What is the Best Method to Learn a New Language?
When we learn a language, we frequently choose one of the following two methods.
- We look for a language teacher, or
- we opt for a self-learning course.
Teachers can be found on site – the classic language course – or online via Skype and video calls. Self-learning courses, on the other hand, are said to still exist in physical form, even though today most learners probably prefer to register on an online platform or use a language learning app on their mobile device.
It’s safe to assume that a large percentage of people who learn a new language have a very specific reason for doing so. For example, they want to improve their job opportunities, use the language in their next trip, are interested in another culture or maybe even in love with a person they’d like to speak those languages with. Whatever it is, the reason to learn a new language helps immensely, especially in the beginning, because it is the main source of one’s initial motivation to learn.
Motivation as the Bottleneck
But how do things look like one month later? In a recent online survey, we found that over 70% of learners throw in the towel after just a few weeks! Another large group, on the other hand, spends months or even years on the idea of learning a new language, but remains permanently stuck in this “planning phase”, which means that plans are never realized. As with many goals in life, the main problem is one’s own motivation.
Why don’t today’s Language Learning Methods motivate?
Let’s take another step back and look at why those who have already started learning languages suddenly give up a few weeks later. Two reasons are listed by those affected: Lack of time and lack of integration of the language into their everyday life. The first point is familiar to many: One simply has so many other things on the agenda that are important or need to be done. A new task therefore often does not get the necessary priority to be implemented. The only thing that helps against this is to become clear about one’s own goals and desires, and to rearrange priorities – or otherwise to accept that the dream of speaking a new language is not so important after all. But what about the second point, the lack of integration of the language into your everyday life?
Lack of Personal Connection makes many Learning Methods boring!
Let’s take another look at the reasons why people learn foreign languages. One could say that half learn for professional reasons, i.e. to get a better job or a higher income later on. The other half learn for purely personal reasons. You could call them the passionate language learners: they learn Italian because they love Italy and Italian food. They learn Portuguese because they have met someone from Rio de Janeiro and would like to speak with that person. It is the passionate language learners who miss a connection between their personal reasons for learning a foreign language and the learning methods offered: Once the initial motivation is gone, the teacher’s exercises or the tasks in an app quickly become boring. First, because they have no connection to the reasons why someone learns. And second, because they don’t engage the learner.
Here’s a quick example: Take a look at the pictures and learn the words for different beverages in Spanish!
We do admit it: we have made up this image 😉 However, it could be found like this on many language learning apps: Flash cards are certainly quite nice to study vocabulary, and the simultaneous use of images and audio is of course better than just reading a new word. But at the end of the day, flash cards don’t motivate. They are just pictures – no interaction, no personal connection.
On the other hand, how motivated would you be to learn the Spanish word for beer (“cerveza”) or wine (“vino”) if you were in Madrid in a bar like this one?
So what do Passionate Language Learners want?
When your own initial motivation to learn a language wanes, new motivation only comes from getting closer to your goal and original reason for learning the language. For those who learn for personal reasons, this is primarily a personal experience: Experiencing an adventurous weekend in Naples feeds the motivation of any fan of Italy. And the Spanish learner is virtually thrilled when he can successfully order food and drinks in Spanish for himself and his new acquaintance at the local tapas bar for the very first time.
How can you create Lasting Motivation in Language Learning?
If true motivation in language learning can only come from personal experience, then that’s what learners should be given: Personal experiences! Imagine, for example, becoming the main character in an interactive adventure story set in the very country whose language you want to learn. Every day you find yourself in situations where you have to speak and use the new language – with characters you have met before, and with stories that are exciting, and set exactly where you would ideally like to be in order to learn the language. The language adventure shows you new places, gives you quests, and makes you come back every day to learn because you want to know how the story continues.
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