To Take a Break or Not Stop Now? The Language Learner’s Dilemma

Do you ever get to a point where you feel like you’ve stopped learning anything useful?

No one ever said learning a language would be easy, but for some reason, we expect our progress to be consistent. An off-day might be a bit discouraging, but a sudden road block can make you question your motivations, your goals, and even your overall ability to succeed.

That’s when the real discouragement hits. Instead of getting better, your language skills just become another task on your large to-do list.

It happens.

Your schedule can’t revolve around your language learning goals, no matter how helpful that might be. Though, whether you’ve put your learning on the back-burner before or you’re just not the type to give up, it can be especially hard to figure out whether poor progress means you should push yourself to work harder or give yourself a much-needed break.

Is It Burnout?

Sometimes, you just need a little extra push. If you’ve fallen out of a routine and can’t seem to get back on track, taking a bit of time to plan your days can do wonders. However, if you find yourself stuck between choosing to study and choosing to get more sleep, a strict routine might not be the issue.

In fact, scientific studies seem to agree that pushing yourself to work harder, especially when you’re stressed out can be pretty detrimental to your learning goals. Even without all the science, you’ve probably noticed that you’re a lot less focused after a hard day or that you’re more likely to opt for easier tasks during a stressful week.

Difficult days are normal, but how do you know when it’s time to take a break?

You might

  • Be too exhausted to do intensive work.
  • Avoid your study sessions or justify an “easy” activity far too often.
  • Intend to follow up on new vocabulary or unfamiliar grammar later, but always seem to forget.
  • Miss how much you loved learning

If any of these sounds familiar, it might be a good idea to close the grammar book and take a walk…or a nap.

But how do you slow down without falling behind?

What to Do or Not to Do?

It’s a dangerous game. Do you stop and risk not starting again? A planned break sounds nice, but the last thing you want to do is fail to reach your goals. If you’re learning for a trip or a job, there’s even more pressure to keep going.

Taking a step back doesn’t mean calling it quits, though. Instead of thinking in terms of moving forward or stopping to stare at the flowers, think of taking a break as a way to shift your focus.


Go back to the basics

Review previous material or go back to resources you’ve already used. Even if you learned present tense conjugations a while ago or you’re familiar with a set of vocab, a bit of review time will keep you from forgetting more basic concepts. Plus, you won’t have to worry about the headache of not understanding something new.

Combine self-care and self-study

Take a walk outside while you listen to a podcast. Take a bubble bath while you review new or old words. Try to associate learning with non-stressful situations. This can be a valuable habit to keep up even after you’re feeling better.

Make a new plan

If you’re having a hard time because of holidays or a big event, figure out a less intensive schedule. Allow yourself to focus on other things and don’t worry about making major progress for a bit.

Even if you’re just having a tough time, it’s okay to slow down. Commit to only 10 or 15 minutes of study time if you’re used to a half hour. You can always switch it up again later.

Optimize your learning

If you don’t have as much time to dedicate to your language learning, make sure the time you do spend is valuable. Don’t try to study 20 new words when you only have time to focus on 5.

Similarly, if you haven’t got the time or energy to devote to confusing grammar, see if you can break it down into smaller chunks. Spend one session going through some example sentences. Set aside a different time to learn pesky grammar rules. You might even be surprised by how effective short practice sessions can be.


Forget to set a new routine or a smaller goal

If there’s a particular event that’s sucking up your time, plan on going back to your normal routine or a new routine a few days after it’s over. Pick an actual start date to make it harder for you to put it off.

If there’s no event holding you back, don’t be afraid to set a different goal. That might mean just focusing on what you’ll need for a trip or giving yourself more time to make progress.

Think of studying as a chore

When you start to see learning a language as a means to an end, you’re more likely to also start putting it off. Don’t think of studying as another task. Focus on what you like about learning and make it a part of every study session.

Feel guilty

Under no circumstances should you start feeling bad about not being at a certain level in your language learning journey. If you’ve got a headache, don’t feel guilty about resting instead of paying attention to something new. You have a right to be exhausted and you can come back to it after you feel better.


It’s perfectly fine to put off a bit of learning when you’re not feeling well, but continuing to stall for a few days isn’t the answer either. If you’re still not up to the task, try to start off small and see if you can do a little more each day. Sometimes, you only need to encounter one new word or phrase to get you excited about learning again.

Just remember that learning a language isn’t all that linear. One day, you feel like you’re making amazing progress. A week later, you might feel like you’ll never be fluent.

Taking a small step back can give you a different perspective and propel you forward in unexpected ways. A lot of times, you don’t realize how much you needed a break until after you’ve taken it. So, don’t be afraid to trust your instincts and give your brain a rest. You’ll be back to surprising yourself and working harder than ever soon enough.

Got some of your own tips to add? I’d love to hear them!

Featured Image Photo by Curtis MacNewton on Unsplash

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