How To Set (And Keep) A Language-Learning New Year’s Resolution

Let 2024 be the year you commit to a new language.
Language-learning new year's resolution represented by a young woman sitting and writing in a notebook in front of a Christmas tree.

The new year is a chance to give yourself a fresh start. While January 1 is technically just another day, switching to a blank calendar can make it feel like anything is possible. That feeling can last a few days, a few weeks, maybe even a month, but then it’s back to normal and your goals for the year may end up forgotten. It’s a cliché at this point that resolutions are hard to keep, so if 2024 is the year you really want to make a language-learning new year’s resolution and stick to it, you’ll need some help.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a guide to creating and sticking with a resolution. You’ll still need to commit yourself to doing the work, but it’ll set you on the right path. With this in mind — and maybe a subscription to Babbel to get you going — you’ll be ready to tackle whichever language you want in 2024.

How To Set A Language-Learning New Year’s Resolution

One of the biggest problems people create for themselves is making a language-learning new year’s resolution that’s too vague. While “I will learn a language next year” sounds great, it doesn’t really help you when you’re getting started. How well do you want to learn the language? What do you hope to accomplish? Learning a language is not the same as knitting a sweater; your relationship with the language can last the rest of your life.

There are a few different ways to do that, but one of the most popular frameworks is SMART goals. Developed in the 1980s, SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. While this was designed for work-related projects, it applies pretty well to anything you might want to work on.

Specific

As we’ve already established, setting your goal as “learn a language” isn’t quite specific enough to be useful. What do you want to accomplish?

Examples Of Specific Goals

  • I want to learn Spanish so I can read news articles in the language.
  • I want to be able to have a conversation with a native speaker.
  • I want to travel to Germany and be able to communicate in German.

Measurable

Language learning is a tricky goal to track. There aren’t clear benchmarks along the way, and your personal mastery of the language is more of a gut feeling than a number of vocabulary words you’ve learned. Even so, it will be very useful to find some way to measure your progress.

Ways To Measure Your Progress

  • Completing a certain number of lessons in an app.
  • Making a language journal to keep track of the vocabulary you’re learning.
  • Reading or listening to something in the language every few weeks to test your comprehension.
  • Using a standard metric like the CEFR levels.

Achievable

This might sound like the most obvious aspect of setting a goal, but it’s surprisingly easy to forget. Depending on what’s going on in your life in the next year, it might not be possible to become entirely fluent in the language of your choice.

Relevant

If you’re moving to a new country, the relevance of your goal is obvious. But if you don’t have some clear external reason for learning, you still will want to figure out what makes this goal relevant to your life. Sure, learning a language is its own reward, but keeping your motivation up means you need to find a strong motivation in the first place.

Examples Of What Might Make Your Resolution Relevant

  • You have a trip planned to a place that speaks the language.
  • You’ve always wanted to read an author’s work in the original language.
  • You love music that is sung in a specific other language.
  • You want to connect with your heritage, which is connected to a language that you don’t already speak.

Time-bound

A new year’s resolution is inherently time-bound, but you don’t necessarily have to choose “one year” as your timeframe. Setting your end date so far off might make it harder to keep your motivation. Instead, set a goal that’s only a few weeks or months off. That goal might be, “I want to be able to read a simple text in Italian by the end of March.” This doesn’t have to be your only goal, but having something simple and in the short-term will make your language-learning resolution feel less abstract. 

How To Stick To Your Language-Learning New Year’s Resolution

You’ve set your language-learning new year’s resolution. Now, you actually have to do the work to meet it. Here are a few of the most common roadblocks, and some ways you might be able to get around them. 

You’ve Lost Interest In Your Goal

Ideally, all the work you put into setting your goal will mean that you’re absolutely sure you are motivated and excited to achieve your goal. Life isn’t always ideal, though, and the thing you once loved can start to feel stale after a while. 

  • Revisit your motivation. This may sound obvious, but revisiting your motivation can help you get back into learning. If just thinking about it isn’t enough, maybe do something related to your motivation to see if that reignites your spark.
  • Mix up your learning. Having a routine is great, but having a rut isn’t. If you’ve only been doing lessons in an app, maybe try a podcast. If you’ve focused on specific vocabulary, throw in some new terms.

You Feel Like You’ve Stopped Making Progress

You started out doing great, and now it seems like you’ve stopped improving. This phenomenon is known as the plateau, and it’s something you’re likely to run into no matter what you’re learning.

  • Remind yourself of your accomplishments. One thing to know about the plateau is that it isn’t really a plateau. Even if it doesn’t feel like you’re learning anymore, you definitely are. 
  • Reconsider how you’re tracking your progress. If you’ve been choosing one way to track your goals and it seems like you haven’t made any movement, figure out if the flaw is with the measuring.

You’re Struggling To Hit Your Goals

Maybe you’re still interested and still making progress, but not at the rate that you wanted. Don’t let yourself become too frustrated, because sometimes life just gets in the way. There are a couple options for you here.

  • Reframe your objectives. If you don’t think you’ll reach your goals in the timeframe you set, you may need to rethink it.
  • Build in more flexibility. One of the most important parts of creating a learning routine is building in flexibility.

What Next?

As we’ve mentioned many times, language learning isn’t something you can do for one year and then never think about again, unless you have a very specific purpose for learning. If you’ve satisfactorily hit your language-learning new year’s resolution goals, the next steps are just expanding on what you’ve already done. Set new (SMART) goals in new time frames, keep pushing yourself and do your best to avoid getting discouraged when you run into problems. There’s no straight path to language mastery, so give yourself the space to fail and try again. Here’s to a language-filled 2024!

Get started learning a new language in the new year.
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