I moved to Vienna in late summer, which has meant a lot of changes. One of the biggest is that as well as being a teacher, I’m now a language learner again! My German is only intermediate, and so far I’ve tried short evening courses, intensive courses and self study to try to improve. That last one is the most difficult for me. Whether it’s homework, revision, or wider reading, it’s always easy to become distracted from your learning and lose motivation.
My last couple of months as a student have reminded me how challenging it is to learn a new language, and I hope that that makes me a better teacher.
Whether you’re in a class, working with a tutor, or teaching yourself, here are my tips for staying motivated.
1. Think about why you want to learn
Everyone has a reason for learning a new language. Maybe you want to pass an exam, find a new job, speak more fluently with friends and family from another country, or maybe you’re just curious. Whatever the reason, it will effect how you learn.
The first day of learning a new language can be the most daunting, but everyone has to start somewhere. If you know why you want to learn, it will give you some clear first steps. If your goal is to travel, why not start with some phrases you think you’ll have to use on holiday? If you’re learning for business, use your own resume as a starting point and try to translate the key phrases.
2. Know how your own language works
Most people don’t start to learn a new language because they want to know more about grammar. Grammar books can be boring and repetitive. Grammar lessons can seem irrelevant – will I get to the airport and have to speak in the Past Perfect Continuous, or will I have to check in for my flight?
But grammar is important, and it doesn’t have to be frightening. I recommend that you take a little time to look at the grammar of your own language before you begin learning your new language. Even basic knowledge about the parts of a sentence or tenses can be enough to make the grammar of your new language more accessible.
3. Make time and space for your new language
Hard as it is to accept, nobody can learn a new language without making time to study. It’s important to make a little time every day to work. If you study for 20 minutes every day in a lunch break or during a commute you’ll notice far more progress than if you study for 3 hours on a Saturday. Make studying your new language into a habit and you’ll be less likely to lose motivation.
It’s also important to have a suitable environment to work in – somewhere quiet and comfortable, where you won’t be distracted. Try especially to avoid situations where you can be interrupted by your own language. Never study with TV or radio in the background, and try to distance yourself from friends or family who can interrupt your study time, unless they speak the language you’re trying to learn.
It’s also important to give your brain time to rest and to reward yourself. If you’ve studied for an hour and your brain feels like mush, make a cup of tea before you continue. If you’ve studied consistently all week, you’ve made real progress and deserve a treat. Take time away from the books to remind yourself about the reasons why you wanted to learn.
4. Consistency is key
Once you’ve started learning, keep moving forward! When you find a method that works for you, don’t be too quick to try a new programme. It’s tempting to try a new product, book,or app which promises fast results, but you may find yourself spending money to repeat material you have already covered. A lot of self study programmes also develop your vocabulary and grammar knowledge without giving you proper conversation practice. There’s a danger of becoming frustrated and losing motivation if you ‘chop and change’ too often.
There are many possible ways to learn a language. Don’t always be tempted to spend money on products to teach yourself. Working with a tutor or taking a class at a language school is a wiser investment because it gets you communicating in your new language and trains your speaking, listening, reading and writing skills equally.
That’s all for part one. I’ll be sharing four more tips for language learning in the next post.
Mairi : )