February 26, 2012 by 32 Comments

Many people have aMotivation - Turkish Flagsked me how I stay motivated.  In order to answer this question, I need to also define a few things.  When people talk about motivation, especially related to language learning, I get the impression that they expect to be motivated 100% of the time, or close to it.

To me saying, “I am motivated” and “I am happy” fall into the same category.  We have ebbs and flows in both and it is unrealistic to achieve 100% motivation or happiness 100% of the time.  Sadly, as with many other things in life, there is a gloss put over many attributes people aspire to, including beauty, intelligence, confidence, happiness and motivation.

No one person can say with 100% confidence that they are any of the above, all of the time.  Feeling pressure to do so is depressing too.  So, my first piece of advice to maximise your motivation is to not compare yourself to the image you have of other people.  What you perceive is likely to be a mere illusion anyway.  Living in a shadow is certainly not conducive to a positive feeling that engenders motivation.

Many people I meet like to portray themselves as they want to be seen.  This is not a bad thing, don’t get me wrong.  In fact it can help them to feel motivated to live up to the person they want to be.  The difficulty comes for the onlooker…how do I measure up?  This person appears confident, is extremely motivated and everything I aspire to be etc. etc. etc…

Let’s break this down.  It is unlikely that someone out there, selling a product for example, will say, “You know, sometimes I just don’t feel motivated…”, or “I think I am lacking in X” with any sincerity, or mention any real and current issue.  Why?  They want to show they have solved a problem.  It doesn’t sound good to their market.  They may acknowledge things that don’t work for them, or things in their past, which they have overcome.  Indeed, this is a marketing strategy employed either consciously or unconsciously.  In certain areas people may say they are getting over issues too.  I am talking minor problems, nothing major.  Remember, I am only tackling this from a language learning perspective here.  😉

Well, let me be blunt.  Sometimes I don’t feel motivated for any of the following reasons:

* I am tired

* I feel sick

* I have deadlines and not enough time

* I feel a bit down

* I just don’t feel like studying

It happens to me and it happens to a lot of people…and, you know what?  I accept that I am human and that this is part of life.  We have all sorts of things going on.  I refuse to beat myself up about being human and for not achieving a maximum 100% of an impossible dream.

Why accentuate these negative points?

Well, I am a realist and sometimes an optimist.  In my opinion, it is important to know that not being super-duper man/woman is OK.  Doing your best is what counts.  Not beating yourself up about being human is really important.  You risk putting extra and unnecessary pressure on yourself, whilst creating a mountain to climb.  Give yourself realistic goals to keep yourself motivated! 🙂

Now, how do I tackle my lack of motivation when I notice it? 

Here are some ideas:

* When I feel tired, I listen to audio material, songs, revise something I studied before or watch a film (in the target language or with subtitles in that language – depending on how tired I am ;))

*  When I feel sick, I let my body rest and do nothing but let myself get better – if you don’t feel well, don’t force it and prolong your pain is my motto

* When I am lacking time, I do short bursts of study by reading and/or listening to material over lunch/during a break

* When I feel down, I pick out songs that get me pumping and watch inspirational people, who ooze enthusiasm – David Mansaray is a great choice for this

* When I don’t feel like studying, I look through old material or talk to people online (SharedTalk, Skype, Busuu or LiveMocha)

One of the key things that I like to do for motivation is to visit a place where the language is spoken.  This might be where you live or somewhere further afield (if you are able to travel).  Having spent some time in Turkey half-way through my A2 course, I feel ready to carry on again and take on the A2 exam and start on B1! 🙂

What do you do to motivate yourself?

Join me on my SpeakingFluently Facebook page and interract with me and other language learners.  We can always motivate each other! 🙂

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This post was written by Richard


  • raydenovo says:

    I can be obsessive with my studies, and I often take on way more than possible. Consequently, I’m always putting a ton a of pressure on myself. And yet, when I try to pull back some, I feel as if I’m not trying hard enough, or that I’m being inefficient with my time. In the end, I always walk away burned out and I give up only to repeat the cycle with a new language. Ah! The frustration! What is your strategy for setting goals and pacing?

    • I know the problem well. My main thing is to remember that I am human and not a machine. I also compete with no one. I like to tackle things in manageable chunks. Take my Turkish for example. I did my A1 level, now I am halfway through A2 and this on an intensive 12-hour a week course. I have been at it for 5 months and I have no rush to be fluent immediately. I remind myself that I need time for vocab and structures to sink in, so I can use them with ease later. The groundwork needs to be done and done well. I am big on using what you know from day one to make it real too. It gives me a real buzz when I do that, no matter how basic my level is! 🙂

      • raydenovo says:

        You mention the CEFR standards. Do these examinations fuel your motivation to any significant degree? I’m starting to feel that the open-ended nature of independent learning is failing me. While I’m not interested in a formal setting for learning a language, I do crave some sort of structure and standardized examination. I would be most appreciative if I could burden you once more in sharing your thoughts about self-examination and standards, and if possible some specific ideas for structuring my own benchmarks. Thank you.

