You never fail until you stop trying. Albert Einstein.
Happy (nearly) New Year everyone!
As one year draws to a close, our thoughts often turn to how we can better ourselves in the coming year. Learning a language is something that always features highly on people’s lists.
That said, many of you will be familiar with the dismal statistic which states that only 8% of people actually stick to their New Year’s resolutions. This means that by February, most people’s language projects will be but a distant memory.
Research-backed ways to succeed
Thankfully, not all resolutions are destined for the same fate. Research on the psychology and neuroscience of motivation is full of useful tidbits to help you stay on track.
Here are two of my favourites that will increase your chances of seeing your language projects through to 2017.
1. Boost motivation through teamwork
How often do you keep the promises you make to yourself?
Flying solo towards your goals might seem like a good idea at first, but most people run out of steam in the first few weeks.
Almost everyone puts more effort into the commitments they make as part of a team compared to the ones they make as individuals. Research at Stanford University shows that people who feel like they’re working in a team (even though they may not physically be working together) are more interested in the task and more likely to perform better.
Language learning is often a solitary activity, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of teamwork. There are increasing numbers of online communities which provide the opportunity to work together with other language learners.
Lately, I’ve experienced the value of teamwork in the language learning process first hand. I’m currently learning German as part of the Add1 Challenge, a three month online programme which unites language learners from all over the world. Even though we’re all working on different language projects, everyone is moving towards the common goal of having a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker. Being part of such a community makes you accountable to other people (making you far more likely to actually study) and gives you access to a friendly support network.
Get into the team spirit by participating in an online language learning community such as the Add1 challenge or the one on Benny Lewis’s site.
2. Set tiny goals
Working towards a large goal like “learn language X in 2016” can be overwhelming. In the past, I used to struggle with vast and ill-defined targets, a well known motivation killer.
Research shows that setting smaller subgoals is highly beneficial to learning. For example, Bandura and Shunk (1982) demonstrated that, over 7 sessions, people who were instructed to complete 6 pages of maths problems per session completed the task faster and more accurately than people who were given 42 pages from the outset.
Reaching a goal (no matter how big or small) gives you a little hit of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with reward and pleasure (Schultz 2002). Setting tiny targets and achieving them regularly boosts your mood and keeps you feeling positive about your language learning.
One strategy that has been working well for me lately is to set mini daily goals, for example, to complete one lesson from a textbook, or to study for half an hour. Such goals are generally easier to reach and give you the chance to celebrate each tiny step on the language learning journey.
What about you?
Now I’d like to hear about your language learning plans. Have you got any language goals for 2016? Are you planning on using teamwork or tiny goals to help you succeed? Let us know in the comments below!
Bandura, A., & Schunk, D. H. (1981). Cultivating competence, self-efficacy, and intrinsic interest through proximal self-motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41(3), 586.
Priyanka B. Carr, Gregory M. Walton (2014) Cues of working together fuel intrinsic motivation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 169.
Schultz, W (2002) Getting formal with dopamine and reward, Neuron, 36, 241.