Language learning to cope with the winter blues

Playlist: Emergency times

Tiny drops of rain shine on the tips of naked branches.

On a day like this, I am grateful I work from home. Yes, I should go out more often – take a walk, absorb some weak rays of sunlight. I should probably get some vitamin D pills, too.

When the sky is a thick grey slate and the only sound from the outside is the rain drumming on the window-ledge, I often get caught in the winter blues.

Luckily, I have some tricks for emergency times.

So let me share with you my favourite language learning activities and ideas to brighten up a dull February afternoon. To add some colour and to start dreaming a bit about spring, too.

winter blues

Reflect and get to know yourself

We quiet people sure do spend a lot of time in our heads, overthinking and creating worlds. Sometimes, we do so in a way that causes anxiety and melancholic feelings.

On cloudy, cold days don’t miss the chance to invest some time and to get to know yourself better. Learn how to spend time with yourself in a healthy way. It helps to gather your thoughts in a journal – jotting down what you’re grateful for and what you would like to change, thinking about solutions or embracing your constraints.

Some examples of journal or diary you can keep in your target language:

  • A quick daily log of the things that happened to you each day;
  • A gratitude journal: write 3 things you are grateful for every day;
  • A list of things that make you happy;
  • A reflection journal to help you understand and process your feelings better;
  • A creative journal for poems, stories, anything you feel like writing;
  • Or a mix of all these.

Try not to get too caught up in rules and “shoulds”. Mix languages, experiment, try new things. Your journal is for your eyes only – you can be as messy as you want.

In language learning, too, it is immensely useful to set aside a few minutes every week or month to go through your ups and downs. What and how can you improve? What have you accomplished and should pat yourself on the shoulder for? And what is the next step to take towards your goal?

Extra tip – for a bit of fun

Take a personality test in your target language. Maybe knowing which Harry Potter character you are (Hermione…) won’t uncover new things about you, but it will be a fun way to look up some new vocabulary. Or, for a more widely accepted classification, you can take the Myers-Briggs test in one of 37 languages here.

Look for inspiration

Slow winter Sunday afternoons are perfect to brew some tea, wrap yourself in your favourite blanket and binge on a good podcast or YouTube videos.

If your level in your target language is at least intermediate, search for something about a topic you are interested in or a hobby you’re passionate about.

For general tips about language learning, the excellent Fluent Show podcast hosted by Kerstin Cable is the go-to resource. Or, if you prefer YouTube, head over to Angela’s Passion for Dreaming, Lindie Botes or Ophelia Vert’s channels. These lovely ladies also need to be on your list of language learning inspiration.

Or, needless to say, you can dive into a book. It can be something about language learning, or something in your target language.

It’s one of the best ways to acquire vocabulary and, though it’s difficult in the beginning, it gets easier with practice. And the pleasure of reading a novel in the original version is worth the effort.

Don’t forget that you can find ideas to transfer to language learning in apparently unrelated content, too.

This month, I have been reading “Steal like an artist” by Austin Kleon – a book about creativity and art. My brain soon started bubbling with ideas – how can I apply this to language learning? Oh, this would make a wonderful exercise! Which brings us to…

Bring creativity into your language learning routine

I’m not afraid of repeating myself here: mixing creativity and language learning can change everything.

It makes learning more enjoyable and engaging so that staying consistent in your practice won’t be a struggle anymore. It makes you feel excited about studying, enthusiast to do more. And it improves your mood and builds up your confidence.

Also, when you introduce a bit of creativity in one area of your life, it starts to spill all over, and it helps you see solutions you had never thought of.

You can start by something as simple as adding colour to your notes – so that you can forget about the grey weather outside. Doodle ideas and concepts without worrying for them to be “pretty”. You don’t need to share that with anyone.

Create for yourself the study materials you wish you had. Use the lyrics of a song you love, an epic scene from the last movie you watched, a tweet or Instagram post from your favourite rockstar… Anything can become a study material when you are not afraid to try new things.

Try it!

Here are a couple of examples I used recently – easy to copy, versatile and fun.

I took Austin Kleon’s advice and started “stealing” inspiration from him and his Newspaper Blackout project.

I cut a short article from a newspaper in Swedish, read through it and created a poem by blackening with a marker all but a few words.

With this exercise, you can practice reading and learn new vocabulary. Once you use a word to create something, you can be sure that you won’t forget it.

