How do you stay motivated when learning language?
TL;DR: DO IT.
Before we jump in, we need to define the word. So you and I are on the same page.
- motivation (noun): a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way.
So, motivation is the reason why you chose to learn languages. Whether for travel, self improvement, for family or friends. And… we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about “staying motivated,” staying in action, and learning a new language without stopping or quitting.
Now, that you and I are on the same page, let’s go.
1. What’s the Problem with Motivation?
Motivation is a HOT topic. Everyone wants to know how to stay motivated. Just look at all these books on Amazon. All promising you secrets on how to stay pumped, excited, moving and talk faster than a slick door-to-door door salesman. Lots and lots of books! Except… there’s a problem with how we see “motivation.”
Imagine you need to take out the garbage. The trash bag is already by the door. You just have to grab it and go. But wait, before you go… you notice an article on your Facebook feed titled “If You Don’t Have This Feeling, You’ll Never Successfully Throw Out Your Trash.”
“Yeah, okay. bull****” you respond.
You stand up, grab the bag and go.
All that stands between you and getting things done...is a magical feeling? Really? Some vague, airy idea that exists somewhere in the back of your head? And if you don’t have this special feeling, you can’t read 1 page of a language textbook? Or spend 5 minutes listening to a language audio lesson?
“Yeah, okay, bull****”, I tell you.
Do you really think you need motivation now?
So, that’s it.
So, the problem with motivation is… (and there are many)…
A) You’re told don’t have it. You need to get it from somewhere outside of you. You’ve been sold on the idea that “if I had this magical feeling, things will be different.” And so, you go buy books and watch videos. You’re reading this. Why are you reading it? Well…
B) You’re looking for a quick, easy fix. You’re hoping to find the easy fix and the ONE silver bullet that will turn you into a motivated-learning-machine. Maybe a book where there’s one incredible line that’s so insightful, so jarring and it aims right at your heart with the most PROFOUND TRUTH. And after you read this line, your understanding will change forever. HA! Sure it will.
So, these books won’t help you in the long run. And you don’t really need ’em. Unless you want to sell self-help motivation books and earn big money.
(Editors Note: The Main Junkie scurries off to write a book on motivation…)
(Editors Note: Upon realizing how long it takes to write a book, the Main Junkie comes back…)
C) The problem with motivation is you’ve thought too much about it. And made it some magical silver bullet that’s sitting somewhere on a pedestal. And the problem with thinking, and overthinking, is that you overcomplicate things. Stop thinking about it. Stop making it a mental thing.
Motivation should not be a mental thing. It shouldn’t be an intellectual thing. Why? Because, if motivation is what you want, thinking about it is like reading about going outside instead of going outside.
It should be a physical thing.
And you’ll learn why in just a bit..
Alright, it bothers me how much I’ve already spent talking about motivation here.
Let’s move on.
2. So, how do you stay motivated with language learning?
Picture this: You and I are talking face to face.
The Main Junkie to the Lingua Junkie Reader.
And I’m telling you, in your face: you can’t click your mouse or tap on your phone screen if you don’t have this “magical” feeling. You can’t do it. You must have my secret, I guarantee you.
“Yeah, okay, bull****”, you respond and click/tap away.
What’d you do there?
You just acted. You moved.
Now, keep that in mind. Let’s go down another alley and talk about gym goers. You ever hear someone say, “wow, you’re so fit. How are you so motivated to go to the gym?” Or maybe you’ve thought this yourself.
Well, I’m a gym rat. Here’s my answer. I’m not motivated. It’s just what I do! I go and train.
Are you seeing a pattern here? No?
Well, take a look at these fun quotes. And note that none of the sources are or were motivational speakers as a profession. None have motivational books to sell you.
- A lot of hacking is playing with other people, you know, getting them to do strange things. – Steve Wozniak
- I never took a day off in my twenties. Not one – Bill Gates
- If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done. Make at least one definite move daily toward your goal. – Bruce Lee
- If you quit once it becomes a habit. Never quit!” – Michael Jordan
- I’ve always considered myself to be just average talent and what I have is a ridiculous insane obsessiveness for practice and preparation. – Will Smith
- Did you know I started out as a stand-up comic? People don’t believe me when I tell them. That’s how I saw myself, in comedy. – Al Pacino
- I am not the richest, smartest or most talented person in the world, but I succeed because I keep going and going and going. – Sylvester Stallone
- The last three or four reps is what makes the muscle grow. – Arnold Schwarzenegger
- To me, if life boils down to one thing, it’s movement. To live is to keep moving. – Jerry Seinfeld
- Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth. – Mike Tyson
Look at what they all have in common.
