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25 Tips for Procrastinators: How to Stay Motivated to Learn a Language

by Michele
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Motivation to learn a language - 25 tips for procrastinators
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Want to learn a language but feel stuck?  From goal setting to resources, vision boards to celebrating each success, here are 25 ways to get motivated to learn a language.

Many factors are at play when you are learning a foreign language, motivation being one of the most important. ‘Where there is a will there’s a way’ is not just a saying – it is a fact! When you’re deeply motivated to learn a foreign language, you not only have more fun learning, you also learn faster and more effectively. 

However, no matter how motivated you are, it is next to impossible to maintain the same level of motivation 24/7. You can get tired, swamped with work and chores, or you’re not in the mood and just procrastinate. On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with taking a break: procrastinating is something we humans have mastered. On the other, regular procrastination and struggles with motivation can slow down your progress with language learning quite a bit.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at why procrastination happens and then explore some of the best ways you can avoid procrastinating and/or fight it. 

Motivation to learn a language - To have another language is to possess a second soul - Charlemagne

Why do we procrastinate?

Procrastination is natural and a bit of it here and there won’t hurt you. However, if you procrastinate on a regular basis instead of actively learning and practising your target language, it is time to take action! But first, let’s take a look at some of the reasons you might be procrastinating:

  • Too many distractions / wrong environment 
  • Unclear goals 
  • No sense of achievement 
  • Previous failures 
  • Fatigue, stress
  • Lack of support 
  • Perfectionism 
  • Fear of failure 
  • Knowing the task is hard to do 
  • Other priorities 
  • Lack of motivation 

Sometimes a few of these things come together and have a huge compound effect. But don’t worry, I’ve gathered 25 great tips for you that will help you deal with procrastination so you can stay motivated when learning a foreign language. 

Here are 25 ways to overcome procrastination in language learning

1. Identify and limit distractions 

Life can be pretty distracting, especially when we have access to the Internet from a smartphone that is pretty much glued to our hands –  getting distracted has never been easier. There’s always a new show to watch , an errand to run, a notification to check… Even ‘useful’ things like washing the dishes can become a distraction if you choose to do them instead of learning. 

Take a look around. Try to understand what things distract you the most and limit them. Try switching off mobile notifications or put away the phone, make a plan to watch that show or movie later (unless you’re using Netflix or Disney+ to learn your target language), or delegate some of the chores, etc. If possible, find space to study. It could be on your bedroom floor, outside in the garden, or at your desk. You can even leave your home to study in a park, at the local library or in a cafe. The fewer distractions there are, the easier it will be for you to concentrate on learning.

Related:  22 Genius Tips for Language Learning with Netflix [The Only Guide You Need]

2. Focus on what you’ve already learned

When you don’t feel like you are making any progress it is easy to be demotivated. In this case, looking back at what you have already achieved can help a lot. 

Take a look at the textbooks or levels in a language learning app you have already covered. Look through some of your old notebooks and the exercises you’ve written. Leaf through the texts you’ve read in your target language. You will see how much you have covered and how easy the earlier materials seem. 

Then, sit down with a sheet of paper or a note-taking app and write a text in your target language on whatever topic you wish. Firstly, this will help you see how much you already know. And secondly, it will be something for your future self to look back on when you hit another roadblock on your journey to fluency.

3. Reward yourself and celebrate every success

Sometimes just knowing that you are making progress is not enough. To help yourself stay motivated, why not reward yourself for the progress made? 

It is important to celebrate small successes as well as big ones. Taking a big trip after passing an important language exam is certainly motivating, but even small things like getting a cup of good coffee from your favourite cafe after a successful learning lesson can also be a great motivator. 

Motivation to learn a language - A different language is a different vision of life - Federico Fellini4. Remember why you started in the first place

Sometimes, in the routine of learning, working, and just living, we can lose sight of our original motivation. Why did you start learning your target language in the first place? Reconnecting with this original reason for learning the language can help you re-discover your motivation and get back on track. Did you start because your family has roots in the language? Is your partner a native speaker? Do you have a trip coming up and you want to be travel fluent?

Think back to when you started learning your target language. What made you want to learn it? What motivated you to start? 

