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How to Stay Motivated to Learn a Language When it Gets Really Hard

Pursuing your interests and committing to lifelong education are excellent ways to enrich your everyday life and invest in personal growth. And if your favorite hobby happens to be language learning, then you’re in a great position.


Speaking a second language unlocks a whole new world for you to explore. (Quite literally, science suggests that speaking different languages helps us perceive the world in different ways). On top of that, it can also be one of the paving stones for pursuing your personal and professional goals. 


For example, research studies have found that being bilingual helps people prioritize tasks more efficiently, increasing productivity. And, more relevantly to those pursuing a career in tech, a 2017 analysis found that speaking Mandarin ranked 5th on a list of emerging skills sought by employers.


But despite all of the benefits of learning a foreign language, we have to acknowledge that becoming fluent isn’t exactly a walk in the park. 


What happens when it gets really hard? How can you effectively motivate yourself? Are there any ways to prevent plateaus? Let’s find out.


What Is a Learning Plateau?


According to the Psychology Dictionary, a learning plateau represents a period of little or no progress where the cause of stagnation boils down to:

  1. the necessity to complete one stage of the learning process before moving on to the next one

  2. student fatigue or distraction

  3. interference from a previously learned skill

  4. too much material being introduced too quickly without allowing for sufficient knowledge absorption

Of course, for some people, the cause of difficulty in language learning might also stem from the wrong approach. That’s especially likely if they view the activity as a hobby. 

For example, if someone puts too much pressure on themselves when trying to learn, sets unrealistic goals, strives for perfection, or simply allows themselves to become bored, it’s safe to say that they are going to hit a plateau at some point or another.

Fortunately, though, there are several ways to boost motivation and ensure progress even when the going gets tough.


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Reward Your Efforts


When you happen to find yourself at a point in your language learning experience where you simply do not feel motivated to put in the work, it’s a good idea to look for external motivators that can push you towards your goals.


Extrinsic motivation relies on rewards (physical items or psychological praise), which can be a helpful way of inspiring learning. 


A great illustration of how you can harness the power of external motivation on your language learning journey is to come up with an appealing prize that will help you find the focus you lack. 


For example, if you’re trying to learn Spanish, it might not be a bad idea to combine your language goals with your favorite hobby and plan a trip abroad. Perhaps you’d like to go kayaking with whales in Argentina, where you’d be forced to speak the local language? Or, if you’re studying Italian, you could search for and book a cheap flight to Rome. After all, there’s nothing better than travel to encourage you to use your language skills and expose you to precious communication opportunities with native speakers.


To get the most out of these rewards, remember that extrinsic motivation for learning behaviors is ideally used sparingly to prevent fatigue or loss of interest. And it garners the best results when it involves attainable long-term goals that require continual high-quality work. 


So make sure that you actually have to put in the work before you allow yourself to enjoy the prize.


Tackle an Exciting Challenge


Are you the type of person who finds motivation in committing to long-term objectives? If that’s the case, you might find that the best way to overcome your language learning plateau is to tackle an exciting challenge.


For example, if you know that your professional or educational goals could be made easier if you earned a B2 or C1 certificate, then it might not be a bad idea to start preparing for an exam, whether on your own or with the help of an experienced teacher.


Or, for something a bit more attainable and less future-oriented, you could set up a tracking system for your language learning progress.


A fascinating study from 2011 found that something as simple as putting together a task list helped people attain their goals through committing to them on paper. Moreover, it managed to free up cognitive resources that would otherwise be wasted on thinking about all of their unfinished tasks. 


With this in mind, it could be argued that something as easy as putting together a weekly study plan might help you get out of your funk (or prevent you from getting into one in the first place).


If the idea of crossing off tasks off of your language learning to-do list sounds like something you’d benefit from, check out Duolingo’s brief guide to using Notion for language learning.

Evaluate Your Learning Environment


Last but not least, as you look for ways to prevent or overcome a plateau in your language education experience, consider whether the environment in which you’re currently learning does enough to meet your needs.


For example, those who study primarily online might find themselves losing motivation due to a lack of social interaction


Or, if you’re trying to practice in a distracting setting, you might be stopping yourself from properly concentrating on absorbing knowledge. Nowadays, students also have to deal with prominent digital distractions, which are particularly intrusive and hard to get rid of.


Finally, if you’re studying from home, evaluate the environmental factors you could optimize for a successful studying experience. Research suggests that lighting, temperature, and air quality all play a role in helping us learn more productively. 


So why not look at ways to make your desk a more suitable space for language acquisition? Something as simple as adding a plant to your desk or changing your desk lamp lightbulb to one that emits a cool shade of white could make an impact on how efficiently you study. 


Plus, having a space you love spending time in could provide a boost in motivation for those days when you’re just not in the mood to spend your free time studying.

Final Thoughts


One of the most challenging things to accept about any learning journey (language learning in particular) is that it will never be a strictly linear process. Ups, downs, and plateaus are all inevitable.


However, that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with successful strategies to stay motivated – even when things seem really hard. 

What you have to do is find ways to motivate yourself – intrinsically or extrinsically. And, if you happen to find that the incentives that used to work for you don’t do their job anymore, don’t be alarmed. Instead, work to accept that we’re all constantly changing and that exploring new challenges, motivators, and routines is an integral part of becoming an expert. Not just in languages but any other skill out there.

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