Stay with it! How to Keep Up Your Motivation

Rob Ashby

Rob Ashby

The Spanish Obsessive

The hardest thing about learning a language is starting it. The second hardest part is to continue it. Keeping our language learning going is a huge challenge, especially when we are so used to everything being such a quick fix in our modern age. The truth is that properly learning a language is an endless commitment, and there won’t ever come a time when you’ve finished learning it. If you feel your commitment and motivation waning, I’d like to share a few things which have helped me along my journey.

Remember why you’re doing it

You had the motivation to start learning Spanish, so try and get back in touch with that original spark to see if that helps you. Examine your reasons carefully – some are more powerful motivators than others. Personally, I draw my motivation from my love of Spain and Latin America, and desire to share that culture. If you just need to pass an exam, try and create a deeper reason for yourself.

You are improving, you just don’t see it

One of the most frustrating parts of learning Spanish is our perceived lack of progress. We’re all annoyed when we make silly mistakes which we never used to make, or we feel we’re actually going backwards. Remember that learning a language is not a linear process, and is actually very messy. You’ve probably improved in other areas, you just can’t realise it. Bearing that in mind can be a great comfort – have faith in your innate language learning ability! Of course, when you do see the progress that you make (and you will), that’s a huge language learning motivator.

Mix it up

If you find yourself bored in your language learning, have a look at what you’ve been doing. Have you been spending too long doing grammar? Trying to cram vocab? In this case, you’re overloading your cognitive skills and memory, and need to broaden your language learning. Spend some time listening to Spanish music, or watching a film in Spanish.

Of course, the reverse for that can also be true. If you spend too much time watching movies in Spanish, or glossing over newspapers, you may find that your frustration is because you aren’t going into enough detail. In that case, maybe look at a few more detailed Spanish exercises, or spend some more time drilling some vocab, and give the other half of your brain a workout.

Manage your expectations

Every language learner at some point will think that he/she should be better than they are. In a way, I find this thought quite motivating in itself – it can cause you to “up your game” and actually get better. More often, though, there is a sense of disappointment and anger at oneself. Try and be realistic about where you think you can be, and when. And don’t worry, you’ll get there one day!

Don’t beat yourself up

There will be days when you forget it all. You’ll open your mouth and gibberish will pour out, and you won’t understand anyone, and will feel like you’ve wasted the last year of your life. This is the time when you just need to smile, and have a little sense of humour. Yes, today you are rubbish, but it’s more than likely a temporary blip, and tomorrow you’ll be back on it. If you can look on those kinds of days with a positive attitude, there’s nothing that can keep you from mastering Spanish.

Language is to be shared – go out and use it!

Spanish was not created to torture you with its irregular verbs, believe it or not. Go out and use it for what it was “made for” – communicate! Even though you may not live in a Spanish speaking country, I guarantee that you will be able to find someone to speak to. If not, then why are you learning Spanish in the first place? There is no better motivator than using Spanish for what it’s there for, and you can do this no matter what your level. Do this regularly, and you’ll find that your Spanish learning is actually blending into the rest of your life. Which brings me on to my next point…

Make Spanish part of your life

Millions of people spend all day thinking, speaking, and listening to Spanish. For them, that is their life – try and make it more a part of yours. Bring it away from the book or the classroom, and try to centre it more in your own life. Think of the things that you enjoy doing in your life, and see if you can add a “layer” of Spanish to them. That might be adding Spanish subtitles to a film, checking the headlines in before, or reading your favourite author’s next work in Spanish before English. Use your imagination!

Enjoy the journey, not the destination

Yes, clichéd though it is, learning Spanish is really a journey. However, I don’t think it really has a destination – you won’t wake up one day and declare that you’ve mastered Spanish, and no longer need to study it. Enjoy the peaks and troughs of your language learning odyssey without worrying about arriving, and you’ll find your motivation effortless and sky high.


4 Responses

  1. Hola Rob,
    I was looking for motivation at 5 AM, before the gym. To exercise? No. To keep plugging away at my seemingly unattainable quest to learn to speak Spanish. I have been at this for longer than I care to admit, only seriously for the past year. Thanks for he words of encouragement. I would love to travel to a Spanish speaking country and immerse myself fully but that is currently not even remotely feasible. I know that is only an excuse though. I live in California and have a million opportunities to use what I know. I hesitate and freeze up at most of them. UUUhhhggggg. How is this ever going to happen!!! ~Jackie

    1. From what my Californian friends tell me, the hispanics love it when someone has a go! I say just get involved and don’t worry about making a fool of yourself – enjoy it and the motivation will follow.

  2. I feel the same type of frustration. Not only am I searching for that motivation to keep going, but I get so hard on myself when I feel like I’m not making any progress. I forget words that I KNOW I know, and I feel so defeated. When I have opportunities to speak in the language such as ordering food, I freeze up and feel too embarrassed to say anything other than English. I’ve only been studying Spanish for about 6 months, but I feel I should be much further into knowing this than I am now. To make it worse, my boyfriend taught himself Spanish and he is fluent. He’ll ask me things around the house like “what is a table in Spanish? How do you say couch in Spanish?”, etc, and I feel so dumb sometimes for not remembering. He’ll carry on conversations in Spanish on the phone to his friends and I just wish I could do something like that. I don’t know what my problem is, but even in High School I barely passed Spanish with a C. Over 10 years later and I still struggle to retain any of it, let alone comprehend the grammar side of it. I don’t like feeling defeated.

    1. Hi

      I can understand your frustration – it does seem that Spanish, like anything, comes to some people easier than others. But bear in mind that it’s not a competition, and no one will win any prizes for speaking Spanish well! Try to enjoy the progress and you make and the communication that you can do with Spanish, and don’t beat yourself up about it!
      Good luck!


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