Do this guided self-reflection -- just 3 QUICK questions!
Aloha! Hujambo! Welcome back to Adventures in Language! You’re here because you’re not yet where you want to be in your target language. Maybe past tense verbs remain just outside your grasp, or perhaps you just can't remember the word for ‘tomorrow’ no matter how many times you practice it! We hear you! That can be really frustrating. The good news is that you’re already on your way to success because you’re actively seeking out advice to help you reach your goals - so, go you! In this article, we’ll be walking you through a guided self-reflection of the following three questions: (1) Are you clear on your motivation for learning the language? (2) Are you carving out enough time for it? (3) Are you using the right learning strategies? If any of that sounds like what you came for, then keep reading, because this article is going to help you say さようなら。(Japanese ‘goodbye’) to your fluency frustrations. Well, sans plus tarder (French ‘without further ado’), let’s get to it!
#1: Are you clear on your motivation for learning the language?
Here’s the deal - if you aren’t clear on your why, you probably won’t even get to the how. There are many possible motivations for learning a language. Perhaps it’s for school, for travel, to communicate with a particular person or group, or to feel connected to your heritage. Or maybe it’s for career advancement, to expand your worldview, or because you simply enjoy the process of learning a language. Whatever it is for you, you need to be able to define your why. As it turns out, clarity in motivation is tied to positive learning outcomes in the target language. If you want to explore more about the research on the role of motivation on language learning, check out the 2019 article from Dr. Minhye Lee & Dr. Mimi Bong, which we’ve linked for you in the description. If you’d like a worksheet to guide you in pinpointing your primary motivators, then check out the awesome goal-setting worksheet we made for you that you can access by clicking here (pssst - it’s FREE!)
#2: Are you carving out enough time for it?
This one seems simple, but it actually requires some careful reflection. Answer this: what do you consider an ideal number of hours to be spending a week learning and using your target language? Say the number out loud right now. Don’t overthink it. Now, that number matters because it’s subconsciously been driving your expectations about what the “ideal language learner” would do. Now, answer this: on average, how many hours a week have you actually been able to spend with your language? Just think back to the last week or two. More often than not, the two numbers you provided are different. If that’s not the case for you, then yay! You can skip ahead to #3, so long as you honestly feel you’re putting in a reasonable amount of time to reach your goals. But if your numbers were different, then we have some work to do. Now, the truth is that there doesn’t exist any perfect, magic number of hours to spend per week to get fluent. The number that’s going to work for you ultimately depends on a number of factors, such as your proficiency timeline goals, your learning style, the intricacies of your personal schedule, and the relative difficulty level of the target language. With that being said, there is some helpful information that we can share to help you find what will work for you.
If you’re finding that you aren’t spending enough time with the language, one option that works for a lot of folks is to protect that time by putting it on your calendar -- and using digital notification reminders so you don’t forget. Also try out options that don’t require formal “study sessions” - like configuring your phone settings to be in the target language, listening to target language songs in the background while doing chores, or watching YouTube videos with subtitles. Another great option is to leverage the “little pockets of time” that crop up throughout your day. If your schedule right now really doesn’t allow for 2 hours of uninterrupted study time - then start sneaking in mini study sessions while your coffee is brewing, while waiting in line at the store, or in between reps at the gym. The truth is, despite what we used to think about the learning process, short little spurts of studying can actually be really powerful for learning. We’ve been taught to think that in order to learn something “right”, you need to be sitting at a desk and focusing without interruptions for several hours. But recent findings from cognitive science suggest that interrupted learning (also referred to as incubation) can actually help boost your recall of the learning content. Long story short, if you think this strategy would fit better into your day-to-day schedule than blocked off hours on a calendar, then use it. Because it might just be your ticket to proficiency. If you’d like to reflect more on how to set realistic goals for your language learning time, check out this video! Or - use the Mango app! The app offers an Autoplay feature which allows you to learn free from the restrictions of having to look at your screen. In other words, you could fit in your learning session while you’re waiting for the bus or out for an afternoon walk! And bonus: you can download your lessons in advance so you can do them without needing wifi or service.
