Ever felt unmotivated in your English learning? Chances are, you have. Who doesn’t, once in a while, enjoy loitering and squandering away one hour after another in the Dark Playground of procrastination? The place where the thought of wanting to get started with your study won’t stop lurking like a shadow at the back of your mind, and that where you just can’t seem to banish it from your brain for good and start working?
Since my job is all about English learning and teaching, it’s not really up to me to refuse to work and further improve my English. Doing that would have been irresponsible. However, I do remind myself of the pain of getting started with learning a language once in a while by trying to learn a third language, which is Japanese, for most of the times. From time to time, I force myself to read up my JapanesePod notes and write a memo to my Japanese teacher friend. In no time at all, however, I often end up crawling back to the comfort zone of English, which I feel, needless to say, much more confident with.
As a bilingual writer, the same inclination to procrastinate creeps up on me, leading to writers’ blocks. If I can, I try my best putting off writing blog posts until when I feel “inspired” (which is near to never). After I have written a few pieces consecutively in one language, I start to feel the inertia or unwillingness to write in another, the perfectionist in me protesting against starting.
On writing and how procrastination affects it, Stephen King has this to say: “The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that things can only get better.”
The same goes with language learning. Getting yourself started is always the most difficult part. Making yourself feel like learning a language you haven’t mastered, or even worse, one that you find intimidating is hard. Because the mere thought of the effort involved – is off-putting enough. That is why it is good practice to give yourself extra incentive to get started.
One good way of doing this is while setting goals to learn English daily, make sure that these goals are so achievable that you will have no way of failing to attain them.
For example, if you want to write better by practising writing every day, get yourself to write 100 words per day. Leave no stones unturned to ace this single daily goal. Just by “cheating” yourself to get started, you might well end up writing 1000 words. If you want to improve your English listening, get yourself to just listen to an English podcast for 3 minutes every day while brushing your teeth. If you want to improve your speaking, get yourself to shadow a proficient English user for 3 minutes per day. Often, after that 3 minutes, you will feel like continuing and end up learning much more.
In other words, set a daily goal so achievable that you will have no way of failing it.
While advanced learners might resonate with these examples better, this principle is equally applicable to intermediate learners and beginners. For example, if you find learning sentences too intimidating, learn phrases; if phrases intimidate you, learn words; if words intimidate you, learn sounds. Don’t be ashamed of fear. Don’t flog yourself for it. Your fear could be (though not always), telling you what aspect of the language it is that you have not mastered and thus hinting at what you need to work on. Of course, learning phrases would have been more effective than learning words, but who needs a goal which they are not able to own? Only move on to more ambitious goals after the ones you’re able to own. When they no longer intimidate you, or even start to bore you, you are ready to move on from the baby steps. That way, you will have made sure that fear can’t stop you from learning every day.