Happy New Year – 10 things I don’t want to do this year as a language learner

So, the new year has started and we’ve heard a lot of things that people are planning to do differently. People want to start things, improve things or try new things out.

To make it a bit different, I’ve put together a list of 10 things that I’m not going to do as a language learner. Yes, I’m a teacher, but I’m also a life-long learner of German and some of these things can be applied to my part-time IT degree as well. Are there any things that you can add to the list of language learner goals? Things that you want to give up or stop doing this year? Let me know in the comments.

1. I won’t let wanting to be perfect prevent me from being good

I’m not just saying that. I am a perfectionist and I find it really hard when I make mistakes, particularly avoidable ones. You know, not the mistakes where you genuinely didn’t know something, but the kind where you just didn’t check something properly or overlooked something obvious. If I make a mistake that affects someone else, it’s the worst thing and I’ll give myself a hard time about it for ages!

Most of the time, nobody knows. But I know, and I know the negative impact it has on me in terms of learning and moving forward past the mistake.

I’m not going to say it’s easy. It’s not just about deciding to do it and then everything will be ok. It takes work and commitment, but I can at least make a start!

2. I won’t keep measuring my progress against other people’s achievements. This is my language/learning journey

That’s easier said than done as well. When I was learning Turkish, rather than comparing myself to the beginners or the people who were at my level, I found the best person I could, then compared myself to them – and always found myself lacking. It’s not that I wanted to be the best in the group to show off – I just had really high expectations for myself, and thought that if this other person could do it, why couldn’t I?

But everyone’s journey is different. People start learning things at different times. They have different amounts of time available for their hobbies. The person that you think is doing really well might still struggle with an aspect of the course that you find really easy.

It’s fine to let others inspire you, but the problem is that most of the time we don’t look at people who can do something better than us because we want to get inspiration. We do it to make ourselves feel bad, and that’s not helpful. So let’s try not to do it!

3. I won’t give myself a hard time if I forget something or get something wrong

This is going along the same lines as point 1, but it’s specifically about how to do things and vocabulary. We are not machines. We don’t have data storage inside our heads that keeps a record of every single piece of data that we take on board. There are ways to improve our long-term memory, but now and again we will forget something.

I remember in a test I was so annoyed with myself about getting a question wrong because I couldn’t remember the answer, that I got the following two wrong as well because I let myself get so flustered. It’s not worth it!

4. I won’t expect to improve without putting in the work

Learning isn’t magic. If you want to be really good at something, you have to put in the time and effort.

5. I won’t avoid the parts of the language or the tasks that I find difficult

This is so tempting. I loved reading and listening to things. I was one of those unusual students who liked grammar too. The patterns made sense to me and I found them comforting because I could follow them and predict what should happen next. Speaking wasn’t fun – so I avoided it whenever I could, even though this was the one area in which I most needed practice.

Speaking German isn’t so bad for me now, and I haven’t spoken Turkish in ages. But if you know that there is an area in which you’re a bit weaker, try and set aside a bit of time to work on that specifically, rather than avoiding it.

6. I won’t leave it till the last minute if I have an exam or have to present something at work

This isn’t something I do, but I included it because it’s something that causes so much stress to some of my students. Leaving things to the last minute doesn’t make the problem go away!

7. I won’t keep putting things off

This one is similar to not avoiding the things we find harder, but I mean more in terms of addressing things that don’t have deadlines set by other people, but which are preventing you from learning. Maybe it will involve admitting you don’t understand something and making an effort to tackle it head-on. Maybe it’s taking the time to organise your study area or resources. It’s that thing that makes you think “I really need to do that, but….”

8. I won’t buy or sign up to lots of things and then not use them

Certainly in terms of signing up to newsletters and podcasts, sometimes you need to try things out for a while until you find out which ones you like, but I know people who spend more time buying and signing up for stuff than they do actually using it. There’s a big market for self-study courses, but a lot of them are never completed. It’s better to commit to doing some things well, than to doing lots of things half-heartedly or not at all.

9. I won’t get disheartened if I don’t understand something the first time

The idea behind learning is that you’ll be absorbing new knowledge. Some things will come easily. Others won’t. That’s life. It’s ok and normal – so don’t worry if you need to take a bit more time on some things or to go over them again.

10. I will not refuse to ask for help if I need it

I’m as stubborn as a mule sometimes. There’s definitely something to be said for taking the initiative and going to look for answers yourself, rather than expecting other people to do everything for you. But there are also times when it makes more sense to admit to a teacher, friend, or fellow student that you need help with something. It can save hours of stress and worrying.

So, what won’t you be doing this year? I also talked about this on episode 152 of my podcast.

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Kirsty working with students