Updated: Apr 27, 2020
It’s that time of year again: time for “spring cleaning”! This is the process of going from room to room in your home and clearing out and/or donating those items that you don’t need anymore.
It’s a chance to start fresh.
But what does this have to do with language learning?
Spring is a perfect time to ask yourself what is working on your language learning journey and what’s not. It’s a time for self-reflection and honesty.
So, take a look around. Do you see anything that might be preventing you from improving your English or another language? Do you see clutter?
According to scientists at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute (Journal of Neuroscience, 2011), having multiple objects in our field of vision decreases our ability to focus.
And, if I know anything about language learning, it requires focus, even if it's just a little bit at a time.
So, if you're like me, maybe you need some help de-cluttering all of your language learning resources.
Here are 6 questions to get you moving:
1. What apps or programs are you using right now that are working for you?
This question is about both enjoyment, consistency, and results. For example, if you like using Memrise once a day to improve your English and you think it’s helping you, then it’s a keeper.
If you invested in Rosetta Stone, and you use it regularly, and it’s fun for you, keep it.
If Udemy or Khan Academy courses are your thing, stay with them.
But, on the flip side….
2. What apps or programs aren’t working for you?
So, you downloaded the Duolingo app on your phone a couple years ago and tried it a few times...then stopped. Be honest with yourself; maybe it’s not for you.
It’s merely phone clutter if you don’t use it. Not to mention, every time you see that dang owl on your phone, you might feel guilt that you aren’t "making it happy" (if you’re like me). Plus, you can always reinstall it at a later time if you change your mind.
Do you have a set of some archaic language learning DVD’s collecting dust in a box on your shelf? Consider donating them if you never use them.
3. What English textbooks do you have lying around growing yellow with age?
Decide which ones to keep and which ones to give away. If you’re an advanced speaker, let go of your beginner books; they no longer represent who and where you are on your language learning journey.
Or, if you’re like me and only need to teach or learn American English, there’s no reason to have a bunch of Cambridge British English books on your shelf.
And, unless you are a book collector, having old English textbooks with mid-20th century copyright dates isn’t useful either. Language is a living thing that changes with the people who speak it.
Now, we tend to think of clutter as something we can touch, but you can have no end of mental clutter, too. With that in mind...
4. Are there thoughts that you ruminate on that are no longer helping you?
For example, are there goals that you set at one time that are simply unrealistic?
“I need to be fluent in X months.” (X = unrealistic number)
Or, are there “should” statements that are taking up a lot of mental bandwidth?
“I should be a better English speaker by now; I’ve been studying for so long.”
If the thought or goal is no longer benefiting you, let it go.
5. Are you attending online English classes that aren’t delivering the results that you want?
If so, consider a change.
I once enrolled in a Spanish class at a local university. The instructor was kind and friendly, but she simply talked for two hours straight. My Spanish wasn’t getting any better. Before choosing not to renew my classes for a second term, I let the director know my concerns. I might try it again some time (I love classroom learning), but I need to be sure there is a new teacher.
There is an expression in English to “cut your losses.” Sometimes you have to decide to stop wasting your time on something even if you have invested money in it. If it’s not working, it's clutter. Let it go, and find something that does work.
6. Is your calendar so cluttered that you don't have time for English learning?
My friend Lisa McGuire, owner of MG Organize in Houston, is a professional organizer. She knows clutter and how to deal with it. She reiterates the fact that clutter doesn’t just come in the form of physical objects—we can have what she calls “calendar clutter,” as well.
What does this mean?
Sometimes we commit to things we don’t want to do. Our calendars can be full and we can be quite busy. But are we really focusing on what matters most? If ESL really is a priority for you, you need to commit to spending time on it regularly. Block away time each day or week either on your phone calendar or an old-school planner like I use.
Time to Get to Work
As Lisa says, “Spring cleaning is a chance to look more carefully at our environment.” What does your mental and physical environment say about your language learning priorities right now? By removing clutter, you can open up space to focus on what IS working.