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Some notes on motivation: my experience as a language teacher

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

[This post mostly applies to language lessons outside the regular school system]

Let’s be real. You are not always motivated to go outside, do sports, learn a language, etc. You will always have periods in which you are not motivated to do the things you like because… life happens. Sometimes you are very busy with other stuff and your head is so full that you do not have space for learning, for instance, a new language and going to your lessons regularly. Sometimes it is just autumn or winter and you have less energy. There can be plenty of reasons, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I am writing these lines to focus on the practicalities of it all. I am a Spanish teacher, so I will focus on motivation while learning a foreign language.

How can you navigate your inevitable periods of lack of motivation when learning a foreign language?

  1. Take some distance from it. Take a break. Use your holidays (or just some time in your agenda) to not do anything related to the language. If you have just started learning it, I do not recommend you spend many weeks without being in contact with it, though.

  2. Visualize your goals. Check often with yourself by asking the following questions: "Why am I learning this language? What were my initial goals? What are my current goals?" Tip: write your goals down in a journal or on a piece of paper (hang the piece of paper on a place that you can often see!). Don't hesitate to share these goals with your teacher so you can work together towards them.

  3. Search for a language buddy! ("taalmaatje" in Dutch). You can help somebody with your language and that person can help you with his/her language as an exchange activity that you can do regularly. I remembered fondly my language buddy times with Nicolette. We would meet almost every week to talk for about one hour. We would speak Spanish for 30 minutes and then we would switch to Dutch for another 30 minutes while drinking tea or coffee.

  4. Go to a language exchange meetup. Normally those take place in various cities. Explore the internet and find one nearby!

  5. Try group lessons. The dynamics and energies of group lessons are very different from private 1-on-1 lessons. Both have their pros and cons but changes always help break the routine of always learning within the same context. Moreover, having lessons with other people can be very pleasant, especially if the groups are small. It helps with bonding. It also helps to create positive feelings and possibly, a supporting community. All of this will make you associate learning a foreign language with many positive things.

  6. Celebrate yourself. Celebrate each step of your learning process: every sentence you are able to make, every little conversation you are able to follow. It does not matter how big your progress is, you can celebrate the fact that you just learned a new word today.

  7. Use your eyes and ears! Watch TV shows and series in the target language. Listen to music in that language and create playlists on your favourite streaming platforms. What about an audiobook? Listen to some (of all!) of the above while you do your favourite activities, for instance, while you cook, while you go to the gym, etc.

  8. Do activities that you like in that language. For instance, you can follow yoga or cooking lessons. If you are not in a country where that language is spoken, use platforms such as Youtube. There you will find a lot of DIY, cooking, yoga and workout videos in your target language. Some of them can be very visual, which will help your learning as the stimuli are richer!

  9. If you can travel to the country of the language you are studying, do it! Also, language schools there normally offer intensive and immersive language courses, even if you are just there for a week.

  10. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Learning a language is an ongoing process and it takes time. Don’t believe those who say that you can learn a language in a couple of weeks because that’s very unrealistic and those ideas will make you feel that you are doing something wrong or that you are not “good enough.” It takes time, really. Therefore, be patient: consistency is key.

  11. Beware of the things you say to yourself. Often, I hear my students saying not-so-nice things to themselves during our lessons. After they say these things to themselves, black magic happens: they get blocked immediately! Indeed, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you tell yourself that you can’t or that you are silly, your cognitive abilities will shut down and you’ll have more difficulties learning. Negative input harms the affective filter that lets the knowledge in your brain.

  12. Finally: IT’S NORMAL that motivation fluctuates, even with the things you like. So please, don’t expect motivation to knock on your door and take the lead! Count 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (or 3, 2, 1… go!) and work on this new goal you have! Less thinking, more action.

EXTRA: if you are from Boxtel, go to Café español Boxtel! We meet every first Tuesday of the month at Bar Becoloth at 19.30 h. Parking is free in front of the bar, at the market square. Stay updated about the Café español Boxtel by liking and following my Facebook page.


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