5. Set challenging but achievable goals

If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll go nowhere fast. This is true for language learning as well. If you don’t know what you want to achieve, your progress will be slow and inconsistent, and harder for you to stay motivated. 

Big goals like achieving a new level are just as important as smaller ones like completing a 45-minute lesson on italki or finishing a chapter in a book. Make sure that the goals are challenging and interesting. But most importantly, they should be realistic. Avoid setting goals like learning all pronunciation rules in 1 hour or even 1 day, or say you’ll speak fluently after only a month of learning. Setting unrealistic goals will only set you up for failure and demotivate you. Be kind to yourself. Language learning is a journey, not a destination. I’m still learning new words in English every day!

To supplement my own language learning I personally use italki multiple times every week. This is where I get 1-to-1 support and speaking practice with a qualified teacher or community tutor. You can read my full italki review here and book your first italki lesson here.

6. Be disciplined, but flexible

Our brains need lots of regular practice to remember things and learn successfully. Creating and following your own personalised language learning routine will not only help you to stay disciplined but it will make studying regularly progressively easier. It will become a habit you won’t even think twice about – just like how you brush your teeth every night before going to bed, you don’t even think about it. When something is part of your routine, it requires less ‘mental’ effort to go and do it. 

However, it is also important to cut yourself some slack every now and then. There might be days when you can’t study for whatever reason. Don’t beat yourself up when this happens. Factor in what you’ve missed in your future sessions, if possible, and then jump back into your regular learning routine. 

7. Develop your motivations 

You can, of course, have more than one reason or key motivator for learning a foreign language, and adding more can help you learn even more efficiently.

For instance, you may be learning a language for work. But think of all the other opportunities it gives you: better and more authentic travel experiences, access to information, opportunities to make new friends around the world… The more reasons you have for learning your target language the better! 

8. Mix up your language learning resources and materials

Learning from one resource or even one type of resource can not only get boring – it can be bad for your learning. Many resources focus on just one aspect of a language and don’t help you practice anything else. For example, some language learning apps only focus on vocabulary, not grammar. Some include speaking practise, others don’t.

The lesson here is to use materials that expose you to all aspects of the language, including – grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing, listening, and speaking. This will ensure you’re getting the most out of each study session.

Related: 44 Best Movies on Disney Plus for Learning Languages

9. Try something new 

Even when using a large variety of materials, you can get stuck in a rut by using the same things repeatedly. Sometimes, the best way to get ‘unstuck’ is to try something completely new. When was the last time you mixed things up and used a completely different resource than what you’re used to?

Learning by yourself? Try individual or group lessons with a teacher. Never listened to a language podcast? Give one a try! (My personal favourite is Coffee Break languages)

Different resources present the language in different ways. So, while you break the monotony of using the same old materials, you can also discover some hidden linguistic gems along the way. 

10. Get inspired by someone 

Give your motivation a boost and get inspired! The internet is full of blogs and communities created by passionate language learners and polyglots where they share their experiences, tips, and life hacks. In fact, I even interviewed some of them who shared the secrets behind their language learning success. Let these inspiring learners motivate you and show you what can be achieved with a little patience, passion, and perseverance. 

Related: 42 Awesome Inspirational Quotes for Language Learners

11. Eat well and get some rest

Did you know that lacking of motivation could be the result of a lack of sleep or proper nutrition? Your brain needs food and rest to process new information, and your body needs energy too! 

If you are feeling particularly tired, take a break from learning. Look after yourself by eating well, exercising daily and getting proper rest. After all, it’s when we sleep that our brains commit to our memory what we learn.

12. Get outside and get moving 

Being cooped up in your apartment or hunching over your laptop for hours on end is not good for your body – and it is not good for your learning either. You can experience a kind of cabin fever, get bored, or distracted.

Research shows that exercise is good for your memory. Going for a walk or doing a home workout can help you release excess energy, give you an endorphin rush and improve your concentration. It is also a great way to switch things up and take your mind off things – and come back to your learning with a fresh perspective.

13. Integrate your target language into your life 

No matter how great your language teacher is or your resources are, at times, learning can feel like a chore. You still need to practice the language regularly – ideally, every day. A solution to this problem is to look for ways to seamlessly integrate language learning into your daily life. This way, even if you have to skip a learning session, you’ll still be practising the language during other parts of your day. If you do it right, it won’t feel like learning either, which can be a nice change too!

