The origin of my endless motivation for language learning

When people hear how many languages I speak, they always ask me how I’ve been studying. The thing is, I learned each language differently. Some I was taught at school, others I learned by living in the country, others just because I was curious (and later solidified my curiosity by spending some time in the respective country). Take modern technology and all the fantastic resources one can find for free or very little money, and you can drown in an ocean of ways to learn.

But what is at the bottom of this? What lies beneath the hundreds of resources I’ve tried, the thousands of hours I’ve poured my heart and soul in and studied diligently.

Last night I had a thought. I was clicking onto a random YouTube video because I couldn’t figure from the title whether it was in Spanish or Portuguese – the latter which I’m still focusing on these days. And it turned out to be in Spanish. Even though it was not what I was expecting, I suddenly got this feeling of excitement. It was a feeling of familiarity. Hearing the sound made me genuinely happy. Truth be told, I didn’t understand most of it (it was a philosophical analysis of a song, in case you’re wondering), but I still felt connected to the sound and the person who spoke it.

Later that evening, I found some old Japanese notes. Whenever I look back at those, I usually feel all the pain and struggle I went through learning this language (it was the most’ painful process’ in language learning I had been through). I also remembered how I had friends with whom I could connect by speaking solely Japanese and how much I enjoyed it. It wasn’t only that I was proud to communicate in that language but also that I simply felt happy hearing and producing those sounds.

They sounded familiar.

And that’s the thought I had this morning again. The reason why I have endless motivation to work on a language is because of the emotions these languages bring up in me. When I hear them, they make me feel at home. And precisely because I feel “comfortable’ speaking and especially hearing these languages, I end up immersing myself more and more in them. That means that when I’m not in the respective country, I will find podcasts to listen to and YouTube videos and Netflix shows to watch. Often, this is only to hear that language again, to feel some sort of connection to it, even if I don’t understand what is said entirely.

My point is, I think if you genuinely want to learn a language, the sound of that language needs to start sounding familiar, as if it belongs into your life. When I first started learning Japanese, I struggled immensely, as to my ears, the sounds did not sound like a language, rather just some sort of ‘noise’. It was the first time I studied an Asian language, which was remarkably different from the Roman or Germanic languages and sounds I knew.

Once I had been in Japan for a while, it became normal for me to hear the language. I got excited once I was able to make out my first few words in the ocean of sounds that I seemed to be swimming through. One or two words per sentence were often enough for me to get the gist of the conversation and gave me the necessary push to keep going.

So how do you get there?

What do you do, especially now that traveling is either impossible or greatly limited?

Well back to the vast ocean of resources on the internet. There is no shortage these days regarding videos in any language. Podcasts are another great way to dive into the foreign sounds of another language.
And of course, music! Nothing gets me more excited about learning more Portuguese by putting on some good old Bossa Nova dancing through my apartment.

I have found that podcasts or videos made by native speakers, FOR native speakers, tend to create this feeling of excitement for the language and culture in me.

Podcasts or videos for language learners don’t convey the same feeling to me as they tackle my intellectual and logical side of my brain and not necessarily the one who just wants to indulge in the language. (That doesn’t mean that I don’t use them – just that they don’t trigger those good feelings for me as much.)

So if you’re learning a language and notice how you’re losing motivation, surround yourself with the language’s sound so much until you feel like it sounds so typical to you that you have no choice but figure out how to understand it. Once you return to your language learning practice, you will feel more energetic working on it, which will speed up your progress.

It doesn’t help if you have negative feelings towards a language because that won’t help you learn it. Try to find anything positive to associate with the language and go from there. Google the most popular songs in your favorite genre. Ask people to give you their recommendations (online and offline). Find a language tandem partner. Find a local group that speaks the language you’re learning. Be with the language and let it become a regular part of life to you.

I’ll soon post resources in each of the respective languages that I speak so that you can hopefully find something that motivates you along your journey! Keep going!

How I set up my routine (and am keeping it up)

In my previous post, I wrote about my daily routine that helps me feel anchored in my traveling life.

I realized after talking to a friend that I never wrote about how I actually set up this routine and how I came to solidify it.

So how did I get started?

For me, it was important to fully understand why I was attempting to create this routine.

Did I want to learn a language just for the fun of it or was I going to apply it somewhere? Did I want to pick-up yoga because it seemed like a ‘trendy’ practice to do or because I actually knew it would help me?

Whatever the reason, it was very helpful to keep the effects of my new habit in the picture as that would motivate me on days when I didn’t feel like getting things done.

However, … In our busy lives who has time for another ‘to-do’?

As Duolingo reminds me once a day – if you find time for Instagram then you can study 10 minutes a day.

I think often people feel intimidated by putting another to-do on their list.

