Fighting motivation

Keeping motivated is something that everyone struggles with from time to time. Whether it’s motivation to exercise, eat healthy, study, or learn a new language, we’ve all found ourselves lacking the drive and energy to work at whatever goals we’ve set for ourselves. Learning a new language can be a particularly challenging task when it comes to staying motivated.

When you learn a new language, you’re going through the process of re-wiring your brain to understand, process, and produce an immeasurable amount of unfamiliar language confidently and fluently. Much like anything worth doing, this takes time, energy, concentration, and most importantly, motivation. So, what can you do when you find your motivation lacking? Here are a couple of tips to help you push through the tough times.

1. Rethink your motivations

Motivation typically falls into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivators are usually related to external rewards (e.g. money, prizes, promotions, etc.), and intrinsic motivators refer to drives that are typically less tangible and more psychological in nature (e.g. a sense of achievement or personal fulfillment, pleasure, a desire for knowledge, etc.). Research consistently shows that while extrinsic motivators can seem like great motivators in the short-term, in the long-term they’re much less sustainable than intrinsic motivators (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999). If you’re finding it difficult to sustain motivation for your English-learning goals, you may want to reconsider what motivates you to do it in the first place. Wanting to improve your GBC score by 0.1 is a noble goal and an adequate short-term motivator, but aiming to be able to speak confidently in a business meeting with English-speaking clients will ultimately motivate you in the long-run; reaching this goal will provide you with more sustainable satisfaction, resulting in more sustained motivation.   

2. Engage with the language

Outside of studying, giving yourself the opportunity to use what you’ve learnt is just as important  (if not more so) than the studying of language itself. Language learners can often dismiss the usefulness of consciously using their second language. In fact, it is really using it that results in a strong comprehension of the new language. When learners don’t use their second language outside class, they see less improvement in their learning. This can result in reduced motivation and confidence when speaking that language. One study that demonstrated the benefits of engaging in the language outside of study used a sample of Japanese university students. Schneider (2001) showed that Japanese students who practiced their English regularly in pairs demonstrated more confidence, relaxation while speaking, improvement in English, and motivation than those who spent the same amount of time in English listening/speaking classes. For those of us lacking the time to pair up and practice, media is a good alternative to face-to-face communication. Listening to podcasts while you travel to and from work can aid in comprehension. Watching American or English TV shows can help you understand idioms and pronunciation, and reading books in English can deepen the complexity of your vocabulary.

Overall, learning a new language is a long-term project that requires persistence and a healthy level of motivation. Motivation does get particularly difficult to manage at times, but there are ways one can increase it in order to achieve your language goals. Next time you feel your motivation failing, try taking a moment to think about your drives and adapt them to things you consider sustainable and personally fulfilling in the long-run. Making the effort to use your newly learnt language skills can also be beneficial and is certainly worth the effort. You never know, these little things could end up making all the difference, so why not give it a go?


  1. Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation.
  2. Schneider, P. H. (2001). Pair taping: Increasing motivation and achievement with a fluency practice. TESL-EJ, 5(2), 1-32.