Help! I Can’t Get Over My Bad Language Learning Habits!

January is almost over and, so far, I’ve done a few more recordings in French for the 30-Day Speaking Challenge, studied a bit of Japanese, browsed Amazon for a new textbook, and felt embarrassingly inadequate in Spanish while purchasing Brazilian takeout.

The worst part is that the takeout wasn’t even for me.

The best part is that I’m still feeling pretty positive.

But I haven’t been doing so hot?

If there’s anything I’ve figured out about learning another language, it’s that it’s not a one-time commitment.

At first, it might feel “official” once you’ve made the decision, chosen your study materials, or booked a session with a teacher. However, it doesn’t take long after that first decision to realize you’ve got a long way to go and a lot more decisions to make. Even if you’re only commitment is to learn with Duolingo or study vocabulary on Drops, your notifications (especially that adorable owl) will remind you again and again that you need to keep making the decision to open that app and learn something.

Then, you need to do it again every day afterwards.

You need to make it a habit.

Those habit tips aren’t working…

If you’re like me, your shiny motivation to learn a language is consistently overshadowed by all those bad habits you’ve held onto for years. Not only do you have to instill good language learning habits, but you’ve got to work hard to ignore the desire to take a nap, watch TV, play video games, browse social media, or a multitude of other activities instead of practicing.

So, what do you do if your efforts don’t seem to be working?

Think about the last time you skipped out on studying your target language(s) and did something else instead. Don’t just focus on whether or not you’d planned ahead of time. Try to think of the moment you chose another activity.

Did you lose track of time?

Were you too tired to do anything else?

Did you just want to do something more relaxing/entertaining/interesting?

More importantly, does it keep happening?

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve read so far emphasized that habits are more likely to last if they’re enjoyable.

So, if you’re still struggling to keep learning and stop getting distracted, start asking yourself if you’ve made your language learning routine enjoyable enough.

It’s not all fun and games, though

Now, of course it won’t be exciting 100% of the time. There will always be grammar points to decipher, anxiety-inducing conversations, and generally bad days. That’s when the decision making comes into play and it’s not always easy.

I’ve made a lot of decisions that haven’t helped me progress and I’ve fueled a lot of bad habits, but I have to remind myself that there are still more decisions to make. Just because I’ve missed a few practice days doesn’t mean I have to keep missing them.

That’s why I’m staying positive, even though I’ve missed a few learning days. I haven’t given up and, just like with learning a language, my mistakes have the potential to make me better.

So, whether you’ve just started learning a second language this year or you’re working on your 15th target language, pat yourself on the back for all the days you’ve done something to help you reach your goal and remember that it’s okay to feel discouraged once in a while. Try something fun when you can. If you have a bad day, just tell yourself tomorrow is another chance.

Then, make a decision to try again.

You’ll get there.


What bad habits get in the way of your language learning? Feel free to share your stories and advice in the comments.

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