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Why Motivation is Overrated When Learning a New Language

YANGYANG CHENG

I think people focus way too much on motivation.  It’s as if losing motivation somehow signals they should immediately stop doing whatever they’re doing and wait for their motivation to reappear before they can continue. 

Most people think motivation is a prerequisite for action. But in reality, you need to act first and then motivation follows.

So what does that mean for language learning?

As counterintuitive as this may sound, motivation is usually a result of persisting in language learning regardless of how you feel about it. Why? Because motivation for language learning is nurtured through habit and reinforced by routine.

The best way to make sure you keep learning the language, even during those days when you just want to rip those vocabulary flashcards to shreds, is to make language learning such a big part of your life, you’ll feel weird not doing it.

Take one of my students for example: he sets aside an hour everyday before bed to study Chinese. He hated doing it at first, but gradually, the process became so ingrained in him, it just didn’t feel right when he skipped a day.

Simply by creating a habit of language learning, my student’s first motivation (business reasons), evolved into something more – a passion for learning Chinese and appreciating the Chinese culture.

He reached a point where he saw why learning Chinese mattered to him beyond securing business deals: it enabled him to connect with people who had different perspectives and worldviews, opening a window to a world he now wanted to explore.

And so in a sense, routine helped to hone that first motivation into something that’s more profound and less vulnerable to dying away.

In any case, when it comes to finding the motivation to keep up your language studies, just keep in mind that the first step isn’t getting said motivation – it’s actually taking the first step and building that routine.

Once you do, you’ll find your own special reason for learning, and you’ll realize that it’s stronger and goes beyond any other motive you initially started out with.


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YANGYANG CHENG is the founder of Yoyo Chinese and a TV personality. She taught Chinese to MBA students at Pepperdine University. Before that, Yangyang was the host of the popular entertainment TV show "Hello Hollywood!, bringing Western culture to tens of millions of viewers in China. Currently, she teaches Mandarin through video lessons on Yoyo Chinese, and can also be found hosting educational shows on popular channels like the Discovery Channel.

Thu, 22 Aug 2019 07:00:00 GMT

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