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.
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?
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.