Stick To It!

I read a post from Geoff today, The Language Habit, and I thought his point was worth repeating:

… [T]here is one old and earthshaking secret too often forgotten about all aspects of our lives: If you work at doing something as well as you can and consistently, you are on the way to excellence. So whatever your method or technique for learning language these days, stick to it. If it fits with what you’re trying to achieve, you’ll soon be on your way.

This is great advice. I’ve found that with language learning, often, what is lacking is not the “perfect” method, but simply enough time invested. With regular study, even if it’s 10 or 15 minutes, you can see improvement in your understanding. I’ve been extremely busy with college classwork, and so my language learning time has been pretty slim. However, I’ve been able to squeeze in 10-15 minutes a day for both French and Russian; German, as my primary language target, usually gets half an hour to an hour. While I certainly won’t win any language learning races by studying an hour and a half a day, luckily, I’m not in a race; I just want to continue learning, which I’ve been doing successfully. A drop here and there will eventually fill a glass, then a bath tub, and then an ocean. I suppose language learning is similar.

So, as Geoff said: stick to it. Even if it may feel like you’re not making much progress, you probably are. Just keep adding drops to the container.

By |2008-02-12T00:01:11+00:00February 12th, 2008|Language Learning, Learning Methods, Learning Tips|7 Comments


  1. Camilla February 12, 2008 at 4:54 am - Reply

    Finding time for language study is one of my major issues at the moment. I keep deciding to dedicate my lunchtime at work to a few languages, but it never happens (because i get up too late, and then have a short lunch in order to go home on time). I’m doing better at getting up early these days though, so someday maybe i’ll manage it. Or i’ll use some morning time for studying languages instead.

    It’s such a disappointing feeling when you want to study, you’re really looking forward to getting to grips with the grammar of a new language, and it just never happens! I’ve got a book on Colloquial Finnish staring at me from my bookshelf, and a textbook on Contemporary Linguistics being neglected on my desk (i do hug it every now and then, though :P). Both are crying out for some attention, gah! Must make a plan. And then stick to it!

    Out of interest, when do you normally study your languages? And do you plan it out, or just study whenever you find the time?

  2. Josh February 12, 2008 at 11:45 am - Reply

    I think finding time for language study is a big issue for most language learners; some have copious amounts of free time to devote to their language pursuits, but most adults who are aiming to learn one or more foreign languages have to fight with the time issue. So, you’re not alone! 🙂

    I tried “scheduling” time for studying, but that never worked – other things always came up, and my schedule went out the window. I tend to study my languages whenever I see I have at least 10-15 minutes available; if I have more time, great, if not, so be it. 15 minutes is 15 minutes, and I find I’m often surprised with what can come from just reading over a grammar explanation again, or reviewing vocabulary.

    Due to how I go about it, there isn’t any set time period I study in, but I’ve noticed that I more often than not hit the books sometime in the evening, after I’ve put out the day’s fires and have some free time. I might look over a section of a book in the morning, and then review it later in the day.

    So, in short: I study all throughout the day, for varying amounts of time. It’s totally unstructured, but it seems to be working; I’m making slow but steady progress with German, French, and Russian. If I tried to go at these three in a more structured way – an hour here for this one, an hour there for that one – I don’t think I’d be making any progress, because I’d never get around to actually sitting down for an hour with each language.

  3. Camilla February 13, 2008 at 10:32 am - Reply

    Good to hear how you go about it – i’m impressed that you can just rely on finding the odd moment to study, without having to plan it in.

    And yes, i think planning too much time is a killer – even half an hour each day was too much for me to stick too apparantly! Better to plan less, i guess, and get it done.

    I need to find a way to remind me how much i want to study – like sticking random Russian words all over the shop or something, lol. Motivation is my main problem. I love it when i’m studying it, and i love the results of studying it, but making myself sit down and get started seems much less appealing than watching a tv show.

  4. Josh February 16, 2008 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    Well, just to make it clear: my “rely on finding the odd moment to study” method doesn’t always works. Sometimes I just don’t get to around to it, beyond reviewing my vocabulary in Anki.

    In regards to finding the motivation to actually get down to it, I’m not much help. I enjoy my studying, and so I don’t need much prodding to hop into it. However, with other activities that I’m not crazy about doing, such as exercising, I’ve found that when I think about doing it and then feel some inner resistance, it’s often just best to go do it. The resistant quickly disappears, and I feel good about exercising.

  5. GeoffB February 17, 2008 at 11:21 pm - Reply

    A lot of people think they lack motivation, when what they lack is effective use of motivation. (This includes me, sometimes, unfortunately.) The purpose of motivation is not to allow you to bang your head against the wall an hour a day if that’s what you’ve decided to do. The purpose of motivation is to get you out of a rut, into a new routine and sticking to it until it becomes a new habit.

    If you’ve been eating 2500 calories a day and you decide for your diet to only eat 1500 from now on, you’re banging your head against the wall. The same thing for deciding that you really, really are going to study your new language an hour a day, even though you don’t know where that hour will come from. If you’re going to study even ten minutes a day, you’re going to have to figure out where those ten minutes a day are going to come from. Then, as Josh says, you use your motivation to get started.

    If turning on the television instead of studying is a problem, it sounds like you’ve already decided you should give up a few minutes of television to study. So why not take your book off the shelf and leave it on the couch, where you watch television. That way you’ll have a visual cue to remind you to stick to your new routine until you get the hang of it.

  6. Camilla February 18, 2008 at 5:26 am - Reply

    >>I’ve found that when I think about doing it and then feel some inner resistance, it’s often just best to go do it.

    I’m exactly like this Josh! Whenever i most need to workout, i find i am thinking about it constantly yet hating the idea. When i find i am doing that, i make myself workout and man so i feel better afterwards! Funny how the times when we hate the idea the most, are the times when we most need to do it.

    Good points all GeoffB, and a good suggestion to target the times when i can find time. I’ve tried that (had hoped to do lunchtimes, or mornings) but i think i have been too optimistic that i can get up early enough to create that time. Trying something a little more realistic is probably wise, and setting my books out in a specific place is a great idea. Maybe i’ll tape one of them to the front of my favourite DVD boxed set! 😛
    Thanks for the advice, i’m going to give you suggestions a good go. 🙂

  7. Oisín May 10, 2008 at 2:51 pm - Reply

    The best advice I can share with you on this is from the website of a guy called Mark Forster ( – the “I’ll Just Get The File Out” tactic.

    A very simple concept which seems obvious, but I hadn’t thought of it until I read the article. Basically, when you have a task (probably one of very many) which you’ve been wanting to do for a while and keep putting off, you can often work around your lazy resistance by telling yourself “fine, I’ll just open Anki and do ONE flashcard… if I don’t feel like carrying on after that then fine, I did something at least”. Most of the time you will probably feel like carrying on and get a bunch of work done… although sometimes of course you’ll still feel like skipping it 🙂

    It can be applied to pretty much anything – as he puts it:
    ‘I got myself moving by saying “I’ll just fill the washing up bowl with hot water”. Magically I found the washing up was done. Then I said “I’ll just get the lawnmower out of the shed”. Again magically I found the lawn had been mown.’

    A great trick to have in your arsenal! And now I’m going to “just get my piano pieces out and play four bars” 🙂

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