What to consider when learning a new language?

Learning a new language might have different triggers. A new partner who doesn’t understand your native tongue or better job opportunities might be some of the reasons. Maybe you’ve only decided to leave the country you were born in, in order to start a completely new life on an island with sandy beaches and palm trees. 360 days of sunshine, drinking cocktails, watching dolphines jumping around … Okay I am digressing! Back on track!

You see that there are plenty of reasons that could lead to learn a new language. But, in the end all might come along with the same consequence – start to learn a new language.

But what do you have to consider in order to be successfull in the end?

Let me start by clarifying one thing: I will not be able to give you the Holy Grail that you only need to get in hands and suddenly you’ll know what to do. But, I would like to show you ‘my thoughts ‘ before I start learning a new language.

It’s all about motivation!

Motivation is the most important factor, when learning a language. In fact, it is the most important driver for everything we want to achieve in life! Asking yourself ‘why do I want to learn a new language?‘ should always come along with a good answer. But what is a good answer? Well, the right answer is always very individual and cannot be generalized. As I have mentioned in the beginning of this blog, there are several reason why one starts to learn a new language. Therefore, also the answers are individual. The important part is that you define for yourself an answer that always keeps you learning and doing the next steps in order to achieve your goal. It is like building a new house. You need to do several things in advance before you can finally move in. You need walls, a roof, windows and doors. And every part of the house that you finish is bringing you closer to finally live in the house. Since there are different sizes of houses also the construction time varies from house to house. Let me show you what I mean in two very easy examples: 

‘I want to move to Italy and face no language barriers in my everyday life!’ – and
‘I want to be able to order food during my trip to Venice in summer.’

Latter sentence is a good example for lower language goals. It shows that you don’t have to spend a lot of time learning Italian, because you can realize your own goal very fast by dedicating little time to the acquisition of the most common vocabulary and expressions in order to talk to the waiters. And this is completely fine.

The first sentence, on the other hand, shows that you not only want to learn Italian. You rather feel the need of mastering the language and understand all its characteristics which also include hand gestures et cetera. It is evident that this personal language goal is way harder to achieve than the previous one and therefore, of course, requires more time.

Simple sentences like these are crucial for the success of your own goals, because they already show the level of work you want to dedicate to the new language. They are also the driver that makes you keep learning even though you are not in mood. That is why they should be as precise as possible in order to give you the right amount of motivation. Besides the personal reason why you started a new language I would also add a certain time frame i.e. setting yourself partial objectives in order to boost sour success. This will help you to focus on the partial goals in order to achieve your final goal in the end.

After having looked at the theory I’d like to show you a personal experience I made. Furthermore, I want to show you two concepts of motivation.

Let’s go back to highschool. You also probably had subjects that simply were not made for you. In my case it was Math. Even though, I was quite good in all other subjects, Math was my personal enemy. And don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about the useful basic stuff – I mean all the algebra complicated material. However I tried to understand it, I never had the final wow feeling. Why was that?

Of course, we could shorten this part by saying that I am a lazy stupid guy. But I would like to show another argumentation at least.

I never enjoyed Math. There was this teacher who forced me to understand all this stuff, which was like an alien language to me. But, I needed a good grade in order to graduate. However, I realized very fast that I was not ambitious enough to do some extra work in order to get good grades – so in the end my grades were ok.

Some years later – during my university studies I’ve attended a class where motivation was the main subject. It was about motivating your employees but it’s also applicable to everything you want to achieve in life. In sum you can say that there are two types of motivation:

  • extrinsic motivation
  • intrinsic motivation

If you are familiar with this topic you know which one most often is the long-term driver. In case these are new terms for you, let me help you to understand the differences. 

Basically, Extrinsic motivation describes a behaviour that is driven by external rewards like e.g. money or fame. In your job your boss could influence your behaviour by promising you more money when you produce more units of a certain product. Although, you haven’t spent a thought of doing so you suddenly were given a reason to increase your productivity.

On the other hand we see Intrinsic motivation. I guess you can imagine where this is going. This type of motivation describes a behaviour that is personally rewarding and thus doesn’t need any external reward. Broadly speaking, this means that you do something, because you really want to do it. You don’t have to be a genius to understand that this form of motivation is probably the one that will help you keep doing something in the long run.

That’s the theory. Now, let me show you my personal experience with both forms and how they’ve even changed with time.

I went to a public university in Northern Germany. The studies were called ‘International Management’ and came along with a third language besides German and English. You could chose Danish or Spanish. I decided for latter one. Though my main aim was not to study a new language, it was a requirement by the university. So, I had to study Spanish in order to start my main classes – extrinsic motivation, right?

“…the initial extrinsic motivation turned into an internal one.”

Two months of learning Spanish six hours a day later, I passed my Spanish exam that finally allowed me to begin with my main studies. But, in the meantime something changed.

Suddenly, I realized that the language I was trying to learn for the last two months did something more to me. It opened a completely new world! I wanted to become better, acquire new vocabulary, learn expressions and so on. Not because someone told me to do so. It was a decision I took myself! In short, I set the goal to speak Spanish like a native. So, the initial extrinsic motivation turned into an internal one.

A good thing about intrinsic motivation is that you have a positive mindset towards the aim you want to achieve. Learning something isn’t a neccessity any more, but a pleasure – something you enjoy to do. That’s exactly what will keep you on track in the long run. So, Spanish became part of my everyday life and is there since. I found Spanish-speaking friends, listen to Spanish music, read articles in the language and so on.

Long story short, motivation is the key factor when learning a new language. External factors might be the trigger to learn a new language, but the success will result from intrinsic motivation and from your will to achieve a certain goal without being ‘rewarded’.

Therefore, define an achievable goal and remind yourself every single day why you wanted to learn the new language in the first place. Shortly, you can read about the techniques I use to stay motivated.

How about you? Did you ever start a new language not having the ‘right’ reason? Let me know about you experiences in the comment section below.


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