Redefining your motivation

Redefining your motivation

Benny

motivation for learning a languageWhy are you learning this language?

We all have a good reason to learn a new language; discovering our roots, passion for travel, academic purposes, pure interest etc. Once again, I’ll start off my post with another frank and sweeping statement; these reasons are useless if you want to become fluent quickly. They are vague, with no necessary (or very distant) time limit and you may just have one “big” reason that can’t be broken down and is too huge to be achievable in your own mind. In the next post I am going to suggest that you redefine your goals into smaller achievable chunks.

But first, it’s important to redefine your overall motivation for learning a language, i.e. having a few things to aim for as well as your “overall” purpose for learning the language. Survival and having a basic social life (without relying on expats) in a foreign country are good motivators themselves, but are still ignored by a lot of people. I also like to combine my language learning with other hobbies to give me more motivation to speak it on a daily basis. However what has worked really well for me is having short-term projects that involve the language. To give you an example, let me tell you my motivation for wanting to learn Czech and why I needed to expand on this.

My motivations for learning Czech

My initial reasons were actually really bad; I woke up one day (actually about 4 weeks ago) and decided to spend the summer in Prague. They speak Czech in Prague and I like learning languages so I may as well learn that! I don’t need to learn it for work, for academic reasons, for love, etc. and if I don’t learn it after my planned 3 months here, will anyone (myself included) really care? This is definitely not the kind of attitude you want when starting a language.

So, in the same morning and in the same spontaneous decision-making stream, I decided to make this website! I have a lot of language learning tips I want to share anyway, but in having the side-story of seeing if I reach this goal of “fluent in 3 months” by applying these tips and learning some more along the way, and trying to get as many people as I can to follow my story, I now have some pressure to achieve my goal. My site already has 130 subscribers (and counting) in just a few of weeks, so that is at least 130 people I have promised to reach this goal. I have also not been shy about telling every Czech (and non-Czech) person that I’ve chatted with in Prague about this “experiment” of mine. Imagine how embarrassed I’d be if come mid-September I can still barely string sentences together! That’s a lot of finger pointing and laughing! “How arrogant! I told you he couldn’t do it!” Although I’m not really that pushed about impressing people, on the other hand I consider myself a man of my word and try my damnedest to fulfil promises I make, including this one. So this self-invented pressure is going to be a huge motivation for me!

As well as that, around September I plan to make a short video entirely in Czech (as well as in English, Spanish etc.) about how to learn Czech and may remake some of my previous videos as well as possibly future ones in Czech too. I plan on making a lot of Czech friends this summer and writing to them online through instant messaging, texting them and keeping in touch with them when my travels continue, and I will be writing them just in Czech. When I learned Spanish and French a very good motivator was signing up for (and passing!!) CEFR examinations (no courses required, just a small exam fee and show up on the exam day to give it your best; if you pass, then it’s excellent for your CV as proof of language abilities and required in order to be able to study in some universities of the country speaking the language), i.e. DALF or DELF in French and DELE in Spanish. I haven’t decided if I’ll do something similar in Czech yet.

Around August I plan to start travelling a bit around the Czech Republic, and in being outside of my safe bubble of touristy Prague in the company of a lot of people who speak English, I will definitely need to communicate much more in Czech. I will be going to Liberec (north of the country) first in late July, but that’s actually to speak Esperanto for a week. Even so, travelling there and talking to people outside of the event will require me to be able to communicate in Czech. At that stage I want to be able to casually converse at least at a basic level and not be simply ordering food or asking for directions etc.

Learning Czech can also be very beneficial for further language studies! As well as being able to speak with Czechs themselves (and Slovaks thanks to mutual intelligibility with Slovak), it would be my stepping stone into learning other Slavic languages (Russian, Polish, Croatian etc.), all of which would have at least some similar words and grammar (more in some compared to others), it just means that the workload would be greatly reduced if I speak Czech well when the time comes to learn one of these languages. After learning Spanish, all other Latin based languages were a lot easier than they would have been if I had started them from scratch. This polyglot feature of learning languages is obviously not so important to most people, but you can probably tell by now that I enjoy learning languages! So for my longer term projects, speaking Czech well is quite important.

