Key principles for returning to learning
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! Something that everyone who spends time learning a new language will invariably experience is some form of burnout. For those who are in full immersion environments, this is irrelevant as you will need to speak the language in order to survive.
On the other hand, for those who are studying independently or with their children or through any other method outside of complete immersion, burnout can cause them to walk away indefinitely. If that sounds like something you are experiencing or have experienced, much like I have, then this is for you.
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How did you get to this point in your language study?
Remembering why you started is one of the keys to getting back into language study. If it was to land a new job, is that still something in which you are interested? Were you trying to date someone who speaks a different language? Were you seeking to expand your knowledge of a new culture? Whatever it might have been, answering this question again can help you get back into your foreign language of choice or possibly an entirely new language.
However, that is not the only step. Once you've remembered why you started, how it got you to where you are, or were, it is time to reevaluate the reasoning. If the reason you had been learning foreign languages in the first place is no longer motivating to you then it is time to look for a better reason.
For those who are having trouble coming up with something, the nootropic benefits alone should be motivating enough. Whatever the reason, the most important characteristic to look for is something to get you started. Once you are get rolling again there are other ways to keep things moving.
Finding a new reason to keep going is one of the beautiful things about learning a new language. Whether it's to focus on traveling benefits or you find making friends in other countries is fun, adding new things into your routine is just one of the ways you can maintain momentum when getting back into your language study. In fact, sometimes the best thing you can do is really test yourself by jumping into an adventure in a foreign country to remember what it's like being restrained by the inability to adequately communicate.
Travel becomes cheaper and easier when you learn a foreign language
Travel is one of the best ways to keep the motivation to learn your target language high. The need for communication is universal and the more you get out and talk to people the more that becomes clear. Unfortunately, international travel is not exactly accessible to all people. With that said, there are ways to "travel" without necessarily having to travel, though if you can travel it is better to get out there on the ground.
When immersing yourself in a new culture, you will inevitably come across things about which you have a natural curiosity. Whether that be the history, the politics, the economy, or how they all interact, there is always something to be interested in and often the most fun you'll have is comparing and contrasting what you know with what you're learning. Not only that, but in discovering all of these things you will learn more about how the locals operate outside of the tourists and how to join them in it.
Traveling with locals and traveling as a tourist yield completely different results and the locals will often show you and teach you things that you would have never known about had you been incapable, or unwilling, to speak the local language. Not only that, but they will most likely be willing to help you along the way, irrespective of how long it takes. An amazing way to stay motivated in your language learning is by having friends who you can only communicate with when speaking your target language.
Form meaningful friendships when you study a foreign language
For those who do not have the option or the desire to just move to a new country and build a life there, though this method works and makes for a great adventure, there are other options. One of the best things you can do is join a community where learning a new language is front and center. With that said, there are more than 80 of us over on Duolingo now, all working towards language acquisition one day at a time.
That many people working toward the same goal, even in different languages, is powerful. That said, we are still trying to solve the issue of speaking with one another to develop more skill in speech. While most people will get to the point where they can read and understand a language, that is not the end goal. That's why we created the Discord!
For those who are unaware, discord is a group chat application that allows for voice calls, in groups, as well as individually. It is a moderated space where language learners of every background have begun to accumulate and share tips, tricks, and struggles with their language of choice, or their mother tongue. This has been especially helpful for many in that it allows people to ask native speakers direct questions and see how native speakers and secondary speakers approach the problem in an enclosed space. If that sounds like something you might be interested in, consider joining using the link below.
While expanding into other areas is the plan, right now most short to medium form content can be found on Twitter. Daily morning language memes to work on learning a new language by reading memes, direct access to myself and 2000 other language learners who can help or at least point you in the right direction when you have questions, and access to an entirely new side of the internet where your target language is spoken exclusively. You can join us on Twitter by following the below link.
