Confessions of a Polyglot: demotivation

I don’t know about the other polyglots, but I can’t keep myself motivated all the time while learning a language.

In June, I had a big problem to keep me motivated to study German. Like everyone else, when I start to learn a language I get very excited, I search for thousands of information about the language, materials and methods.

Learning a language is to know a new world. Despite the difficult task ahead of us, every little step is a big step forward. By learning a word, you have improved 100% in your language. Every word learned is a victory. The feeling of understanding for the first time a word in a sentence and after a sentence in context is indescribable. However, the better you get, the lower the returns.

Suddenly, to understand a phrase is normal, to read an article is no longer difficult. You are not fluent, but manages to get by in the language. The language is no longer a novelty for you. Your curiosity fades, you become fascinated with some other language, focused on some other task, goal or challenge of your life and gradually abandon the language. The result? Days, weeks or even months without studying the language.

pexels-photo-66143 rollercoaster

This happened to all the languages I studied for different reasons. However, with each language I learn, I improve my motivation and habits. As I said in my free e-book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Polyglots”, motivation is a finite resource and therefore from time to time, we lose heart. There are several ways to deal with this problem. Following are some possible solutions.

Discover the reason for your lack of motivation

There are hundreds of reasons why we lose motivation. In language learners, I see three reasons for discouragement.

The first is the loss of curiosity; the language is no longer as interesting as before.

Solution 1: a language is not fixed, is something that is always changing and evolving. If you have lost curiosity about the language in general, try to rediscover your curiosity in one aspect of language. For example, learn the vocabulary of a specialized area (medicine, computer science, philosophy, law,…), idioms, proverbs or slang.

Solution 2: Find an author, singer, actor, historical figure that you obsessed and search everything about that person. Know all the works of a painter or singer. Alternatively, learn about the history of a country, its society and culture.

Solution 3: Make friends with a native speaker who is interesting and with whom you have a lot of things in common.

The second is the lack of progress. It is common to not realize the small progress we are making. With time, the progress we make in a language slows down and becomes less perceptive; to learn a new word no longer makes much difference anymore.

Solution 1: Keep a diary or digital file and note how much did you study,  the number of known words and compare with two/three months ago. What couldn’t you do before that now you can? Try to read something that seemed impossible before. See how many words you learned in the last month.

Solution 2: Change of method. Use a different book. If you only watch videos on YouTube, start reading. If you only read, start talking. If you only go to school, start doing language exchanges.

The third problem is the will to learn another language. For example, when reading about Poland, I had a great desire to learn the language, although Polish has never been on my list of languages that I really want to learn. When visiting Amsterdam, I was eager to learn the language, despite the fact that all the Dutch with whom I met spoke perfectly English.

Solution 1: study just one language at time.

Solution 2: If you can’t resist the urge to learn another language. Divide your time unevenly. Use 80% to learn the first language and only 20% to the second.

These are several reasons for motivation loss, but most of them are not related to language learning. Other possible causes are:

You’re not having fun: to study the language became boring because you’re not having fun. Studying is now a massive and tedious task.

Solution 1: use the language to do something you enjoy. What is your secret vice? On what subject do you speak passionately? Movies, music, TV series, fashion, computers, cats, fitness? Nowadays, you can find on the internet forums, blogs, YouTube channels on any topic in almost all languages. Just use Google and search on your obsession.

Solution 2: Find someone who is studying or speak the language and do more things with that person. Learning with someone is always more fun and you can help each other in case of doubt and discouragement.

Solution 3: challenge yourself. Turn your learning into a game and reward yourself every time you reach a goal.

Examples of challenges

  • talk to a native speaker for the first time
  • making a video on YouTube
  • learn 500/1000 words
  • learn to sing a song
  • read a book
  • watch a movie with subtitles and original audio
  • watch a video without subtitles
  • to learn a song in a foreign language
  • have a chat for 15 or 30 minutes with a foreigner
  • take a vacation in the country where the language is spoken

The possibilities are endless.

Examples of awards

  • a day off from studies
  • eat your favorite ice cream
  • go to the movies or your favorite restaurant
  • a new piece of clothing
  • a new album

Fear: are you afraid that you will never learn a language? Afraid of failure? Fear of speaking and being laughed at?