I will also be looking for even more reasons (Giving a speech to hundreds of people in Czech? Appearing on Czech TV? We’ll see!) to make sure that I am truly motivated. If you are learning a language just for your work, academic studies or even “just” because you live in the country, you should find (and invent) as many reasons as you can to make sure you really are motivated! Now, just in case that isn’t enough, you can also create very practical short-term goals for yourself… more on that very soon!

Do you have any thoughts on expanding on your motivations when learning a language? Agree or disagree with anything that I said here? Have any more suggestions for me for why I should be motivated to learn Czech other than what I have discussed here? Please do share in the comments! :)

Why are you learning this language? We all have a good reason to learn a new language; discovering our roots, passion for travel, academic purposes, pure interest etc. Once again, I’ll start off my post with another frank and sweeping statement; these reasons are useless if you want to become fluent quickly. They are vague, […]

MORE


  • http://www.30sleeps.com/blog Brad Bollenbach

    Hey Benny,

    Great article. I agree that in learning a language, motivation is decisive.

    My motivation to learn French was derived in large part (aside from moving to Québec :) from seeking out the great thinkers in that language, be it novelists, intellectuals, musicians, political commentators, bloggers, etc. I’m addicted to people who know how to share their thoughts in captivating ways, and it’s all the more exciting to see one’s language learning efforts result in gaining access to a whole new range of genius.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Thanks for sharing Brad :)
      How are your German studies going?? I’m curiously following your twitter updates! What were your motivations for learning that language?

  • http://www.30sleeps.com/blog Brad Bollenbach

    Hey Benny,

    Great article. I agree that in learning a language, motivation is decisive.

    My motivation to learn French was derived in large part (aside from moving to Québec :) from seeking out the great thinkers in that language, be it novelists, intellectuals, musicians, political commentators, bloggers, etc. I’m addicted to people who know how to share their thoughts in captivating ways, and it’s all the more exciting to see one’s language learning efforts result in gaining access to a whole new range of genius.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Thanks for sharing Brad :)
      How are your German studies going?? I’m curiously following your twitter updates! What were your motivations for learning that language?

  • fearfeasog

    bonjour, monsieur polyglot! i agree with you all the way–i have recently (like 2 days ago!) developed an intense interest in Japanese. no idea specifically why–it’s just so darn interesting! comPLETEly foreign in every possible way. i still have to think about what i really want to do with it–whether i really want to make it a goal to be able to speak fluently, or if i just need to satisfy this curiosity. in any case your post here has made me aware that i need to think about that so–go raibh míle maith agat! go n-éirí leat agus an blag seo–tá sé thar barr! mark

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Glad to see I’m not the only one hit with random spontaneous ideas to learn a language!! Best of luck with Japanese :) If I get to that it won’t be for a couple of years yet!

  • fearfeasog

    bonjour, monsieur polyglot! i agree with you all the way–i have recently (like 2 days ago!) developed an intense interest in Japanese. no idea specifically why–it’s just so darn interesting! comPLETEly foreign in every possible way. i still have to think about what i really want to do with it–whether i really want to make it a goal to be able to speak fluently, or if i just need to satisfy this curiosity. in any case your post here has made me aware that i need to think about that so–go raibh míle maith agat! go n-éirí leat agus an blag seo–tá sé thar barr! mark

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Glad to see I’m not the only one hit with random spontaneous ideas to learn a language!! Best of luck with Japanese :) If I get to that it won’t be for a couple of years yet!

  • http://blok.ficova.com sylva

    my motivation to learn English was: to be able to understand what the Beatles sang about and to read D. H. Lawrence in English… it took me a few weeks to understand the Beatles, several months to be able to read basic news in newspapers and magazines and several years to be able to read any English/American novel.. when do you think you will be able to sing Czech songs and read Kundera’s short stories in the original? ;-)

    • Rene

      Benny, this is a great idea! (singing in Czech).
      My favorite songs to sing along are Zluty Pes “Modrá je dobrá” (very easy lyrics) and “Sametová”.
      I posted translations at myczechrepublic, and there you can find links to the youtube video and the lyrics website.

