Starting Out Right for Sustained Language Learning
Recently I watched my friend, clinical counsellor Elana Sures, talk about values-driven goal setting during a Breakfast Television spot about New Year’s resolutions. She spoke about the importance of focussing on our values and adjusting our behaviours to match them, rather than focussing on changing behaviour for its own sake. My first thought was about how true this is for language learning: by tapping in to our core values, we can set meaningful language learning goals and stay motivated to reach them.
Focus on the Why
Elana speaks of setting goals that are aligned with who we are and how we want to live; whenever there is a decision to make about a specific behaviour, we can look at how it lines up with the core value we are trying to live by. Sometimes with language learning, we have to make practical choices such as learning the main language in a new home country. But when we have the choice of whether or not to learn a language (yes, you can!) or which language to learn, it’s important to ensure that this choice aligns with what is really important to us.
Perhaps what is most important to you is being able to travel the world, so you’ll pick a language that is useful in the places you want to go. But there are other reasons for learning a language that may tap into a deeper desire, such as: seeing the world from a different perspective; creating meaningful connections with others; connecting with your history and ancestors; keeping a culture alive; or honouring the people on whose territory you live.
By focussing on the bigger picture values, we can adjust our language learning strategies and behaviours to meet our authentic needs. Expensive classes or software may help you learn faster, but if your goal is connecting to your family, maybe weekly conversations in the language with a relative is sufficient. Learning a language that is only spoken by a handful of people may not be practical on a world scale, but if you value language preservation, maybe that’s the right path for you.
Whatever the core value, most language learners share the common goal of being able to engage in meaningful communication. This means that perfect grammar is not always necessary, and completing exercises in a book may not be the best way to practice. Instead of worrying about “getting it right” every time we speak in the language, if we can remember the core value of communication, perhaps we can be a little easier on ourselves and let things flow.
And whenever we get frustrated with the language learning process, we can bring it back to the question of why: Why am I really doing this? If we aren’t getting it right just yet or progress isn’t as we expected, maybe we will be easier on ourselves if we can see that what we are doing, no matter how slow, is aligned with who we really want to be.