Solution 1: believe that you will be fluent in the language and study it every day. Perfection is not the goal, progress is. As mentioned before, write your progress and see how you’re getting better every time.

Solution 2: If you are shy or extroverted, you must have strategies to get out of your comfort zone and talk, read about it in this article.

Another goal/challenge: I like to challenge myself and to learn new things, in many different areas, which is great. However, that means I end up losing my focus doing other things or I try to accomplish several goals at the same time, something counterproductive and that destroy my motivation.

Solution 1: Do not attempt to make several changes at the same time, focus on what is most important to you now. Change a small habit a time. First stop smoking, and then start studying a language.

Solution 2: make of language learning a mini habit. Be committed to study at least 5 minutes a day. If you study more, great! If not, at least you have studied something and met your daily goal.

Solution 3: wake up early. In the morning, we have energy and lots of motivation, because we haven’t made any decision yet (unless fighting with the snooze function, so if you do that, just stop). Enjoy the silence and energy in the morning to study.

Depression: Sometimes, the cause of discouragement can be clinical, especially if you have experienced a recent trauma and has no willingness to work, study or perform other activities that once gave you pleasure.

pexels-photo-59523 sad dog

Solution: if you are depressed, do not hesitate to seek professional help. The treatment has a positive effect on motivation and productivity.

You forgot the reason why: after doing something for a while, we forget the reason we started.

Solution 1: remember the reason you have begun to study the language. Write down in a journal all the reasons why you want to learn this language.

Solution 2: visualize the result. Imagine yourself in a foreign country speaking the language fluently. Think of yourself having conversations in this language, telling jokes, having fun speaking the language.

Procrastination/Lack of habit: often, we fail in our goals because we didn’t create a habit.

Solution: study every day. Have a trigger, such as, the open book on the desk, an alarm or notification on the phone and act immediately.

Distraction: humans are easily distracted creatures. Smartphones applications and social networking induce and reward distraction.

Solution 1: delete social networking and gaming applications of your phone. Keep only one tab open in your browser.

Solution 2: use technology to your advantage. Several applications and programs block certain websites or the Internet and prevent the use for a period of time. Try: Freedom, Stay Focused, Anti-Social, Self Control, Get Cold Turkey, Leech Block, Rescue Time, Write Room and Dark Room.

Solution 3: if your biggest problem is Netflix or TV, use it as a reward. For example, you can only watch the last chapter of your favorite show, if you have studied for an hour. Alternatively, you can only see TV according to the time study. If you only studied for 15 minutes, you can only watch TV for 15 minutes.

Laziness: it is the capital sin we all commit from time to time.

Solution: Find out the cause of your laziness. Often, the reason of laziness is the simple lack of habit or procrastination. Other times, it’s some unconscious fear. It is also possible that laziness is caused by a poor diet, lack of sleep, stress or depression. Discover the problem and work on it.

Lack of accountability: one of the greatest difficulties we have while studying alone is not having someone to keep accountable to. When we were in the school, we had responsibilities to our parents and teachers, but when studying alone, we just don´t have this kind of pressure.

Solution: put your reputation on the line. Disclose that you are learning the language in your social networks, talk to friends and relatives about it.

Solution 2: if putting your reputation on the line didn’t work, put money into play. If you do not meet your goals, take an amount of money that you will miss and give to someone or a social cause. There are websites that do this for you and you can even give money to a cause that you are against. Example of site: Stickk.

You are not studying for you: this is the most difficult cause to overcome the lack of motivation. Sometimes you’re studying a language because of a professional/academic reason and non-personal one.

Solution: find an intrinsic reason to learn the language. Instead of thinking only in financial or academic rewards. Think how nice is to speak another language, the challenge to learn a second language. Learn to be curious and take pleasure of learning.

Of all these motivation problems, two affect me the most and are not related to language learning. The first is that I want to do many things at the same time and I lose focus. The second reason is that I am a goal-oriented person. When I reach one goal, I stop studying. Because that, I always need new challenging objectives to progress.

What about you? What leaves you unmotivated? How do you recover your motivation?

About Nathalia

Polyglot Nerd creator, love foreign cultures and learning languages. Speak: English, Portuguese and Spanish. Learning: French
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