spanish

How to Fall in Love with a Language: Inspiring Stories from Learners like You

A few weeks ago, my partner and I decided to watch the oscar-nominated film Nightcrawler. You may be aware that things get a bit scary in the film, so I allowed myself a distraction from watching it. I was watching the film in English with Spanish subtitles.

And I realised two things:

  1. Spanish doesn't swear sexually but religiously (¡diablos!)
  2. I prefer Spanish to French, even though I've been learning French for 20 years and only studied Spanish from 2001 to 2003

Soon I found myself wondering if this is normal. Does every language learner have a favourite among their languages?

What is it that makes us fall in love with one language more than any of the others?

in love with language

In today's blog post, I enlisted a little help from members of the Fluent community. First of all I want to thank every reader of my newsletter who responded to my call with their own story. It's made this article something I've never had before: A crowdsourced piece of writing. Enjoy!

For some, it's Love at First Word

In the following stories, you'll hear from language learners who were just blown away by their favourite language right from day 1.

Aidan O'Rourke loves German more and more

"My favourite language is German, I much prefer it to French. I love German. I’ve loved it since I started learning it aged 15, I got an A in O and A level and went on to study it at Trinity College Dublin (with French).

German is the most amazing language, I feel it is part of me but sadly I am not a native speaker, though I aspire to that level. I love hearing German, especially on MDR radio and the Tagesschau.

I think I am more enthusiastic about German than at any time in the past! The longer I use it, the more I love it. I've learned a huge amount of German through teaching it as a private tutor over the past few years. There are many things I regret in live but one thing I don’t regret is learning German! Everybody should learn it!"

Aidan is the author of Stargirl of the Edge, a new anglo-chinese novel. You can watch him discuss language learning with me in this video.

Chimene Elessa learnt that other People don't know what she will really love most

"In my school (at age 13), we had the choice between Spanish and German as a third language -- after French (my native language) and English (my second language). When I asked what my third language should be, people advised me not to take German because it was "difficult". So I took Spanish just because people around me were learning that language.

Many years later, I subscribed to cable TV where there was one German channel. I started to watch programmes in that language and I liked it. So I decided to learn German so much so that I now tend to neglect my Spanish because I'd rather study and practice German.

Today my level in German is more advanced than my level in Spanish (which I have been studying for a longer period of time).

My explanation is that I was more motivated when I decided to learn German. Furthermore, I want to add it to the languages I use for my work as a translator.

I still like Spanish. If I take into account years of practice, it is my third language, but in fact it is the fourth if we talk about preferences."

For some, the first love stays true

For many of us, the first foreign language remains special all throughout our lives.

Chiara Grandola will always love British English best

chiara runawaydreamer

"I am Italian and I studied three languages thus far. English, French and Spanish. French is a romantic and beautiful language. I'm drawn to the melody of la langue francaise. It has such a melodic tone that even an insult can sound romantic. Well, kind of…

Spanish is extremely sensual and it can express tremendous passion. Its pronunciation is pretty straightforward and maybe that’s why I feel much more comfortable in speaking Spanish than French.

However, my not-so-secret favourite language is English. British English, to be precise. I find some words and expressions extremely elegant and peculiar, like Quintessential or Blimey! As a long-time learner, I am often amazed by the richness of English vocabulary. The British accent gets me all the time. It's music to my ears and I could listen to natives for hours. I discovered the world of foreign languages by studying English when I was a little girl, so I’ll always be eternally grateful to this amazing language."

You can read more from Chiara on her blog, Runaway Daydreamer.

Ellen Keyne Seebacher got started with her Mother's Books

"I've studied at least eight languages systematically (German, Spanish, Swedish, American Sign Language, Japanese, Latin, French, and Brazilian Portuguese) and another dozen or more casually. My best language is German, but I feel most comfortable with Spanish. I suspect it's because it was the first I was seriously exposed to; as a kid I used to tag along to my mother's Spanish classes (at the time she worked in a hospital in southern Arizona) and sit quietly in the back, then flip through her textbook when she wasn't using it!"

