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How to achieve a New year’s resolution to learn a language: turn it into a mission


Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

Happy New Year!! 🙂

Four years ago I made a New Year's resolution to never ever make New Year's resolutions again, and I have stuck to it! The reason? I almost never kept to the resolution. I'd join the gym, and go just a few times and then get lazy, and stop, or I wouldn't last a week past “giving up” TV etc. It just wasn't working.

This doesn't mean that I've remained stagnant in the last 4 years and not improved myself. Quite the contrary! I've found a method that works much better for me for achieving my goals, and of course I never limit it just to the first few weeks of the year.

So if you've made a new year's resolution to learn French/Spanish etc. then maybe this approach may help you so that you actually achieve that goal.

New plan of action

The problem with a resolution is that it just envisions the end-goal and not the process. “Speak fluent German” is a nice promise to make yourself, but it doesn't actually mean anything unless you've defined exactly what fluency means to you and set yourself a timeframe to achieve it by. Frankly, a year is way too long and you may end up making excuses and constantly postpone it until “the next” month since you still have plenty of time until the deadline.

Even if you think fluency is out of your reach in a short time (which this blog attempts to prove that it isn't), you can aim for a pretty good level of the language, enough to communicate basically, or even enough to order from a waiter without relying on your dictionary or other less daunting goals; as long as you are very specific about what they mean.

My most important goals have 2-3 month time limits, and I have been successful in a lot of them, for example, my most recent one to speak Portuguese with no accent in 3 months. 2010 will be made up entirely of such goals for me (and I'll blog about them here of course). This shorter time limit has given me more pressure and based on Parkinson's law, I've achieved the goal in that time limit.

Even then it's still too broad a task to seem achievable, unless you break it up into mini-goals. Rather than make just one resolution of fluent in 3/6/9 months, break it up into achievable chunks like learn all vocabulary related to the kitchen by the end of the day. Each of these add up much better to the end goal than most vague resolutions ever do.

Mission possible

In fact, you should abandon the use of the word resolution entirely. It's boring. Those following my blog know the word I like to use: mission.

Having been brought up with way too many action movies and TV shows, I like to add a little drama to otherwise mundane tasks, and the concept of a mission to be completed makes it seem much more exciting.

James Bond, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, the teenage mutant ninja/hero turtles and Captain Planet had missions. Joe Shmoe who wants to just “speak Japanese” is making a resolution with no plan of action, and he very likely won't achieve it, or at least definitely not that year. A resolution is a hope to achieve something. A mission is an urgent plan-of-action to achieve it; this is more than just a change of use of words. The underlying process involved is completely different.

When I have a mission, I may not be saving the world from aliens, shredder, Dr. No (or Dr. Evil), but I'm achieving something important to me; so this has equal urgency as a mission to a fictional hero does. I create urgent pressure such as going to the country where the language is spoken, or blogging to hundreds of people about my progress so there is that extra bit of motivation not to fail.

If you respond to that thought process with “but I can't travel!” you are still in the resolution mindset. There are ways around any issues you may have (such as not being able to travel). Those with a mission do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. Those with a resolution come up with lazy excuses why it's not possible and abandon it early on.

Turn this resolution into a mission!!

Other practical language tips

Those of you familiar with the blog will have seen that I've completely changed the layout! (Check it out if you are reading this by subscription – many thanks to subscriber Randy for his help in getting around a few technical issues!)

Now, there is an option to see categories of articles, including those related specifically to tips about learning languages. I summarised most of the earlier ones when I discussed how to learn a language pretty well in two months, but more specifically see how the following posts can help (also given in the “Learning Languages” category of the site):

Making the most important (and hardest) decision of not speaking English, learning a language even if you are busy, hosting natives in your house (for free), getting rid of your English accent, getting used to noun genders, practising the language without travelling abroad, seeing the thousands of words of the language you already know, convincing natives to speak to you in their language, faking a conversation in the early stages with the right connector phrases, memorising words easily, being clear about your motivation, using phrasebooks as the first book you study, and having the right attitude if you think your language is hard.

There will of course be many more articles along the same lines this year, so keep reading and maybe with one another's help, we can both achieve our language missions 😉 I'll introduce my next (ambitious) mission on Monday!

author headshot

Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

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