      As far as listening to Czech songs: when I listen I only understand isolated words. After I read the lyrics, I begin to understand sentences. After I translate the sentences I begin to understand the meaning of the song.
      Then it’s just a matter of memorizing the lyrics.
      Try it, you’ll like it!

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

        I plan to eventually write a post specifically just about how music can be useful in learning a language :)
        I will definitely be singing Czech songs before the 3 months are up, but reading anything more complicated than Newspaper articles has yet to be seen!!
        Thanks for sharing your English learning story Sylva!! :)

        • Rebecca

          Don’t worry, you can alway read his later novels in the original French!

  • http://blok.ficova.com/ sylva

    my motivation to learn English was: to be able to understand what the Beatles sang about and to read D. H. Lawrence in English… it took me a few weeks to understand the Beatles, several months to be able to read basic news in newspapers and magazines and several years to be able to read any English/American novel.. when do you think you will be able to sing Czech songs and read Kundera’s short stories in the original? ;-)

    • Rene

      Benny, this is a great idea! (singing in Czech).
      My favorite songs to sing along are Zluty Pes “Modrá je dobrá” (very easy lyrics) and “Sametová”.
      I posted translations at myczechrepublic, and there you can find links to the youtube video and the lyrics website.

      As far as listening to Czech songs: when I listen I only understand isolated words. After I read the lyrics, I begin to understand sentences. After I translate the sentences I begin to understand the meaning of the song.
      Then it’s just a matter of memorizing the lyrics.
      Try it, you’ll like it!

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

        I plan to eventually write a post specifically just about how music can be useful in learning a language :)
        I will definitely be singing Czech songs before the 3 months are up, but reading anything more complicated than Newspaper articles has yet to be seen!!
        Thanks for sharing your English learning story Sylva!! :)

        • Rebecca

          Don’t worry, you can alway read his later novels in the original French!

  • Matthew Daly

    My girlfriend is fluent in french, spanish, english and hatian creole and just started learning Italian. I would like to learn french and spanish first and then try to learn additional languages. I am only fluent in english, and i know a little french and spanish. I am motivated to become flluent in french and spanish in 1 year.

    Is it a good idea to try and become fluent in 2 languages at the same time?

    Thanks for the great website Benny and good luck at achieving your 3 month goal of fluency in Czech.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Matthew, I would normally advise against learning more than 2 languages at once… but it would be very hypocritical of me considering I’m really focussing on improving all of my languages this summer, as well as learning Czech.
      Anyway, if you have the motivation then there is nothing stopping you!! It’s just a little easier if you focus on one first since you may easily mix up the vocabulary and rules. I will definitely be discussing multiple-language learning techniques a bit later. Hopefully those tips may help you!!
      The good news is I have a treat for those learning Italian coming up very soon!! So that might help your girlfriend.
      Thanks for the compliments :)

      • Matthew Daly

        Thank you for your feedback. I am going to take your advice and learn one language at a time. I am going to try and become fluent in spanish first and then french. I might as well try and become fluent in spanish in 3 months. I will look forward to your future posts. My gf is excited to see your treat for Italian learners.

  • Matthew Daly

    My girlfriend is fluent in french, spanish, english and hatian creole and just started learning Italian. I would like to learn french and spanish first and then try to learn additional languages. I am only fluent in english, and i know a little french and spanish. I am motivated to become flluent in french and spanish in 1 year.

    Is it a good idea to try and become fluent in 2 languages at the same time?

