Staying Excited About Language Learning
I look at formal classroom learning as the training wheel stage. There comes a point at which those wheels are taken off and you make your wobbly way down the street by yourself. It’s been five years since I sat in a Chinese classroom, and two years since I’ve lived in China. That’s a long time without training wheels, especially when my bike sits in storage during the rainy season.
So how do you keep yourself linguistically mobile when you’re both done with formal classes and outside of the target language environment? There are plenty of tools out there that can help, but I think the crucial factor is to keep your language learning motivation high:
Know your why.
It’s easy to fall into the what’s-the-point trap when you’re not using your target language every day. So, answer that question for yourself. What is the point of your language learning? Are you eventually going to go back into the target language environment? If so, set a target date, even if it’s one of those goals that depends on you winning the lottery.
Know your what.
Keep a list of all the things you want to be able to do with your language, and write it in your language if you can. These don’t have to be grand goals: Watch an entire movie without subtitles? Write a letter to a friend? Read a mystery novel? (That last one is first on my list.
Know your who.
If you know native speakers or other learners of your language, recruit them. Keep it social: try a movie night or a book club. Do fun things in your target language that you would do in your native language.
Know your when.
Set aside blocks of time that you’ll devote to your own version of formal language learning. The clearer these times are, the more you’ll look forward to them. And trust me, they’ll eventually start seeping through to the rest of your life.
Know your how.
Make sure it’s fun. Make up a project for yourself that involves your language: write a children’s book, write a poem, paint a word mural on your living room wall. If sitting in a coffee shop with an advanced textbook is more your style, that’s fabulous. Just know how you learn best.
And what about knowing your where? It’s right here. Congratulations, the training wheels are off and you’re coasting on your own.