Are you struggling to find the time and motivation to study English? Do you assume that it’s because you lack discipline, or that you just aren’t a good student? You aren’t alone! It is one of the most common problems that new students ask me about.
Here are some simple, but powerful tips to help you stay on track and learn quickly while enjoying the process.
Change your mindset about how you study English!
School teaches us all sorts of useful things. But it also teaches most of us that learning a language is time consuming, boring and stressful. Studying is a job we have to do for other people instead of something enjoyable that we do for ourselves. Yet, this is completely backwards. We are naturally curious, and like discovering new things and honing our skills.
You are already motivated to learn English, or you wouldn’t be here. The key to motivation isn’t generating it. The trick is to remove the obstacles that are in your way.
Becoming fluent in a language takes a lot of time and effort. There is no way around it. But stress, procrastination and boredom are optional. For instance, think of an activity or hobby that you really enjoy. You pour lots of energy into it. Nevertheless, you love doing it, right? Learning English can feel the same way.
Similarly, you can incorporate English into your daily life and activities that you do to relax and have fun. For example, you could select a song, learn the lyrics and practice English by singing it. Another idea is to learn how to talk about movies in English, and watch them with subtitles.
Harness the power of your dreams and goals.
First of all, let’s clear up the difference between dreams and goals. Both are important, but they aren’t the same thing. A lot of language schools make claims that if you take their courses, you’ll “speak English fluently in three months”. Statements like this may motivate people to open their wallets, but they also set students up to fail.
Being able to speak fluently is a dream. You can absolutely achieve this dream, but know that it is a big idea for the long term. Focus on it! Think about all of the wonderful opportunities that this ability will give you. Picture yourself excelling in your profession, traveling, making new friends, or whatever gets you going. Dream big and often!
Goals are the baby steps that move you to towards your dreams. To be useful, they need to be achievable, measurable and doable.
How to set goals that set you up for success when you study English:
1.) Get in the habit of intentional goal setting. What are you going to accomplish today? What are going to achieve this week?
2.) Set short-term goals that you can meet. It’s a common error to assume that setting higher goals will result in higher motivation. However, it often has the opposite effect. When we think about getting started on a task that feels overwhelming, we are likely to shut down. At best, we dread it and put it off. At worst, we don’t get started at all. If you are facing a goal that you dread, break it down into smaller steps, and just focus on completing the first one.
3.) Make sure that your goals are measurable. ‘Speaking fluently’ isn’t useful, because how do you know when you’ve succeeded? Instead, think to yourself, “I will know these twenty new vocabulary words by Friday”, or, “I will be able to read this paragraph aloud without stumbling by next week”.
4.) Avoid the temptation to compare your process to that of others. Stay focused on where you are now in comparison to where you will be when you have accomplished your next goal, and what you can do in the moment to move yourself forward.
5.) Celebrate when you’ve met a goal. Whether you give yourself a little treat, or just take a moment to feel good about it, acknowledge the progress that you have made, and your power to set and meet your own expectations.
Use your time wisely!
Second of all, take a moment to think about how you study. What does studying mean to you? What assumptions do you have about it? For most of us, we learned from school that it means that we have to stop doing enjoyable things, and get ready to dedicate a big chunk of time to doing boring, maybe stressful, maybe confusing, hard work.
Try this experiment. Forget everything you have been taught about studying, and instead focus on your dreams. How could being able to speak English help you? Can you picture it? Pretty incredible, right?
Now, using the tips above, set an English goal for yourself. What can you accomplish today? What are you going to achieve this week?
How can you best achieve your goal? Design a study plan that suits your personal interests, life-style and sense of comfort and enjoyment. For one person, it might be a half hour after lunch every day that is all your own, where everyone knows to leave you alone. A cup of tea, some relaxing music and reading in English could become something that you look forward to doing every day.
For another person, it might be taking advantage of a morning commute, in order to review verb flashcards and using them in sentences. Many people use games like Duolingo, that set goals and reward players as they progress. The most important thing is to make it fun, and to make it yours.
Get the right support while you study English.
Third of all, getting the right support can make all the difference. However, too often, we think about education as something that is done to us rather than something we claim for ourselves.
Have you ever had an English class where a teacher talks at you, asks you if you get it, then goes on to talk at you some more, without you ever getting to try out using the new information for yourself? Have you ever faced an English exam with questions that you didn’t understand, and then had a teacher be frustrated with you when you didn’t do well?
If you have, then you know all about what the wrong type of support looks like. Nothing kills our natural curiosity and desire to learn more quickly than having it be a time consuming, boring, stressful chore that we do for other people.
Remember that your English classes about you and your dreams. You deserve clear explanations, an opportunity to try out new material, and to feel okay about making mistakes as you figure things out.
How to determine what supports are right for you:
1.) Everybody learns differently. Think about what works and doesn’t work for you. Do you need to see charts and images to understand concepts? Is an explanation usually enough, or do you need to try doing something for yourself to really get it? Do you need lots of individual practice, or do you prefer to learn with games and group activities?
2.) Make sure that the English support that you select matches your learning requirements. Don’t be shy to ask a lot of questions about the teaching methodology before you begin.
3.) Communicate your needs early and often with your teacher. A good teacher will be glad to hear how you are feeling about your process, and be able to adapt to make your learning journey as effective and enjoyable as possible.
To sum up, gaining new skills and learning is naturally enjoyable, and you are already motivated to learn English! Of course it will take time and effort. However, many of the activities that people enjoy are like this, and learning English is no different. Focus on your dreams and think about all of the opportunities that speaking English will bring you. Claim some time, just for yourself, when you can study, and study in a way that works for you. Even a few minutes a day can add up, if you use your time wisely. And make sure that you select a teacher that is able to provide a learning experience that is right for you.
Are you ready? Yes, you are! So set a goal for yourself, and get started today!
Share your thoughts and tips!
We’d love to hear from you. What other tricks do you use to stay motivated to study English? If you are a teacher, what suggestions do you offer your students?