It’s common knowledge in the polyglot community that motivation is the key to success. Good study habits might be more important, but I believe it’s impossible to establish a habit without some kind of motivation. Famous polyglot Alex Rawlings recommends writing a list of 10 reasons why you want to learn a language. It’s not easy, or even always possible! But if you can write such a list, those reasons will keep you motivated.
Barring that, what helps me to stay motivated is to start off with what I call a “honeymoon phase.” Others have remarked that when you start learning a foreign language, it feels like a honeymoon. That is, the language might be new and fun to you as you learn interesting things about it and hear yourself speaking it. Disappointments, frustration, and boredom might not have surfaced yet. Thus, it feels a little like a honeymoon.
However, I use the term “honeymoon” for a deliberate language-learning phase at the beginning of my studies of a new language. During this phase, I attempt to fall in love with the language before I become committed to it, set goals, or even study it seriously. This phase even helps me to decide which language I want to study next.
There are some things I do during this phase–but not all of them:
- Find out where it’s spoken.
- Find out what sounds and tones are in it (phonetics)–usually via Wikipedia.
- Listen to news broadcasts and other audio in the language.
- Watch videos to sample TV, movies, vblogs, fairy tales, etc.
- Sample music–both modern and traditional.
- Watch traditional dances.
- Watch videos for very small children, and see if I can pick up a few words.
- Listen to podcasts for beginners learning the language.
- See what the writing looks like.
- Study the language with short audio courses such as Speak … with Confidence or Dr. Blair’s … in No Time or … for Children.
- Find out what kinds of courses and references I can use to study it (but don’t start them yet). Keep a list. Think about which course I’d like to start with after the honeymoon phase is over.
There are also things I don’t do during this phase:
- Spend a lot of money.
- Study a serious course.
- Read a lot about grammar.
- Try to master all of its pronunciation at once.
- Memorize vocabulary.
- Study with a tutor or language exchange partner.
- Take a class.
- Make commitments with myself.
- Set goals.
- Ask others to keep me accountable.
These are all things I do once the honeymoon phase is over, if I decide to continue with that language. I might decide not to continue, as a result of not gaining enough appreciation for the language or culture or finding it hard to find courses and references I can use to learn it.
The languages for which I’ve completed a honeymoon phase successfully are the ones I’m strongly motivated to study, while those for which I haven’t completed it are lacking motivation. If I lack motivation, I tend to quit it sooner or later.
Are there any languages that you think you might persevere in and be more successful at if you either (1.) write a list of ten reasons to learn it, or (2.) spend a few weeks deliberately playing with the language but not studying it seriously? Are there languages that you have quit learning that you would like to try again with one of these two approaches?
One thought on “A honeymoon for language success”
I also take this approach to language learning. I listen to the radio in the language to casually familiarise myself with the sounds and prosity of the language. I also borrow language courses from the library or look on the ‘Omniglot’ website to find out where the language is spoken and the workings of the script or syllabaries used by the language. It is also a really nice way to dabble in another language whilst still maintaining focus on my main target language (and maintaining previously learnt ones) An interesting and well thought out article, Andy, thankyou.
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