If you’ve been following us for some time, you definitely know that Language Mentoring is built on four pillars:
All four of these pillars are important, but I believe that learners tend to struggle most with the system. Maybe it’s happened to you, too – you started learning a foreign language full of enthusiasm, you were really excited about it, but after a few weeks, the eagerness started to fade and you couldn’t bring yourself to learn anymore. After trying to force yourself back into it for a few days, you just shrugged and thought “Well, that didn’t work.”
To avoid this kind of disappointment, you need to create a system in your learning. Learning a language is a long process. That’s a fact you cannot change. It doesn’t even really matter whether you have experience with learning a foreign language (or nine of them 🙂 ) or not – you simply can’t learn a language in a weekend. Not even the most experienced polyglots in the world could do that. For me personally, it takes about two years to become fluent in a language (i.e., to get to a level where I can communicate with others without difficulty). Two years is a pretty long time, so unless you create a system of learning and build the right habits, other activities and unexpected events will easily push learning out of your mind.
In this article, I’m going to give you seven tips on setting up your system of learning in a way which turns it into an automatic process. Once you do it, you won’t have to consciously think about learning anymore.
The best thing you can do is to choose a specific time of the day when you will learn your language and try to stick to it every day. I find mornings to be the best for learning. Before I start reading my e-mails and thinking about all the stuff I have to do on a given day, I allow myself some time, even if it’s just 20 minutes, to spend with my language. I go over my vocabulary in a notebook or an app, I read two or three pages of a book in a foreign language, I watch an episode of a series…
Because I’ve planned to learn in the morning, I know I can find the time to do it. I can even connect learning with another activity, such as eating breakfast. Learning in the morning has another advantage – if you do it, you can feel great about meeting your daily language target for the rest of the day.
It might be difficult for some of you to choose a specific time of the day that you want to dedicate to learning. Maybe your schedule is too varied or you have small children and you can’t just tell them to go away because 10 AM is your time for Spanish… 🙂 In that case, combine learning with other regular activities which you have to do anyway. For example, if you have a baby, you can listen to podcasts while enjoying some time outside with your little bundle of joy. Similarly, you can decide to review your vocabulary for 15 minutes after getting back from work.
Choose an activity, be it dinner, breakfast, or anything else that you regularly do, and combine it with learning. Once you start doing the activity, you’ll remember you also wanted to do some Spanish. In other words, you’ll automate the process and you won’t have to think about learning anymore.
You’d be surprised how much keeping your language materials somewhere you can always see them can influence your learning. Every day, we’re surrounded by lots of stimuli and tasks that we have to do, so it’s not surprising at all if we forget about the fact that we also wanted to read a few pages of a book. The trick is keeping that book on your bedside table, so that it’s in front of you as soon as you wake up. It will remind you to read your two or three pages even before you get out of bed.
When I plan to learn in the morning, I sometimes put my phone into my book or my vocabulary notebook. When the alarm goes off in the morning, it’s a great reminder of my plan.
Set up reminders on your phone or PC, so that you remember your language learning ambitions. For instance, you can stick a post-it note on your laptop and every time you open it, you will see your reminder – e.g., “Spend 10 minutes with Anki flashcards!” It can be anything from “Read a few pages of your book.” to “Watch a video on YouTube.”, the post-it note will always remind you to do it. You can also use the devices I mentioned, as well as various reminder apps, which will reliably let you know it’s time to learn your language.
Another special tip for you – set a reminder for arranging a conversation meeting with someone. You may think it would be nice to “practice Spanish with someone on Thursday evening”, but unless you arrange it, on Thursday evening, you’ll find yourself without a conversation partner to talk to, since your friend or tutor might not have time for a last-minute call. That’s why I recommend making use of reminders such as “arrange a conversation meeting by Tuesday evening”, so that you can chatter away on Thursday.
I’m a huge fan of learning on your own. I think that you don’t need a teacher to progress in learning a foreign language. There are so many methods and resources available on the Internet that you can easily choose some that you like and use them to learn alone. After all, that’s what language learning is all about. You yourself have to dedicate your time to it because nobody else will get it into our head.
However, being an autodidact can feel a bit lonely at times, especially when there’s nobody at all who would help us or with whom we can share our successes as well as our struggles. That’s why I highly recommend finding someone who’s also learning a language on their own. It doesn’t even have to be the same foreign language that you’re learning. Even with a German-Chinese combination, you can still motivate and support each other and, most importantly, you will let each other know how it’s going.
This is one of the main missions of Language Mentoring. We’re trying to connect people and create a community of autodidacts, who support each other mutually, so that their learning is not so lonely. We organize online courses with dozens and sometimes even hundreds of people who learn together and motivate each other, despite each of them learning their language on their own. If this kind of community is something you lack, subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll let you know when we open another community course.
If you’ve never tracked your learning, you’ll be surprised how big an influence it will have. Just make a simple table or calendar where you will keep a record of how much time you spent with your language every day. Alternatively, you can use various phone apps as well. It’s entirely up to you, so choose whatever you feel most comfortable with.
It is incredibly motivating when you can write down that you’ve worked on your language today, even if it was for just 15 or 20 minutes. You’ll see your success on paper. And if you see at the end of the week that you’ve met all of your daily targets, it will give you a fresh dose of motivation for the next week as well. You won’t want to break the chain, which will keep you going.
This tip will definitely help you not forget your learning and keep it up in the long term. It’s a very simple rule – never skip two days in a row. It may happen that you have a busy day or something unexpected comes up and you simply don’t have time for learning. Don’t be upset, it’s absolutely fine. The important thing is that you do everything you can to find some time for learning the following day. That’s what the “don’t skip two days in a row” rule is all about.
This way, it won’t happen that a one-day exception is followed by another one, after which you won’t be able to escape this vicious circle. You’ll feel like you’re always too busy to get back to learning. That’s why it’s really important to do some learning the day after you didn’t do any. Even if it’s just for ten minutes. You don’t have to meet your daily plan in its entirety, but make sure you do something at the very least. Any contact with your language and every minute count.
It’s essential that you keep a positive mindset and remind yourself that you haven’t suspended or stopped your learning, you’re just in the middle of a busy period and can’t follow your plan at 100%. If you don’t skip two days in a row, it is much more likely that you’ll continue learning and won’t give up.
Let’s sum it up once more. These are my 7 tips for making your learning more systematic:
Think about which of these tips you don’t follow, but know that they could help you persevere in your learning, even if it’s just in small batches, so that you can really see some results.
Let us know in the comments about how you’re doing and what’s helped you most in keeping up your learning in the long term. Share your “longest streak” record and tell us which methods you used to achieve it. We’re looking forward to your reactions!
HAND ON HEART, WHAT’S THE LEVEL OF YOUR FOREIGN LANGUAGE?
If you’ve spent a lot of years/energy/money to learn a language and still can’t use it with confidence and ease in real life… you’re probably thinking that you simply don’t have “talent for languages''. There’s no other explanation, right?!
Well, there actually is a reason why you haven’t seen the desired results. Do you want to know what it is? Register for my FREE WEBINAR and find out: