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

Let 2023 be the year you commit to a new language.
How To Set (And Keep) A Language-Learning New Year’s Resolution

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 2023 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 and help you avoid the most common pitfalls. 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 2023.

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 German next year” sounds great, it doesn’t really help you when you’re getting started. How well do you want to learn German? What do you hope to accomplish with the language? Learning a language is not the same as knitting a sweater; your relationship with the language can last the rest of your life. You should decide how you want that relationship to start.

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 do with the language? What do you want to accomplish? This might require a little more thought, but having something specific to focus on will help you as you’re striving toward your resolution.

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. An easy way to lose motivation is to feel like you’ve plateaued, and having concrete proof of your momentum will keep you going.

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. You should really try to reflect on what will make the most sense for you, because setting the goalposts too far away will just make you feel discouraged.

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 live in or are moving to a largely bilingual area.
  • 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 — breaking your resolution into parts that you accomplish throughout the year is a great way to keep your progress moving — 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, which is always a great first step. 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 — start planning a trip, read the literature in English translation, watch a show that uses the language — 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. There are so many resources for language learning, so don’t confine yourself to one or two.
  • Treat yourself. Learning a language is work, yes, but it’s also supposed to be fun. Once in a while, you should treat yourself to something. Take yourself out to eat to celebrate your new understanding, or have a celebratory party when you get to a certain number of lessons. You probably know how to treat yourself best, but if you can figure out how to tie the celebration back in with the learning, that’s ideal.

You Feel Like You’ve Stopped Making Progress

Maybe your interest has been high, but all of a sudden you’ve hit a wall in the actual learning. 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. When you’re first learning a language, it’ll feel like you’re going much faster, but that’s mostly an illusion. What you’re encountering is not so much a plateau as a new phase of learning, every bit as important as the one that came before it.
  • Reconsider how you’re tracking your progress. As we discussed in the above section, having a way to measure your language learning is invaluable. 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. If you’ve only been tracking your vocabulary, for example, see if you can factor in the grammar you’re working on. There are so many aspects to learning that one measurement may not capture it all. 

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. It may sound like giving up, but it’s not. After all, if you end up so frustrated that you give up entirely, that’s going to feel much worse. Remember that language learning is not necessarily something you do for a little while and then stop. You’re building a foundation for the rest of your life.
  • Build in more flexibility. One of the most important parts of creating a learning routine is building in flexibility. It might sound good to have a plan like “I will learn 10 vocabulary words every single day,” but that kind of rigid stricture may end up being stressful. And if you break that streak, you could feel inclined to give up. Instead, set goals like “I will do lessons five out of seven days each week.” That way, if you miss a day for any reason, you haven’t “failed.”

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 2023!

Get started learning a new language in the new year.
Thomas Moore Devlin
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.

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