    Thanks for the great website Benny and good luck at achieving your 3 month goal of fluency in Czech.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Matthew, I would normally advise against learning more than 2 languages at once… but it would be very hypocritical of me considering I’m really focussing on improving all of my languages this summer, as well as learning Czech.
      Anyway, if you have the motivation then there is nothing stopping you!! It’s just a little easier if you focus on one first since you may easily mix up the vocabulary and rules. I will definitely be discussing multiple-language learning techniques a bit later. Hopefully those tips may help you!!
      The good news is I have a treat for those learning Italian coming up very soon!! So that might help your girlfriend.
      Thanks for the compliments :)

      • Matthew Daly

        Thank you for your feedback. I am going to take your advice and learn one language at a time. I am going to try and become fluent in spanish first and then french. I might as well try and become fluent in spanish in 3 months. I will look forward to your future posts. My gf is excited to see your treat for Italian learners.

  • Rene

    I have learned many languages, for no apparent reason!
    I am bilingual in English and Spanish (due to my ancestors being from Spain – I live in the US).
    I learned French when as a child my parents moved to Belgium for a year – it was necessary to know French. Later I continued reviewing and perfecting my knowledge of French.
    Later I became extremely interested in German, Italian and Russian and learned by way of books and audio.

    Later it was Japanese, just because it was interesting!

    Esperanto I learned once I found a link to some free online course. I got several penfriends and once attended a Universala Kongreso in Berlin.

    I learned Portuguese when the company where I work landed a contract with a Brazilian company. However I am not very interested in Portuguese and have not continued learning it.

    Later I took an online course of Greek in preparation for a trip to Greece and Bulgaria. In Bulgaria I felt “naked” I did not know the language!!!
    I promptly returned home to Florida and learned Bulgarian. The following year I returned to Sofia and was able to practice it :-)

    I became interested in Czech when I heard it spoken on a TV show in a hotel in Vienna. I learned it and have travelled twice to Prague to practice it.

    My goal now is to IMPROVE my PROFICIENCY in all the languages that I have learned.

  • Rene

    I have learned many languages, for no apparent reason!
    I am bilingual in English and Spanish (due to my ancestors being from Spain – I live in the US).
    I learned French when as a child my parents moved to Belgium for a year – it was necessary to know French. Later I continued reviewing and perfecting my knowledge of French.
    Later I became extremely interested in German, Italian and Russian and learned by way of books and audio.

    Later it was Japanese, just because it was interesting!

    Esperanto I learned once I found a link to some free online course. I got several penfriends and once attended a Universala Kongreso in Berlin.

    I learned Portuguese when the company where I work landed a contract with a Brazilian company. However I am not very interested in Portuguese and have not continued learning it.

    Later I took an online course of Greek in preparation for a trip to Greece and Bulgaria. In Bulgaria I felt “naked” I did not know the language!!!
    I promptly returned home to Florida and learned Bulgarian. The following year I returned to Sofia and was able to practice it :-)

    I became interested in Czech when I heard it spoken on a TV show in a hotel in Vienna. I learned it and have travelled twice to Prague to practice it.

    My goal now is to IMPROVE my PROFICIENCY in all the languages that I have learned.

  • Rene

    Benny,
    Where did you take the CEFR exams for Spanish and French? Did you take the test in your home country?
    Do you know where I can find a list of testing places?

    Thanks!
    René – a polyglot in Florida

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Thanks for your comments Rene! Your vast linguistic experience is impressive!! You’ll be happy to hear that I will be discussing in detail how to improve already learned languages (I chose Prague instead of Brno etc. for a good reason) All will be revealed soon!
      I took the Spanish DELE C2 in Spain (specifically in Salamanca) and I took the French DELF (B2) in Toulouse. I hope to take the DALF (C2) next time I’m in La Francophonie. I would recommend taking these exams in the countries associated with the language so that you have the momentum for speaking the language. You can however do them abroad (any Alliance Française for French and some universities for other language exams depending on which one; some Googling will reveal all!)

      • Rene

        Benny, Thanks for the info.
        Así que tomaste el examen DELE C2 en España y el DELF B2 en Francia. Tu vis en Irlande, n’est-ce pas?
        Je pense, que quand on vit en Europe, c’est plus facile d’aller en France ou en Espagne, etc.
        I live in the US, so travelling to Europe doesn’t happen every day.