Action. Doing. Movement.
So, how do you stay motivated?
Action. Doing. Movement.
In fact, the word motivation comes from the Latin word “movere” which means to move.
How do you stay motivated with language learning? You move. You do. You take action. You take 5 to 10 minutes out of your day and spend them on learning words, phrases and grammar. You do what you can. What you can tolerate and enjoy. Whether it’s listening to audio lessons or filling in the blanks on Duolingo.
You don’t think too much. You don’t wonder about motivation. Because if you do… you’ll start losing motivation.
Remember? It’s not a mental thing. It’s all physical.
And because motivation depends on “physical” and “action,” this is why it’s so hard for everyone. It’s hard to take action. It’s hard to go to the gym. It’s hard to dedicate 30 minutes and direct your attention at one thing.
It’s much easier to think about things than do them. It’s much easier to look for easy fixes. That’s why motivational books sell well.
3. Why do we lose motivation?
Aw, are you losing motivation to learn language?
Why it this happening? Well…
My attempt to answer is — because we stop doing.
See, I took a long break from this blog. The last entry February 5th. It’s now May 10th.
Did I lose motivation? Likely.
Why? Because I stopped writing (doing, taking action). I took a break. That break ended up being quite long.
See, if you take a long hiatus — or if you spend the whole day in bed — here’s what you’ll think about:
Thoughts you have when doing nothing
What am i doing with my life?
Should i even bother learning languages?
I’ve done nothing… and I feel so unaccomplished.
Maybe pizza will fill the hole in my heart.
How can I get motivated again?
I wish I could start learning languages… but how?
These thoughts will get you nowhere. You do nothing. You feel good about nothing. Nothing happens. And then you wonder why you’re losing motivation to learn language.
Now, here’s what happens in your brain when you’re actually “doing” or in your case, learning languages.
|Thoughts you have while language learning|
|What does this word mean?|
|I hate this textbook.|
|I need to review this grammar point again.|
|I really like listening to conversations on repeat.|
|This app sucks but it’ll do for now.|
|I want to be able to understand this song.|
These are productive thoughts. Even if they are negative. They push you to keep going – to define that word. To understand that grammar point. To keep at it.
So, why do we lose motivation?
I think it’s rooted in what we “do” on a regular basis. If you’ve been learning for quite a bit, you identify yourself as a true-blue language learner and you keep going. It’s who you are. It’s a part of your life.
But if you take a long break (and there’s nothing wrong with that), your actions – or you doing nothing – begin to change your identity. You’re now the guy that does nothing. Or, likes to wish and hope about things.
Another reason why we can lose motivation is… we start thinking more than we “do.”
So, action comes first. Your actions shape your mind.
4. Things That Don’t Help with Motivation
Now, I’m going to trash motivational ideas from other blogs.
Here are things that don’t work in helping you stay motivated with learning a language.
A. Remember why you started.
Why doesn’t it work? Because you’re playing mental games here. Again, action gets you motivated, not more thinking.
Another reason it doesn’t work is because… the reason why you start isn’t strong enough to keep you going. You might have been interested in learning Japanese, Spanish, German, or Korean… because (insert reason – travel, culture, shows, etc.) and that reason may have been enough to get you to buy a book and try learning for a week. But the reason why you start and the reason why you continue are never the same.
B. Switch your phone settings to your target language.
Why doesn’t it work? Go ahead. Switch it. Then when you need to do some basic tasks – like setting your alarm clock- and can’t figure it out, you’ll wish you never done it.
What you’ll do is look for the icons instead of trying to read the app title. Your brain wants shortcuts. And it will take them.
Not recommended for beginners. You don’t know enough of the language. At least, take action and define every…. single… word… and phrase… you see. Then it can work.