Foreign language study helps you better understand your own language and culture
Beyond the ability to learn about and explore new cultures, learning foreign languages will teach you about your own language, culture, and history. The world is intertwined and has been for centuries. When you decide to undertake second language acquisition, you will be opening yourself up to far more than just another language. As an American, there are times when studying about history is dreadfully boring.
Usually, this is because you spend time reading about an abstract event at an abstract location. When you learn a new language you open yourself up to the possibility of visiting that place and meeting the people who live near there, whose families experienced the events first hand.
Fortunately, thanks to technology there are new ways to discover places and historical events, in your target language, all without ever having to leave your house. For more on that be sure to check out this article I wrote about expanding your cultural competencies by learning a new language:
You can also check out the library we are building for resources like this:
If events aren't your thing, perhaps studying people will get and keep you interested in your new language. Studying German? Study the psychologists and their understanding of the world. Come up with some questions you have going in and see if you can manage to answer them while you study.
Working on Russian? Read things from their philosophers, what does suffering teach a population and does their language affect their perception? There are infinite questions to ask about people and each language opens the door to even better understanding of the human psyche, should you choose to pursue that route.
Once you have one or two things in front of you that have rekindled the desire to learn, however weak the flame, all that matters now is creating a system, developing a framework. The first thing to do is define what a win is for you.
Learning a new word, reading 5 pages in a book, writing 3 sentences, listening to 20 minutes of an audiobook and writing about what you understood from it, whatever it is, write it down. Once you know what your wins are, you can begin stacking them. Stacking Ws, building momentum, is how you avoid burnout in the future.
It is impossible to hit a target when it is undefined. If you are going to spend time learning a language, you need to have a goal for it. If you need help with developing your framework, be sure to check out this article on the topic:
With your framework in place it is time to make it a habit. It takes 21 days to form a habit, so all you need to do is stack Ws for 3 weeks straight. Things will not be inherently easier just because you hit the three week mark, either.
Some people need less time, some need more. What it will do, though, is allow you to ensure you have been working for long enough to see a return. By the time you hit week three there will be noticeable differences in your skill level. Take time to recognize and appreciate this growth. Learning a new language is not easy, progress should be celebrated.
Once you have taken time to appreciate your growth, do not take your foot off the gas. You know what you need to do. You know what you're willing to do. All that's left is to do it every day, or most days, and continue to expand your competitive edge. The goal is to stack so many wins that it feels almost impossible for you to stop. Now, you've gone from not wanting to start again to being unable to stop. That's the power of stacking Ws, the force of momentum.
Momentum wins the day when plateaus are a norm. While it's neither here nor there, there will always be plateaus to traverse across and that is when most people tend to burnout of their language study. By building momentum that can carry you through plateaus you are setting yourself up to avoid another burnout situation. When you don't have the will to carry on, the momentum you have built for weeks will carry you forward.
Everyone gets to the point where they don't want to spend time working on their language anymore. Whether it's due to feelings of stagnation, frustration with specific words and concepts, or something as simple as a loss of interest, there are ways to get back into it.
Whether visiting new places, studying interesting people, or expanding your opportunities is what gets you back into your language study, all that really matters is that, this time around, you are proactive in preventing this burnout in so far as you can be. Hopefully the above tips can prove some guidance for you, but if you need anything else you can reach me directly on Twitter or leave a comment below and I will be sure to respond.
Learning a language is no easy feat, it will be difficult irrespective of how you approach it. But you can do difficult things and be great, so continue to do difficult things and be great. I will be here by your side endeavoring to do the same. For those of you who sent prayers and well wishes following my recent situation, know I appreciate you greatly and will come back stronger than ever. My loss is the gain of all those in the community who will benefit from far more content now. Onwards to better things, level up only.
Be sure to check out Second Language Strategies to catch up on anything you missed, find me on Twitter or Instagram for some short form content. If you are struggling to get speaking in your target language, join our Discord! I look forward to seeing everyone’s progress in the months and years to come.