Resolutions to Learn a Language – Why It’s so Hard and How We Can Do Better

Every language school will tell you that traditionally their best months (in terms of sales) are September and January. Summer is quiet, December is usually really quiet, but come the new year, people will start contacting us for lessons. Some of these talks then turn into actual lessons. Of course you already know why that is – resolutions, new me, this time it will work. And sometimes it does. But oftentimes students will start dropping out by the end of January, or never even follow up on initial talks. I know what you’re thinking: this could just be us and our fault, and of course that’s possible, but we don’t see this phenomenon for the rest of the year. All other months we have the same ratio of signing up/dropping out. Most students are happy, some are not and that will always be the case. So I blame resolutions and the ridiculous expectations we attach to them. At the beginning of the year we start envisioning this perfect new version of ourselves, or of our life. A lot of people have stopped being into resolutions, but I think even they have dreams and goals, whether they choose to say them out loud or not. 

If you’re thinking that I’m just hating on resolutions, you are wrong! I am just as guilty, my list of goals and resolutions was a whole page and although it’s only mid January I know already that I won’t manage. On that list I have “learn Polish” AND “learn Arabic”. Two languages, two difficult languages. I also speak a bit of French, maybe A2 or B1 level, but you don’t see me writing “I want to reach my B2 level in French and be able to watch a whole episode of Suits in French with only French subtitles” – now that would be an excellent resolution. 

When it comes to languages, you should always remember that your brain isn’t interested in abstract concepts such as fluency. You brain wants to have fun. So aiming to watch your favourite show in your TL or to tell your partner how much they mean to you or to flirt in your TL would be good resolutions. Nothing motivates us more than emotions. We always think it’s money, fame, self-care, friends respect, but it’s not, it’s how those things make us feel. Money might make you feel successful, respect might make you feel seen or heard, friends might make you feel loved and so on. Emotions are what drives us, so once you realise that you need those to succeed at language learning, you’ll change your resolutions in no time. It doesn’t always have to be big emotions like love or hatred, a simple liking will often do. Emotions can also mean being in love with a film of your TL’s country, devouring yummy food or laughing with a friend in your TL. 

So here is my tip: have fun, be precise and be consistent. Write a plan and include lots of meaningful experiences in your TL. Even a good conversation on a tandem app will do that for you; a good bond with your teacher or managing to read a page.