Think of the things you do during the day and the content you consume – can you do any of it in your target language? For instance, you can switch the language of your smartphone, find artists who sing in your target language, find recipes and make them, and watch movies and TV shows in that language on platforms like Netflix and Disney+.

14. Set yourself a deadline

If you are struggling to stay motivated, but perform best when given a deadline, then why not set yourself a deadline. If you think of the old adage that ‘work expands to fill the time allotted‘, also known as Parkinson’s Law, giving yourself a timeframe or deadline to reach a specific (and realistic) goal, could be just what you need. Then once you achieve it, you can set a new goal.

Studying for a language level exam, for instance, can be one such deadline. Apart from the concrete timeframe, such exams usually have guidelines for the levels of proficiency you are expected to have – you can use them as landmarks for your learning path. 

If you’re not keen on exams, you can find a language learning event in your area (or online) and prepare to attend it. But remember to keep your goals realistic and leave yourself sufficient time to get ready, depending on the event and your language level. 

15. Make peace with making mistakes

It may seem a little counter-intuitive, but when you learn a foreign language, mistakes are your friends. Truth is, we need to make mistakes in order to learn. 

Adult learners are generally afraid of making mistakes for fear of sounding silly, or that someone will judge or laugh at them. They prefer to say less or say nothing at all. Children don’t have this fear, which is probably why people mistakenly think that children are better learners. The fear of making mistakes can lead to holding back and procrastination. Moreover, if you have an idea how you might say something but never actually say it, you’ll never know if it was right or wrong in the first place – which, again, slows down your improvement. 

Changing your mindset isn’t easy, but once you accept that making mistakes is part of the learning process, that’s a big step in the right direction

16. Have fun learning 

Learning a foreign language shouldn’t feel like a chore. If it does, then you’re doing something wrong. Having fun is not just about having a good time, it has been proven that when we enjoy what we learn we not only procrastinate less but also retain information easier and longer. 

With that in mind, identify your learner type then seek out language learning resources that work for you and that you enjoy using. Nowadays, there are hundreds to thousands of resources available for many different languages, so if you know what you like, you’re bound to find something you enjoy.

17. Make your target language a part of your identity 

This is another tip that involves working on your mindset. While challenging, it is also hugely beneficial. One of the things you can do to boost your motivation is to make learning your target language a part of your identity. This means you reframe the way you see language learning. You switch it from being something you have to do, to something you just do. You do it because you love it; because it’s part of who you are.

Making your target language part of your identity can be partly achieved through adopting the tips on this list, such as finding stimulating resources, integrating the language into your life, speaking the language regularly. However, it also involves adjusting your attitude. 

If you find yourself thinking of language learning as a chore and something you have to do – aim to change this mindset. If you experience language learning to be something you enjoy doing, just like any of your other interests, doing it will be much easier and you will procrastinate less.

18. Fight negative thoughts and build a positive mindset 

Language learning is not for me’, ‘I’m not good at this’, ‘I am too old/tired/busy/etc’… Have you ever said these things to yourself? While it is natural to get discouraged once in a while, if these thoughts persist, they can be quite damaging to your language learning. They can not only discourage and demotivate you but completely derail you from your long-term goals. What’s more, the more you live in these negative thoughts – the more true they become. 

Instead of having negative thoughts and concentrating on the bad stuff. Drown out these thoughts and focus on the positive. What are good at? Do you ace the future tense every time? Do you have excellent spelling skills? No matter how small, focus on the things you’re good at and enjoy doing. Positive thoughts can be so much more powerful in language learning!

19. Find a supportive community

Psychologically, doing things all alone can be challenging. Sometimes we just need someone to tell us that we are doing great, or someone to share the experience with. But it’s not always possible to find people learning the same language among your friends or even in the area where you live. 

Fortunately, the internet has made it easier to find like-minded people all over the world to connect with. From Facebook groups to language learning apps with message boards, language learning blogs to forums, there is more than one community out there that you’ll feel right at home in. You just need to go find it!

No matter what language you are learning you don’t have to do it alone. Find someone or a community to share your experience with and your motivation will improve as a result.

