The holidays are over and a new year has arrived. You’re excited to do about ten million things this year, whether that includes traveling or mastering a skill you’ve been working on for some time.
Now, the hectic holidays are enough of an excuse for getting off track with your usual goals. Add anything else into the mix like a new job or a puppy and you’re bound to slip up. Unfortunately for language learners, that can often mean taking a break entirely. Once you stop, it’s hard to find the time to start again.
It happens to all of us. You rearrange your plans, sacrifice time to study your target language, and eventually just decide to put it off until things wind down.
I’ve been through it. I don’t think I opened a single piece of study material all December. No, watching a 5 minute video doesn’t make up for all of the missed journaling and reading, though it’s better than nothing.
If this is your problem, don’t worry. The point of celebrating a new year is to aim for a better you. So, here are a few tips to keep you going:
Make a plan
This year, I decided to start keeping a detailed agenda. It felt like a tool that would work for me, but if writing and planning your days doesn’t click with you, find anything that will help you reorganize.
The important thing is to pinpoint all the downtime you have during the day and pick out the ideal moment to learn a language. The best way to keep yourself reminded of your goal is to plan to study after something you do every day, such as a meal or a workout. I study French first thing in the morning when I wake up and study Japanese after I eat lunch.
The only thing I don’t schedule is a particular study activity. I like to make sure I enjoy learning every time, so I pretty much just pick what I want to do before I do it. If that’s not your style, feel free to make a lesson plan for yourself as well. Another option is to challenge yourself with something new every week depending on areas you need a little more practice in to direct your learning.
Take it easy, especially if you’ve rearranged your study times or schedule. I don’t mean you need to only kind of study or not pay attention. Work through your new arrangement as hard as you normally would, but be sure to reevaluate after a week or two. This way, you’ll give yourself time to fine tune your plan.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Does your current plan give you enough time to get through a study session?
- Do you feel satisfied with the time you’re spending?
- Are you consistently able to keep up without getting burned out?
- Is there any wiggle room for bad days? (waking up late, getting stuck at work, traffic, etc.)
If you’re having trouble, see if you can sprinkle study sessions throughout the day. For example, maybe you have time to listen to a podcast while you get ready in the morning, but you have to put off reading until you get home because it takes much longer.
The important thing is to make your learning plan work for you. Otherwise, it’ll be too easy to skip it in the future.
Schedule time for yourself!
You’ve probably heard that studying every single day is one of the most effective ways to learn a new language. However, everyone needs a day off.
If I can manage to schedule my weekends, I know my life is too boring. I’d rather not try at this point. So, I take weekends off to have fun and enjoy my time. I may watch a video or pay close attention when there’s French dialogue in a movie, but I don’t plan time to sit and study the way I normally do during the week.
If you’d like to study hard on the weekends, more power to you!
Still, don’t forget to take time out from your busy schedule to focus on yourself. You’re not a robot. You can’t live off of caffeine. If you work yourself too hard, it’s only going to be more difficult to keep yourself going when it really matters.
Give yourself a deadline with a concrete goal
Unless you’re going on a trip soon, you might not have a clear goal of where you want to be in your target language. Even if you do plan on traveling, you might not know exactly where you need to be in terms of fluency.
The best way to combat stagnant learning is to find a concrete goal for yourself. Learn 3,000 words. Master phrases you’ll use while traveling. Reach level B1 in your target language.
Making a goal like this will allow you to work backwards to allocate your time. If you can only learn 10 words a day, you’ll need about 300 days to learn 3,000. You can figure out how many phrases and concepts you’ll have to learn to be comfortable on your trip and use your time wisely. You can see how much you’ll need to do to reach a more independent language level.
Having a measurable goal in mind will give you something to look forward to and help you feel like you’re working towards something real. Plus, once you reach your goal, you can look forward to rewarding yourself and setting a new goal.
Don’t beat yourself up
If you don’t quite reach your goal, if you slip up or skip a few days of studying, or if you have trouble at any point, remember it’s not the end of the world.
Unless you’re learning a language for a secret spy mission, you can always take a breather and come back to it. If you need to, double check your plan and make sure it’s still working for you. Don’t set goals that are too ambitious for you to reach. If you’re like me and set big goals anyway, pick yourself back up if you don’t make it.
Learning a language is a process. If you keep going, you’ll never really stop learning. So, don’t feel bad about where you are on your language learning journey.
What are some of your language goals this year? I’d love to read about them in the comments!
Click here for Part 2.
3 thoughts on “How to Get Your Language Learning Back on Track After a Long Break (Part 1)”
Cassie, this is a GREAT article. I’m currently re-learning Spanish, along with my husband, as well as dipping my toe back into German (my hubby’s native language). We’ve tried many methods and techniques, but so much of it depends on prioritizing the language learning, and making a real plan. It doesn’t even have to be a “big, serious” plan, just SOMETHING. I also think it’s just like working out – you need an accountability buddy. I’ve been slacking lately while my husband has been excelling; I really need to get with it.
I blog about podcasts, and one of my most popular posts is about podcasts for learning Spanish. I love this method. Here’s the article, if you’re interested: http://podcastmaniac.com/educational-podcast-reviews-news/3-best-podcasts-for-becoming-fluent-in-spanish/
Thanks! This is great. Spanish is next on my list, but I’ve been too busy with the others at the moment. So, I’ll definitely bookmark your post.