Sometimes learning a language gets stale. You get bogged down with the same old routines. You feel like quitting, you aren’t getting anywhere, you’ve not learnt anything new, you can’t move up to intermediate level, your language partner frustrates you.
You could take a break.
I totally recommend it. Jeremy over at MotivateKorean has written a great article on why it’s ok to take a break in your language learning. But if you don’t want to take a break, here are some ideas to help you rekindle your passion, and in the process, improve your language knowledge.
Think about your interests.
What do you like doing that is unrelated to language learning? What else are you passionate about and how can you use this passion to help with your language learning?
One the most most useful things I’ve found with my French learning is to sign up to an online course in French. Not a French language course. A course designed for French natives in a subject that interests me. I signed up to this course on social entrepreneurship on Coursera. It’s a great way to learn French because there’s tonnes of reading material and videos with transcripts. There is also a forum where you can chat in French. I’m motivated to keep learning because I’m interested in the subject. It’s a little bit more inspiring than flicking through Anki. Udemy is also a great place to go if you want to learn something new. Sure there’s a tonne of language courses on there, but why not take a break from those kind of structured lessons and learn how to bake a cake or build a website. Pretty much whatever floats your boat, you can find a course to suit.
Change it up a bit.
Choose a different skill to work on. Essentially take a break from whatever it is you are doing and do something else. If you are writing a lot, stop, and start reading instead. This is particularly important if you are doing a lot of language production (speaking and writing) there is only so much language you can produce before you need to build your vocabulary again and increase your comprehension. I’ve taken a break from speaking and writing in French and am only reading and listening. I’ve been stuck at a high beginner level for a long time and really need to make a push towards talking about more complex issues. So take a break from your Skype chats or writing, and read a book. Take a break from those god damn flashcards and play a computer game instead. Quit drilling grammar and watch children’s stories on youtube. You can always go back to your tried and tested methods, but as they say, “A change is as good as a rest,” and even if you don’t like the new methods I’m sure the change will have a positive impact on your old methods too.
Make a goal and stick to it.
There’s a tonne of articles out there about planning and breaking down your language learning into achievable goals. Here’s a great one about making smart goals. The main point being that telling yourself you want to be fluent is a very hard goal to achieve. Fluency is way too far in the future and seems almost unobtainable at the start of your journey. Thinking like this makes it easy to get discouraged. However, if you break your goals down into more achievable parts it’s easier to obtain, bit by bit. You can mark off what you‘ve achieved on a list that you can track over time. I‘ve just started learning Russian. It’s a complex task, some say it’s much harder than other languages. So I’ve broken it down, creating achievable goals. I’ve given myself 3 years to get to a level where I can have a basic conversation(I’m not expecting fluency in 3 months because I’m being realistic; I have to work, I have a daughter, I have other hobbies and I get tired a lot). Three years may seem like a long time but it’s a quarter of the time it’s taken me to get to any kind of decent level in my French. Before being able to speak a basic sentence I have a checklist of other things I need to achieve. The first one is to learn to read the alphabet and pronounce phonemes. I actually achieved this in 8 hours and am now practicing this new skill by reading online material and a book that one of my Russian ESL students sent me. I’m excited and still motivated because I achieved my first goal in a pretty short space of time. I’ve been able to prove to myself that these small goals are achievable and it’s what keeps me going.
Play the field with your language partners
In order to learn language you need to be able to understand language. So if you have a language partner who refuses to speak slowly to you, or who uses a lot of slang when you can hardly hold a basic conversation then they aren’t much help. If you have a language partner like this, politely ditch them. There will, however, come a point where you have to communicate with people who don’t pander to your level and just speak how they speak. I want to live in France one day and I will encounter this. So I NEED to get used to it. There is nothing wrong with having a long term and consistent language partner (or teacher). In fact it’s really important to have a good friend who you can share you language learning journey with. But you aren’t married to them. You can play the field and the best thing about cheating on your language partner is you don’t have to leave them when they find out! However, as much as it’s important to have a supportive language partner its also important to experience other people’s speaking style. Everyone talks in a slightly different way. If you only ever practise language with one person, when you do happen to talk to someone else in your new language you might be shocked that you can’t understand them. Imagine if your usual language partner was David Beckham, and then one day you met Stephen Fry, you wouldn’t be able to understand a word he said! The same goes for the age old argument over which English to learn, British or American. Well imagine if you had only ever watched American movies, talked to American teachers, and read American literature, but then suddenly you got an awesome job offer in Newcastle in the UK. You’d have a seriously hard time trying to understand them. Of course you should stick with the person who’s really helpful and supportive but change it up a bit too, it’s ok “talk around” a bit.
So now I’ve given you some fresh ideas, I’d love for you to let me know how they help (or hinder) your language learning. I’d also love to know about what you have done in the past to change it up a bit. What works for you when you get bogged down?
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