One tip for the anxious language learners

What a month!
On top of preparing my move from London back to Italy, I managed to smash my phone and arrange postage of my precious books with the worst courier ever.
Despite being sure I wanted to leave London it was actually super tough. No surprises, my housemates became like a family to me and I already miss them lots.

Moving on to the things that went well, I’m happy with my language learning for October.

Amidst the mess of my daily activities, I found a little peace in my study time. Whenever I felt overwhelmed or simply like I wanted to cry for a whole day I took a break and watched a video in French, or practised some Swedish with an app. In the most stressful month of the past year, language learning didn’t feel like an obligation. It actually became my way to cool down and cope with anxiety.
This was possible thanks to a slight change I made in the way I organise my learning goals.

Benefits of mind mapping and tracking achievements

You might remember that in September I went goal free. Unexpectedly I studied consistently and even went back to learning French regularly.
At first, I didn’t give it much thought. In October, though, I started to see some patterns.

It is important to have some sort of plan instead of just randomly piling up unrelated bits of knowledge. However, publicly declaring that I will learn 100 words on Memrise or post a sentence on Instagram every day stressed me.

I have been struggling with anxiety for many years now. Among my coping strategies, regular habits and being organised have been the most effective. So why did planning my language learning in detail only worsen things?

That is because anxiety also makes me insecure and hyper self-conscious. That’s why writing down accurate goals didn’t make me feel accountable: it made me feel like everyone was looking at me underachieving. Of course, rationally I know it’s not true and no one is here to judge me. But if you try to talk some reason into an anxious person… well, good luck with that.
Shortly, I needed something that made me feel comfortably organised, without making me feel constrained.

To begin with, I stopped setting goals that are too rigid and specific. No more “learn x words, listen to x episodes of a podcast”.
Instead, I write down a mind map of the things I would like to do during the month, in no particular order. There is always time to add something new, delete something that is not working. Then, when I start my study session I pick one of the activities and work on it.

On top of that, I have been playing with Clozemaster and Duolingo before going to sleep, so even at busy times, I practise at least a bit every day.

Then, in the evenings, I record in my diary the achievements of the day. French: Clozemaster, Duolingo, one video. Swedish: Clozemaster, Duolingo, Babbel review. Something like this.
Creating this habit of doing a little bit every day and tracking it afterwards improved my results and motivation.
I don’t feel stressed about language learning anymore, I study without putting pressure on myself and this way I’m learning more and more effectively.

What are you going to study in November? What works best for you: setting very specific goals or more flexible planning of your studies?

Looking for ways to keep language learning in your life even on those days when anxiety won’t let go of you? Join this free 4-day email course and let’s discover together how to do just that.

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I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I’m on a journey to help introverts and other quiet learners make language learning into a tool for self-care (and keep anxiety out of it).


  1. 5th November 2017 / 5:40 pm

    Congratulations you had so much going on and STILL had the time to get some language learning in! You ROCK, well done Elena.

    • Elena
      6th November 2017 / 8:34 am

      Thank you so much Trisha!!