Chinese, Language Books, Language Learning

How to Stay Motivated While Learning Languages

As all language learners can attest to, although it is very rewarding to discover new and interesting words, phrases, and idioms in the language(s) that one is studying, it is also the case that, after some time, it just can get plain boring. This is not necessarily because of a loss of interest entirely, but because, like anything else, all repetitive tasks eventually become monotonous.

We all know this feeling. The one where you suddenly realize that what you once thought the world of has slowly become something you might dread doing now (or at least that has been my experience from time to time). However, I realized a while ago that this was never because I lost my passion for language learning, but because I tended to both overwhelm myself with too many different languages at once and also to expect too much of myself in general.

This tendency to take on too much came directly from my intense interest in foreign languages and cultures, but was also the thing that sometimes made me dread sitting down to learn anything new. Time and time again, I have been guilty of not focusing on a set amount of language goals and instead letting my unbridled ambitions take the reins, keeping me constantly entertained and very knowledgable of many things, but often prohibiting me from gaining a deep understanding of any few things in particular. And I think that if you want to speak a language well, you must have this kind of deep understanding that only comes with extended focus. I would eventually realize that nothing was getting done and would become disheartened, bored, and disinterested.

I like the quote by Bertrand Russell — “To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficult achievement.” I’ve written this now on a piece of paper and have stuck it on the wall by my computer so that I don’t forget (along with all the other quotes I like to keep myself reminded of from time to time).

Daily Inspiration

Recently, I’ve been trying to figure out various ways to stay motivated by finding methods that allow me to continue enjoying myself when learning languages, and I’ve come up with a few that seem to be helping so far.

One of the things that I’ve been doing is the standard “watch movies in your target language”, and as a result, I have discovered the very rich and colourful cinema of Taiwan. I always knew that movies were made there, and that they were pretty good, but I didn’t know that to the extent which I do now, even coming to be able to identify many of the actors and actresses, some of my favorites being 趙又廷,東明相,阮經天彭于宴舒淇陳意涵鈕承澤,and 鳳小岳

Additionally, I’ve also been guilty lately of watching (in Chinese) a lot of Shinchan. For those that don’t know, this is a very famous Japanese cartoon about a 5-year-old boy who might just be the dumbest kid ever, constantly making everyone around him absolutely pissed off by what he does. However, I have to admit that it’s pretty funny and good for language practice, especially during those times when you would rather just relax and zone out. An added bonus is that this series has been dubbed into many different languages over the years, so if you’re willing to watch a little boy lust after 25-year-old girls, talk about his “elephant”, and annoy the hell out of his parents, this just might be for you.

Listening practice is important, but listening to natives speakers can be difficult, especially when just becoming acquainted with a foreign language and all you can find are people who talk much too fast for you to understand. Now, while it’s important to know how native speakers talk, I’ve found it equally useful to take time and listen to foreigners speak the language, although preferably those ones who speak it very well already (and, depending on what your mother tongue is, try to find those foreigners whose mother tongue is the same).

By doing this, you will be able to see how people from your own linguistic background tend to speak a non-native language. I say tend to speak because you will most definitely have an accent different from a native speaker, but by watching a fluent or near fluent non-native speaker talk, you may be able to get a better idea sooner of how to pronounce new words in the language you are studying, as well as get a feel for the flow and rhythm therein. It might sound like a strange plan, but just try it and see what you think.

I got this idea after viewing several videos on YouTube, one by a British guy explaining how he learned Chinese, and the second by an American in Taiwan who is using his video to teach Chinese speakers how to better pronounce English syllables.

Lastly, if you are able to speak more than one language already (or at least have some sort of grasp of a second language), you can attempt to learn a third, fourth, fifth, or tenth language by using those languages which you have already learned. The nice thing about this way of practicing is that you hit two birds here with one stone, often reading instructions and more complicated sentences in the more familiar foreign language while picking up new words and sentence patterns in the new target language.

Furthermore, due to the nature of most language books, they will most likely have more advanced and/or formal words and other terminology in them that you will probably not have learned yet (partly because these might rarely be required in daily conversation), but this is the kind of stuff that allows your knowledge of a language to deepen.

I recently found a book that teaches Korean, and I thought that I might try my hand at it, especially since I can already read the Korean alphabet. However, what differentiates this book from most others that I would normally read is that it’s written all in Chinese. Already, just from reading only the first two chapters, I’ve learned how to say predicate stem (謂詞詞幹), aspirated syllable (送氣音), and bilabial consonant (雙唇音), not to mention, some elementary Korean sentences, such as How have you been lately? (요즘 어떻게 지내십니까?) and Please speak Korean (한국말로 하십시오).

Korean for Chinese Speakers – 初級 / Beginner Level

Studying Korean via Chinese text.

I’ve also used a similar process in the past with a Chinese book that I got in Beijing in order to study French.

Studying French via Chinese text.

No matter what your activity of choice is, just make sure that it’s interesting and fun. Sometimes I even read the popular rage comics, but written in my target languages, such as the ones here and here. It doesn’t have to be intellectually stimulating, it just has to be fun for you.

If you have any other ways of keeping language learning fun, I’d be interested to know in the comments below.


3 thoughts on “How to Stay Motivated While Learning Languages

  1. Thats the biggist point i struggle with learning a language. I would love to learn either Chinese, Korean or Thai and currently have tried teaching myself German, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Czech and Korean, not all at once but throughout the thirty years of my life. However, every language i either learn a couple of words and get stuck or lack the time to carry on learning causing me to lose interest and give up. Coming from a person with an academic background, loves learning and quite easily point my hand to anything, i am always puzzled at why i can never motivate myself to learn a language. I never no whether either this could change through living in the country in order to persuade to learn more or whether my dylexia is the result and i can never overcome the language barriors and motivation i need in order to learn that language.

  2. Aaron says:

    I think one of the biggest barriers to language learning is not having found something you like to study. For example, if you are not interested in watching the news in language A, either because it’s boring or because the anchors speak too quickly, you’ll soon loose your motivation and probably get frustrated. However, if you like to read (even simple) books or chat with people on forums, then maybe these are things that would improve your motivation to keep learning.
    I wonder some times whether I might have some slight dyslexic problem as well, but I try to counter whatever it is by just reading more slowly and not letting the words run away on me.
    What do you think?

  3. I think you have a very good point Aaron and I am going to forward your article to our French As a Second Language students here in Vancouver, Canada. Most of them are Anglophones but we also have Hispanophones and Sinophones. We are happy to share French, this pillar of Western languages with people from the whole planet here in Vancouver. I also appreciate your research in terms of language learning, I think your whole blog is interesting.

    Merci beaucoup Aaron! Continue ce beau travail.

    Best regards,

    Nicolas Lejeune
    Sorbonne Language Services
    office/bureau: 604-638-1676
    #200-1892 West Broadway
    Vancouver V6J 1Y9

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