#3: Are you using the right learning strategies?
One of the most common reasons for stalled language learning progress is over-reliance on passive (as opposed to active) learning strategies. Passive strategies (e.g. skimming grammar points in a textbook, re-reading example sentences) are easy and they make us feel good because they give us the impression we have a solid grasp on the material. In fact, a lot of popular language learning apps out there rely too heavily on passive learning strategies alone. They may give you the illusion that you are learning a language when in fact all you are doing might be matching pictures to words. In contrast, the Mango app offers tons of speaking activities that encourage active learning, like unique speaking and critical thinking activities. Active learning strategies (e.g. writing your own sentences, having a spontaneous conversation with a friend) require more cognitive effort than passive ones. They are more difficult, which means we tend to make more mistakes when doing them. However, active learning strategies give us much more bang for our mental buck. Here’s one active learning strategy that I highly recommend that you try on your own: play teacher! Pick a grammatical concept you’ve recently learned in the target language and explain the concept aloud to an imaginary student. Active learning strategies like this one will help you reinforce what you know and identify your learning gaps, which is how real progress is made. For more ways to incorporate active learning strategies that’ll give you the bang for your buck in terms of your fluency, check out this video here!
Now that we’ve gone through the 3 questions, ask yourself this: which one do you think is at the heart of your hang-up? We talked about identifying your sources of motivations, carving out your study time, and using the right learning strategies. Whichever it is for you, what are you gonna do about it? Have you defined your why? How much time can you realistically spend using the language in a given week? Will you put your learning time on your calendar? Will you make time for it in those little “pockets of time” throughout your day? What learning strategies can you ditch and replace with one that will better serve you? After reading this article, you may not have answers to all of these questions yet -- and that’s okay! But you should now have a better understanding of what you need to reflect on and some ideas for how to overcome your fluency frustrations. And a friendly suggestion: tackle one point at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was Disneyland. You’ll get there.
One last thing...
You decided to read this article because you're frustrated with your current fluency level. And you might have every reason to be. Maybe you haven’t been making progress. But it’s also possible that you’ve made more progress than you realize (or give yourself credit for). When it comes to language learning, it’s not uncommon to experience a disparity between perceived competence and actual competence. Think back to what you couldn’t do when you first started out. What has been your biggest win so far? Don’t take it for granted. Enjoy the progress you’ve made so far because enjoying that taste of success will help fuel you forward.
Thanks for reading!
We hope you feel inspired to continue reflecting on those 3 questions we covered today to fuel your language learning journey. As always, if you have a question or idea for an episode that you’d like to hear from us, let us know! We’re always listening. If you’d like to download the FREE goal-setting worksheet that was mentioned in the article, you can access it here! Want more engaging language content like this? Join the Mango fam by subscribing to our YouTube channel or follow us on Instagram @MangoLanguages! Well, language learners - that’s all for now. Aloha, kwa heri, and happy language learning! We look forward to seeing you back here for our next article.
Wondering what languages were used in this article? In addition to being written in English, this article featured Hawaiian, Swahili, Japanese and French. Aloha is the word for both ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ in Hawaiian (a language spoken in Hawai’i, also called ‘Olelo Hawai’i Makuahine’). Hujambo and kwa heri are ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye,’ respectively, in Swahili (a macrolanguage of Tanzania; also used as a lingua franca throughout East/Central Africa). さようなら。(sa.YOO.na.ra) is ‘goodbye’ in Japanese. Finally, sans plus tarder is the expression for ‘without further ado’ in French (the statutory national language of France; also spoken in a multitude of other countries, such as Morocco, Canada, and Belgium). Interested in learning Hawaiian, Swahili, Japanese, French, or one of the other 70+ languages that the Mango app offers? Click here to learn more!
Want to know more about the scientific research underlying this article? Check out this academic paper about the role of motivation in the language learning process: Lee, M., & Bong, M. (2019). Relevance of goal theories to language learning research. System, 86, 102122.
Additional language learning resources to help you out
Download your free PDF: How To Set Good Language Learning Goals