And it’s quick, it took me only about 10 minutes.

Then, as I was starting to make another one, I had a different idea instead.

I cut out some words and sentences that appealed to me from a couple of articles and reassembled them to make a poem. The drawing in the background is completely optional.

Once again, you practice reading, vocabulary, and grammar. What a way to do syntax exercises, uh?

There is no limit to what you can create, and the more you do, the more ideas will keep flowing.

Engage in a language learning community

As an introvert, when I am online I have a natural tendency to lurk – just read, nod and stay quiet. Gradually, I realised how that made me feel more anxious about social media and the time I spent online. It felt like I was a passive consumer, fed with content I didn’t choose.

Since I started to comment, ask for and give suggestions, cheer for fellow language learners and teachers, the time on social media became more valuable. So much so that one year ago I decided to create my own little community – a thriving safe place for us quiet language learners.

Being intentional about it (and limiting the amount of time) reduced my sense of guilt and unease about social media a lot.

The biggest advantage, though, has been to “meet” some genuinely kind, supportive, loving people who make my language journey all the more pleasurable.

There is even more: I began to explore different topics, discuss how they relate to language learning, I connected thoughts that would have never emerged if I didn’t engage with other humans with different backgrounds and lifestyles.

So go out there and engage. Write a supportive comment, ask the questions that have been floating around in your mind, give a tip to someone who has a problem you already went through.

Or, if you feel brave enough, look for a local community and join other learners or native speakers for a language café or recreational activities.

Plan and organize

I don’t remember when I started planning things. For a long time, it has been a way to keep anxiety in check. Being organised makes me feel in control of the situation, more at ease.

Building a solid planning system at the beginning of the year can support you through the following months, avoiding a big load of stress. And somehow, it’s a reassuring activity to be doing on a windy, dark winter afternoon.

In January, I started to use a bullet journal to have all of my ideas and things to do in one place. I write in it in all my target languages. It’s great to memorize the months and days of the week in a language you’re just starting with or to learn everyday vocabulary when you’re at an intermediate level.

Making lists and knowing what I have to do next, I can be more productive both with work and with language learning. When you start asking yourself “So, what should I do next?” is when distractions start to sneak in.

And if you find yourself daydreaming about sunny days and short-sleeved dresses way too often, why not planning something exciting for spring and summer? A holiday where your target language is spoken, a language retreat, or just a relaxing study session out in the park.

Extra points if you do the planning in the language you are learning. Creative ways to practice the future tense…

Oh, and while you are planning, don’t forget to plan a super important thing.

Take some time off

If you are anything like me, the extra time indoors during the winter seems like the perfect opportunity to learn, read, watch, write, DO more. I have some sort of horror vacui about my time. I feel like I need to fill all of it with tasks and activities and stuff. Until eventually, my brain gets wrapped up in a thick fog and the symptoms of a breakdown slowly loom over me.

Even if you spend more time at home, don’t push yourself to cram more hours of language learning in. Be mindful of your limits and read the signals that your body and mind give you.

Stand up and stretch, make yourself a hot drink to match the snow outside, keep hydrated. Take regular breaks and, even more so in this time of the year, learn how to do nothing. Let boredom be part of your life again.

Most of all…

Take good care of yourself

Especially during the wintertime, when we rarely even see the sun for days and anxiety and depression strike harder, take extra good care of yourself.

It is the only way to keep learning a language, working, spending time with your loved ones in the best possible way.

Here are some of the things that help me feel better in my daily life. These are not affiliate links, just things I personally use and recommend:

  • Yoga with Adriene: I have been practising daily for over a year and feel so much better.
  • Stop, Breathe and Think: a meditation app I use every night before sleeping – the free version has enough content, too. And they recently added some meditations in Spanish as well.
  • Youper: I have to thank Elfin for recommending this little gem. An AI personal assistant that helps you track your mood, reflect on the way you feel, practice gratitude, set intentions and even keeps a check on your mental health. All for free.
  • Journaling. You only need a pen, paper, and ten minutes to let your thoughts flow on paper. And the benefits are immediate.

I hope you found something that will help you keep your smile on through winter. We need some extra kindness while we wait for spring to bring along better weather and a better mood.

Looking for more ideas on how to keep language learning in your life even through tough times? Then check this free 4-day email course.

What are your strategies to cope with the winter blues – language related or not?

winter blues

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).

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