C. Follow accounts on social media that post in the language.
Why doesn’t it work? Social media is for wasting time. Not for learning. Wait, do you have your pen and dictionary out when surfing instagram? No? Okay. Maybe you’ll look now but in a week or two, you’ll skim right by because who cares, you’ll see it again later, right?
D. Watch videos or listen to songs in your target language.
Why doesn’t it work? Maybe you’ll catch a few words like “numa, numa, eh, numa numa numa eh.” But everything else will pass you by because you’re trying to enjoy it more than you’re trying to learn. Unless you’re taking action, have your pen and dictionary… and are rewinding every 5 seconds.
E. Do something you enjoy in your target language.
Why doesn’t it work? Alright. Let’s say you’re learning Spanish and you like football. So, you find a Spanish football game on TV. This is cool and all until… you realize you only understand “GOOOOOOAAAAL.” But you don’t know enough Spanish to understand football in Spanish. And so, it’s suddenly not so enjoyable.
6. Actually, Emotion Matters, But…
September 2019 update.
In part 1, I said…
All that stands between you and getting things done...is a magical feeling? Really? Some vague, airy idea that exists somewhere in the back of your head? And if you don’t have this special feeling, you can’t read 1 page of a language textbook?
Okay, having spent some time thinking about it, I will admit, emotion matters to motivation.
Because we humans are emotional beings.
But the problem is, you won’t get any long lasting emotion or motivation from any book, my article or youtube video. You can read this whole article and still not do anything. Even if you know that “doing action” is important to motivation.
So, it has to be your own emotion and that’s something reading articles won’t help.
Wait, there’s another problem.
If you logically think about your emotions and come up with things like…
- You find it fun to talk to people. So, speaking to them in a new language may be even more fun
- You are feeling like a failure for not sticking with your language goals before. Because if you’re failing at this goal, you might fail at all the other goals too. So, now, you want to prove to yourself that you can do it.
- You’re living in a certain country. And if you don’t learn the language, you will be miserable, alone and incapable of enjoying life.
- The fact that you’re alone with nothing to do, so you decide to master the language… as a way “make” something of yourself. (That’s a big reason why I started and kept at this blog for so long, by the way.)
- That you’re generally driven by achievement, so language is something you can and will excel it.
- You’re surrounded positive friends who push you. So, you feed off of their emotions and influence. And so, you end up learning the language like that.
… this is still NOT a guarantee you’ll get motivated. You can go and examine yourself, your insecurities and emotions, and never take action. So, don’t make this out to be the silver bullet that you need.
Emotion helps, yes.
Yes, we can all sit back and dwell on our insecurities. How our grandparents didn’t raise us to be failures. And we’re moved by that because we love our grandparents. Or, how we’re such failures that it’s time to finally change it all. We can think about this all day long and still do nothing.
Emotion helps. It REALLY helps when it’s natural, unnoticed and not approached logically. Like, in the case of my blog, I didn’t start by looking around at what I felt and use that as motivational fuel. I genuinely felt it at that time and naturally veered towards writing a blog. But we can only know this in hindsight, right? If I sat around thinking, “hmmm, what do I feel right now and how can I use that as motivation,” I wouldn’t get anything done.
It doesn’t seem to work if you approach your emotions logically. So…
You still must take action.
I wrote 2445 more words than necessary for this topic.
And in some ways, I hate the fact that I did.
Because you can’t really read, write or think about motivation. You’ll get nowhere. That’s why I feel dirty for writing so much.
This article all can be summed up in a few words: Do it.
It’s all action.
Unless you want to become an expert on motivation and sell motivational books to millions of motivation-less people, you don’t need to think too hard about motivation. If anything, you should be fantasizing about learning some language. And speaking the language. You should be getting goosebumps at the thought learning a new word. You should be doing.
Let this be the last article on language learning motivation you’ll ever read.
If you read this far…
If you’re honestly looking for motivation…
If you’re not just here to read my thoughts. If you want to be motivated…
Let me ask you one final question. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I want you to think about it:
Are you the type of person that lets the world pass you by without doing anything? Or, are you the type of person that takes action?
– The Main Junkie
P.S. Leave a comment if you disagree. We’ll fight about how to stay motivated with learning language in the comments instead of learning languages.