How Online Teachers Can Find Time and Money for Learning a New Language
“Do you want to learn a new language?”
No need to twist my arm to convince me to do it. Learning languages is a part of my DNA. I taught ESL, now I coach other language teachers on teaching online so language learning runs in our blood.
Still, as much as we want to, language learning doesn’t come easy. It’s a challenge to keep the practice going, mainly because we don’t have enough time or money. Somehow over the years of teaching, language learning turned from a passion and delight into (at best) a task we never have enough time or money to do properly. That creates an unhealthy cycle of guilt.
“How can I teach a language when I don’t even have the time to learn a language myself?”
“I get it that I need to learn a language. But when?”
“And can I really afford it?”
I get it. I envy my kids who go to immersion school in the USA, practicing their French every day. I snuggle with them in the evening to read to them in Russian and take them weekly to the Russian language center with other immigrants like myself who are desperately trying to keep a minority language alive.
But what about me? How long will it take me to dust off my old German textbooks and get back into my learning routines? And what about French? When my oldest started at the immersion school I said I’d work on my French with him. Four years into it he’s fluent and me?
It may sound counterintuitive to write a post about finding time and money for language learning while I myself struggle with it. And yet. For me, this is a chance to start again, as many of you I’m sure have experienced. Starting, moving forward, making mistakes and still daring.
While time and money seem to be the main culprits for language learning I believe it’s our mindset that keeps us stalling and putting things off.
In this post, I’ll reflect on a few key mindset changes that we need to adopt in order to get started (or rekindle our motivation). Then I’ll share a few practical tips on how to make time and money available for your language learning. I’m writing this for my fellow language teachers as well as for myself, and I hope we’ll hold each other accountable!
Mindset Shifts for Online Teachers Learning Languages.
1. Set Reasonable Goals.
You know they tell us to set a specific and measurable goal for ourselves and how it’s supposed to motivate us? It’s a great tip except in most cases our goals become too far-fetched. If you haven’t been in the habit of learning a language for some time, setting overly specific goals and expecting ourselves to live up to them is nothing more than a recipe for disaster.
Instead, think of why you want to get back into language learning, write down the feelings you experienced when you learned a language consistently and build anticipation.
Whenever I want to motivate myself I’m reminded of the first time I could understand English. I was 15 and had spent months working through several textbooks and cassettes (remember those?) on my own. The sheer sense of wonder is enough to get me excited about my new adventures.
2. Accept That Learning Won’t Be Linear.
As language teachers, it’s easy for us to create a program and a curriculum for other people. In our minds, we feel like we need some kind of a rigid curriculum for ourselves that we will follow religiously for the next several months or years.
Again, this expectation builds up too much pressure that prevents us from getting started where we are. It’s one thing when we’re learning for a specific goal of getting a job or immigrating but when we’re learning language just because we love it we need to revise our rigid curricula.
Adopting a mantra that our learning will not be linear and accepting the fact that some days we’ll finish off a couple of “units from a textbook” while other times we’ll just listen to a song and practice singing along is a healthy starting place. Learning a language will go beyond textbooks and curricula, and that’s OK. Learning can be versatile and still effective.
3. Accept That Learning Will Not Be “perfect.”
Going back to my kids’ immersion school experience, I don’t think it’s fair to compare our learning with that of an immersion program or even our University years. Driven by our nostalgic thoughts of ample language learning experiences, we often discard the new opportunities in the present.
Giving up our ideas of what a “perfect” language learning environment is, accept the new environment as the new norm. In this new environment, you may not be as productive or efficient, but you will be able to exercise your freedom and try out different things. After all the years of mandatory fill-in-the-gap exercises, it’s OK to have some fun and run down rabbit holes when you have a random language-learning question.
4. Accept Your Own Pace.
Though I’m writing for the Fluent in 3 months I encourage you to set your own pace, whether your intention is to become fluent or to dabble in the language or to create a soothing language learning practice as a creative outlet and a self-awareness exercise.
In my coaching work, I use the image of a turtle as a reminder of taking our own time and not rushing things no matter what you do. It’s taken years to realize that taking a slower route has no reflection on my intellectual capacity as a learner. A faster pace doesn’t make me more of a genius. So, determine your own pace and try not to compare it against others.
How to Find Time and Money for Learning a Language.
Do you feel like you can breathe better? Giving ourselves permission to learn in our own way, at our own pace and following our curiosity rather than a rigid plan takes a heavy load off our shoulders, but we still haven’t figured out how to make it all come together.
In this section, I want to utilize my coaching brain and leave you with 3 questions that can help you and me set this language learning practice in motion without guilt, “shoulds” and other external pressure. Imagine setting up your own routines with confidence and excitement! Imagine being in charge of the language learning process and delighting in it. Let’s do it.
Question 1: What do you want?
While we may not be setting lofty goals or putting too much pressure on ourselves, we need to identify what’s behind our language learning process. What do we want? As you answer, try to hear if these wants are your own or someone else’s. Dr. Edith Eger likes to ask a no-less important follow-up question, Who wants it? You can spot someone else’s wants if you add the word should when you answer the what do you want question.
For example, “I want to learn a new language because as a language teacher I should understand the process that my clients are going through.” You can see that the answer isn’t about the person’s wants but rather about living up to someone else’s expectations.
Another common answer is, “I want to learn a language because it’s a shame that after so many years I still cannot speak it.” While it may be a legitimate answer, the motivation comes from a parent or a teacher who used to tell you about your “wasted” years of learning if you have nothing to show for it. This is not a motivation to learn but rather a motivation to prove someone wrong.
I want to learn a language because I want to rekindle my passion and get back to feeling elated when I can understand a line or two from a favorite song. What do you want?
Question 2: What are your main challenges right now?
One current challenge is probably creating space and then adding time and money to make the dream of language learning a reality. Write down different things that you think are keeping you away from your new practice. At this point, you’re not solving anything, just writing things down.
Fears grow in hiding and isolation. In Russian, we say that fear has big eyes, and when we avoid looking at our fears they grow bigger and become uncontrollable. So writing down challenges and fears is a simple technique to reduce the anxiety that shows up when you try to do something new or maybe get back into the routines you left behind some time ago.
Question 3: What are you willing to give up?
The thought of giving up something in order to do something else feels like a threat to our freedom. I loved how Delia Ephron wrote in one of her memoirs that having it all is a mathematical impossibility. It’s difficult to accept that we’re just humans and cannot pick up hobbies on the fly with no change to our lives. But giving up something is not always negative. I mean, if I cut down on the time I mindlessly scroll through Youtube in search of a new funny video to work on my German I gain a new purpose, and my life becomes more meaningful.
The same is true about money. Choosing to cut down on some expenses to afford a new book or a language learning program is healthy and fulfilling. The good news, you do not need to give anything up permanently. I’ve created a calendar template (download below) that can help you create your own language learning experience for 2022, without massive expenses or constant intensive immersion simulation. Just print it out and adjust it the way it works best for you.
A new year of delightful language learning is ahead. You might be starting in January or in June. Maybe you’re picking it up after months of doing nothing. Let’s leave the guilt behind us. The best time to start again is always now. It’s the time of courage, the time of overcoming our status quo, the time of welcoming wonder into our lives – the thrill of decoding new messages and filling strange-sounding words with meaning. It’s the year of new beginnings for us as language teachers who rekindle their passion for language learning. Bon Voyage!