Ahh! A fresh new year is on the horizon! Such promise it holds! It starts out with a big party. Good food, friends and hope renewed. This will be a great year! The longer the champagne flows, the longer resolution lists grow. People are vowing to quit a bad habit, or start a good one. Maybe this is the year you finally learn a new language. Whether you want to be able to order a beer in 100 languages or dive deep into one specific language, there is no time like the present to learn and it is never too late. But how to you make this year’s language learning resolution stick? Here are some helpful tips:
Remember the benefits.
Numerous studies say that less than 10% of people stick to the resolutions they make. That isn’t a lot, but that shouldn’t stop you from jumping in. After all, you are going to prove statistics (and your friends) wrong this year! Think about the benefits you gain when you learn a new language:
- Learning another tongue can help your brain develop new neural pathways which can help delay dementia by about 5 years over those who are monolingual. Not a bad way to avoid/delay possible senility without using medication!
- Stroke victims who speak more than one language are twice as likely to regain their cognitive functions post-stroke. Speaking multiple languages creates a “buffer” against a stroke’s damaging influences.
- You will have a better memory and attention span. When you juggle different languages, you write, speak, think and even move differently which in turn makes you a better multi-tasker.
- In your job search, you will stand out in job searches against other applicants as a more well-rounded, global citizen.
- You become a better traveler. You can read menus, order the right wine, find the nearest hotel, and even make new friends when you speak the language of the countries you visit. Conversations will be more meaningful among future friends, clients and business contacts.
So, now you know some of the benefits, but how do you make it stick? Well, nothing ever worth a lot comes easily. When we create resolutions, we have grand, sweeping ideas. Lose 100 pounds by March! Know German fluently by the end of May! The one thing we forget is that resolutions as large as these take a lot of work and need dedication often beyond the year in which they are begun. So, the key to being part of that small percentage of people who stick to their resolutions includes the following:
Find a language you love.
When choosing a language to learn, find one that speaks to you. Is it the one you wanted to learn because your grandparents always spoke it? Perhaps it is one you find mellifluous? Maybe you just want to know traditional German drinking songs? Whatever it is, if you are intrigued, it will get you far.
Now, break it all down into manageable pieces. Go from wanting the know how to speak fluently in three months to focusing on just the alphabet. If you already know the alphabet, start on one subject you find interesting and explore that. And begin with one —one class, one app, one meetup group that is at your level of proficiency. Take it one foreign word at a time, one phrase.
Be held accountable.
If you share your experiences with friend and family or a group, you will be held accountable. And you may find others with whom you share you struggles and questions. They can help make your journey successful and less intimidating.
Strive for imperfection.
Make the mistakes. Use the wrong words. Be unabashedly proud to speak your new language. Many people don’t speak their native language as well as they should, so be proud of your learning a second one! Perfection is unattainable, but persistence is paramount to success. Do not get upset with yourself when you make a gaffe. Keep going!
Ask for support.
If you find one path isn’t working, find another. Is there another class or a different way to learn? If you have been flying solo, try a group language class. If you need a new teacher, find one. New app? There are so many to choose from. Find a pen pal, a friend, another way! And accept help from those who care about you. Having someone who listens will strengthens your resilience and help you reach your goals.
Want it more than any alternative.
It’s not easy, these resolutions we robustly proclaim at the beginning of a new year. And will power really is just making many daily choices all in favor of your goal. If you try to lose weight, you must want to lose weight more than you want to eat cake every day. If you want to learn a new language, you must want to speak it more than just switching to your native tongue because it is easier. It is a daily question and the struggle is real, but the benefits are numerous.
And who knows, if you are gentle with yourself and you celebrate the small steps towards fluency, the skills you learn along the way will make it easier to learn a third or fourth language! Go forth and conquer, future polyglot!
By Ilona Knudson