Fluency is a strange concept. Many people see it as a language-learning ideal, like they’ll wake up one day and realize: “Cowabunga! I am now fluent in Spanish! ¡Misión cumplida! ¡Arriba! ¡Arriba! ¡Ándale!”. Like the locked door of fluency suddenly opens up and everything comes together. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works… Fluency doesn’t happen on a specific date (if it did that’d be great). But if you focus on getting a little better every day, daily progress does add up to become fluency. And guess what? Once you are fluent, you’ll still have a lot to learn. Learning a language is a never-ending journey. The key is learning to love it. Aiming for progress instead of fluency is a game changer.
Consistency is very important to be successful in language learning. You know how sometimes you start to play a video game or read a book, but then stop for a few weeks for whatever reason and lose interest? (I’ve got a whole collection of those kind of books…) It’s not because you didn’t like it, it’s because you lost your momentum and don’t feel like catching up. The same is true with language learning, consistency is crucial. I mean, how many days did you skip when learning your mother tongue? Think about that.
The best way to be consistent in language learning is to form a habit and stick to a routine. When you are just starting out, it will be difficult to be consistent because language learning is anything but a habit. All of this is new to you, and let’s face it, it can be scary! It is said that it takes at least 21 days to form a habit, but we recommend being particularly consistent for at least a month. It will be harder in the first few weeks, but once that habit is formed, language learning will become an integrated part of your life.
In order to make a habit of language learning, you may want to use timing to your advantage. Try to base your learning activities around the same time of day. Set yourself reminders on your phone for certain things and associate learning time with aspects of your life that are already part of your existing routine. For example, you may want to practice with Ouino for 30 minutes before your breakfast cereal, listen to audio books on your way to work, or watch at least 20 minutes of television in your new language before watching the next episode of uhmm… Family Feud. If you associate learning activities with things that are already part of your life, it will eventually start to feel strange not to do them.
All that being said; Accept to let go every now and then and don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s okay to skip a night from time to time. Sometimes you’ll need to take a well-deserved break. That’s perfectly fine! Just make sure that skipping a day doesn’t become your new habit. Also, make sure that the methods you use for language learning are enjoyable to minimize the need to take a break. It will be a lot easier to keep up your momentum. Don’t give up on your old hobbies, try to adapt to them. Let’s say you catch yourself scrolling down your Facebook feed every time you dedicate time to learn, use that to your advantage! Change the language of your Facebook interface and follow a bunch of pages and people in your target language! Boom! Bonus learning time! Always adapt to make language learning fit your daily life.
As much as consistency is important, be careful not to take on too much at the same time, you likely won’t be able to keep it up. Sure, you might have a boost of motivation after traveling to an enchanting foreign destination, but if you quit your day job and study 12 hours a day, you’ll end up burning the candle at both ends. To be successful in creating a sustainable routine, you must make sure it can realistically fit your lifestyle.
Often enough, people are looking to lose weight and turn their lives completely upside down within a few days. They spend hours at the gym, drastically and completely stop eating all their favorite foods and count every single calorie. They end up feeling hungry, tired and grumpy. Having all those good intentions is great, but the problem is that most often than not, when they do lose the weight, they start to slowly get back into their old habits. And what happens then? The weight comes back with a vengeance. It is better to make smaller but sustainable changes, than to turn your life completely upside down and give up in a few weeks. It should be a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll see that weeks add up fairly quickly….