3 Options for ESL Language Learning Fatigue

Updated: Dec 13, 2019


I’m losing my language learning focus. Last year I was fired-up about improving my German out of pride and improving my beginner-level Spanish for a trip to Costa Rica last May. I hired a German teacher and broke out my dog-eared Spanish books; I was pretty motivated.

The result? My German improved, and I was able to converse a tiny bit with some folks in Nosara, the town we visited in Costa Rica. It was very satisfying.

But that was last year. As an old boss of mine used to say, “I’ve slept since then.” In other words, things have changed.

My wonderful German teacher became pregnant and is taking a break from teaching, and although I absolutely love Spanish, I don’t have a serious reason for learning it. So, without clear goals I am suffering from serious low motivation.

I write about this stuff all of the time. But do I “practice what I preach?”

I hope I can because this language fatigue is no fun.

So, I dug out a workbook that I wrote last year about Finding Your Whyfinding that reason that motivates you to want to improve your English (or your Spanish, your German, or any skill).

The first question is this:

Write down all of the reasons you have for improving your English. Maybe you want to find a job in an English-speaking country. Maybe you want to comfortably talk to your children’s English-speaking teachers. Write down every reason you can think of.

Okay, I can do this. Using improving my German as my example, I want to improve my German so that I can take my daughter to Germany in the next couple of years. I want to comfortably teach the language like I used to do earlier in my career. Speaking German is a lot of fun for me, so that’s another reason.

How about you? What are all of the reasons that you have for improving your English? Take a minute and mentally make a list.

Now, circle only the goals/reasons that are important to you RIGHT NOW.

Dang. This is where it gets hard. My plan to take my daughter to Germany seems so far away, so there is no URGENCY, and urgency (the sense that you need to do something now) is really important in goal-setting and staying motivated to reach your goals. My other two reasons fall into the same category. There is just no immediate need to improve my German.

How about you? Do your reasons for improving your English feel urgent or at least very important at this time in your life? You have to be be honest with yourself on this one.

So, what does a person do when they want to get better at a language, but there isn’t an urgent reason to do so right now?

The one million dollar question….

In my workbook, I encourage you to dig deep to find that reason to improve your English that really resonates with you and feels particularly significant. But if you haven’t found it yet, don’t beat yourself up. I am still searching today too. But we have a few choices, in my opinion.

Choice #1: The Route of Discipline

Despite not having an immediate and urgent need to improve your language skills, you can still utilize the art of discipline. You can do this by committing to read one page from an English novel each night before bed (make it an enjoyable one). Or, you can do this by committing to do 10 minutes of Duolingo or a program like Rosetta Stone each day. You can commit to attending an English class at your library each week or hiring a private teacher if time and budget are on your side. 

There are options here. The key is to make an agreement with yourself that you will do one small thing each day. This is a case of “mind over matter.” In other words, trust that your willpower and commitment can overcome the mental fatigue you feel towards ESL learning.

Choice #2: Take a Break

Let all of your expectations around improving your English rest for a time. If you choose this route, you need to truly let it go, as Elsa, the Disney princess, would tell you. Enjoy your time off, and release any judgement you might have around what you “should be” doing.

Take it one step further by putting a time limit on your break. For example, I will take a total break from learning English for one month. Then, after the month is over, check in with yourself to see how you feel. Sometimes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. In other words, you might be more motivated to learn again after you take a complete and total break from actively trying to improve your English.

Choice #3: Learn Only as Needed

Learn a little here and there, but accept that this won’t lead to big improvements in your language learning. This is similar to Choice #2, but more passive. Here, you aren’t making a choice to completely let it go but rather you will learn only as needed. So, if you need to explain a symptom to your doctor, for example, you might look up a few words ahead of time, but you’re not going to break out the ESL textbook and complete the chapter on “Going to the Doctor.” Your just “getting by” for now.

Now, maybe you know some other options for dealing with language learning fatigue. Sometimes a person can be too close to a problem to see the logical answer. But for now, this is how I see it.

So, which route am I going to take?

Drum roll please...

I have decided to go the route of discipline because I know from experience it works for me (I’m good at commitment). I plan to reach out to another online German teacher to see if I can schedule a trial lesson.

Baby steps. I think weekly or bi-weekly lessons would work well for my time and budget. I will let you know how it goes in future posts. For now, I feel good that I made a decision. Sometimes making a decision to do something is the hardest part.

#ESLGoals #learningfatigue #languagefatigue

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