The winds of change seem to blow more intensely as we approach the new year. With our hopes raised, we prepare to leave the past year behind to focus on the plans and possibilities of the next 365 days. And, as more people realize the benefits of multilingualism, learning a new language has become a much more mainstream New Year’s resolution. However, no matter how good our intentions, many of us give up shortly after starting, due to unrealistic expectations, demotivation or lack of time — but it doesn’t have to be like that!
Do you want to learn a new language in 2018? Have you made this resolution before, only to give up on it? That’s totally normal. Sticking to your objective can certainly be difficult at times, but it will be much easier if you make your next language-learning resolution with the following 7 tricks up your sleeve.
1. Take it easy (but still take it!)
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, we have the tendency to go a bit crazy. We want to accomplish everything we haven’t yet managed to do in life in the first weeks of January. To make up for lost time you might decide to buy several books and block the rest of the winter for non-stop learning. Oh, c’mon! Are you really going to put your entire life on hold just to learn a language?
The opposite behavior is even more dangerous: “I’ll start tomorrow” or “next Monday” or “next year.” And then the New Year comes and goes and, hungover from the festivities, you decide to postpone it again. “Why not the first Monday of the New Year?” you might catch yourself thinking.
Thankfully, there is a sane path between these two extremes.
According to the language learning specialists at Babbel, it’s better to develop a study routine with at least one 15-20 minute session every day. Keep this going steadily throughout the year and you’ll be fulfilling your resolution without breaking a sweat.
Regularity is the key to success! Besides learning something new every day, dividing the learning into small sessions gives your brain a chance to process and retain everything better than if you do 5-hour cramming sessions at irregular intervals.
2. Don’t forget why you’ve made the resolution
Sustaining your motivation is crucial to actually sticking with your resolution. So, to keep your enthusiasm up, don’t lose sight of why you chose that as a resolution. If it’s still a little hazy, we can help you!
There’s no shortage of good reasons to learn a language:
- It’s good for your brain. So good that, according to several studies, it can prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s in addition to improving your memory!
- It can give you a career boost or help you get that dream job.
- It makes you an expert traveler: save money where tourists would get ripped off, and discover hidden gems you can only find by speaking like the locals.
3. Don’t give up when it gets tough
Let’s get something straight: learning a new language is not like playing a video game. Unless you’re a language genius, becoming fluent will require a good deal of effort and planning. If you’re starting from scratch, you can certainly expect some challenges along the way.
For example, “How can I learn to conjugate a verb if I still barely know the pronouns?” or, “How can I practice speaking when I’m too scared to say the wrong thing?”
Lack of vocabulary and feeling intimidated are common difficulties that language learners sometimes stress about. But these are not insurmountable obstacles, just bumps in the road. So don’t give up! Noticing an obstacle is a sign that you’re making progress.
Don’t believe me? The next time you feel stuck with your new language, look back at the previous month and count the things you know now that you didn’t then. Did those things seem hard when you first encountered them? Right, but they aren’t so hard anymore, are they? So give yourself credit for the progress you’ve made, and don’t beat yourself up when you don’t understand new material right away.
4. Manage your expectations to avoid disappointments
The best way to completely avoid disappointment is by having no expectations at all. But if you’ve made a resolution to learn a language, you obviously expect to get somewhere, right? Sure, but let’s be realistic here.
Expecting to be fluent after learning for a week is simply absurd. So don’t pressure yourself to achieve the impossible (unless you want to be disappointed).
But what about being able to order a meal in a restaurant after learning daily, diligently, for about 3 weeks? Well, that is actually quite possible. Our colleagues at Babbel managed to start speaking Spanish after learning it for less than a month. And they’re normal people like you, so those are results you can expect for yourself.
5. Set some time aside for it, but be realistic
I think most people know the problem with to-do-lists: they might tell you what you have to do, but if you don’t plan when you’re supposed to do them, nothing on the list will get checked.
Is learning a new language in 2018 just one of your resolutions, along with learning to code, going to the gym and binge watching the new seasons of your 27 favorite Netflix series? Well, you’ll have to prioritize.
The good news is, as we already gave away in tip #1: It’s totally fine if you have only 20 minutes per day to dedicate to learning a new language. As long as it is 20 minutes every day (which, by the way, is less time than it takes to watch one TV sitcom).
6. Learn what you’ll use… and use it!
If you want to be able to introduce yourself and order a meal, it makes no sense to learn how to pronounce tongue twisters. So, if you want to be able to start speaking the language right away, learn to say things that you will actually use in real-life situations.
Start with basic words and simple phrases that are used in daily conversations, then learn to talk about the things that interest you (movies, food, anything!).
And then, use what you’ve learned! If you don’t use your new language (either by reading, listening or having conversations), it’ll never stick, and you’ll never get the sense of accomplishment that comes from using what you’ve learned in your life. Overcome that fear of making mistakes and you’ll see how pleasant it is to be understood in another language, even if it’s only about basic things in the beginning.
7. Use tools to help you
There are several tools to help you learn a new language and they will be more or less effective according to the learning style that suits your needs. During the Scandinavian Challenge at Babbel, my colleague Nicki made use of some tricks that helped her learn much faster than I did, like memorizing vocabulary with well organized flashcards. This worked particularly well for her since she’s a visual learner, but if you learn better by listening, podcasts in your target language might be the way to go.
Whatever your learning style, a tool that incorporates reading, listening comprehension, writing and speaking exercises will certainly also help.
Now that you know how to start your language-learning resolution off on the right foot, there is nothing stopping you. So what are you waiting for?