You've been learning English for a while now, and no matter what your level is, it can sometimes be demoralizing. You might be wondering, "Is this all worth it? Will I ever get fluent?"
You're not alone. Learning a language as an adult can be a years-long process, filled with moments of frustration and confusion. But it's okay! Because that's part of the natural learning process.
Today, we're going to look at 5 ways to stay motivated while learning English. These will be different coping mechanisms as well as learning practices that can reinvigorate your enthusiasm and remind you of why you set out to learn English in the first place.
1. Focus on the Small Successes
Gratitude has been shown to rewire the way your brain works! Over time, encouraging yourself to feel grateful can make you feel calmer and happier. Let's apply gratitude to our language learning.
Think of where you started with your language journey.
Perhaps you started learning English as a child or perhaps you started a few months ago. Maybe you've taken formal classes or maybe your entire English education has been self-taught. Whatever your relationship with English, you had to start somewhere. And if you're reading this now, then you have definitely come a long way!
Focus on the times when you've felt confident in your English; look at specific times in your language learning that you've succeeded. Let yourself feel grateful for how far you've come.
For example, a time when you answered your teacher's question perfectly, or when you ordered coffee in New York with no issue, or when you understood a line from a TV show without subtitles for the first time. These small moments might not feel important in the overall picture. But they are key to feeling motivated.
Your small successes can sustain you during rough times when you are feeling frustrated. What small wins are you proud of?
2. View Learning English as a Daily Process
There will be days when you simply just can't get your brain to work. I know that as a student of Spanish, some days I feel fluent and others I can barely string together a sentence. If you find yourself unable to conjugate verbs correctly or keep your vocabulary straight--don't worry! It's normal. Here's some advice for daily English practice:
Keep your objectives small.
Don't think "I want to be fluent in English"--that is too broad and general. Instead of making your English goals broad, try to get more specific. What about speaking English appeals to you?
Are you wanting to learn how to write an email? How about brushing up on the latest English slang so you can chat with friends online?
Saying "I want to learn the lyrics to this English song" is a much more attainable goal. Breaking down your objectives into daily tasks can also make you feel more successful once you finish them!
And always remember--tomorrow's a new day.
3. Are You in a Language-Learning Plateau?
As Maria put it, learning a language is a process, not a finish line.
There might come a time in your language-learning journey that you hit a plateau.
A plateau is a geographical feature--it's a mountain whose top is flat rather than pointy. "Hitting a plateau" is usually a phrase used in fitness, but we can use it for English too. It means when you are experiencing no change or progress.
When you first start learning English, there is so much to learn that your vocabulary and grammar skills are developing fast! Your skills get better and better and better...only for you to reach a point that you don't feel like you're learning as fast. I'm here to tell you that's normal!
As your skills increase, you might spend less time learning and more time practicing. If you feel like you're in a plateau, maybe see if the material you're learning is right for you. Is it too repetitive or easy?
The other important think to keep in mind is that language learning is not only a process. One deep frustration all language learners have is that learning a language is a never-ending process.
So try to set fair and reasonable expectations. For instance, expecting to wake up one day and suddenly be a Master of English is impossible. My Italian professor lived in the US for twenty years and was still learning new things every day.
Don't lose hope! I say this so you can manage your expectations. There will always be a new word or expression to learn so instead of setting "perfect" as your goal, embrace being a life-long student. There is something beautiful in enjoying the process of learning, not just the results!
4. Only Compare Yourself to...Yourself
Sometimes you might hear another non-native English speaker speak English and think, "Why can't I speak that well?"
It's natural to compare yourself, especially if you're in a classroom setting, but comparison will only hurt your motivation to learn!
You can only really compare yourself to your past self. Yesterday's you knew less than you do now, and the day before that, you knew even less. As you focus on the small successes, remember how far you've come in your language journey.
Don't sweat it if you make beginner mistakes or forget things now and again. Language learning is not only a continuous process, it's also not always linear. As we said, take it day by day and keep pushing through. You are only competing against yourself!
5. Make It Fun!
The true killer of motivation isn't comparison or frustration. It's boredom.
If you find yourself struggling to pay attention to your textbooks, remember words or get the perfect pronunciation, maybe you need to find a way to re-engage with English. After all, learning a language isn't just about memorizing verbs or studying grammar. It's so much more than that!
Try to find the joy in learning English again. Here are some suggestions:
1. Try a new TV show or movie in English. Watch it once in your native language, and then again in English. Or try watching it with language-learning apps like Language Learning with Netflix. This can also apply to Youtube.
2. Go to a language exchange. Language exchanges are a great way to put your English skills into use over a beer or coffee. Plus, you can meet new people!
3. Play some video games. Turn off your brain for a bit and let yourself enjoy some video games! This is also a great chance to practice your listening and get familiar with the slang or little things English speakers say that aren't in your textbook.
Why should you do this? Because you have to be very careful about getting burnout. Burnout can be quite serious and it's more than just a bit of laziness or tiredness. If you find yourself struggling at work, unable to sleep well, or feeling brain fog, take a step back and pause. You deserve rest and trying to push through burnout will not end well.
We have to take breaks, or our bodies will take breaks for us. If you think you're experiencing burnout, it's likely not just because of learning English. Still, try putting down the books for a few days and take it easy!
Stay Patient; Learning English Is Worth It
Think for a moment about why you want to learn English. Are you preparing for school, an exam or a job? Are you hoping to speak with people from all over the world? Do you want to understand your favorite movies and songs without the barrier of subtitles?
Reconnect yourself with those reasons. Remind yourself what is important to you, like connecting with others or scoring that new job. And remember--you are doing great.