10 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Learn a Language Eurolinguiste / Language Resources

It’s often said that daily study can do so much more for your language learning than those long, often inconsistent blocks of study can. But sometimes it’s tough to find that time to put aside each and every day to work on our target language.

And it’s not just finding the time.

Sometimes it’s about finding the motivation.

So what happens when we have a day where we just don’t feel like studying?

When You Aren’t Motivated to Learn a New Language

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve gone through phases where I’ve been completely and utterly unmotivated to study.

I love learning new languages, but sometimes I glance over at my course book and one hundred other things I’d rather do at that moment come to mind. The worst is when I am just flat out exhausted during the workweek and the last thing I want to do is turn on a language learning podcast. My audiobooks and music just seem so much more appealing.

We all go through phases where we’re unmotivated to put in the work. And that’s okay.

It may be because we’ve stopped seeing immediate improvement (boo plateaus). Or it might be because we’re overwhelmed with the more technical aspects of the language (boo grammar). Other times, it may even be because we’ve forgotten why we started to learn a new language in the first place (boo overwhelm).

Regardless of why we may lose our motivation to study language, there are a few things you can do to work through it.

Rediscover Your Language Learning Inspiration

Here are some helpful hints to help you find the inspiration:

1. Don’t put it off.

Stop procrastinating and force yourself to sit down and study. Sometimes the hardest part is just opening your book or queueing up your playlist. Once it’s in front of you, your headphones are on or your pen is in your hand, it’s easier to start.

2. Stop pretending inspiration comes from outside sources.

As much as we’d like to think that inspiration hits us like a bolt of lightning, that it comes from outside sources, we’re only fooling ourselves by thinking this way. Inspiration doesn’t come from anywhere beyond, but from hard and dedicated work.

I think that one of the reasons we feel that inspiration comes from outside sources is because we have a hard time defining it.

What is inspiration?

Inspiration is the feeling you get when you’ve done a good job or when you finally understand something that you were struggling with. And the only way you’re going to experience that is if you’re setting yourself up for it by putting in the time.

Inspiration only comes knocking at your door if you create the right situation for it. And the right situation is any time you spend with your learning materials.

3. Create an area for study.

Design a dedicated area for your language studies. Even if it’s a stack of books in the corner of your room, set up a specific area. That way, each time you see it, you are reminded to study. Or at least feel passing guilt when you ignore that space and the materials in it.

For me, one of these spaces is my car. I’ve cleared almost everything from my phone so that my only options are pretty much to listen to my language podcasts. I have to work really hard (like deactivate the bluetooth on my phone so it doesn’t autoplay or listen to talk radio which mostly annoys me) or do a lot of preparation (like loading other things onto my phone) to avoid doing language study when I’m in my car.

4. Create a routine.

By setting aside a specific time to study each day, learning quickly becomes as much of a habit as brushing your teeth and it will feel strange to miss it.

I have set language learning activities that I do every day and it feels really odd when I miss doing them. Almost like walking out the door after forgetting to put on your shoes.

5. Share your intentions.

Tell a parent, friend or peer that you plan on studying and ask them to help hold you accountable. Keep a journal and share it with a teacher, publish it to your blog, or take part in #clearthelist.

The great thing about the language learning community is that there are a lot of ways to keep yourself accountable. You can join groups on Facebook, participate in the IGLC by Lindsay Dow, or even share your videos on YouTube. In general, most of the community members are really positive and encouraging, so it’s a great place to start.

6. Be nice to yourself.

Worrying that you won’t see any improvement, stressing over a grammar point or a bit of pronunciation that you’re having difficulty with, or fearing that you fail will all set you up to avoid studying. Don’t wait for perfection – that’s what learning is for!

7. Have fun with it and find ways to incorporate the things that interest you.

Language learning isn’t all work and no play. There are several ways that you can make the process more enjoyable and still learn.

And sometimes having a little fun is good for your progress! Forcing yourself to work on things that don’t interest you is a quick way to burnout.

Some of the ways that I make language learning fun (these are personal to me and you may enjoy completely different things):

– I play my favorite video games in Mandarin Chinese.
– I read my favorite books over again in Spanish and French (that way it’s different than the first time I read them).
– I watch tv shows and movies in my target languages.
– I discover new music and artists I enjoy who perform in the languages that I’m learning.
– I meet new people and make new friends.

8. Don’t allow yourself to make excuses.

We all have the tendency to make excuses to avoid doing things we may find unpleasant. And sometimes language study falls into that box (but obviously not all the time otherwise you wouldn’t be here!).

Don’t permit yourself to keep making excuses and just do it. 

9. Try to remember how exciting it was when you first started.

Do you remember the first time you were able to understand something you overheard in your target language? Or the first time you held a conversation? Or even deciphered something you read?

Try to hang on to that enthusiasm. This is why I really advise keeping a study journal. In it, you can write down all the exciting moments you have and look back on them to remind yourself of why you’re doing this. Keep that list near your study area, and when you start to get frustrated, read it!

10. Give yourself something to work towards.

Create a list of goals that you want to work towards to help you keep a clear picture of what you aim to accomplish.

It may be that you want to order a coffee at a café, read your favorite manga, watch movies without subtitles or get around on an upcoming trip. Regardless what your goals may be, write them down and plan out the steps you need to take towards achieving them.

Sometimes You Just Need to Take a Step Back from Language Learning

When none of the above are working for you, you might just need to take a step back and re-evaluate or even take a short break.

Breaks are great when they’re short. They give your brain time to process all that new stuff you’ve crammed into it. Just make sure they’re short or you may have a hard time resuming your momentum.

What about you?

What do you do to motivate yourself to study languages?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Tips for Language Learning | Eurolinguiste



I'm a language lover, traveler and musician sharing my adventures and language learning tips over at Eurolinguiste. Join me on Facebook for daily language learning and travel tips!

  • Great tips Shannon! I’d add two minor points also that helped me loads:

    1) In connection to: 1. Don’t put it off.

    Sometimes, as you say, the challenge is getting started. I find it easier to get started if my goal is something tiny or ridiculous that there is almost no way I won’t do. Like “read one page” or “Do 5 flashcards” once I’m doing that I almost always continue for longer.

    2) Measuring is so important. Scientifically you get biologically rewarded for completing steps towards your goals, not just the goal itself. I.e if your goal was to read a book of 300 pages, ticking off that you did 5 pages that day will give you a nice boost in satisfaction and supply your brain with a load of happy drugs like endorphines. The old saying; What gets measured gets done is very good also I think.

    • On both counts you are just so right Kris! Thanks for adding your thoughts on this. I always appreciate it.

      I actually use an app called askmeevery to do this. It sends me an email (or several) each day asking me things like

      *Did you read 5 pages of your foreign language book?
      *Did you buy anything you didn’t need?
      *Did you practice your instrument?

      I find that maintaining my streak keeps me motivated.

      And I use the Memrise streaks to keep me active with vocab study. I get really bummed when I miss a day (although there’s some syncing issue with the app and so it sometimes deletes my streak even when I did do the work) 🙁

  • You’re right, small successes are a huge motivator. Thanks for chiming in Юлія!