I felt the same. I actually started this routine while I was working full-time and simply continued it when I started traveling. And I’d honestly say that keeping it up whilst traveling was almost harder. Why? Because the rest of my day wasn’t as structured as it used to do so it was harder to build my ‘personal routine’ around days that had no structure.

Anyway, when I started, I decided I wanted to meditate regularly, do exercise (i.e. yoga) and study Portuguese regularly (other practices came to the list at a later stage).

If you are new to meditation you know how it feels. You sit down, set a timer for 30 minutes (because you read somewhere that that’s the length people meditate for) and 30 seconds in you glance and your timer and think ‘What! It’s only been 30 seconds?’ How do people do this?’

I think it’s important to remember that like everything new that we’re attempting in life, a routine is also a step-by-step process and the first step is often the hardest. Once you make that step and then commit to your routine, over time it will be much easier to follow through.

So I started small. Really small.

I started with meditating for 1 minute. Which felt like forever for my racing mind. Eventually, I got used to the minute. That meant making the next step. I increased the time to 5 minutes, then 10…. You get the idea.

I also quickly realized that attempting to create three habits at once wouldn’t work. I tried and failed. So, first things first. At a small scale. Eventually, once I felt the habit started to form, I’d add another practice.

When I then eventually started adding yoga to my routine, I practiced for 10 minutes. That seemed like forever in the beginning (I’m can be impatient at times…). I increased it to 12 minutes eventually once I started feeling comfortable doing any yoga at all and making myself get up early for it. I increased the intensity of my practice and the time. Currently, I am practicing 30 minutes every day which to me feels the right amount of time and I can really feel the benefits, especially by being consistent.

Finally, Portuguese. I started with 5 minutes of studying on Duolingo. And if I was too tired for that (which is almost too much of an excuse), then I’d at least watch a YouTube video for a few minutes that was related to studying Portuguese (‘almost’ the same as watching TV after all). The most important factor to me was that I went through with it!EVERY DAY!

I wanted to create this consistency in life that starts feeling second nature, just like brushing my teeth. And like this over time I also increased the time for studying.

Again, all this time I used my ‘goal tracker app’ that I talked about in my last post and reminders from different apps. And as mentioned, after a while, I just got used to my daily routine, so I don’t need the reminders anymore.

How am I keeping up this routine?

Let me first say that the two challenges I found for not sticking to my routine were time and motivation.

I won’t have time to do all this’.

I just don’t feel like doing this today. I’m going to give it a miss‘.

I had these thoughts a lot in the beginning. Yet, they have become much less over time.

If I really don’t get motivated, I try to go back and reduce the time I had set for my task. I’ll meditate for a minute if everything fails and do yoga for five or just some simple stretches. The most important point for me is consistency!

I think it’s better to do something for 5 minutes fully concentrated, than 30 half-hearted.

If time is the issue, I try to get creative as in where I could squeeze in my practice in a shortened way.

  • I might study Portuguese for a few minutes, when I have ‘waiting time’ for a bus, friends, a call…
  • I might meditate in bed or take a moment when I’m in some nice, quiet surroundings and just take a few mindful breaths or put up a guided meditation before I go to sleep.
  • To meet my exercise habit, I used to walk the stairs at school or offices or at the subway. I still believe it’s one of the best exercising lifehacks, especially if you the number of steps is high 😉
  • I had a friend who did yoga in the staircase of her work during breaks! That’s what I call true commitment and dedication.

Having said this, I have also learned that life happens and there are times when I really wasn’t able to go through with it. Then, the most important thing is that I focus on getting back into the routine and not slack by thinking ‘ah well another day of missing out on yoga will be ok’. That’s when I have to catch myself. It’s about being honest to myself in whether outer circumstances prevented me from keeping up or just my inner motivation.

Last but not least, I constantly evaluate my ‘routine’. If I notice that I don’t get it done, then I look into why that is. Time is not always the problem. It’s more often a problem of motivation: ‘This is too exhausting for my brain at this hour‘ or ‘I don’t think I really benefit from this right now‘. I adapt it if necessary and might scrape some practices. I don’t want to force myself to carry out my routine but still enjoy it and see its long-lasting effects! I’m doing all this for myself and not because someone else makes me do it after all 🙂

So, I hope that helped explain where I’m coming from with this routine. This is just my own experience that I’ve built over time and I hope you can find your own! The benefits can be amazing!

Additional resources that I recommend:

1. Coincidentally this week one of my favorite Personal Development Podcasters, Kara Loewentheil released an episode that she called, the ‘Infinite 1%‘.

In it, she describes the huge difference between being at 0% of our goal versus 1% and how making the first percent is the biggest step we can do towards 100%.

2. I recently read ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg and was glad to see that I had actually figured out many of the things he mentioned by myself already. I do think it’s a great read if you want to dig deeper into the science of ‘building long-lasting’ habits.