“What we learn with pleasure we never forget.”
Alfred Mercier, an American poet and playwright
This article is a complement to “Tips for Language Learners” where, among other things, we suggested you let your hobbies help when looking for inspiration and motivation for learning a foreign language. We also recommended celebrating achievements, no matter how small, to maintain a positive attitude towards the learning process. Today, we’d like to expand on why keeping it enjoyable is necessary and how you can do it.
Should it be fun?
Not so long ago, my friend and mentor said that “having fun” in class is not what teachers should encourage students to do because teachers have a specific plan of how to help their students make progress, they are accountable for that, and that’s why both teachers and students, whose knowledge is what it’s all about after all, should stay serious and focused rather than relaxed and enjoying themselves. That’s a very good point. However, at the same time, we keep hearing how important lifelong learning is, our ultimate goal is to promote it, and achieving the goal is hardly possible unless we keep things enjoyable and adjust our milestone-based thinking a little. Choosing objectives and organizing ourselves to attain them is important, but we should remember that the journey is even more important than the destination, especially when it comes to language learning. After all, it never really stops. When we think about it this way, it makes sense to try to see the big picture rather than just the next milestone ahead of us.
So, we do encourage you to stay focused on specific goals (like passing a test, for example) but also find joy in learning because if you do find it, you’ll stick to what you do, and persistence is what learning a language takes.
How is it done?
The answer to the question will be different for different people. What works for one person might not work for another, and that’s alright. What is universally important though is the pursuit of your own way. Experiment and keep looking. Are you into music? Use that interest to help your leaning. Do you like literature? Read in your target language, and if that’s too difficult at the moment, use adapted books. (More about this is in “Tips for Language Learners”.)
It’s all in your mind
What is even more important is your attitude. Try not to think about it all in a negative way. Don’t think about leaning a language as hard and tiring. It may be, but instead of telling yourself that story, choose another one. It’s exciting, enriching and educational; it widens your horizons and makes you more culturally aware. In a word, it helps you become your better self. Are you feeling better already?
Don’t compare yourself to others
Never. If you start and if that becomes a habit, whether that’s about your progress or anything else, it’s like playing a game you can never win. Instead of comparing yourself to others, try comparing your present self to your past one. See how far you’ve come, how much you’ve grown and achieved. And you are not stopping there, so the best is yet to come. Cultivate that kind of mind frame, and that will help you feel good about yourself, which is so important when you are trying to achieve something, whether academically or professionally.
Trust me you don’t want to become a perfectionist. Perfection doesn’t exist, and if you are pursuing what doesn’t exist, all you’ll get is disappointment. Settle for good enough, and don’t beat yourself up for procrastination, laziness or whatever. Tomorrow is another day.
Let me switch from things like attitude and outlook to a slightly different matter. Have you ever seen pictures of lovely English notebooks, stationary, laptop and a cup of coffee (preferably in a fancy coffee shop) on Instagram or other social media? Posts like that are numerous and they seem to show what an elegant pastime English (or any other foreign language) can be. It’s true that lovely things like glossy pens and fuzzy pencils can create the right atmosphere and set you in the mood for studying. But I can’t help but wonder if those people posting the pics ever do much learning amidst it all… The bottom line is don’t get carried away.
And don’t give up no matter what. Enjoy the process. It never really ends, but there’s beauty in it. What can be better than always learning something new and becoming more and more knowledgeable every day? 😉