        • The exams and courses per se are not essential, but they are a handy reference point. I enjoy taking courses and interracting with people when I can. I also find such intensive courses, like my Turkish one, good to spur me on and keep the momentum up. The structure you mention on such courses is a given (though you need to ensure that it’s that particular structure you crave). That said I don’t hold qualifications in a number of languages and I have managed to learn them just fine. In fact, many jobs I have had relied on my knowledge of German and I hold no certificates of any kind for it. My ability to use the language was simply tested at interview. It’s definitely up to the individual to see what works best. 🙂

      • Mohit says:

        hey bro have you been to japan cause your too excellent at neaajpse your all most a natral lol theys not whey you know all this by studing books???????????????????????

  • Dee says:

    Just curious. I hope you don’t mind me asking but what do you do for living?

    Are you currently trying to achieve a goal, which requires a significant amount of time, outside of language learning? (I’m not asking what it is)

    How do you do it when you have children?

    I would really like to learn french but not at the expense of my other goals

    and learn as soon as possible. No particular reason other than wanting to interact with another group of people other than Anglophones.

    • Dee, thanks for visiting my blog and for taking the time to write to me. My work is quite varied as I deal with managing people and teams on multilingual projects covering a range of subject areas. In my work I come across a number of languages, which helps me to retain a certain number of them without making a big effort to do so.

      I am not sure what you meant when you asked if I have a goal to reach. Could you clarify that a little more please?

      You are right that time management is key with juggling work, home and family life and my passion for languages. Fortunately I live and work in a multilingual environment, so that helps a lot. I tend to study and work when my daughter is at school or asleep. I also help her with her languages.

      It’s great that you want to learn French and that you want to do so to communicate with another culture. The key is to make your studies fit your life. Do what you can when you can. I would not advocate doing it, if it meant making you feel you were losing out somewhere else, especially if what you would be missing is more important to you. 15 minutes a day of study is enough to get going though. If you can manage that, then you’d be well on your way to speaking French. 🙂

    • Kartik says:

      I thought finding this would be so arduous but it’s a berzee!

  • I usually set myself some mini-goals. Now I’m learning Slovak and I’m reading the first Harry Potter book…my goal right now is to be able to read a chapter and really enjoy it…by this I don’t mean that I expect to understand 100% of it, of course.
    So I’m now spending lot of time building my vocabulary and I hope it will hepl me to achieve this target as soon as possible.
    Sometimes anyway I really feel like I don’t have any taste for studying, so I just watch some videos in the target language, without focusing too much. I honestly realized that “if I don’t want to learn”, I will not learn 🙂

    • Are you in touch with Vlad ( at all? He is a native speaker and he always says to me that not enough people study Slovak! 🙂 Glad to hear that you are going for it. Good luck! 🙂

      • Luca mentioned him yesterday, when I commented on his blog. So right after this I checked “”! I have to agree that very few people are studying Slovak, and natives are always very surprised when I tell them I am quite serious about it! 🙂 I think it’s a great (and challenging for me!) language and I’m enjoying it a lot!!!

    • Hannah says:

      but i reckon oshalu’s pronunciation is surpass.I suppose the people who is writing on the blackboard is student, and the people who is speaking out of the scene oshalu is the instructor.Am i right? oshalu??? dui ma ?? 对吗?老鼠,你是怎么学习日语发音的?可以请教你一下吗?

  • sunset84 says:

    Those are great tips for lazy people like me 😛

  • “You really know your stuff… Keep up the good work!”

  • Shared this one, Richard.

    Very sound advice. I agree entirely.

    I also find that doing something completely unrelated to language learning like going to the beach or the gym, or going to the movies with my girlfriend can often ‘activate’ my motivation.

    Sometimes it’s good to just step away from the books and computer screen for a while to recharge the enthusiasm.

