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Motivating Yourself to Learn a New Language

Sasha loves Japanese culture and wants to learn how to speak Japanese. She spent a few months on Japanese textbooks and language learning applications. But soon she started losing the motivation to continue studying and eventually stopped.

Does this sound familiar to you?

Learning a new language is tough, especially if it’s without a teacher’s guidance. You expected that you'd be able to learn a language in a short amount of time, but for some reason, your motivation started to dwindle after a few weeks of productivity.

Many of us love the idea of learning a new language and are compelled to do it for various reasons. Some may be due to work, others may be for a hobby. However, we all end up losing motivation one way or another. In this article, you will learn what affects our motivation as well as seven tips to stay motivated when learning a new language.

What Affects Our Motivation?

Before we get into the seven ways on how to stay motivated, we first need to understand what exactly affects our motivation. There are two main types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Basically, intrinsic motivation is when you do something for your own enjoyment and fulfilment, while extrinsic motivation is when you do something to earn rewards or avoid punishment from others.

In the case of learning a new language, people with intrinsic motivation are more likely to stay motivated in their learning since they enjoy the learning process. However, people with extrinsic motivation, such as learning for the sake of rewards from your parents, are less likely to continue learning after achieving a certain milestone. This form of motivation is more short term as compared to those with intrinsic motivation.

Another thing to note is that those with intrinsic motivation may lose their motivation if they have to meet their extrinsic motivation. For instance, you enjoy learning Spanish and you decided to take up a module on it, where you will have to do well in order to receive a certificate. This makes you enjoy the process of learning less than before you took that module.

Now that you know how to differentiate the two types of motivation and how we can use this information to our advantage, let’s move on to the seven tips on staying motivated.

7 Tips to Staying Motivated

1. Understand yourself

Do you learn a new language due to intrinsic or extrinsic reasons? Based on the previous section on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, which type of motivation resonates more with you?

Recognising the reasons as to why you want to learn a language will help you craft a better study plan for yourself. Understanding these reasons will help motivate you to continue learning whenever you feel lost or unmotivated. It would be good to write these reasons down to remind yourself in the future.

Along your language learning journey, if you end up losing motivation, it’s probably due to the fact that you forgot your reason for starting or your reason just wasn’t strong enough to push you through.

2. Set goals and craft a study plan

Why do I need to set goals? Why craft a study plan? I can just finish this textbook by the end of this year!

I’m afraid learning a language isn’t going to be that easy.

Setting goals can help maintain your level of motivation needed to continue learning in the long run. Instead of setting vague goals, such as “finish reading the language textbook”, it’ll be more beneficial to set clear and tangible goals for yourself. Use SMART goals to help you in your planning. For instance, a tangible goal would be “To complete the language textbook by 30 November 2022”.

After setting goals for yourself, you’d want to craft a study plan. The purpose of a study plan is to help you achieve these goals you set for yourself. This saves time in the long run, so you don’t have to plan what to study every time you want to study. When you’re coming up with a study plan, you would want to be as consistent as you can. For example, you would want to spread out your learning, instead of allocating the majority of it in a particular period. This also makes sure that you don’t have a burn out while studying.

Trust me, your future self will thank you for this.

3. Integrate the things you enjoy in your learning

Needless to say, we all feel happy when we do things we enjoy doing. When you incorporate your learning in these activities, you’ll be more productive in your learning.

If you’re a competitive person, you can look for language learning applications that gamify your learning process.

If you enjoy reading or watching movies, you can read or watch content that is in the language you’re learning. Can you imagine the sense of fulfilment when you actually understand the foreign language that you’re reading? Relating back to the first tip, this sense of accomplishment can add to your intrinsic motivation (if that’s the reason why you’re learning a new language).

4. Talk to people who speak or are learning that language

Yes, looking for study buddies can be difficult. But, there are many benefits if you have one who learns the same language as you!

Firstly, speaking a language frequently can help to build your confidence.

Secondly, a study buddy that goes through the same challenges and obstacles as you can motivate you to continue learning. Both of you can help keep each other in check, making sure you complete the goals and study plans you set out to do.

These two reasons are just some among many other benefits for having a study buddy. So go and look for a study buddy now!

5. Identify distractions

On the other hand, distractions are your worst study buddies, especially when you’re trying to complete a task and feeling unmotivated.

Your fingers start to itch, wanting to check that one notification that pops up on your phone.

Based on a study in 2015, 87% of students reported that texting was their most common form of distraction. It’s quite obvious that we should minimise distractions when we’re studying but how many of us actually made an effort to switch our phones off during study times.

To help you with your learning, here are three main ways to reduce distractions:

Firstly, study at places that have minimal background noise. Studies have shown that noise can affect your visual and auditory attention, which affects your learning. So, it’s important to look for a suitable and convenient location to do your studying.

Secondly, turn your electronic devices off or put them to “Do Not Disturb” mode. You may ask, “But I can’t afford to turn my phone off. What if I receive an important call?” This brings me to my last point about scheduling your studying time.

Lastly, ensure that you allocate sufficient time to study based on your study plans and adjust the timings according to your own schedule. If you’re worried about receiving an important call, you can allocate more frequent breaks for you to check your phone notifications. Exercise flexibility and craft your study schedule to fit your own schedule.

6. Reward yourself

Reward yourself to stay motivated.

Since learning a language is a long term process and you can only see the efforts of your studying years later, it would be beneficial to give yourself some rewards in the short term to push yourself to learn more. This works especially well if you’re learning for extrinsic reasons, which creates extrinsic motivation.

Even if you’re studying for intrinsic reasons, there is no harm in rewarding yourself from time to time. It is said that rewarding oneself helps to improve productivity levels and helps you to reduce distractions better.

7. Make learning a habit

Have you heard of the saying that “it takes 21 days to form a habit”? Well, that’s just a myth.

It actually takes an average of 66 days to form a habit. Essentially, you’d want to form healthy learning habits, which can pull you through learning when you feel unmotivated.

When you have gotten used to studying a language, it becomes second nature and this makes learning so much easier than when you first started out. You may even start to wonder why you thought it was difficult in the first place.

Integrate the previous tip with this one and reward yourself when you stick to your learning habits for a week, two weeks or 66 days. Condition yourself to think that learning means reward, reward means happiness, so learning must mean happiness. This helps you to create good study habits and keeps you motivated to continue learning.


In this article, you’ve learnt about the two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. You were also introduced to seven tips on how to stay motivated during the course of your study.

Learning a foreign language is a long term commitment. If you don’t plan ahead, you’ll find yourself losing steam and wondering why you even started. Understand your goals and motivation for learning that language. Make use of your surroundings and resources to help make learning fun and easier for you.

When you’re having a fun time studying, you wouldn’t even think of it as a chore and you may even feel out of place when you don’t study! Craft your own study plan based on your needs and adjust your schedules accordingly. Start small and work your way up.

Remember, language learning is a marathon, not a race.

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