Anxiety is one of the worst things to wake up to.
It shows up whenever it wants, stays for however long it likes. Often, it makes simple everyday activities into a challenge. It interferes with work, social life and also with language learning.
You can’t make anxiety disappear with a wave of a magic wand (yet!), but you can search for patterns and recurring causes. Little by little, you can try and implement strategies to ease your discomfort.
When it comes to language learning, there are several elements that might stress you: finding time to study, not getting the results you want, starting to speak, just to name a few.
In this post, I am going to address 5 problems I have experienced on the practical side of my language learning routine. Then I will share with you strategies I implemented to organise my monthly studies in order to avoid overwhelm.
Many successful language learners recommend setting measurable and practical goals in order to get results. They also list accountability as one of the key factors to help you work towards those goals.
For anxious learners, though, this can become a double-edged sword. Getting support from fellow learners is a blessing, but you might also feel like everyone is looking at you underachieving. You know, rationally, that it’s not true, but anxiety is the opposite of rational.
You want to keep setting goals, but without feeling the pressure.
Let’s do it!
Recently, I started using a more flexible system to set goals. I draw a mind map of the activities I want to engage in during the month and hang it on the wall in my study corner. In the centre, I write which language I’m studying. Then I add 6 circles for different skills and aspects of the language: vocabulary, grammar, listening, speaking, writing, reading. Finally, I write around them the activities I plan for each skill. In the end, it looks like this:
This structure will also help you understand at a glance if you are working on all language skills in a balanced way.
Nowadays you can find plenty of resources for most languages on the internet. Free apps, podcasts, grammar explanations, authentic materials are easily accessible from anywhere.
This is clearly a huge advantage and it makes it possible to study virtually any language from any corner of the world, as long as you have internet access. However, it could also become a source of stress. Every new tool sounds like the most amazing thing, you want to try it, you twist your learning routine to fit it in. In the end, you spread yourself too thin and use too many materials, so you lack the consistency you need in order to study effectively.
Let’s do it!
Right after drawing your goals mind map, pick the materials you will use during the month. Try and pick not more than 2-3 tools for every skill. If you are focusing on a specific skill, then pick a maximum of 5 resources to focus on. Try to stick with what you picked until the end of the month: if you find new materials you’d like to use, add them to your resource list for the following month.
Have you ever had a Sunday when you were totally up for a productive study session, then you checked Facebook and your day just disappeared into it? Or you wanted to watch a couple of episodes of your favourite series, and ended up spending the whole day in front of your TV? You probably felt frustrated and mad at yourself for wasting your time.
Studying regularly is the safest way to see fast results in your language learning. Sometimes, though, you feel like you have no time at all. You can’t find half an hour to practise and you are not improving as much you want. You seem to be unable to dedicate time to your language studies consistently.
Start planning your study sessions in advance: this will help you create a routine and make language learning a regular element in your life.
Let’s do it!
Take some time every week to plan your study sessions. Work your way around your commitments and actively create space in your week for language learning. Write in your planner at what time you are going to be able to do it and for how long. It would be ideal to decide which activity to do in every slot as well. On Monday you are going to work by bus? Then you can review vocabulary with your favourite app from 7:30 to 7:45. On Friday you are having some friends over for dinner? Listen to a couple of podcasts while you cook, from 18:00 to 19:00.
Underestimating your achievements
Oh, insecurity! As someone who struggles with anxiety, you surely know that tiny, annoying voice that tells you over and over that you’re not good enough. It creeps in your head and whispers “Your grammar is a mess!”, “You don’t know enough vocabulary”, “It takes you forever to formulate a sentence!” or “You got nothing done this week”.
Don’t let these negative thoughts kill your motivation. Even people who already speak several languages and act super confident still have their struggles, I promise you.
To have a clear idea of your progress, record it in a notebook. You can also record yourself speaking and listen to it a few months in: you will be able to hear how much you improved.
Let’s do it!
Before going to sleep, track every language learning activity you accomplished on that day. Write it down in your diary: you can go into details or just write a few words. What matters is to have some proof of your hard work whenever you start doubting yourself. Thinking of your achievements, however small, at the end of the day, will strengthen your confidence and motivation.
Lack of insight
Overthinking is one of the favourite pastimes of anxious people. Most of the times your mind revolves around one thought, often negative. You look at it from different perspectives, make it huge, analyse it for hours. So the idea that you might be lacking insight into your language learning sounds like nonsense to you. However, it’s important to train yourself to think positive thoughts and constructive critiques, instead of destructive rants. Maybe you could use some time of focused reflection on your studies to improve your results.
Let’s do it!
Every week, write a journal entry about language learning. What are you satisfied with? What didn’t go as expected? What was your biggest achievement? Is there anything you should do differently? Are the resources you chose still effective? What is your next goal?
This time is important to help you give form to your successes, worries and objectives. Journaling about language learning will make you more aware of your strengths and weaknesses.
Have you ever felt anxious about language learning? What are the things that stress you the most? How do you cope with it? Let me know in the comments!