The struggle is alive and well. The struggle of finding the motivation to continue studying languages is an epidemic that plagues even the most diligent and proficient of language learners. Don’t even lie. We have all foregone our language study in lieu of something more entertaining like watching re-runs of the Office or watching funny fails on Youtube. It has probably gotten so bad at some point that some days even just thinking about studying sends shivers up your spine. “But I don’t WANT to!” you exclaim to the part of you that is trying to kick your *ss into high gear. “But you really should.” replies the scholarly disciplined side of you. “Nah, I don’t feel like it. I don’t think I will.” says, well, the other side of you.
Motivation is a fickle thing and I’m going to show you exactly how to keep going in your studies, even if you don’t want to. I’m just gonna get straight to the tips before you lose the motivation to finish this post!
WARNING: Honest, tough love ahead. If you want to hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you god, please proceed.
Motivation is Stupid
There I said it. In your language learning, DO NOT RELY ON YOUR MOTIVATION. It will often ditch you without notice and go for a drive through and not come back for days. Then when it comes back all drunk and disoriented one night at 2am (because that’s usually when motivation strikes, right?), you yell, “Where the hell were you!?” and it will just shrug, hang around till morning and then disappear. All jokes aside, motivation is an emotion and emotions are flaky. Therefore, it is not reliable enough to base your studies on. Just because you feel like studying one hundred vocabulary words today, does not mean you will tomorrow!
Motivation is wonderful for starting a new language. In the initial stages of your language learning, it is so motivating to write down your goals and picture yourself using Japanese to translate Manga from Japanese to English or write subtitles for anime, but that starry eyed phase quickly disappears when you realize that you have to learn a LANGUAGE with rules, exceptions to the rules and exceptions to the exceptions. When you have to conjugate thousands of words and learn thousands more Kanji. Then the smile fades
So what is a more reliable foundation if motivation is crap? You aren’t going to like it. The answer that I’m looking for is DISCIPLINE. Yup that’s right! That one thing that you try to push into your closet or try to bypass thinking there is some other magical formula that will make you fluent. Newsflash! There isn’t. There is no e-book, no Youtube video, webinar, app or video course that will replace sitting down everyday and grinding out thousands of Japanese Kanji or remembering all those god-forsaken conjugations in French. None. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use these resources for other things like organizational tips, unique methods and study hacks, but you shouldn’t use them thinking they will give you something that can replace hard work.
Unfortunately, the reality is that what separates successful language learners from the rest is simply their ability to keep studying and working even if they don’t want to. To put it plainly, you either study the language or you don’t. You will OFTEN not feel like studying. Ask me if I lack motivation to study and I’ll say often.* But I study anyways and do what I’m supposed to do even if every bone in my body would prefer to be scrolling through Youtube.
The key is. You must fight through you lack of motivation. Period.
Instead of focusing on how much motivation you have, work on cultivating your ability to work when you don’t want to. You do this through lots of practice and nothing else. The more you work through the lack of motivation, the easier it will be for you to get work done consistently. It’s a muscle you must exercise and there’s no way around. Just like if you wanted to grow a six pack of abs, you must go to the gym everyday or do your at-home workouts regularly. There is no other way. Do what you need to do and you will become fluent in your target language. You become stronger and smarter if you keep going. No matter how slow, you will grow. You will not if you don’t keep going. Slow growth is better than none.
You Will Not Always Be Able to See Your Progress
You may use language trackers to make sure that you are studying as much as you planned for, but don’t take those as indicators of your skill level. When you reach about intermediate level in your studies, you will feel like you aren’t progressing at all. Though you check off many new vocabulary words a day, you will still feel like you’re at the same level because you can’t physically SEE the progress you’re making. THAT IS NORMAL and you are making progress just not the kind you can see. The things you learn in intermediate are complicated and it is hard to measure your progress, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t advancing. Please keep working and moving forward. Keep your mindset on the present and here and now and avoid jumping ahead and overwhelming yourself with all the things you don’t know. You will soon learn it. You only become stronger and smarter when you keep working. You gain nothing if you don’t.
A Few Things To Help Make Your Studies Not Boring and Stuff
Though motivation is trash, your studies shouldn’t be, like, the most boring thing ever either. Something that will help keep you going is to make things interesting. This, again, does not replace hard work, because you probably will lose the motivation to interesting things too, but they will help! Try to use multiple methods of studying that are interesting and stimulating like using video games, movies, Youtube videos, web articles based on topics you’re interested in, novels, and tv shows to learn your language. It will help give you something to look forward to and keep things interesting.
I hope that was helpful to you and that my tough love wasn’t too tough, but I want you all to really understand that so many language learners quit, not because the language is like demon-spawned or anything but because they lose the motivation. They hit a wall around intermediate level and feel like they aren’t making progress fast enough and quit. Don’t be that language learner. Keep going! You can do it!!
*Yes, I did. Often – The Weeknd