How To Stay Motivated When Learning A New Language


    There are so many books, techniques, and apps for language learning. But how do you stay motivated to keep on using them? Learn what it takes on how to stay motivated when learning a new language.

    You’ve probably been in a situation where you got all excited about wanting to learn a new language, so you download all these apps… like Duolingo, Anki, and Memrise… Maybe you’ll even spend some money to get the premium versions. Next thing you know, there’s a dozen new language learning apps on your phone. Just days later, you start feeling demotivated and even a bit frustrated. Part of it’s because Duo won’t stop sending you emails about coming back for five minutes.

    Then in some days, a miracle will happen: the motivation will come back. Once again, your heart is lit with the desire to become fluent in a wonderful new language. But then you find out that the feeling of motivation is only short-lived. You end up repeating the cycle all over again.

    The Illusion of “Staying Motivated”

    For the beginner and aspiring polyglot, language learning isn’t easy. This is especially true if you’re learning by yourself. You can buy all the books you want, subscribe to several language learning apps, and read all the blogs. However, none of it will matter if you don’t develop the skill and self-discipline to keep on using them. Most of us wait for an alternative, something we call “motivation”, to give us a boost.

    Because of this, many of us will wait for things and events to motivate us. So we wait, and wait… and wait some more. Sometimes we even force ourselves to try and achieve it: a feeling, a state of mind of being motivated. We use stimulants like coffee. Set deadlines and target dates. We even go to places, like cafes, where we feel like we can be “motivated”.

    This is a common pattern for nearly everything we try to learn and be good at. But this “state of mind”, this “state of being motivated” is an illusion. This is especially true when it comes to learning a new language.

    What is motivation anyway? There’s a current perception that motivation and “being motivated” is a state of mind. The word “motivation” has unfortunately been confused with the word “enthusiasm”. Everyone knows how difficult it is to stay enthusiastic about something for too long; especially when we do it over and over again.

    Nearly everyone has completely overlooked where the word “motivation” actually came from:

    Motivation is derived from the word motive – which means “a reason for doing something”[1].

    Realize that what many people believe is “a lack of motivation” is actually “a lack of reason for doing something”. So when thinking about how to stay motivated when learning a new language… do you “wait” for motivation? How does one wait for “a reason for doing something”?

     “MOTIVE: A reason for doing something”

    With this in mind, try imagining a complete stranger walking up to you and asking you: “Why are you learning ________?” There is a big chance that you’ll have an answer to that question. You could be learning it for a job, for an upcoming travel destination, for school, or just simply for fun. It’s very likely that you’ll be able to come up with an answer. So if you have a reason, why does opening up Duolingo still feel like a chore?

    The Intensity of Your Motive Matters

    Reasons can be an easy thing to come up with. What’s difficult is incorporating a specific level of intensity to them. Forget trying to figure out how to stay motivated when learning a new language for a moment. Let’s take the activity of climbing a mountain as an example. There are three people who want to climb it: Adam, Ren and Hal. Adam is a health buff that likes to go outdoors to better his health. Ren is an avid instagram user with a couple thousand fans; and Hal is a botanist who studies exotic plants.

    • Adam: “I’m gonna do it for exercise. You can lose over 9000 calories by climbing that mountain.”
    • Ren: “If it’s a popular tourist and mountain climbing destination, I’ll do it for the fans!”
    • Hal: “I heard that there’s some special medicinal herbs at the top.”

    Those are some of the reasons why the three people will climb that mountain. Now, let’s be more specific as to what kind of mountain it actually is. Now the activity is climbing an extremely high mountain. A mountain known to be so dangerous that 9/10 people who attempt to climb it never make it back alive.

    • Adam: “Yeah… nope. I mean, I can exercise somewhere else…”
    • Ren: “It’s not a good climbing spot anyway… Mt. Fuji has better photo ops!”

    Now we realize that Adam and Ren probably won’t risk their lives to do such a thing… but Hal on the other hand:

    • Hal: “I’ll climb that mountain… because at the top is a special herb that can save my dying daughter’s life. I will do anything in my power to save my daughter.”

    It turns out that Hal had a daughter who was dying of a new kind of illness, one of which hypothetically could only be cured by a special plant that only existed on top of that mountain.

    That escalated rather quickly, but the point is that Hal had a stronger reason to climb that mountain – and so he will. If it meant saving his daughter’s life then he’ll do everything he can to reach the top.

    “Motivation” will never end… if you have no other choice

    Now I’m not saying you have to be in a situation where you have to save someone’s life to achieve something (although it would certainly be a powerful reason to do so). The important thing to know on how to stay motivated when learning a new language, or any valuable skill for that matter, is that you always have a clear picture of why you are doing it, and the intensity of that “why”.

    So in going back to the original question of how to stay motivated when learning a new language, we can hone in on a specific answer: To stay motivated when learning a new language, you need a strong, compelling reason for doing so… a reason strong enough that you have no other choice but to become good at it”

    “…a reason strong enough that you have no other choice…”

    That reason has to be strong enough to motivate yourself to learn a new language… and that reason has to be strong enough that it would make you climb that deadly mountain which Hal would climb for his daughter.

    It doesn’t have to be a life-or-death reason, but it has to be a reason that burns with such intensity that you HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE but to climb that mountain, because without that reason, you can only dream of what it’s like to be at the summit.

    Finding and Realizing Your Reason

    So when it comes to knowing how to stay motivated when learning a new language, how exactly do you come up with a “reason strong enough that you have no other choice”. Being thrown into a situation where they have no other choice but to learn a language is the most common reason for many successful language learners to stay motivated and become fluent. And you guessed it, it involves having to live in the country where the primary language is the one that they’re trying to learn. For them, opening Duolingo, using iTalki, or reading that foreign dictionary won’t be a chore, it would be a necessity.

    Being in this situation means that they are unable to communicate with anyone else effectively without learning the language of that country. That’s just one possibility, but what if you’re not anywhere near that kind of situation? What if you’re learning a language by yourself, in a country where no one speaks that language?

    Knowing how to stay motivated when learning a new language would actually be a bit more challenging in this scenario, so what do you do? You have to come up with a stronger connection to learning that language, a stronger reason for what you already have. If you’ve already realized what yours is, then that’s amazing!

    For others, coming up with that reason may not be that simple or easy. So the other option is to focus on that things that you will never be able to have if you don’t keep on learning that language. If you can think of at least 3 for each that you feel really strong about, then that’s a good place to start:

    1. I’ll never be able to have ________ …if I don’t keep on learning _____.
    2. Also, I’ll never be able to experience ________ …if I don’t keep on learning _____.
    3. I’ve really wanted to ________ but I’ll never be able to that if I don’t keep on learning _____.

    The longer you make this list, the stronger your overall “reason” for learning a language will be. If you make this list long enough, you will notice a pattern of why you really want to learn a new language.

    Losing Your “Motivation”

    If you’re “losing motivation” to learn a new language, you need to always remember your “why” and feel the intensity of that “why” whenever you can. Try to remember the list you came up with and imagine what kind of life you will have if you never keep learning that new language.

    So.. How to Stay Motivated When Learning a New Language?

    Always remember why you are doing it in the first place. If that “why” is not strong enough, then language learning will always feel like a struggle. To keep motivated, be aware of what you are actually trying to achieve… which is not fluency in the language itself, but the things you will be able to gain from being fluent.