“Men’s natures are alike. It is their habits that separate them.” Confucious
It is impossible to overstate the importance of habits in life. They are the building blocks on which we all build our lives whether we realise it or not. Whenever we are approaching learning a new skill, like a language, it is therefore essential that we tap into our essentially habitual nature and utilise our amazing abilities to turn any behaviour, both positive or negative, into a habit. It is perfectly possible for you to become a habitual language learner in the same way it is for you to become a habitual smoker provided that you understand how motivation and habits work. I’m going to talk you through quite a bit of this on this page but I would highly recommend that you get yourself a copy of one, some or (if you’re feeling really flush and super committed!) all of the books on this link. They have all helped me no end over the years and have been the absolute key to helping me make language learning a habitual part of my daily life. I can’t recommend them highly enough. The rest of this page is my take on how you can use the power of habits to kick start your language learning journey and make language learning a part of ‘who you are’.
The first thing you need to consider if you are serious about building world class language learning habits are your current beliefs around language learning. If you are holding onto any of the myths that are included in the ‘Exploding the myths around language learning‘ you need to debunk them right away. They are excuses. You can learn a language. At any age. At any time. In any place. Next, you need to consider what most people would call your ‘motivation’. To understand this you need to ask yourself two questions. Firstly, why do you want to learn this language or these languages? Secondly, how badly do you ‘want’ to learn the language, or languages, that you are setting out to study? Only you can answer those questions. However, if you are serious about developing a habit you need to be honest with the level of desire that is burning in you for this project right now. If your ‘why’ is weak you are highly unlikely to success in this awesome mission as it is almost certain that you don’t want this badly enough. Don’t get disheartened though. Think about it again. Think carefully about the reason why you are reading this. If you’re this far through this article on a site about language learning you must have a reason!
Wouldn’t it be amazing if you passed that exam? Wouldn’t your boyfriend and his family be over the moon if you could converse with them next time you went out to stay with his relatives who don’t speak English? Wouldn’t it be incredible to sing along with the fans at a Bundesliga game? Yes. It would. If you can’t think of your own reason pick one of my five and really think it through. Now, picture yourself being able to do the thing you’re thinking of being able to do. Imagine how awesome it would be. The fact is that that dream is very, very easily achievable provided that you, in Tony Robbins words, ‘raise your standards’ and have a bunch of rituals to help make the dream become real. Robbins is an amazing speaker and whilst the video below isn’t specifically about language learning all the points he makes are spot on when it comes to learning a language. Check out his points in the video below and you can find more information about Tony on his website:
So, what are your language learning rituals going to be?
To be a successful language learner you need to find a time every day or, at the very least, five days a week when you are going to learn your language for 25 minutes. If you can do this twice a day or for 15 minutes twice a day your progress will sky rocket. Most people will immediately say that this is ‘impossible’. If that is your reaction then, you need to raise your standard. This won’t work unless you do. So, the key is finding rituals that you already have that you can tie your learning into. Could you do 15 minutes on your commute? Do you have a morning break at work? Could you stay 25 minutes later at work and do it at work? Could you do it when you first get home? Could you get up earlier?
The last option is the one I took and I have found it unbelievably helpful. I now get up at 5.15am every weekday and have exactly the same routine for the first hour of the day. Every day. This includes 25 minutes of language learning. Job done. Now I know most people aren’t prepared to get up that early but then again most people don’t have the standards I have for language learning or the standards you’re going to need if you want to make this a part of your life.
The brilliant thing is that you only really need to make languages a part of your life for a few weeks to help it become a part of ‘who you are’. In the meantime you need to commit to the time you set out regardless of what happens (genuine emergencies aside obviously!) at work or at home. If you don’t your practice will be killed by death by a thousand cuts. If the time you have chosen isn’t working at all after a couple of weeks I would seriously recommend getting up 30 minutes earlier each day. That way you are very unlikely to be disturbed by other people whereas if you’re trying to learn when you first get home from work you’re probably going to get distracted far more easily. If you think that’s mad or impossible check out this talk by Mel Robbins on Habit Formation and getting up early. She’s an absolute legend! I promise you won’t regret the 20 minutes this video takes.
As Mel says motivation is garbage. Habits are everything. You need a habit. If you don’t get one everything else on this site is a pointless waste of time. Please don’t dismiss this message! Everyone who develops a daily habit of language learning will learn a language in a few months almost regardless of the approach to learning you take. Yet the vast majority of awesome, intelligent, amazing people in this country won’t learn a language because they ignore the critical nature of habits. Don’t be one of them! If you don’t think you can develop positive habits check out Mel’s book on the ‘5 Second Rule’. You’ve got this my friends! If you change your habits you change your life.
Here’s Mel’s video: