Returning from a hiatus

The past 3 or 4 weeks have been hectic for me, with “real life” (that is, not language stuff, alas) throwing some curve balls at me. I’d love to say that I’ve diligently carried on with my language learning endeavors, but I can’t. I’ve not picked up a grammar book or dictionary for weeks, nor have I even read much in foreign languages. My German deck in Anki has over 500 cards due!

While that’s certainly not a good thing, some good has come from it, and that is this: I’ve been reminded once again that one is allowed to set aside language learning for a while, and the world won’t come crashing down. That may sound silly, but for many months now, language learning had become a major part of my daily routine, and at times, I let it slide from “extremely enjoyable hobby” to “work.” On some days, instead of thinking “I want to work on Russian now,” I’d instead think “I need to / must work on Russian sometime today.” Particularly when tackling a number of languages all at once, such thinking quickly leads to feeling down about not meeting all of your obligations – real or imagined. Russian didn’t really care if I met with it on Tuesday or Wednesday, but in my mind, Russian did care, in a bizarre way. Russian felt neglected.

Thankfully, languages are much more forgiving than people are. Shelve them for a week or four, and they’ll wait around for you. Furthermore, while I do regret having been away from my languages for so many weeks, the break is proving to have been helpful, as I’ve been able to see that what I’ve learned so far won’t disappear if I miss a few weeks. For a long while, I was quite in the mindset that if I missed a day or two, what I’d learned would drain out of my head like water out of a sink. That hasn’t been the case at all. This past weekend I was out of town for a few days, with none of my Russian materials; I hadn’t studied any Russian for weeks. Yet I was still able to think a bit in the language, bringing to mind words, sentences, and bits of grammar that I honestly expected to have completely forgotten.

I’ve written a few posts like this now, I think, but I do think it’s a point worth stressing: don’t turn your hobbies into work, or you’ll learn to hate your hobbies. Perhaps this doesn’t apply to many people, but I know it applies to me. I tend to be serious about most things I do, which has its ups and downs. It’s good to work diligently at things; it’s another thing altogether to let those “things” dominate your life. When you’re regularly feeling guilty for not paying enough attention to “your languages”, it might be time to reconsider how you’re doing things. 🙂

Has anyone else had similar positive experiences with taking a decent sized break from language learning? Before answering that in the comments, though, let me make it clear: you’re not going to learn any language by ignoring it all the time. But breaks can be beneficial, I think.

By |2009-07-22T22:33:19+00:00July 22nd, 2009|Language Journal, Language Learning|4 Comments


  1. Joe July 23, 2009 at 2:30 am - Reply

    I’m like you, in time my hobbies start to become obligatory parts of my day. When something feels like an obligation, you just don’t have that same level of enthusiasm that comes with a passion that you do for the fun of it.

    I also have had to scale back my own language study the past two weeks due to moving across the state. This has turned out to be a great thing, because it helps you focus on all the progress you made and also realize that a lag now and then isn’t the end of the world.

    I think language learning, for those of us who love languages, is a hobby we intend to keep for life. With that in mind, if we hopefully live to a decent age, we have many enjoyable years of languages ahead of us. It’s a good thing to keep in perspective when we feel overwhelmed or like we’re not making the progress we should!

    By the way, I actually think it’s funny how many personality traits many fellow language learners seem to have in common. Many of the things you have written about, like stress from juggling several languages (and how to devote time to them all) and the like are all things I and other friends of mine who love languages have run into.

    Anyway, even while I was on a break, I still listened to music and watched TV and movies in my languages… though I view that as pure fun and not “work” (Maybe I need to trick myself more often!)

  2. GeoffB July 28, 2009 at 1:39 am - Reply

    Glad to see you back. I hope life isn’t throwing quite as many curve balls at you anymore. Take it easy and remember that those languages have been waiting around for you to learn them for hundreds of years. Another week won’t hurt if other things are going on.

    In my experience, I can let a given language slide for as much as a couple months and be back on track in a short time – if I so desire. Sometimes, I realize it’s just not something I want to pursue further. I do usually tend to do at least a little language related stuff every day, but if life is busy that may mean listening to French music instead of the radio, not serious study. That way, it’s a refuge from life, not another hassle. But yes, if it’s a hassle, let it drop until you miss it. Then you’ll be refreshed when you come back to it, if that’s what is right for you.

    Take it easy,

  3. doviende August 3, 2009 at 3:47 pm - Reply

    I recently felt a bit stressed about spending so much time on languages, and some of it began to feel like a chore, so i took some time off to start learning to play irish-style flute, and to do some bird-watching during migration season.

    When i came back to working on german, i found that my motivation was greatly increased, and i felt refreshed and ready to go again. I’ve been working even harder than before, and enjoying it more. It only took me a few days to get back to where i was, and within another week after that i had clearly moved beyond where i was.

    Sometimes i think it’s like weight-training. Generally, it’s best if you take a week off every 12 or 13th week, and then when you come back you’re stronger than you were before. Sometimes a “break” for me means just listening to audio content on an mp3 player when i’m at work or on the bus. we don’t necessarily need to be hard-core studying all the time, but it’s usually pretty easy to keep the audio flowing in the background.

  4. Josh August 7, 2009 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    All of the comments here are pretty much dead on. I’ve been enjoying my language studies much more now, after having taken some (forced) time off. It feels like a hobby again which I’m deeply interested in, rather than a second, unpaid job.

    One thing I do need to work on is gathering some decent music in all of the languages I’m studying. I’ve a small mountain of German music, as I actually became interested in learning the language due to music, rather than the other way around. I have a few artists that I like well enough for Russian, but I need more. For French and Spanish, I have nothing at all. I prefer rock music; any suggestions? 🙂

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