I love to encourage language learners here on Fluent in 3 Months, but language learning isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Life inevitably gets in the way and prevents you from reaching your language goals.
This has happened to me more times than I care to remember!
My Czech project (the first one I ever blogged about) had to stop a few weeks in because I ran out of money and had to start working 80-hours a week. My Japanese project came to a halt after 2 months because I had to get ready for my book launch and tour. Shortly after I had started my Turkish project, I got ill and then actually just felt down in the dumps, both of which sapped all my energy.
But there have been many times when I’ve bounced back stronger than ever and successfully reached my goals, even when challenges threatened to throw me off course. There is a way to get yourself to bounce back when life throws you a curve ball. That’s why I was pleased to see some thoughts on the matter from Elijah from The Two Week Linguist. Over to you Elijah!
Have you ever started learning a language, only to drop it a week or two later? Maybe you didn’t have enough time for it, or something came up that bumped you off track.
Life happens to all of us, so it’s understandable that things don’t always go to plan.
The problem comes when the language you give up becomes an itch that won’t go away. When you leave something behind or quit something that’s really important to you, you can end up feeling like an incomplete puzzle. You have all the pieces, but you can’t put it together. Why does this happen?
No matter your reason for quitting language learning, you can always pick up right where you left off. I know, because I’ve done it myself, and I’ve seen so many other people do it.
If you’ve got a language itch that you need to scratch, take a look at these ten ways to bounce back into learning a language – so you can stop quitting for good.
1. Ask Yourself: “Do I Really Care About Learning This Language?”
Your answer to this question will make or break your journey through learning a new language.
Is the language you’ve chosen really right for you? This question holds so much value because if you aren’t passionate about the language you’re learning, then you’ll always struggle with it. Harsh but true.
How does this help you bounce back into language learning? You bounce back by either picking your language up again because you strongly believe it’s what you want, or you drop it and find a language you’re better suited to.
2. Write Down the Reasons to Quit Learning a Language
What’s going on in your life right now? You may have so much on your plate that now isn’t the best time for learning a language.
If you’re trying for a double-major and you have two kids at home, I would stick with just waiting. Does this mean dropping your language completely? No, not at all! There is no such thing as a perfect time, but ask yourself if you can handle the journey of learning a new language in your present situation.
How to Make That List:
- Get a pen and a piece of paper
- Write down reasons why you should put your language on pause for a bit
- Next, write down the reasons you have keep the language going and remind yourself why you fell in love with it in the first place
- Make a decision
Be honest with yourself. Remember, honesty is the best policy.
3. Keep a Journal – and Read it!
I recommend using a journal to record your language learning progress, and to practice writing in your target language. If you consistently contribute to that leather-bound book of blank pages, you’ll do two things:
Improve Your Writing Skills
Every time that you write in your journal you are producing your language in it’s purest form. You’ll end up sorting out your thoughts and at the same time really implant the words you use in your metaphorical bank of vocabulary in your head.
Create an Investment
Every page written in that book, whether it be a small snippet of your day or just your thoughts on a recent movie you saw, is a small investment. When you fall out of your language learning, cash in that investment and read your journal. See how much progress you’ve made and use that as motivation to spark your studies back to life. I couldn’t tell you how many times this has saved me.
4. Change Your Focus
Were you studying vocabulary and grammar rules for hours on end on? Well, change it up. Listen to some news or music. Take your eyes off the road and enjoy the scenery around you. Sometimes you can find motivation in places you wouldn’t normally look.
One of my favorite things I do when I’m tired of learning is to watch a quick couple matches of chess in Farsi. Afterwards I feel relaxed and refreshed and ready to return to my studies.
5. Take a Step Back from Language Learning
In some cases it’s best to take a step back and review what you’ve been doing. That way, you can find out what went wrong, and fix it.
I was a computer science major when I went to university. I remember sitting in my Java final where I was stuck on a problem near the very end of the test. The code would just not work. Out of frustration and hanging on by a thread, I stood up. I was done. I quit. The problem had defeated me. When I stood up and took a step back, I saw the big picture. I saw everything at once on that screen instead of shoving my nose into one area that I thought was wrong. Immediately I saw the issue and ended up getting an A!
If you've slipped out of your language and you don’t know what to do next, take a deep breath and take a step back. Fix that one problem area and dive back in!
6. Take a Break from Language Learning
If you feel exhausted and you don’t feel any other method is getting you results, then just press pause and wait a bit.
For a week or two, tell your language learning to “talk to the hand”. Don’t listen to any music or read any articles or pick up a single flash card! Just take a break. You’ll feel relaxed and refreshed, and you’ll return to your language learning with renewed energy.
7. Watch a Movie in Your Target Language
Right before leaving for Winter Break from my schooling I made a promise to continue my studies outside of the classroom in order to not lose my groove in the language. No hiccups, I told myself. That did not happen. As soon as I got off the plane, I forgot I was even studying Farsi.
Three days later, it hit me. I had to do something. So, I change my promise. Every other day, I enjoyed either a quick episode of my favorite Farsi TV program or watched a movie. I didn’t focus on translating everything or straining myself to understand every word. I just sat back and enjoyed it.
This created a whole new level of motivation for my language learning. If you’ve quit your language, watch a movie in your target language – preferably without subtitles.
8. Push Yourself Harder
Sometimes it just takes a little kick to get re-started.
If you feel scared or intimidated by your language, then give yourself a push and dive back in!
Follow these steps to give yourself a little push
- Take a deep breath.
- Look in the mirror.
- Tell yourself, sternly, that you’re going to study your language tonight.
- Watch a movie in your target language.
It works, I promise.
Push yourself, and you’ll only have yourself to thank after it gets you going again!
9. Put Up a Safety Net to Stop Yourself Quitting Again
Maybe you haven’t quit your language yet, but you’ve done so in the past.
Does this sound like you? You decide to skip vocabulary study for a night. When the next night comes, you skip it again. That’s the downward slope that we want to avoid!
So, make a little safety net out. Create this net so you spot the signs you’re about to quit.
Look out for subtle things that begin to add up. Perhaps you continually skipping out on any routines you have when learning your language. Or maybe you find yourself getting mad and quitting any studying during the middle of it.
Here’s what to do in three steps:
- Arm yourself with this safety net as an “In case of emergency, break glass” strategy.
- Know what to look for you feel yourself slipping down that slope
- Break that metaphorical glass and catch yourself before you quit
10. Try a New Language Learning Method
Everyone has different learning styles. Don’t force yourself to stick with a learning approach that makes you giddy to do. It’s not suddenly going to become magic!
I advocate you try out different methods for learning a language until you find something that fits your style like a glove.
There are plenty of different methods that have been reviewed on Fluent in 3 Months:
You might also like to check out the Fluent in 3 Months Conversation Countdown course, which shows you how to have a conversation in your target language in just seven days.
Pick one. Use it. Get back on that horse. The end goal is worth the ride.
About the Author: Elijah Lawson is founder of The Two Week Linguist and author of The Linguist’s Handbook.