How can something so simple burst into flames?
I mean, everyone knows at least one language—and plenty of people learn them successfully—and yet you feel like you just can’t make it happen.
Learning a new language is often a confusing process.
We look ahead and see a long, winding road without any signs or direction.
We often don’t know how to get started, nor do we have tons of time to commit to learning.
This leads us to waste our energy, money and, most importantly, time.
That stops today. We’re going to show you the some of the most deadly mistakes nearly all language learners make—and how you can avoid them all.
By the end, you’ll have overcome all the major hurdles to starting a language learning venture and maintaining your progress in the long term.
3 Facepalmingly Simple Ways to Avoid Failing at Language Learning
1. Identify your “why”
Understanding your “why” is where it all has to start. As Simon Sinek explains in his book, “Start with Why,” the reason why you’re doing something is far more important than what it is or how you do it.
This is because whenever we take on a new task or project, there’s always going to be an obstacle or struggle that we’ll need to overcome. It’s always fun to try something novel, but then we’ll need to step up our game and work harder to get better at it. Those who give up early on are the ones who haven’t clarified what their “why” is.
Let’s come back to language learning. Whatever your target language is—Spanish, Italian, Korean, etc.—what’s your “why”?
Here are some questions we recommend you ask yourself:
What will I achieve?
Who will I be able to connect with?
What is the most exciting thing I will be able to do?
Who will I become as a person?
The next time you’re facing difficulty or losing motivation, just come back to these reasons, and you’ll get right back on track.
2. Set clear goals
According to Tony Robbins, the motivation man, “setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”
It doesn’t matter if we have the fastest car in the world. If we don’t know where we’re going, we’ll just end up wasting precious energy, money and time going nowhere.
All of us have a desire that we want to fulfill, we just have to clarify what that is, and make it the driver to our success.
There are the key components to setting goals. Your goal has to be:
Visually specific — Get as visually clear as possible about what your end result would look like, to the point you can close your eyes and imagine it. Where will you be speaking your new language? Will you be making friends while sipping fruity drinks on a beach in Latin America? Will you be chatting while watching movies in Seoul? Or do you see yourself connecting online with native speakers?
Slightly out of reach — There is a fine balance between picking a goal that’s way out of reach and one that is easily within reach. This goal should be something you can visually imagine, but a goal that you would need to push yourself to accomplish. For example, you might not be able to tackle a French novel tomorrow, but with time and practice you totally could!
Measurable — What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get improved. The easiest way to do this is to put a number on it. This could be number of words memorized, the length of conversation you can have with a native speaker, etc.
Results-oriented — Focus on the results, not how much time you spent getting to them. For example, instead of measuring how many hours you studied every week, only measure what measurable result you achieved. It’s okay to take your time reaching the goal. Remember, it doesn’t matter how much effort you put in unless you don’t get the results from the effort.
Deadline-specific — As Parkinson’s Law states, the time we spend completing a task will depend on the time we allocate to the task. This means that if we give ourselves 30 days to complete a report that should only take 30 minutes, that’s exactly how long we’ll take to complete it. Whatever goal you set, make sure you have a realistic deadline to accomplish it.
Let me share three examples of goals that are bad, good and great, so you can get an understanding of how your goals compare.
Bad goal: I want to become fluent in Spanish so I can travel to Spain someday.
Good goal: I want to become conversationally fluent in Spanish so I can travel to Spain by next summer.
Great goal: I will have a 30-minute conversation in Spanish with a native Spanish speaker over coffee in a cafe in Madrid in July 2016.
Do you notice the difference?
Compared to the first two goals, the great goal is written as if it’s already accomplished (I want versus I will) and includes all the components of the goal-setting formula including deadlines as well as being measurable, visually specific and results-oriented.
3. Make a schedule
The most successful people and top-performers in their industry focus on the process, not just the deadline. Optimal performance is less important than the daily practice of taking action, no matter how hard it is or how tired you are.
If you want to write a book, this could mean waking up each morning in order to write 500 words, no matter how bad the first draft is.
If you want to double your business sales, this could mean spending every week with your team reviewing your sales numbers and executing a new growth experiment.
If you want to lose 10 pounds, this could mean running 30 minutes every morning.
For many of us, learning a new language is not the #1 priority in our lives. It’s our family time and careers that take up our focus.
This is why scheduling your learning time is even more important than scheduling your work time.
Here are some practical steps we recommend to schedule your learning time:
Pick your language learning activity — This could be memorizing 30 of the most common words on your own, working with a private language coach or learning with a FluentU video.
Figure out your free times — When are the vacant times you have during the day? If you’re a morning person, it could be before work. It could be during lunch break or at night once the kids are in bed. It could even be on your commute!
Add in 15 to 30 minutes of buffer time — Schedules never go according to plan. This is why we want to make sure we add some buffer time, so if we happen to wake up later than usual, or get held up in traffic on the way back from home, we can still use the buffer time to stay on track.
Set reminders — Because we probably have a dozen things we need to remember during our day, setting notification reminders goes a long way. This could be done through any digital calendar software you use (i.e. Google, Outlook, etc.) and you can even get set up to receive them on your phone.
Find someone to join to the journey — Ever heard the saying, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”? It’s easy to resort to going at it alone. This is how we’ve lived most of our lives. But if you observe the best performers and the fastest learners, they have someone who works with them, whether it’s a mentor, advisor or coach.
That last point is a key one.
In almost any aspect of our lives, we have a coach that we work with, whether it’s a fitness trainer, financial advisor, business mentor or sports coach. This is the best-kept secret amongst the best performers and the fastest learners in the world.
Language learning is no different.
If you’ve truly discovered your “why” and have a clear goal that you’ve set for yourself, you should find moving forward a breeze. Then it’s time to get outside help, to guide you through each step of the way, keep you accountable and accelerate your learning speed.
Anyone can learn a new language, no matter how old you are, how busy you are, and even if you’ve tried before with limited success.
It’s all about finding the right strategy that works for you and, of course, avoiding the most deadly mistakes that language learners make.
And One More Thing...
If you dig the idea of learning on your own time from the comfort of your smart device with real-life authentic language content, you'll love using FluentU.
With FluentU, you'll learn real languages—as they're spoken by native speakers. FluentU has a wide variety of videos as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.
Didn't catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU's "learn mode." Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You get a truly personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.