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Motivation makes all the difference between the person who studies a language for a few weeks for fun and someone who really acquires the skill of speaking it. To help keep your motivation up and learn language naturally, carve out a place for passion projects in your learning routine.
What do you love doing?
Taking on a new challenge like learning a language can feel like it belongs to the long list of things that keep us away from doing the things we love. Work, school, train commutes, and doctors’ appointments are all things we have to do rather than things we particularly enjoy doing, but make no mistake: just because language practice gets an entry on your to-do list doesn’t mean it has to be just another duty call.
Sometimes the best way to get motivated is to combine something you need to do with something you like to do, like your passions and hobbies. Whether it’s an art, a profession, a sport, or something else, whatever your passion is, it most likely takes place in a language. So the savvy language learner’s simple motivation hack is this: do what you love doing, and just do it in another language.
Here are six examples of ways you can combine language learning with passion projects and stay motivated to pursue all your passions, linguistic and otherwise.
Julia Child famously fell in love with the French language by way of French cuisine and found herself speaking fluent French within a year after starting culinary school in France.
You may not be able to enroll in an overseas culinary program, but you can use your love of Italian cooking to immerse yourself in the language. Build your way up from preparing meals from recipes in Italian to following Italian cooking blogs, vlogs, and YouTube channels. You’ll grow a strong vocabulary not only around food words but also verbs you use in the kitchen (to stir, to boil, to slice, to serve), colors, measurements, and words for describing smells, tastes, and textures. If you can’t find an Italian-speaking friend to cook with around town, share your passion on Italian cooking forums and Facebook groups.
Music and language learning are highly intertwined in the brain, and many linguists believe that music is one of the best ways to learn a language. Plunge into Portuguese with Brazilian jazz and samba, read and listen to the words, and sing along. The music makes it easy to memorize the words of your favorite song, and when you sing in imitation of the singer you’re listening to, you’re on the fastest path to perfecting your pronunciation. Advanced learners with the music in them might even think about writing a song in the language they’re learning.
We’ve all heard of taking Spanish classes, but what about classes in Spanish? In today’s ever-changing economy, professionals constantly need to update their skills, and taking a course in a foreign language is a two-birds-one-stone approach to building professional skills while strengthening linguistic ones. The web is full of sites like Coursera and EdX where you can take free online courses on any number of subjects from photography to philately, and your language options for taking these classes aren’t limited to just English.
The bigger sites usually offer a course language filter, so you can browse through Coursera’s Business courses in Spanish, for example. You’ll learn more about personal finance with the course Finanzas Personales from the Autonomous University of Madrid, but you’ll also imrpove your Spanish reading comprehension, writing, and vocabulary in the process.
We’ve preached the good word of learning a language with TV here before, and this is why. Stories intrigue and motivate us, and when we can dive into a follow along with a storyline in a different language, we use it in the same way we use our mother tongue.
Getting really deep into a new series in your target language — I mean the kind of deep where you genuinely can’t wait to watch the next episode and find out what happens to the characters — is an awesome way to learn your language by letting it wash over your brain. It’s imperfect, just like real life communication: you miss some words, but between gestures, tone of voice, and other context clues you generally get what’s going on, and you absorb much of the speech and mannerisms of the characters whose every word you’re hanging on to.
Particularly if you’re learning a language that’s spoken across a wide region, like Russian or Spanish, tapping into your inner political junkie is also an excellent way to tap into language, culture, and worldview. If you’re an avid follower of current events you’ll be watching the news, listening to everything from oratorically ornate speeches to sharp debate and round-table discussions, as well as reading newspapers and opinion journals that’ll beef up your vocabulary. Don’t forget to branch out to include some podcasts and YouTube channels for a variety of views, accents, vocabularies, and styles.
Writing in a foreign language can seem intimidating, but it’s a wonderful creative outlet in which you’re free to make as many mistakes as you want.
You can start a blog on WordPress or Tumblr, open a Word document on your computer, or just pull out pen and paper, but wherever you write, it doesn’t have to be public — your stories can live in a journal or in the imaginations of whomever you choose to share them with. Use whatever language skills you’ve got, whether you’ve just started stringing together words in sentences or are already conversationally fluent, and pen a fantasy epic, a short story, or a series of poems. Boldly use incorrect verb forms and make shameless spelling mistakes, and learn from the literature you consume as you go.
Anything you can do in a group or with written and spoken words can be done in another language. If you’re sitting back scratching your head and trying to think of what exactly your hobbies are again and how you can do them in another language, take a look at the giant list on Discover a Hobby — keep an eye open for activities you already do or have always wanted to, and look for ones that involve a lot of speaking, reading and writing, or collaboration and discussion with others.