20. Start speaking the language from day one

Be it for work, school, or travel, most of us are learning a foreign language to communicate with people. At the same time, many language students lack speaking skills and find it one of the most daunting things to practice. This alone can lead to procrastination which leads to a lack of practice, then before you know it you’re stuck in a vicious circle.

To break out of this rut, start speaking your target language as soon as you start learning. No matter what level you are at, say what you know. Even if it’s just a few phrases – say them out loud to yourself, or start using them in conversations. Find ways to practice every day. You may start small, but the more you do it the better your skills will get, the more you’ll enjoy it, and the less likely you’ll be to procrastinate. 

Motivation to learn a language - It is astonishing how much enjoyment one can get out of a language that one understands imperfectly - Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve21. Find media not available in your native language

On one hand, watching your favourite TV show dubbed in your target language is a great way to learn. On the other, you may still be tempted to turn on subtitles – or even switch the voiceover to your native language. 

To avoid this, look for media that isn’t available in your native language. It can be a TV show that is only available in your target language, a podcast or a YouTube channel without subtitles, blogs, magazines, social media feeds. 

It will help you avoid the temptation of using your native language, find new exciting content – and new exciting ways to practice your target language, and give you a motivation boost that will stop your procrastinating. 

22. Pay attention to what’s working and what’s not 

We are all different with different learning styles and have different approaches to language learning. It’s also true that even ‘great’ resources won’t necessarily work for you. It doesn’t make them bad (or you a failure) – they just aren’t a good match for your needs and learning style. 

With so many language resources and techniques are out there, it’s important not to keep using or doing something that doesn’t resonate with you. Even if it’s the latest trend. Be honest with yourself and analyze your own learning: what works and what doesn’t, what topics do you enjoy learning about, what medium do you prefer, what brings your better results. 

And remember, there’s no shame in dropping a resource, tool or method if it’s not serving you. When you use more suitable resources, you will be more motivated, learn more successfully, and have more fun. 

23. Visualize your success

Practising visualization techniques is a popular and effective way to help you reach success in any area of your life, including language learning. By visualizing your desired outcome, it boosts your internal motivation which helps you take the necessary actions to achieve your dreams.

Imagine what your life will look like when you have achieved fluency in your target language. How has it enhanced your day to day life? Do you have a job in languages? How have your travels improved? What new friends or connections have you made?

Just imagining your future success can be a powerful motivation boost. You can even go a step further and create a vision board, either physical or virtual. Fill it with inspirational quotes in your target language, places you will travel to, images related to the culture(s) of your target language – anything that you associate with your success in learning the language. 

Look at this vision board often to remind yourself of your language learning goals and stay motivated and excited about reaching them.

24. Acknowledge the difficulties and don’t blame yourself 

Language learning can be tough. You might come across a particularly challenging topic, like the Russian case system and just don’t feel like tackling it on any given day. The important thing is to remember that it is okay to feel this way. Blaming yourself would only lead you to a stream of negative thoughts that are detrimental to your learning. When facing any sort of obstacle, either personal or language-related, acknowledge it, accept it, then make a plan for dealing with it if you can. Reach out to friends, partner or a member of the language community – and continue learning and practising regularly. 

Motivation to learn a language - Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery - Amy Chua25. Focus on the process, not the result 

Whatever your language learning goals are, obsessing over the results is actually quite detrimental. A perfect score in a language app, an exercise completed flawlessly, the highest exam score in your group – these things sound great, but if they are all you think about, it can affect your learning.

If you focus too much on the results, your learning becomes mechanical, aimed at just one thing. You do not think deeply of what you have learned and don’t retain it as well. Moreover, the constant rush to get another perfect score is exhausting and ultimately demotivating. What happens if you get one, two, or five questions wrong on the test? What if you take too long to answer a question on a Duolingo challenge? It’s risky business putting all your hopes in one basket.

Focus on the process instead: focus on what you are learning and enjoy it and savour the moments when you speak the language. Using the language successfully and enjoying it is more important than a perfect score. And if you focus on the process, good results will come naturally.

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Motivation to learn a language - 25 tips for procrastinators

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Over to you!

How do you stay motivated to learn languages? What is your favourite tip in this list?
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