21-Day Motivation Project

Motivation is a tricky thing.

I try not to make this blog too self-help-like. What I mean is, I want to help you with specific tips and I want to encourage you. But I try not to make things too cheesy. By nature, I’m a little cynical, and I try not to be too phony.

That’s probably why I don’t put up tons of motivational sayings and images here or on the site’s Facebook page. A little of that goes a long way.

With that said, motivation is vital. In the long run, a language learner with average talent and lots of motivation is going to outperform a language learner with lots of talent and low motivation.

I know, I know. People are starting to debunk the 10,000-hour rule. But the bottom line is, with language learning, if you are highly motivated, you’re more likely to keep chipping away until you get to where you want to be. And if you are not motivated, you’re more likely to stop learning altogether.

The Problem

I’m learning German, and I’m making slow, steady progress. I see a huge difference in my reading and listening comprehension skills from even a couple months ago. On paper, I can tell I’m doing a lot of things right.

But I’ve lost some of my drive. I’m not getting anywhere close to 10,000 words a day. I have to force myself to stick the German CD in my car. And most troubling–it’s all starting to feel like a chore.

Part of this is because I’ve been so busy at work lately. I’m traveling a lot, and it’s hard enough getting through the days right now, let alone learn German on top of that.

But it’s more than that. I knew the problem was bad when I was driving in my car, falling asleep listening to a German podcast. Since I didn’t feel like crashing and dying that day, I turned the CD off and started listening to the radio. I surfed to the Spanish stations and began listening.

It was sooo fun to hear Spanish again. The morning DJs were clowning around and telling jokes. The songs were catchy. And even the commercials were full of energy. I was actually enjoying myself, and I definitely wasn’t falling asleep.

Okay, what was going on here?

The Solution

It’s pretty clear to see what my problem is.

I don’t think Spanish is an inherently more “fun” language than German. I think I’ve simply been choosing the wrong German texts lately.

I’ve been reading and listening to stuff that’s “good for me,” rather than stuff that I actually like. I’m taking in lots of news and stuff from Deutsche Welle learning podcasts. But I’m like a kid closing his eyes and drinking a spoonful of medicine.

When I learned my native English, I wasn’t watching CNBC growing up. I talked to my friends, read Choose Your Own Adventure books, thumbed through comic books, and watched cartoons. Not until high school and college did I really start tackling the difficult stuff. So why am I doing that to myself now?

Yes, people are motivated by different things. But the most motivated–the most successful–people actually enjoy what they’re doing. While I was learning Spanish, I felt the addiction of learning kick in. I’ve felt that with German too, but not recently.

So for the next 21 days, I’m going to make it my goal to get my motivation back. I’ll do this by:

  • Taking in stuff I genuinely enjoy reading and listening to – Go back to watching sitcoms, comedies, and action movies; listening to music and funny podcasts; and reading fun books, graphic novels, and so on.
  • Dialing back the difficulty level – I’ve been reading a lot of C1-level stuff, and maybe I jumped ahead too far. I need to put my ego in check and go back to easier, more comprehensible stuff.
  • Keeping up with a light amount of studying – I do think that progress in and of itself is motivating, so I’m going to keep learning vocabulary words via Readlang. And I’m also going to do some German grammar drills but only because I know it’ll improve my speaking, which is a motivating force for me. I’ll keep the total volume of learning activities low, though.

I will also have no specific performance goals. No specific vocab count, no learning objectives. My only goal is to get the joy of learning German back.

Think I can do it? In a slump yourself? Let me know in the comments.

  • Phil

    First of all, your strategy for overcoming this obstacle makes a lot of sense. I would watch *lots* of movies, and I’d used spaced repetition with those movies: watch it once, watch, read, or listen to something else for a while, then watch it again in a few days or a week. Yes, it might get boring, but you will learn as much that way as you would watching a bunch of different movies just once. Netflix has a good selection of German films, including comedies, which somehow seem easier for me to understand.

    The other thing I would suggest is to hit Duolingo and do some very easy lessons, ones where you already know the grammar and the vocabulary, and use them as timed practices to see how fast you can complete them without looking up anything. You need things that will re-ignite your passion, which leads to my next point:

    Language learning can be like a relationship. There’s the excitement of the first encounter, where the novelty keeps you going, and your progress is so fast that it’s motivating in and of itself. Then there’s the honeymoon, where things are still really fun and exciting, and you’re discovering all sorts of new things about the language, the culture, etc.