  • And what if when you don’t feel like talking to people on livemocha, shared talk, etc.? When my motivation is down I like to just pop in a movie and watch it – to learn passively at least. 😀

  • Luqman Ranto says:

    I keep my motivation up by learning multiple languages at the same time but they are at different levels. By doing that I only push their levels a bit higher over time by doing it regularly in small chunks every day. So I make sort of a cycle of those languages. After I learn one of my languages for a couple of minutes or even one hour or so if I am quite motivated, I move on with another language as long as my motivation is still up and so forth and I also do various activities like reviewing my Anki, chatting or learning vocabulary and conversations on LiveMocha, reading and listening on LingQ, listening to Pimsleur Language Programme audio or Michel Thomas Courses audio, reading Teach Yourself Series or Lonely Planet Phrasebooks and the like.

    I do not have any intention to learn my languages in a short time like in three months or whatever but lifetime because learning should be like that. I do not know when I will be fluent in certain languages but I am so sure I am going to achieve that sooner or later. That is much better than nothing at all.

  • Maee says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. I’m glad that I’m not the only crazy language learner on earth that feels sad when there is no time for learning :mrgreen:

  • Ryan says:

    Very balanced advice Richard. Thanks!

  • ЦМ says:

    Здраствуйте Ричард, с всими я согласен. Я, как ты, познакомил много учащийся, которые имеется много проблемы, прогрессировая из начинающую сцену. Как ты сказали, не всегда можете ожидать вещи так бырство. Я буду ждать твоего ответа. Спасибо.

  • ЦМ says:

    Ben sormak unuttum: bilmek istiyorum, ne zaman Skype’da yeniden gelecek? Teşeküür edirem.

  • Jimmy Mello says:

    Hello Richard,
    I really like reading your blog and I quite admire your passion for languages, I am also appasionate for languages, I have passed my whole life learning and teaching them. The tips you posted are really very useful and reflect well all we things the learner “suffer” during the “mission”.
    I truly believe that motivation is the key for learning a foreign language, sometimes much more than the right method.
    But other factor I consider of great importance is being involved and have a real “wish” to learn the foreign language, sometimes we are not motivated because deeply in our mind we do dot find a real reason for learning the language, some of my pupils arrive at my school wishing to speak a foreign language but they really do not want to learn the language, but are there just because their boss asked them to do so.
    Thanks for sharing with us all your experiences.
    Best wishes.

    • Jimmy,

      Thanks for your kind words. Glad you find my advice useful and relevant to learners. That is my objective, so I am always pleased to hear/read when people think I am succeeding in doing that.

      All the best,


  • Mukti says:

    Really あたし is an informal usage by fmleeas. What you meant was わたし。私(わたくし)Super-Formal私(わたし)Polite Standard僕(ぼく)Young Male/Humble俺(おれ)Men (some women) very informalあたし Used by girly womenBut in all reality, it really is dropped in most cases minus first time encounters or when it’s needed when perspective can’t be understood.

  • You listed a lot of stuff that you do when you’re down, now I wonder what you do when you are not tired!!! What exercises do you do?
    Because I thought speaking in English, listening to podcasts, watching movies are already studying.

    • Haha! 😀 When I am not down, I will go through texts, look up words, focus on the grammar structures used and any turns of phrase I can pick out and use myself. I will make an analysis of the text in short. If it is a new language, I may use a method, which I need to go through, read through, listen to and manipulate in various ways to see how I can use it. The process is quite active in terms of learning. 🙂

  • Ryan says:

    Hey Richard, I have watched some of your videos along with some of the other polyglotts videos and yall have definitly helped alot. i wanted to say thanks. I started teaching myself german about 6 months ago and I finally was able to meet up with the german professor and some students majoring in german at my local university and I was able to have a conversation with them in German. I actually had better comprehension then the students majoring in german which was pretty suprising. Anyways thanks alot Richard, you are definitly an inspiration keep it up!

  • Colin says:

    Hey Richard. I’ve been watching videos that you, Luca, and Susanna have put up and been reading some of your articles as well (which I find really helpful). Languages are my passion in life. J’ai un niveau assez avancé en français (mais je trouve que c’est loin d’être parfait). Je suis prof d’anglais en République Tchèque et j’essaie d’apprendre plusieurs langues qui m’intéressent comme le tchèque, le russe, le polonais, le chinois, l’espagnol, ou l’italien, mais j’ai du mal à vraiment m’appliquer à une langue en particulier. J’ai déjà fait plusieurs efforts pour apprendre le tchèque, mais c’est une langue que peut très vite décourager un jeune amateur de langues. Also, I’ve been trying to keep up with my Spanish lately, but I’m having problems finding a good spot to pick it back up again. Sorry for the novel I wrote, but any advice would be great. It’s amazing that you’ve been able to learn so many languages and it’s an inspiration to me to try to keep up with my passion. Merci!

  • Diana says:

    Hello Richard!!!! any tips on learning two languages at the same time?

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