And sometimes it's just right

Does there have to be a reason why you love a language? Or it just what it is?

Israel Lai feels the Music with German

"As a Hongkonger I'm fluent in Cantonese, English and Mandarin, and have additionally studied French for quite a lot of years - technically 12 years from the moment I was first exposed to it. I find it a beautiful language, especially when I picked it up again 2 years ago, but just can't get it 'into' me for some reason. 2 years ago was when I discovered my passion for languages, and since then

I took German in university and touched upon various ones like Japanese, Dutch and Russian. Surprisingly, although I find written German ugly (no offence), I feel most 'at home' with this foreign language. It could be me being a musician, or it could be my one month in Vienna, perhaps even a particular way my tongue is built in, but while all other languages have one feature that appeal to my rational mind, German is the one foreign language that I feel like speaking the most, the one to which I feel a sense of belonging. That's why I'm so looking forward to becoming fluent!"

What's your language love story?

As I put this article together, I felt a wonderful sense of the love and motivation all these Fluent readers feel for their languages. No matter if it's German or Spanish, the language you love is always special to you. Creating this collection of real stories was extremely enjoyable and I would love it if you commented with your own story of true language love.

And just in case you've not seen Nightcrawler yet: Give it a try. It's pretty great.

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.

It's Good to Be Bilingual! 8 Reasons you Should Learn a Second Language

Do you speak any other language apart from your mother tongue? This question is becoming more and more popular among professionals aged 20-40. Why should we learn a different language from ours? Is it trendy? Would we get more chances to find our soul mate? Or is it just a reason to become more competitive in the job market? Being bilingual has hundreds of benefits; however the most important reason to learn a new language is that you desire to learn it. In this sense, motivation seems to be the key to the whole process - and in this multilingual world, here are eight truly persuasive reasons to become a language learner.

img © Berto Garcia

1) You´ll Become a Multitasker

Studies have shown that multilingual people have better task capacities. According to a study from Pennsylvania State University, bilingual individuals become smarter as they get used to working in two different language systems. In this sense, learning another language is also a good way to improve your memory (Bilinguals are better at retaining shopping lists and names). This is because the brain is like a muscle that works better when it gets exercised!

2) Learning a Third Language Gets Easier!

This is very simple. Once your brain has started working in a foreign language (which involves getting used to different constructions and memorising rules), it will be ready for a third one! This means that you will be more aware of language and you could even develop a better ear for listening. Several experts said that the action of learning a new language can make you better in speaking your mother tongue. It´s all about advantages!

3)Free Access to More than One Culture

This is one of the most beautiful treasures hidden behind languages. Who doesn't want to find out more about other cultures and traditions? If you become fluent in another language, you will have the chance to get close to people. You can make new friends and maybe you can find love. But it's not only about the people, it's also about the pleasure to read a book in the author's language and forget about the translations (You can actually feel what he or she felt while he was writing the novel). And of course, you'll be able to watch a film without subtitles and hear the actor's real laughter. And yes, that is priceless!

4)You’ll Become Someone Else

It is said that people change personality when speaking another language. Have you ever thought how would you sound in Spanish? This language, for instance, is often related to warm people and physical proximity. This is because once you learn a language you also learn the social procedures of that culture and may find yourself picking up a few new social habits outside the constraints of your usual circles.

5)Bilingualism can Delay Alzheimer's

Several studies have revealed that for monolingual adults, the mean age for the first signs of dementia is 71.4; however, for those who speak two or more languages, the mean age for those first signs is 75.5. If bilingual brains can better resist dementia, I guess it's well worth it to give it a go!

6) It Can Open Doors For You in The Job Market

As companies become more international, there is an important need for employees that are fluent in different languages. People with language skills are more valuable in the global job market. The knowledge of more than one language is necessary in most sectors. For instance, the travel sector is one of the most attractive, especially for young professionals. International companies such as Expedia offer different types of careers with languages all over the world. Remember: Try to offer what others don't have.

7) Travelling Will Be Even Better!

