Your language learning routine
We’ve all been there: we realize how amazing it would be to learn a foreign language and decide, then and there, that we’re going to be fluent. But then, after a little while, we run out of steam, lose our motivation, and then just stop, berating ourselves for giving up and not feeling motivated, and it’s really just an endless circle of negativity.
After some time, we realize that consistency is not necessarily about loving what we’re doing every day of our lives, but sticking with it because we made a commitment to ourselves. Even when we get sick, busy, or tired, we still stick with it because we said we would. Even when it doesn’t feel like we’re getting anywhere, and we’re being too hard on ourselves, we still do it, because most of the time we do love it, and we do want to learn the language.
So how do you get to that place? You get yourself into a language learning routine. You add a little bit of your language into your day, every day, so it’s not even important if you want to do it – you just do it.
But finding a language learning routine is hard. There are SO many ways to do it, so many courses to buy, and you just know that you’re going to fall off the wagon when life happens. So how do you start?
Baby steps – they may be small, but they’ll get you where you need to go. You may not feel like you’re actually getting anywhere, but you’re inching your way forwards. While large, ambitious goals are great, they’re not reliable. They’re emotional and are more likely to set you back than anything else. While fluency is a wonderful goal, it’s not only vague but it also feels unattainable.
Therefore, take itty bitty steps. My goal every day is to review my Anki flash cards. When I do that every day, even when I added a dozen more words to my deck, it still only takes about 10 minutes out of my day. You can do 10 minutes, easy. You know you have your phone with you in the bathroom, so just get it done. The feeling of accomplishment will take you farther than you think.
When you start small, it opens the door for more ambitious, but still elective, goals. When I set the goal to also read Spanish every day, I get overwhelmed and avoid practicing all day. However, when my new goal is to read when I can, I’m all of a sudden rewarded when I got something done that I didn’t even have to do that day. You exceeded your own expectations, and it was easy! You find yourself with a rush of endorphins and even more energy to study more.
Find your focus
We all have different reasons to learn another language, which means we all have different goals, which means your language learning routine shouldn’t necessarily be the same as mine. For example, if you’re planning a trip to Spain in 6 months and want to feel comfortable talking to Spaniards, reading books probably isn’t going to do you a lot of good. Instead, you might commit your ten minutes a day to Duolingo, and learning to recognize basic phrases.
Meanwhile, my goal is to pass the C2 exam, so my language learning routine needs to be a bit more well-rounded to include reading, writing, listening, and speaking. In my case, Duolingo would be a waste of my time. Language learning is not a cookie-cutter hobby: how you learn depends on what you want to do with the language.
So, once you’ve started small, and feel good about cutting out 10 minutes of your day to work on your Spanish, you can now work on adding more to your schedule. If you need to improve your listening, for example, you might find something like watching Extra on YouTube to put down as your “if you have time” option.
Don’t stress over learning in x amount of time
All these articles we see about learning a foreign language in 6 months sure are sexy. But for the run-of-the-mill person who has a full-time job, kids, or other responsibilities, it might not be realistic to spend 6 hours a day learning the language, and that’s okay. Sure, anything is possible, but unless you have an entire day to spend practicing and your brain is really strong (because spending that much time studying is super exhausting), it’s just not feasible. And, again, that’s okay.
So don’t beat yourself up when you said you were going to learn a new language this year but it’s September and that other guy learned the language in 3 months! Language learning is a marathon, not a sprint, and unless you’re enjoying yourself along the way, you’re going to be adding to the circle of negativity, and that’s just not productive.
So, instead of being concerned about how long it’s taking you to learn the language, worry about how you’re learning in the moment. Are you enjoying yourself? Did you learn something new? Is it a little challenging or do you need something a bit harder? This stuff is like life: if you spend all your time worrying about the destination, you’re going to waste the journey.
Man oh man, do I struggle with this. I am so impatient with myself, so I’ve crashed and burned dozens of times. Which is fine, because it means I’m learning something! If you’ve started small, and then slowly built up a bit more, but you stuck more and more responsibilities on yourself within a couple days, you’re probably still going to burn out.
Instead, get yourself into the routine first. Get comfortable. Get yourself at a place where your language learning routine is just a small part of your day that’s easy and manageable and not an issue, and hang out there for a while. Don’t rush right into anything new.
The amount of time you take depends on each individual person. I get really ambitious and impatient, so I force myself to wait about a month before I add on to my routine. I know, it sounds like FOREVER, but it also means I’m staying consistent and not overloading and overwhelming myself the minute I start to feel comfortable. Instead, I’m just adding a little bit at a time, and staying consistent with my new life routine.
Above all else: consistency
I cannot and will never stress consistency enough. Like, if you spent an entire day on Sunday learning new vocab or practiced your listening or speaking, but then you don’t touch it for another week, it’s really not going to do you a whole lot of good. Maybe you don’t work on it every day, but you practice every other day, or 3 times a week.
Either way, you gotta keep poking at that part of your brain. If you let it sleep too long, it’ll forget everything you worked so hard to put into it. Wake it up often enough and it’ll learn to stay awake on its own; you’ll find yourself translating things in your head, or replacing English words with foreign words. If that’s the case, you’re doing alright.