2016 has been a bit of a crazy year for most the world – most of it not especially thrilling. Sure, some cool stuff has happened, but mostly it’s just one horrible event after another. Events that probably don’t bear repeating.
And I’m not trying to make things even worse, but you’ve probably been slacking on your New Year’s language resolutions as well, haven’t you…
The year is more than half over now and I’m not half as far as I had hoped I’d be on my German project. Progress has been made – I mean I live here, how could it not – but it isn’t what I’d have liked it to be back in January.
If you’ve slipped behind like I have – and I know that many of you probably have – what can we do to pull ourselves out of the rut and get our 2016 goals back on track?
1. Take inventory
If your progress has stalled, the number one reason – at least in my experience – is a lack of motivation.
Maybe life has got you down. Maybe your dog died. Maybe you’ve had more on your plate at work or with family and found yourself with less time for language learning.
Or, maybe like me you’ve moved to another country, become embroiled in [German] bureaucracy, [kill me now] and then switched apartments, all in the space of a few rapidly evaporating months.
But regardless of why everything has gone to Hell, the first thing to do is to sit down and make a list – it can be a mental list if you prefer – of all of the successes you’ve had with your goals so far.
It may only be one or two things, but it doesn’t matter. Remember the good things that you’ve accomplished and establish a base for yourself from which you can move on to step two…
2. Re-evaluate your goals
A while back I wrote an article about establishing and maintaining your language learning goals. You should skim through it really quickly if you haven’t read it already.
In that article I mention that failing to reach your goals can happen sometimes and that you can’t let it get you down too much. When this happens – and for most of us, we really do overestimate our capabilities and don’t plan for unforeseen circumstances – we need to sit back, relax and adjust.
What is it that’s giving you the most trouble? Will reducing your workload make things easier?
Maybe you should consider simply taking some time off from your project entirely. Sometimes when I do this I come back with a renewed sense of purpose and my brain seems to feel like it’s performing at a higher caliber. Try taking a week or two, then coming back and hitting the books with renewed force.
If you’re finding yourself bogged down with unanticipated bullshit it’s okay to admit it and cut your language learning regimen back a little bit. You can’t see this as a failure. Failure isn’t a thing as long as any progress is made.
3. Make new goals
When I started studying French back in 2015, my resolution that year was to tackle the relatively meager – or so I thought – goal of learning 100 new words upwards and downwards, inside and out, each month.
It started out as a simple enough task – and I intended it to be simple. It wasn’t something I wanted to kill myself on and I had to spend a lot of my time doing other things. Could I have made more time for it and made my goal steeper? Sure, but I didn’t want to.
By June it was becoming readily apparent that 100 words per month – while seemingly easy – wasn’t going to be as simple as I had hoped. The difficulty really begins to compound itself. I started to struggle to maintain what I had learned – and worse, to maintain interest.
And as always things come up. By October of 2015 I knew that I would be moving to Germany – not France or Belgium or any other French speaking country – Germany.
My goal had to be more or less thrown away and completely replaced, immediately.
I knew very little of the German language at the time. I hadn’t had an awful lot of interest in learning it right away and I was a bit bogged down with my French project and maintaining my limited Russian and Spanish.
Setting goals isn’t an especially hard process, but doing it right will make you more likely to succeed.
You can read a lot more about the details of SMART goal setting in the same article I linked before but the tl;dr is that the key, for me at least, is to make lots of smaller, easily achievable goals, instead of focusing on long term goals with which progress will appear smaller.
Basically, you’re tricking yourself into being satisfied with your progress. This keeps the motivation up and eventually adds up to you reaching a bigger goal.
I resolved to set a series of goals that consisted of completing Memrise courses. I started out with a basic A1 level course with maybe 200-300 words, and at a relatively relaxed pace completed it without too much hassle. Having achieved the super elementary vocabulary and the most basic of the basics of German grammar I started focusing on a series of smaller courses dedicated to individual subjects.
I’d start and finish a course on body parts, a course on emergency situations and a course on numbers and so on and so forth. Of course I was using other resources as well, but this was the series of goals that I laid out for myself.
These small goals took me maybe 1-3 weeks to complete and left me feeling a relatively solid sense of satisfaction due to the short term nature of my mini-projects.
By March, when I relocated to Hamburg, my German still wasn’t great – language learning takes a long time – but I felt sincerely motivated – not only by the fact that it was a live or die situation – but also because I was inspired by my very visible accomplishments.
