You can often spot a new language learner by the scale of their language learning goals and daily habits. When we first start out in a new language, the excitement makes it easy to commit to big, hairy, audacious language learning goals and herculean daily routines. Perhaps we commit to listening to three hours of foreign language audio a day, reading one foreign language novel a week, or speaking with a language tutor for an hour every single day. We might keep this up for a few days, or even a few weeks, but eventually, our motivation will run out and we’ll fall off the pace. Perhaps we have a bad day at work, and cancel our tutor session. Or we have a fight with our spouse and don’t feel like studying any flashcards. Or maybe we get sick and opt to binge watch Narcos instead of listening to language podcasts. One missed day turns into two, and then three, and then weeks or months of zero language study. Most people (especially perfectionists like me) will then think, “Well, since I can’t do it all, I guess I will do nothing.” Fortunately, we can avoid this all-or-nothing-perfectionist trap by committing instead to a “minimum effective dose” of daily language study: a tiny, tiny amount of time and effort that we will hit each and every day no matter what.
As Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.” Many of us tend to think we are better than we really are. Better drivers. Better employees. Better lovers. And yes, better language learners. But perhaps just as many struggle with the exact opposite problem: feeling worse than we really are. Worse drivers. Worse employees. Worse lovers. And yes, worse language learners. Why is it so damn easy to delude ourselves one way or the other? The answer is “ego.” Read on to learn the 3 ways ego holds language learners back and how to best overcome it.
We get better at what we practice most. Sounds obvious, yes? Yet far too many language learners wonder why they aren’t getting better at listening and speaking despite all the hours they’ve spent reading, memorizing vocabulary, and studying grammar rule. See the faulty logic here? Trying to get better at speaking by memorizing words and rules is like trying to get better at martial arts by watching kung fu movies. Not exactly a recipe for success.
We all have days when we’re unmotivated to put in the time. We all endure embarrassing linguistic and cultural gaffes that can make it hard to get back on the horse. And we all encounter learning plateaus when lots of effort leads to little perceived progress. All normal, but frustrating nonetheless. When such challenges inevitably arise, I find it helpful to read the accounts of experienced language learners who have faced (and overcome!) similar hurdles. While reading about language learning is certainly no substitute for actually learning a language, we can gain a great deal of vicarious wisdom from these linguistic “Yodas” who have journeyed before―and farther than―us. To that end, here are five of my favorite language learning blogs that can help keep you motivated through the ups and downs of language learning and provide useful tips to overcome the most common obstacles.