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Why You Can't Rely on Motivation to Learn English

Why You Can't Rely on Motivation to Learn English

Many people have a reason why they can't learn a language. For some people, it's "I'm too old," "I'm too shy", or "I'm bad at languages." But these are all just excuses.

Another common excuse is "I'm not motivated enough to learn a language." Today, we'll explain why you can't rely on motivation – and tell you what you really need instead.

Why you can’t rely on motivation

"Motivation" is "a feeling of wanting to do something." It is nice to have but not the key to learning a language. That's because like most feelings, motivation comes and goes.

Just think about new years resolutions. People make them when their motivation is high. They start exercising more or waking up earlier. And then, a few weeks later, when their motivation drops, they stop doing these things. Eventually, it's like they never made resolutions at all!

Similar things will happen if you rely only on motivation to study English.

  • One day, you may watch an inspiring speech online and feel motivated to study.
  • The next day, your motivation might drop when you realize someone in your class is a lot better than you.
  • At some point, you may completely lose your motivation and give up!

We're not saying that motivation is bad. If you feel motivated, that's great! Make the most of it. But if you're not a highly-motivated person, it's better to rethink the idea that you need motivation to successfully learn English.

Instead, whenever you feel unmotivated, remind yourself that motivation is just a bonus. Accept that you won't always be able to rely on it and turn to something you can rely on instead.

Habit: a reliable alternative to motivation

A habit is something that you do because you are used to doing it. Habits are reliable because you don't think about them. They have become a normal part of your day, like taking a shower or brushing your teeth. And every time you do something out of habit, it gets easier to keep doing it.

Scientists believe habits are this powerful, because:

  • They make our brains feel good, which is why we keep doing them.
  • They are not stored in the part of our brains that makes decisions, which explains why we do our habits without realizing it.

In fact, recent research suggests that habits are behind almost half of our actions. Because habits are this powerful, scientists are now using them to help people make positive changes in their lives.

You can also find ways to apply the science of habit to your English studies. This will make sure you keep studying English and don't give up. Here are some tips to help you get started.

1. Make it convenient

Starting a new habit is hard. You need anywhere from 16 to 254 days to do it. So in the beginning, make sure to make it as convenient as possible for you to get started.

For example, you're more likely to keep going to an English class if it is a five-minute walk from your home than if it is half an hour away by bus. When possible, choose the more convenient option. Here are some more ideas:

  • If you want to form the habit of reading in English before going to sleep, put your books next to your bed.
  • If you want to read an English news article every day, make the news site the homepage of your browser.
  • If you want to listen to an English podcast every day, put your podcast app on the first screen of your phone.

2. Set reminders

When you're just starting to build a habit, it's easy to forget to do it. So have some reminders. For example:

  • Set reminders on your phone telling you to study every day at a certain time.
  • Write reminders on sticky notes and stick them on your refrigerator, bathroom mirror, or door.
  • Find a picture that reminds you of English (e.g. a picture of your favorite English TV show) and set it as a the background on your computer or phone.

For some people, changing the language of their phone or apps to English is a reminder too. Whenever they look at their phones, they remember they need to study English.

3. Do it at the same time or place

When your brain connects a task to a specific time or place, it's easier for a habit to form. So think about some places you are usually in where you have some spare time to study English. For example:

  • On your way to work every morning, you can listen to English radio in your car (or the bus or train that you take).
  • In the break room at work every afternoon, you can review your English vocabulary flashcards.
  • If you go to a cafe on the weekends, you can bring your English magazine or book to read there each time.

You can also make a part of your home your "English corner" and put all your English study materials there. This way:

  1. You make it convenient to study English because your study materials are always in the same place.
  2. You are reminded to study whenever you walk past this corner.
  3. Your brain links this corner to your English learning habits and reinforces those habits.

4. Use habits that you already have

Instead of starting a totally new habit, you can also study some English with habits that you already have. For example:

  • If you have a habit of singing in the shower, sing some English songs.
  • If you go for a run every day, listen to recordings of your English lessons while you run.
  • If you write a diary entry every day, you can start writing a few lines in English each time.

5. Be flexible

Realistically, you won't be able to study at the same time every day or study the same amount every time. There will be days when life gets in the way. This is normal, so don't feel bad about it.

Instead, be flexible. Research suggests that a flexible mindset helps people build new habits. Here are some ways that you can do this.

  1. Set a minimum amount of studying. For example, tell yourself that on busy days, you will review your English notes for three minutes instead of 10 minutes. Or write three sentences in English instead of five.
  2. Remind yourself that it's OK not to study at exactly the same time every day. If you are busy at that time, decide on a specific time later that day to study instead. It's better than not studying at all.

Remember, the point is to build a habit of consistently studying English. Some days, your study session will be less than ideal, but at least you still studied!

6. Start with small steps

Make sure you start your new habit by taking small steps. This means setting a small goal to achieve every day. For example:

  • Learn three new words a day.
  • Work on five pages of your textbook every night.
  • Watch ten minutes of English news.

Only do things that are possible at your level and for your schedule. For example, don't read a novel as a beginner or study grammar for two hours if you don't have the time.

Once the habit has formed, you can increase your daily goal (e.g. learn five more words a day, watch another half an hour of English news, etc.). But don't try to build a new habit with tasks that are too difficult or inconvenient, because that will only set you up for failure.

7. Have fun

It's easier to build a new habit if you build it around something you like. For example, if you hate running but love cycling, it's better to get fit by cycling.

The same goes for English. You're already forcing yourself to study, so at least avoid study methods that will make you feel discouraged. Instead, do enjoyable things with your English. For example:

  • Play video games in English.
  • Join online communities based on your hobbies.
  • Watch Youtube videos on topics you like.

Bonus tip: take online lessons

An easy way to build your English learning habit is by taking online lessons at Engoo.

  • Our lessons are convenient: Our tutors are available 24/7 and you can take lessons anywhere, so you can learn anytime and anywhere.
  • Our subscription plans encourage habit formation: Each lesson is just 25 minutes long, and learners are encouraged to take them regularly — every day if you want.

As a plus, our lessons are fun! Unlike traditional courses, where you're forced to study the same thing as everyone else, you have full control over your learning at Engoo.

You can talk to tutors about your favorite topics, play games, or even sing songs. Sign up here!