Regaining Your Motivation for Language Learning

This semester I only had one university exam – French.

To most people this would incite a feeling of joy. Woohoo! No exams!

Not quite. Here, we have one week off before the start of our university exams which is intended for independent study. So naturally, what did I do during this week?

Nothing. I did absolutely nothing.

I was so stressed I didn’t even look at French (counterproductive I know) for the entire week. Things started on a downhill spiral, and I went from loving learning languages and studying hard at my French each day, to dreading the exam so much that I felt sick every time I heard about language.

Four days left before the exam, the stress was starting to turn into fear, and I realised all I needed was one big push to get me started on my study. It wasn’t that the content was too hard, or that I didn’t feel like I could do it – I’d just lost all motivation.

But why would I lose motivation seemingly overnight?

The fear and stress of my exam had stripped away all the fun of learning a language. For me, because I had so much depending on this exam, it took away the excitement of discovering a new culture and learning new things.

So to get that final push that I needed to motivate myself again, I immersed myself in the culture as much as I possibly could from half-way across the globe. For me, this helped me feel the fun and intrinsically human aspects of learning a language again.

What I’m trying to say here is that if you find yourself some days struggling for motivation to learn your target language, you’re not alone. We all go through slumps in our motivation, and it’s okay to have a little break every now and again and refresh the batteries. But how can you get out of that slump?

1. Watch movies or TV shows in your target language.

Not necessarily to improve your skills (except perhaps your listening skills), but simply to get a feel for the language again, watching movies and TV shows is great. You get to hear it in use, and you can learn the way that certain words are pronounced and used by hearing them. Generally, when I watch shows in my target language, it really motivates me to want to be able to understand better. You pick up on little bits and pieces, and it encourages you to learn more so you can understand more.

Regain motivation while watching TV!
Netflix can be a great option for shows in your target language.

2. Make sure you set goals

Setting goals is so important in any kind of learning, and especially in language learning. To see the how’s and why’s of setting achievable goals, stay tuned for my upcoming post about goal setting. But for now, just remember that setting goals is one of the most organised, structured and achievable ways to rekindle your motivation.

3. Try watching comedy in your target language.

Watching stand-up comedy (I just jump on YouTube to find these) in your target language can be so valuable to your learning. I love doing this because not only does it help me with my listening skills, but it also helps me to really engage with the culture. Comedy is a window to the culture of a country, and comedians are really easy to relate to. This helps you to really engage with the material a lot more. This can help loads for your motivation!

4. Try the food.

Go to a restaurant or attempt the cooking yourself – whatever is more engaging to you. Trying the food from your target country can be a simple and accessible way to get excited about the language again and reignite the passion.

Eat the food from your target languages country to regain some of that motivation!
If these delicious Belgian waffles can’t rekindle your motivation… I don’t know what can!


5. Volunteer your time to cultural events in your local community. 

Obviously in an ideal world, I’d tell you to book a trip to your target language’s country. This is the best way to immerse yourself and ensure that you’re in an environment where your communication can improve. Unfortunately for the majority of us though, this is impractical and implausible.

For me, something that can re-energise my lust for learning is getting involved with cultural events in my local community. This is one of the best ways to get involved with people from your target language’s country from your hometown. I volunteer at festivals, film festivals and markets as often as they appear in my city. It’s really helped me to keep going when I’m experiencing a bit of ‘language-fatigue’ (as I call it).  Not only do you essentially get to spend your entire time enthusing about the country whose language you’re learning, but you also get to meet other people who are really passionate about the country, which for some can be their own culture or heritage. Everyone brings new insight, and volunteering at these events is normally a lot of fun too.

6. Read a book, or a section of a book, in your target language.

When I’m feeling like I’m in a slump, sometimes all I need is a bit of a confidence boost. I use books to motivate me in this sense, because nothing beats the excitement you get when you’re new at a language and you’re able to understand the text without training wheels (translations).

If you’re not ready to make this leap yet, that’s okay! I know I found myself pretty frustrated in the beginning because I pushed myself before I was ready and it just ended up being a bit of a blow to my confidence. You can still use books to your advantage even if you’re not quite ready to read in your target language. Try reading about your target language (or its country of origin). For example, with Korean, I really like to read biographies, and with German I read a lot of history books. It just has to be exciting enough to motivate you to keep going, and a great benefit of this is that you’re still learning about the country.

Read in your target language to regain motivation.
Start with kids books and work your way up!

7. Listen to the music

Music connects people on different levels, and there really is something for everyone. I use music as a tool to get myself excited to learn. If you want, you can just leave it on in the background while you’re doing other things! I find that this a great tool even for when I’m just really busy.

8. Remember why you’re learning it

There’s a reason why you’re doing what you’re doing guys. Don’t let that go. If anything can motivate you, it’ll be what you started learning it for. Learning languages opens up new worlds for us all, one that we might not have otherwise been privy to. If you’re really struggling, remember why you’re learning the language in the first place, and tackle it from there.

So what are you waiting for?

Please note, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to motivation, so not all of these tips will work for everyone. Hopefully, you can pick and choose a few things that work for you and work them into your regular routine. My biggest advice overall is to make learning as fun and engaging for yourself as possible. It shouldn’t be something you have to do, it should be something you want to do. Having said that, you get back what you put in, so try to immerse yourself as best you can – but have fun with it! 

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