  • Rene

    Benny,
    Where did you take the CEFR exams for Spanish and French? Did you take the test in your home country?
    Do you know where I can find a list of testing places?

    Thanks!
    René – a polyglot in Florida

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Thanks for your comments Rene! Your vast linguistic experience is impressive!! You’ll be happy to hear that I will be discussing in detail how to improve already learned languages (I chose Prague instead of Brno etc. for a good reason) All will be revealed soon!
      I took the Spanish DELE C2 in Spain (specifically in Salamanca) and I took the French DELF (B2) in Toulouse. I hope to take the DALF (C2) next time I’m in La Francophonie. I would recommend taking these exams in the countries associated with the language so that you have the momentum for speaking the language. You can however do them abroad (any Alliance Française for French and some universities for other language exams depending on which one; some Googling will reveal all!)

      • Rene

        Benny, Thanks for the info.
        Así que tomaste el examen DELE C2 en España y el DELF B2 en Francia. Tu vis en Irlande, n’est-ce pas?
        Je pense, que quand on vit en Europe, c’est plus facile d’aller en France ou en Espagne, etc.
        I live in the US, so travelling to Europe doesn’t happen every day.

  • Jon

    I’m currently learning German and my interest in the language started when i randomly bought a rammstein cd. I just liked the way it sounded and i wanted to know the meaning behind the lyrics so i started translating with a dictionary. I had no experience with languages so I had no idea why the sentence structure was so different from english. i didn’t even know what sentence structure was. as time went by i got more and more interested. I became friends with a german foreign exchange student at my school and we hung out a lot. i would do the 95% english and 5% german thing and i kept learning. since then i’ve used so many different learning mediums (workbooks, audio [pimsleur], computer programs [rosetta stone], and chatting online with germans, etc…) i am ALWAYS looking for different ways to learn. I’m actually visiting my friend in germany right now. sitting on her bed on my laptop. im learning SO MUCH being immersed in the language. after i am fluent in german i’m definitely going to start on another language. probably italian or russian. german has sparked a language obsession in me! i just found this site and am definitely going to follow you on your path to fluency. good luck!

  • Jon

    I’m currently learning German and my interest in the language started when i randomly bought a rammstein cd. I just liked the way it sounded and i wanted to know the meaning behind the lyrics so i started translating with a dictionary. I had no experience with languages so I had no idea why the sentence structure was so different from english. i didn’t even know what sentence structure was. as time went by i got more and more interested. I became friends with a german foreign exchange student at my school and we hung out a lot. i would do the 95% english and 5% german thing and i kept learning. since then i’ve used so many different learning mediums (workbooks, audio [pimsleur], computer programs [rosetta stone], and chatting online with germans, etc…) i am ALWAYS looking for different ways to learn. I’m actually visiting my friend in germany right now. sitting on her bed on my laptop. im learning SO MUCH being immersed in the language. after i am fluent in german i’m definitely going to start on another language. probably italian or russian. german has sparked a language obsession in me! i just found this site and am definitely going to follow you on your path to fluency. good luck!

  • http://www.coroflot.com/george George

    Benny, i am truly inspired by your blog! It is almost revolutionary but yet so simple! I am TRYING to learn Czech, i found this site called http://www.livemocha.com this site is similar to Rosetta stone except its free, and has waaay more languages and also connects with people who speak the language you are learning.

    Benny, do you have some advice for me when learning czech? Also can you review Live mocha? I would LOVE to see your view on it. Thanks so much; you have gained a fan.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for your comment George!! Glad you are enjoying the blog :) Here's my Czech specific advice.
    There are lots of great websites out there and people have recommended Livemocha to me several times before, so I will indeed give it a whirl and let you know!! :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Mojose! Dankon :)

  • http://fluent-language.blogspot.com/ Kayla C.

    I lost my motivation to learn Italian a long time ago and that’s why I stopped. I’m now concentrating on other language-learning endeavors and your article helped me get rid of the “guilt” I felt for dropping Italian!