Every so often as language learners, we face something incredibly dangerous to our progress.
Studying is one of the most important things you can do. At least, that’s what everyone tells us.
But truthfully, studying can be pretty frustrating at times. And more often than we’d like to admit, it’s the last thing we want to do.
There’s hours of grammar exercises, endless lessons or language exchanges that don’t always go so well, and vocabulary memorization exercises that quite literally seem to slow the clock down.
But somehow, successful language learners seem to find ways to get through their studies and if you’re serious about learning a new language, then it’s something you’ll need to learn to do, too.
So what is the secret?
How to Avoid Burnout When Studying a Language
Set Personal Goals
Let’s forget S.M.A.R.T. goals for just one second and take a look at just doing something for you. We’ll call them ‘personal goals’ for now.
In this context, your personal goals are what motivate you to keep learning. They’re what really keep you going. The big picture, that ‘one day’ thing that you’re aiming for, no matter how far out of reach it may seem. They’re the things you really want whether or not they have a timeline or are measurable.
‘Personal goals’ are the goals that inspire you and drive you. And they don’t have to be as planned out as your shorter term goals. They can be two different things and they can serve two different functions.
You will still need to come up with measurable goals (or else you might not feel like you’re getting anywhere), but it’s totally okay to have personal reasons to want to learn languages that may not be quantifiable. Especially if they make you love learning your language.
So if you feel you’re heading towards burnout, spend some time thinking about what your goals are beyond learning 20 new words per week, completing two chapters in your grammar book, or getting 300 points on Duolingo.
Successful language learning is all about putting the time in each and every day.
You need that dedicated time with the language that you’re learning to make progress, even if it’s only five to ten minutes per day.
It’s all about putting in regular, consistent, and focused time into learning your language.
That consistent time quickly becomes a habit and it’s harder to burnout when something is habit because it’s just something that you do. Have you ever burned out on brushing your teeth, combing your hair or washing your face? Probably not.
Granted, things like brushing your teeth and learning a language aren’t really an even comparison. One has a much steeper learning curve than the other, but the slope doesn’t feel so steep when you’re working at it in small steps no matter how high the climb takes you.
Apply Language Learning to the Activities You Already Enjoy
Boredom is one of the quickest ways to burnout in language learning. If you aren’t loving the materials or methods that you’re using, you’re sure to stop studying.
So rather than force yourself to sit through grammar drills or vocabulary exercises, try to find ways to incorporate languages in your life through the activities you enjoy.
For me there are three things that I love doing (aside from learning languages), so I’ve switched all three of them into my target languages. They’re reading (I do this in French and Spanish and occasionally Chinese), playing Nintendo (I do this in Chinese and French), and music (I listen to music in every language I’m learning).
This doesn’t mean that I don’t need to do grammar exercises, it just means that I give myself more balance in my language learning so that I don’t get overwhelmed with the parts that I don’t enjoy.
Impatience is another way language learners end up burning out.
I know I’m guilty of this. You want to learn fast so you end up cramming. Studying every spare moment, trying to stuff as much information into your brain as possible.
But instead of remembering what you’ve learnt, you end remembering little, if anything, and you end up burning out.
What was all the work you had been doing for?
It’s okay to have a ten hour study session every so often (if that’s your thing), but doing it on a regular basis is neither beneficial to your learning nor very healthy.
So learn in moderation.
What If You’ve Already Hit Burnout?
Sometimes it might feel like it’s too late. You’ve already hit that critical point where it seems like enough is enough.
But don’t worry.
You can recover from language learning burnout.
Here are just a few ways you can rekindle your motivation for learning a language.
Take a break.
Studying your target language each and every day is a good strategy, but if you’re feeling unmotivated or burnout, you’re not learning as effectively as you would be if you came back to it with renewed energy.
Sometimes breaks are okay. You shouldn’t feel guilty for taking them if you need to.
Especially if it keeps you from quitting the language altogether.
Just make sure the break doesn’t become permanent.
Change things up.
Perhaps the learning methods or resources you’re using aren’t right for you. Try implementing something new or completely different into your strategy as a way of not only refreshing what you’re doing (and thus making it less boring), but to also explore if there might be something out there that works better for you.
If you normally work with a grammar book you can make a small change like using a different grammar book, or make a big change and switch to audio based resources. If you normally work with apps, try switching to more traditional materials like a course book. Or if you normally use YouTube video lessons, you could try switching to native source material like vloggers who share videos in your target language or tv series.
Remind Yourself Why You’re Doing This
It’s easy to burnout when you get lost in the day-to-day process and forget to step back and look at the big picture to remind yourself why you’re learning a language.
There’s an expression that goes ‘you can’t see the forest for the trees’ and it means that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the details and forget about the broader view.
This is why I highly advise keeping a learning notebook or journal. That way you can look back to see how far you’ve come and also remind yourself of why you started in the first place. It’s a great motivator.
So what about you?
Have you ever experienced burnout when learning a language? How did you find the motivation to keep going?
I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.
16 Oct 2017 - Language Resources