I could look back at a list of completed courses with satisfaction, knowing that I knew that content and that while I had a long road ahead of me (and still do) I would be able to continue making goals like these and continue chipping away – successfully – until my progress is highly tangible.
My point here is that yes – I failed my 2015 goal. Or rather, I changed it to meet sudden and unexpected circumstances.
There’s nothing wrong with deciding that your goal is no longer working or that you need to reduce, alter or otherwise revise your strategies.
Perhaps you can even break your existing goal down into even smaller bite-sized pieces.
Find something easier or more suited to your needs or maybe just forget about it entirely and do something else, like I did.Don't dwell on dead end language learning goals. Let them go and start anew. Click To Tweet
4. Rekindle your motivation
Why did you begin learning that language in the first place? Is it for family reasons, travel, school, work or perhaps just because you love languages and thought it’d be super cool to speak Swahili?
Write down as many reasons as you can think of that inspired you to study this language in the first place. If you can, think of even more reasons why this is a really good idea.
If you did this when you first started learning – which I recommend doing before you begin learning a new language – now is the time to break out that list that you pinned to the wall over your desk.
This is what it was made for. This is what you’ve been prepping for all along.
Hopefully doing so will remind you of why this is important to you.
If it doesn’t help, we’re not out of solutions just yet!
5. Maybe you’re just doing it wrong
Another one of the steps that I recommended at the very beginning of your language odyssey – and it really is an odyssey – was to take stock of how you find that you learn best.
Are you a note taker, an auditory learner, do you perform well at home at your desk, under a tree in the park, while hanging upside down from a set of monkey bars…
Once you’ve established that, perhaps it’s time to consider mixing it up a bit.
Check out some new language learning tools. Maybe the ones you’re using just aren’t cutting the cake anymore. Maybe they’ve become boring, stale or you’re realizing now that they just never really worked out the way you had hoped.
There are so many other resources out there waiting to be discovered by you. Resources I haven’t even begun to cover on this site yet.
If you’re looking for a few ideas, you can check out these articles for some new possible solutions to your problem.
Try to mix things up. Give yourself a chance to further diversify your language learning regimen. Use more tools to give yourself some variation and prevent the onset of repetition induced boredom.
If you let yourself become too bored it’s all over – so we can’t let that happen.
6. Maybe you just need a kick in the ass
I’m not a proponent of negative reinforcement. Most teachers the world over will tell you that positive reinforcement trumps negative 9 times out of 10. (Fabricated statistic for the sake of argument, but you get the idea).
However, this doesn’t mean that you get a free pass to just not do anything. That’s not how it works.
It’s called a New Year’s resolution, not a New Year’s pretty good idea I might try.
If you’re serious about this you should start treating it the way it’s supposed to be treated and get your ass in gear. Otherwise, stop calling it a resolution because you’re not being very resolute about it.
Sometimes that’s all we need – a swift kick in the pants. Remind ourselves that we need to wake up and get the job done.
Don’t punish yourself too harshly for your failure to do so thus far – indeed don’t think of it as a failure, think of it instead as unnecessary procrastination that you’re going to stop doing now.
Tragically, according to a study at the University of Scranton, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions are actually successful in reaching those goals by the end of the year. Likewise, roughly 40% of Americans make resolutions each year.
That’s kind of sad and seems to indicate a serious lack of conviction on the part of, well, pretty much everyone. Myself included.
Just writing this is reminding me of my own procrastination and motivating me to spend more time studying and less time sitting around doing nothing. I now live in a nearly total immersion environment – though we usually speak English or occasionally Spanish at home – and I should be taking full advantage of that.
So maybe we just need to remind ourselves every so often to get up and just get back to work!
Over half of 2016 is gone, and what a ridiculous year it has been. The weirdness isn’t about to get any less weird any time soon but instead of thinking of the year as half over, why not think of it as an opportunity?
5 months is a long time and you can make an awful lot of time for language practice in that period. You don’t have to become a statistic in a Forbes article. You can change things – there’s still lots of time.
So how about it? What were your goals for this year. Are you on track? Are you stagnating? What seems to be the problem?
Leave a comment with your answers!
Languages Around the Globe will always be free. There are expenses with keeping a website up and running and devoting time and energy to provide you with more, high quality content. LATG is supported by Patreon. Click below to become a patron and earn some cool stuff for your generosity. We’re currently working to make the website advertisement free for your convenience!