We all know that English is considered as “the international language”, however we also know that it's not the same going to Italy and speaking to the locals in English as if were to do it in Italian. Wherever we go on a holiday, if we don't speak the official language of the country we are visiting, we'll be missing all those little things and secrets that make that destination so fun. Speaking Spanish, for instance, is today incredibly useful for travelling. Have you ever thought of how many Spanish speaking countries you could visit in the world? There is no doubt: You speak the language, you win.

8) You´ll Become More Tolerant

Last but not least: Being able to speak another language will make you more tolerant and can encourage people to cut down racism. In other words, it will encourage you to be more open to others. And don't forget that once you can communicate in another language, you will also be able to bring new perspectives to other groups of nationalities and help them to be more tolerant.

After reading this, I hope you are now curious to learn a second language and discover the great fun that there is behind it.

It's good to Be Bilingual! by Marta Lopez Garcia was first published on Fluent, The Language Learning Blog. Join our newsletter for more language learning tips and a free copy of the Guide to the Best Language Learning Resources.

The world's 5 most influential languages

Are you studying one of the world's most influential languages?

The following quote from this video seemed particularly noteworthy:

> Every language is the most important language in the world - to its speakers. (George Weber)

Read on to find out which languages are named the most influential:

3 criteria of influential languages

The video lists the following criteria as the most influential:

  • Demographics

How many people speak this language? Where do they all live?

  • Ease of Learning

How long can it take to acquire this language?

  • Economic Impact

How rich are the countries where this language is spoken? Can it help you get a job?

According to the way these three criteria, the most influential languages in the world are English, French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic. Bang. Are you learning one of those? Do you speak one?

Is this all true?

I don't want to subscribe to any ranking that will list languages according to how "easy" or "hard" they are to learn. There are many ways of looking at this, and I believe all of them can be trumped by mindset. After all, even minority languages like Swedish or Guarani still have enough speakers to make it hard for you to talk to every one of them.

Furthermore, the quote at the top will make it clear to us that all languages are worthwhile to learn, and that this can be considered more independent from demographics than expected.

Which leaves economic impact, and I consider this the single most influential factor of all language learning motivations. People learn languages to make money, right? It is proven to make you a more attractive job candidate and an obvious bonus for international business leaders. When we disregard the other main criteria, the most influential languages actually are German and Chinese.

Of course a list like this is ruled by numbers, and numbers could never contain all the rewards you gain from learning a language. So why do you learn? Is it for money? Because it's easy? Because you want to talk to as many people as possible?

These fun videos can get you motivated to start learning a language

There's some poetry in advertising, isn't there? It tries to tell us about what our most burning desires are, and what the world would look like if we satisfied them. Or, well, some adverts take the other route of showing us just what we miss out on.  Here are two that really stood out to me because they do it so, so well.

The Coastguard

Ultimate proof that a sense of humour is deeply ingrained in every German's brain. I have known this ad for YEARS and still laugh out loud every time I see it. Thank you to Berlitz for summing up the whole point of learning a language properly.

The Lost Opportunity

D'oh! Noooooo! Oh man, how much time could we think about what could have been if that guy had only studied some Korean!

Come on now.

You don't want to be like that speechless coast guard when a pop star walks by, do you?  Take a biased piece of advice from me and book yourself onto a Fluent Language Tuition lesson. Locals in Lancaster have the chance to join a group starting on 27 August, and anyone anywhere should take the chance to meet me online.

Can you use a language without talking to people?

Last week, I had a little reminder how language learning is viewed by non-nerds. I was sitting with a few friends in their beautiful garden and trying to talk them all into joining my next German course (Lancaster library, 27 August, 6pm, it'll be awesome, sign up here). One friend admitted he was tempted, but told me "But you're the only person I could talk to in German."


What can we do if not talk?

Now, I know that communicating with real people in a foreign language is one of the most rewarding benefits of the whole undertaking. On the other end of the spectrum, I suppose, I am content to learn a language just for the pleasure of pronouncing the new vowels, writing the words and understanding new people. But that brief conversation made me think. Between full-on linguistics and the most practical "speaking" application, what are the other great things that language learners get to do? 

