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Temptation Bundling: For When Motivation Falls Short in Language Learning Posted by on May 24, 2017 in Language Learning, Language News, Trends

Sometimes willpower and motivation alone are not enough.

temptation bundling

Tempted? Use that to your advantage.

More and more, we find ourselves working with people for whom learning a language is not optional. They need it to do their job well. But even for those motivated individuals, learning a language is an arduous journey. So how does the average learner—whose job isn’t on the line—find the willpower to keep learning when it gets tough?

Allow us to introduce temptation bundling. Pioneered by Wharton professor Katy Milkman, the idea is that “you can make it easier to perform a behavior that is good for you in the long-run by combining it with a behavior that feels good in the short-run.” For Milkman, this meant that she could only read for pleasure (a treasured hobby) while at the gym. After finding that this worked for her, Milkman and her colleagues expanded her experiment to 226 students, faculty, and staff at University of Pennsylvania. Those taught about temptation bundling were “29 percent to 51 percent more likely to exercise when compared to the control group.”

This tactic is critical for tasks like learning a language, which requires sustained practice but may never seem particularly pressing. Author James Clear poses a good question: “Consider how many tasks are important to our progress, but not urgent in our daily lives.” Studying for 15-20 minutes each day will never feel like the most important thing on your to-do list, but daily commitment over time will bring fluency (the cognitive and career benefits of which we all know well by now.)

The key to success temptation bundling is to link certain “wants” with certain “shoulds.” But what might those “links” look like for serious language learners?

  • Only enjoy a weekly pedicure while completing lessons in Transparent Language Online.
  • Only go to the beach if you listen to a target language podcast in your beach chair.
  • Only eat at your favorite restaurant with a target language conversation partner or group.
  • Only indulge in dessert while reviewing vocabulary at the end of the day.

As Clear says, the tasks that are important are rarely urgent. Add some urgency to your language learning routine by bundling it with your daily temptations. What tasks will you bundle with your language studies?

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About the Author: meaghan

Meaghan is the Marketing Communications Manager at Transparent Language. She speaks enough French and Spanish to survive, and remembers enough Hausa to say "Hello my name is Meaghan, I'm studying Hausa." (But sadly that's it).


  1. Deborah Lovel Bryner:

    I enjoy reading the Word of the Day in both German and Hebrew…and reading the newsletter via Facebook. It helps to keep my language skills fresh. Thanks!

  2. Ruth Valle:

    Honestly I don’t buy your bundling method. The only way to get fluent in a language is to simply flip the switch and to start speaking it, don’t even think in English, just speak the language and look up whatever you don’t know so you build up your vocabulary. It’s a never ending process.

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