People, I have some shocking news for you. Remember all that New Year 2015 enthusiasm? Those promises you made? Those ideas about fluency being within reach? That's less than 2 months ago!! Today's guest post comes from a fellow language teacher who's seen that deflation before.
Jimmy Monaghan is from Ireland and currently works in Malta, where he is working with the Elanguest English Language School. He enjoys studying and practicing French in his spare time. I thought his tips for reviving enthusiasm and staying motivated were just perfect for this time of the year. Enjoy!
Thomas A. Edison was a smart man. As well as inventing some of the most important devices of our civilisation, he knew all about the importance of persistence. He certainly didn’t invent the light bulb over night, and if he had taken the easy way out and given up on his vision, then we would all still be spending a lot of time lighting candles. Language learning is a mountain to climb. Any body that has ever attempted to do so knows how disheartening it can be to feel like you are getting somewhere, only to realise how much further you have to go. And like anything that is hard to do, the temptation of giving up is sometimes too great. But everyday millions of people all over the world are having success learning new languages, so why shouldn’t you? Here are a few tips that might help inspire you to overcome that block in the road and continue on your (long but rewarding) journey towards learning a new language.
1. Set Obtainable Goals
How come I’m not fluent yet? If you start learning a new language and expect to be fluent within a couple of months, then you might be setting yourself up for disappointment, which will ultimately increase the likelihood of you throwing in the towel. Despite there being websites that offer to make you fluent in three months, the majority of us will only be at an advanced beginners stage after this little time. If you set obtainable goals for yourself then you are much more likely to meet those goals and feel a sense of accomplishment, which will motivate you to continue towards fluency.
Examples of obtainable goals:
"I will be able to read and understand an entire children’s book without a dictionary."
"I will be able to book a hotel room over the telephone."
"I will be able to watch a movie without subtitles in my own language, but subtitled in its original language."
2. Be OK with your ability
The truth of the matter is is that some people just have an easier time learning languages than others. Maybe it’s the way our brains our wired: all different, highly complex machines, no two alike. It might not seem fair but hey, that’s life. This fact doesn’t just apply to languages however. Some people learn how to drive after a few lessons, while for others it can take months or even years. It is important to accept this, to identify at what rate you can comfortably learn, and to not compare your ability to that of others.
3. There is no such thing as Wasted Time
One big contributing factor to a lot of people giving up their language learning aspirations is not seeing immediate results, and fearing that they have simply wasted their time. Every minute spent studying a language will eventually pay off and help you somewhere down the road. And while it’s easy to feel like you are wasting hours studying a language you aren’t making progress in, so much more is happening in the brain than you might imagine. Any studious activity, especially language learning, is like taking your brain to the gym and training it. The results can seep into other areas of your life such as helping to strengthen your memory or increase abstract and creative thinking. There is no such thing as wasted time.
4. Be humble and don’t overestimate yourself
So you’ve been busy studying. You’ve been making personal breakthroughs and are feeling pretty good about yourself. You feel like your level of comprehension has gotten better and you can just picture yourself effortlessly constructing beautifully poetic sentences at parties while others marvel at your command of the language. Then you go to a party and meet a native speaker. You get a little nervous and think ‘OK, here’s my chance to finally put all of my study into practice…’ and then you choke. You can’t even think of the most common words. The person you just met has to explain even the simplest of phrases to you while inside you’re screaming, “I’m so much better than this, I promise!” If this doesn’t make you feel like giving up then you don’t need to be reading this article. Finding out that you are not as good as you thought you were can be hard and demotivating, but a big part of this is confidence. I’ve met people with a very low level of English who have so much confidence that they can barely stop talking, despite making mistakes with every second word. On the other hand I know people who know so much but are afraid of making any mistakes that they won’t even open their mouths. Out of these two, who do you think is getting the most useful practice? The only mistake you can make is to be worried about making mistakes.
5. Don’t care what other People think about you
People are horrible, generally. We judge others and we have high expectations yet we are all so self centred and selfish. This last tip is one that can be applied to all areas of your life, but is especially useful in your language-learning journey. If you are constantly worried that other people will think that you are stupid or a slow learner because you haven’t mastered a language, then you will be creating a lot of unnecessary stress for yourself. Remember that you (under most circumstances) are learning a language for yourself, for your future, not theirs. If you think that you are good at speaking a language, then you are. If somebody else thinks otherwise, who cares? Be proud of everything that you have learned, even if it’s a little, because you have taken the time and energy to better yourself. If you keep letting other people bring you down and make you feel like there’s no point, then you will be a lot more likely to give up, and if Thomas Edison had done that, we would all be sitting in the dark.
I hope this article has been helpful and that it might inspire you to keep focused and determined while learning a new language.