The trick is to focus back on the core skills: speaking, writing, reading and listening. That's right, speaking is actually only 25% out of everything that you can do, so here are some ideas for things that the other 75% give you, and which make language learning extremely worthwhile for anyone.

Discover new musical worlds

Sigur Rós - not just for Icelandic learners Photo from  scurrvy  on Flickr

Sigur Rós - not just for Icelandic learners
Photo from scurrvy on Flickr

While the English speaking music industry is probably the largest one on the whole planet, looking into another country's musical history will take you on a journey that is nothing but amazing - honest. Music is this magical thing that doesn't even require you to understand any lyrics in other to connect. Take for example Sigur Rós who have made a career singing in a minority language and on occasion gone for half an album in words that they completely invented. But I believe that becoming aware of the lyrics of that song that you really love or learning more about a place through the words to a specific song is what makes music into that extremely powerful and moving thing. 

For me, listening to pop songs was one of the first ways in which I applied my language skills, way before I knew a lot of native speakers or spent more time travelling to a country. It's brilliant because you can repeat the recording as many times as you like, pore over new words in the lyrics and imagine what the world was like for the person who wrote it. One example of a great musician that has kept on giving since I moved to the UK is the music of Billy Bragg.

Dive into that internet 

Here's a good number from Wikipedia: 45.1% of content on the internet is not written in English. Let's start with Wikipedia itself, a website which all of you are guaranteed to have used at least once in the last month. It is famously created by its own users, and switching any article into a different language version can really make a difference to the amount of information on offer - or how about switching the whole thing into your target language and discovering the Article of the Day? There are currently 285 language editions of this site, so no more excuses.

Write, draw and illustrate

Writing has always been a good way for me to focus my mind and make sure I remember things, and the kinetic learning advantages of really putting those words into practice and reproducing sentences are absolutely excellent. So use your new language as an output of your own creativity and connect what's in your mind with real images and words. The application of your writing skill could start off really simple, for example by making notes of words that start with a new letter or drawing a picture along with a sentence. Moving on, how about chatrooms or online forums? And in time you may even want to build up a blog, diary or your own fiction and poetry.

Here's an example of how to get started (this one done on 53 Paper) . Hope you draw better than I do.


These ideas are obviously only a small start and there is SO much more out there that you can do when you learn a new language? I can think of foreign cooking or news podcasts.

 What do you think - are there better ways of using your language without speaking? What's your favourite thing to listen to?

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So, are there easy and hard languages - or not?

Today I want to share a Youtube video created by Richard Simcott, a native English speaker who has studied an inspiring 16 languages!

Richard is a helpful language learning speaker, consultant, and also one of the founders of the Polyglot Conference (see you there next year?). The video he presents guides viewers through a great summary of why a language is considered hard or easy to learn for native English speakers.

But wait, you said there are no hard languages!

If you rewind a little bit through the archives of this blog, you will see that I have happily proclaimed "There are no hard or easy languages!" So before I go contradicting Richard's very valid points, let me explain what I mean:

The reason why you will find a language easy or difficult to learn can vary. There are the tangible factors of grammar, pronunciation, writing system and how familiar the words are. Those can't be ignored, they'll make your life easier or harder every day. But there is another attitude, much closer rooted in your own mind: The learner makes his or her learning easy (or difficult).

You are in charge of what's easy

Positive thinking is highly effective in language learning. If you believe that you're tackling a language that is difficult to learn, you may have a harder time. Instead, look at your motivation, consider why you're on this adventure and make yourself look at the bright side.

  • An unfamiliar writing system - did this attract you to the language in the first place?
  • A completely foreign vocabulary - could you consider this your new secret code, a fresh way of looking at the world?
  • When you catch yourself dwelling on the difficult parts of your new language, try going back to something you're already good at until the confidence returns.

Okay, so I admit this won't make Korean any easier than Spanish, but hopefully it can help fend off any big worries if you find your language in a class 1 or 2! Which language are you learning these days?