You want to learn a new language, but the idea of taking on something as big as an entirely new language feels overwhelming. How do you stick with it? To put in the study time day after day when sometimes — let’s be honest — it doesn’t feel like you’re making any progress?
I’m going to let you in on a little, hard-earned secret…
Knowing a new language doesn’t happen overnight. It adds up over time. Each five-minute study session is five more minutes you’ve spent with your new language. And it’s five more minutes towards your ultimate goal.
Learning a new language is all about making consistent progress and staying committed to your learning. So how do you stay the course?
I’ve been diligent in my language studies for several years now and I’ve had my fair share of peaks and valleys, but there’s one thing that I know I can always count on getting me through those dips: “stick-with-it-ness”.
If I commit and stick with it, experience has taught me I’ll always come out ahead on the other side. Sticking with it, unfortunately, isn’t always easy, especially if you’re not feeling motivated.
Here are a few tips that have helped keep me going on my language learning journey:
1. Don’t spread yourself too thin or focus on more than one thing at a time.
“Extraordinary success is sequential, not simultaneous.” — Jay Papasan and Gary Keller
We are always trying to do too many things. And because our calendars are packed full, we often find it necessary to multitask. But here’s the thing… when you multitask, your quality of work and focus go down. That means if you’re trying to do more than one thing while studying your language, chances are you won’t have the focus you need to really learn what you’re studying. It’s much better to focus on one thing.
2. Start small.
“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” — Vincent van Gogh
It’s important to set small goals. They’re easy to reach and it’s motivating to experience regular wins. When you set a big goal — like “study French an hour every day”, but you only find yourself reaching it two or three times a week, you’re going to feel like you’re failing. When your goal is instead to “fit in three 5-minute study sessions every day”, and you not only meet it but often exceed it, you’re going to feel like a champ.
A small step forward is just that, a step forward. Set aside five minutes to study your language. Those five-minute increments will build into something more.
3. Hard work trumps talent.
It’s not hard to get intimidated by language learners for whom language learning seems easy. It can seem like they’re more talented or that they have a language learning gene. But according to an article in Psychology Today, “Most of the time, you are going to end up competing against rivals with one of these attributes, talent or hard work, not both.”
Languages aren’t the Olympics — there isn’t a gold medal out there for just one person. If you work hard, you can be highly successful.
4. Compounding interest works in language learning, too.
“ [..] the more you can do, the more the opportunity [you have] — it is very much like compound interest.” — Dr. Richard W. Hamming
The more time you spend with your language, the less foreign it feels. Soon, you’re able to deduce the meanings of new words and understand meaning through context — something you wouldn’t have imagined possible only months before.
This is the power of compounding interest. The more you know, the easier it is for you to learn new information. Take Warren Buffett, for instance. Now, this is in the field of finance rather than language, but the same principles apply. You see, Buffett is the ideal example of how you can achieve big results through small actions that accumulate over time. And this holds true regardless of whether you’re talking about money, work, or language learning.
5. Make it a habit.
“The only way to get to Day 500 is to start with Day One.” — James Clear
A few decades ago, Dr. Maltz conducted research that determined it takes 21 days to form a new habit. More recent work by Phillippa Lally, however, has shown that it’s actually closer to 66 days.
After 66 days, language learning can become something you just do. You no longer have to think about it because it becomes a natural part of your routine, like brushing your teeth or putting your shoes on before you walk out the door.
6. Accept that there are no shortcuts.
A lot of language learning products promise you’ll “learn a language fast”, but you don’t learn a language in seven days, three months, or even a year. It takes years of consistent effort to really get to a high level. Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t hit other important milestones along the way like reaching conversational fluency, but it does mean it’s going to take time to get to that elusive, native-like fluency.
When you accept that there are no shortcuts when learning a language, committing to it for the long-haul makes more sense, and doesn’t seem to be as intimidating of an obstacle in your path.
Everything said and done, learning a new language comes down to this:
You’ll succeed if you put in the work on a consistent basis. In the big picture, when it happens is far less important than the fact that it does happen.
Need a little help?
With Drops, you can build an effective study habit with just 5-minutes a day. You can keep track of your progress and see your commitment pay off with our streaks and learning stats.
Now I’ll turn it over to you. How do you stay committed to your language learning? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
Drops: the new way to easily learn a language that combines engaging and fun word games with beautiful design. Learn up to 30 languages with fun, visual games. Try the fastest-growing language app in the world for free on iOS or Android.
This post originally appeared on the Drops blog on Medium.