One of the most difficult things to do when learning a language is to stay consistent, so that you over time build the necessary language skills and vocabulary in order to use the language.
However, just like other meaningful activities that are not STRICTLY necessary, there is a real danger and risk for beginner learners to lose momentum, fizzle out, or simply abandon their language learning.
In this article I’ll go over a few strategies for how you can easily overcome this problem in your own language learning.
Why is it so hard to stick to learning a language?
Before I dive into the solutions to staying consistent in language learning, I just wanted to quickly share my thoughts on why language learning is a very difficult hobby/activity to maintain over a long time.
Reason 1: Learning a language takes a lot of effort
The biggest problem is that learning a language, even to lower intermediate (or useful stages), takes a lot of consistent effort.
You might need to learn a dozen new sounds, multiple new letters, and thousands of new words of vocabulary to get to a point where you can effortlessly have conversations with native speakers.
That’s a lot for a hobby that isn’t really that important for most people.
In many ways, we desire the outcome: Speaking the language – but we detest the steps required to get there.
But, don’t let this fact alone put you off learning a language. With consistent effort you can get a ton of progress done in 3 months, and I would say most people can speak in quite long sentences by the end of year 1.
Complete mastery or immersion-like language skills, probably take between 2-5 years depending on how many hours you can devote per week, and if you’re able to get to the country to stay for a while or not.
Reason 2: Misplaced motivation for learning the language
To add to the workload of the task, we sometimes also get into learning a language for, what I would call, unsustainable reasons.
Let’s say you’re watching The Squid Game on Netflix, and it’s become one of your favourite tv shows ever.
You get so drawn to this new mysterious culture and language of Korea, that you decide to learn some Korean, from one day to the next.
You try for a few weeks, learn a few basic phrases, but then you quit. There’s just not enough of a reason to learn Korean.
Don’t get me wrong, a language infatuation (or love) can be a great starting point, but unless you find additional reasons or implement the steps below vigorously, you will almost definitely give up at some point.
Anyway, with that dose of negativity let us get into how you can actually set yourself up for success.
Solutions to the problem of consistency in language learning
Solution 1: You need the right kind of motivation
The best form of motivation is when you need the language to live your life well. This could include reasons like:
- Partner’s native language
- Living in the country where the language is spoken
And, ideally more than one of the above reasons. Because learning a language is such a long and gradual process, you need to arm yourself with as many reasons to keep going as possible.
Solution 1: Be hyper-aware of the work involved
The first step, that you must follow in order to achieve long-term success in language learning, is to be totally aware that language learning is a marathon, not a sprint.
Expect it to take a long time, and be ready for days, weeks, or even sometimes months when you just don’t feel like studying another word in that language – no matter how many of the motivations you had from the paragraph above.
Solution 2: Schedule the learning and set the right kind of goal
A huge game-changer for language learning is to change it from “I want to speak Korean” to “I want to do 15 minutes of Korean twice a day” and then schedule that time in your diary.
Having an entry in the calendar saying “Learn Korean” is just not very well defined, so it’s unclear what you would have to do to actually achieve that.
By adding a timer you make the daily goal achievable.
Plus, you don’t ever need to “feel like it” – you just do the language learning when it says in your calendar you should be doing it.
Pro-Tip: Always schedule what seems like a small amount of time, like 15 minutes per session. This helps with the motivation to get started, and you’ll almost always do more.
Pro-Tip 2: Spend 30 minutes per week, or every other week to evaluate what resources, apps, or books to use in your learning. ALL other times you should always know, when you sit down, what you’ll actually be doing.
This prevents overwhelm (“Oh, I could do so many things!”) as well as the natural impulse to procrastinate by researching new apps or softwares to learn with.
For busy people with families, it will sometimes feel like playing Tetris with your calendar, but try to find those small gaps to put in 1-2 sessions per day.
Could be in the morning before getting ready to go to work, or in the evening before going to bed.
It is best to schedule your language learning session(s) at roughly the same time every day, so you get into a habit and routine.
Solution 3: Get a teacher for accountability
The strongest form of motivation comes in the form of accountability.
When somebody else is waiting for you to show up, you tend to show up! This is why a gym-buddy is a great motivator to get to the gym, because you don’t want to disappoint the other person.
For language learning I strongly recommend people getting a weekly tutor or teacher.
You can use a website like italki or preply, and the prices are surprisingly affordable, with rates as low as a few dollars per hour depending on the language.
If you do nothing else in a week for your language learning, this will give you the most value-per-hour, and keep you going.
You can also do accountability with friends or a study partner, that also works to a degree. I just think the paid element of a teacher adds way more.
Solution 4: Don’t worry if you miss a day or a session
The other thing I often see is that people might succeed in their language learning goals for a while, miss a day, and then immediately throw in the towel.
“Oh – now that I’ve missed a day I’ve officially failed!”
You don’t look at your language learning like some kind of adherence percentage. Every day is a fresh slate, a blank canvas to do whatever with you please. It does not change whether or not you managed to hit your goal the day before.
Solution 5: Enjoy it!
The most important thing of all is to enjoy the process. Try to use your language skills as often as possible, watch tv-shows, movies, or YouTube videos (these don’t count as study-time) and just generally do things that you enjoy.
As soon as the language learning stops being fun or interesting, revisit your goals and motivations for learning the language in the first place.
If after this you’re still struggling, ask yourself: “Do I really want to learn this language?”
As I said earlier, language learning is a very long tasks – if you’re not sure whether you really want to or not it’s going to be VERY difficult to get anywhere meaningful in the language, and I would probably advise either changing to another language that might tick more boxes, or simply stop the activity.
The last thing you want to do is burden your life with something you don’t really feel like doing, because you will probably not get to a very functional level in the language anyway.
The goal of this article has been to build a mindset and system that allows for overwhelm-free, effortless language learning that does not depend on willpower to succeed.
In closing, I just wanted to thank you for getting to the very end of the article. If you read of all it – well done!
If you skipped to here, please go back and re-read the article in full, as it can dramatically help your language learning.
- Set achievable daily goals with the right expectations
- Schedule short sessions at least once per day in your calendar so they become non-negotiable
- Hire a teacher or get a study-buddy for accountability
- Don’t worry if you miss a day – just get back on track the next day
This was a very brief overview. You can check out my 6-week video programme: Language Motivation Mastery, for a more interactive way to build your language learning routine and habits.
In the course, we also go into much more detail about goals, expectations, and setting yourself up for success.
Kris is the founder of Actual Fluency, and has spent the last 8 years becoming an expert in language learning software, methods, and techniques.
Originally from Denmark, he now lives in Portugal and speaks 5+ languages at varying levels. His other interests are Wine, Online Marketing, and Travelling.