    Then day-to-day reality sets in, and it’s not bad, but it’s more of a routine. Many things become very predictable and familiar, which can be good, but can also be a problem, because it’s just not as exciting as it was. Even making the same mistakes can become more frustrating than it is at the beginning, because you feel that by now, you should just know it. There are times when you might even feel resentful (“Why does German word order have to be so rigid? Why do they insist on making compound words that take up a whole line on a page? Why is it all so…Germanic?? And by the way, my throat is getting tired of making all these guttural sounds!). Yes, I know it’s completely irrational, but these are all things I have thought.

    I have found this to be true with any language I have studied. What works for me is to keep switching back and forth between different languages, which is easy to do on Duolingo. The drawback is that I am not making the same kind of monogamous commitment to a single language as you have done, and that is going to keep me from reaching the level of fluency that you’ve already acquired. But for me, it’s a trade-off that I am willing to make, and it fits my goals. You are not going to want to do frequent language shifting, but you could build in a day without any German every week or so, just to give yourself a little time off.

    The other thing you mentioned that really hit home was listening to podcasts while driving. I have found that even listening to an Audible book while driving can be risky for me. There is something about the sound of someone reading or talking in a calm voice that can make me very drowsy. I guess there’s a reason that parents all over the world use bedtime stories to put their children to sleep. I have found that a program like Pimsleur, where I’m required to interact every few seconds, is much better and actually keeps me alert behind the wheel, but in city driving, even Pimsleur can be a risky distraction, and music is probably the best bet.

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Thanks for the post, Phil. Good idea on the Duolingo. After I finished the course once, I put it to the side. Honestly, I have forgotten quite a bit of grammar. I have a good internal sense of it, but when I do speaking drills, I find myself getting caught up on some stuff that’s supposed to be easy. I think Duolingo (and my new grammar drill book) will help.

      Yeah, I’ll probably stick to music in the car. I was doing some language shadowing with a B1-level course full or radio dramas (Deutsch – Wieso Nicht?) but I’ve listened to those so much that it’s become a little dry. Also, I need to listen to more music just because. haha 😀

      (Love the relationship analogy. Very, very true.)

  • http://www.tobefluent.com/ Stephanie

    It’s tricky when you’re in that murky in-between stage. At the beginning, courses and “learn-to-speak-x” resources are fun, because everything’s so new. And at an advanced level, you can read and watch native stuff, which is fun enough that it almost feels like cheating. But at the intermediate phase – the loooooong intermediate phase – it can be a bit of a slog, since courses have lost their novelty and native material is still too much. I think your goal of making German fun again is the best kind of goal. Good luck! Looking forward to seeing how it goes!

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Thanks, Stephanie! You’re right…I’m in the middle of this intermediate phase, and it is indeed loooong. haha…I can understand some native material, but definitely not all of it, and I’m focusing so much on the end goal that I stopped enjoying the journey. I’m pretty sure I can get back on track.

  • Hitrizie

    Nice article, Ron:-) Thanks:-)

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Thank you! :) My pleasure.

  • http://lindsaydoeslanguages.com Lindsay Dow

    Looking forward to checking out Readlang! Not heard of that before. :)
    I understand when you say you’re getting bored with German. I feel the same with French at the moment! I’m too much of a dabbler with languages to focus on just one..but alas, I have to do a big university dissertation in French – full focus is needed. Sigh!

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      A university dissertation in French? Wow, I’m seriously impressed. I’d love to hear how you got to that level. I’m assuming you’ve been studying a while. Is there a post on your site about it? (And I know I missed the point of your comment. haha…hang in there! Will totally be worth it in the end.)

      • http://lindsaydoeslanguages.com Lindsay Dow

        Yeah…it’s a bit crazy! French is the language I’ve learnt the longest – since I was about 9 but a lot of those early years consisted of repeating red, green, blue, cat, dog, fish so I’m not sure if they count! I’ve written about what I’m doing at the moment to help me stay focused on French starting with this post: http://www.lindsaydoeslanguages.com/next-language-quest-beating-university-french/#.U_xhhaOvB-g but not about how I’ve got to this level. Maybe I should…!
        Also, yes, motivation…we can do it! :)

  • Amit Kumar Datta

    Thanks, nice article Ron, motivating enough for me to prepare for my German A1 level.

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      You can do it, Amit! Totally passable test. Just keep chipping away at your studies and you’ll be ready.

      • Amit Kumar Datta

        Thanks a lot Ron, for your advice. If you have any additional tips , kindly share.

        • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

          Hi Amit. When are you taking the test? Not sure if you saw, but I wrote an ebook book about the German A1 test, available for $2.99 (USD) at Amazon. It’s in Kindle format, but you can read it on a Kindle reader.