Knowing how to stay motivated while learning English is incredibly important.
Language learning is often marketed as something that can be done both easily and quickly.
The current bestselling book in the language section of amazon.es is ‘Inglés: El Secreto Para Hablar Inglés Como Un Nativo En 6 Meses Para Personas Con Poco Tiempo.’ The Top 3 is rounded out by ‘Curso de inglés definitivo 1’ and ‘Inglés: Habla como un nativo en 5 lecciones.’
All three titles suggest there is a secret shortcut to learning English, and judging by the book sales it’s working.
My experience learning Spanish over the last four years has been neither easy nor quick.
There is a psychological explanation why.
The brain uses shortcuts to work more efficiently by focusing on a few key features and ignoring others. These shortcuts, or heuristics, explain why we quickly get used to seeing things in a certain way and it is a shock when we are suddenly put into new situations where the old shortcuts don’t work, such as being in a new country or starting a new job.
When we only have one language installed, all our decisions are made using the rules of that language.
Learning a second language slows us down as it introduces new rules to take account of. It takes a great deal of effort to ‘re-wire’ your brain to think and reason in the new language and unlearn the rules that have served you up until now.
The outcome is that it takes years to learn a language to an equivalent standard as a native, and claiming it is possible in six months is simply wrong and in my experience, unhelpful.
Assuming that you want to reach a high level in English, you will be learning for at least the next few years.
That might seem like a lot, but I can assure you that as a Spanish speaker, learning English is one of the best long term investments you can make with your time. It also gives you lots of excuses for watching series in Original Version to practice listening.
To help you stay motivated, here are the four strategies that helped me reach my current level in Spanish.
1. Identify the emotion behind your desire to learn English
My initial push to learn Spanish came when talking with a friend from Barcelona.
At a time when I could only speak English, I discovered that she was fluent in Spanish, Catalan and English, and was younger than I am. This led to me feeling intense shame and promising to become fluent in Spanish one day.
When I felt like giving up, none of the normal excuses such as not having enough time, or feeling embarrassed came close to matching the feeling of shame I felt when speaking with her.
Indeed, avoiding that feeling still motivates me today. Ask yourself the following questions to ‘tune in’ to the emotions that are driving you to learn English:
- What situation made you to want to learn English?
- What strong emotion were you feeling at that time?
- Was it a negative emotion or a positive one?
If it was a negative emotion, improving your English can help you avoid that feeling. If it was a positive emotion, improving your English can help you experience that feeling more often.
2. Identify a very specific short term language learning goal
Having dived head first into my language learning I quickly became overwhelmed.
There was so much vocabulary and pronunciation to learn that I nearly gave up. Focusing on a single specific language goal at a time was the solution.
One of my very first goals was to be able to have a 30 second conversation in Spanish. I didn’t mind if I made mistakes or if my accent wasn’t perfect, my goal was to engage in conversation and to communicate.
Only when I felt able to speak for 30 seconds, did I increase the target time to 60 seconds, and so on.
Ask yourself what you want to be able to do in the next few weeks that is a stepping stone towards your bigger goal? Don’t be too strict on yourself and focus on something you feel is within your capabilities.
3. Accept that it will take much longer than you originally thought.
I arrived at this realisation nine months into learning Spanish, when I went to Madrid to try out my Spanish.
Driven by avoiding the shame I felt at the start of my journey, working steadily towards longer conversations with Spanish people online, I felt I was nearly fluent.
It was no longer a challenge to communicate with my exchange partners and I was becoming an expert at reading short emails.
However, once on the ground in Madrid I realised there was a huge difference between speaking with other language learners and ‘real’ people.
No longer were people trying to understand my accent and if I made even minor mistakes I was met with puzzled looks rather than encouragement.
The pressure of speaking with people who don’t know you’re not a native English speaker, or who won’t adapt their style of communication and may not be very understanding of your efforts to communicate with them, adds stress to everyday situations.
This is normal.
You are going to need to keep putting yourself into situations that feel alien to you. You will feel isolated and will feel like giving up.
Just treat every difficult situation or ‘failure’ as a stepping stone on the way to your future level of English.
But it’s not all bad news, I’ve saved the most important tip for last!
4. Laugh at your mistakes
The best advice for staying motivated to learn English is to laugh at your mistakes.
You only improve when you make new mistakes and if you get upset when you make mistakes you won’t keep making them.
It helps to surround yourself with people who will laugh with you, rather than at you when you slip up, as understanding your mistakes is key for improving your grasp of your new language.
Keep laughing, stay positive and you will be making progress without even realising it.
P.D. Este artículo ha sido un Guest Post de mi amigo Lawrence, que como indica aquí es psicólogo y recién mudado a Madrid. Y por cierto, yo he dado algunos de los mismos consejos aquí también. Por ejemplo, el lado oscuro de la motivación y el poder de reírte de ti mismo. Y también de hacer los propósitos más pequeños.