One thing that is true when you are trying to get good at anything is that motivation goes up and down, despite how desperately or strongly we want to achieve something. This is true for learning a foreign language, a sport, a profession, social skills, music, or whatever. We work hard when our motivation is high, and then, on days where our motivation is low, we don’t do anything. And then we get angry with ourselves, our progress slows, and we might even give up! Well, I have good news for you. First, you’re very human. There is nothing wrong with you. Motivation is extremely hard to maintain or keep up. In fact, it might even be impossible. Second, and more importantly,
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
I love that quote, and yes, people often think Aristotle is the one who said that, but actually, it was Will Durant, in his little 1929 book, “The Story of Philosophy.”
The good news is that motivation, although important, is not as important as you might think. What is far more important when learning English is to create and maintain consistent (or regular) study and practice habits. So, in this post I’m going to suggest some daily habits you might want to consider adopting if you are serious about taking your English language skills to a high level as quickly as possible. I’ll also offer you a few tips about habit creation in general.
What is a habit?
A habit is something that you do regularly and automatically at given times or in combination with certain cues. For example, you put on your seat belt automatically after getting into a car without thinking, don’t you? Hopefully you do. You might also brush your teeth after breakfast, clean the dishes after dinner, or get up every day at 6 am to exercise before work. Your brain likes habits because they’re efficient. When you automate actions, you free up mental resources for other tasks.
In addition to your regular English language lessons, you can insert English language learning habits into your everyday life to review vocabulary and grammar, practice your listening, reading, and writing skills, and even practice speaking. There are probably as many language-learning habits out there as there are people, so I’m only going to share with you a few habits to get you started. I’m sure you’ll be able to think of others on your own. that would suit you better. My ideas have either worked for me personally, have worked for people I know, and/or work well according to language acquisition research.
Daily Habit ONE
Daily habit number one is to review new vocabulary every day, using an app like ANKI, which makes use of spaced repetition. I have not yet posted about spaced repetition, but I plan to. If you are more old school or you don’t like technology, you can of course use cards. Either way, I recommend reviewing your vocabulary notes for anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes every day.
Daily Habit TWO
The second thing I would do daily is to re-read the source of the vocabulary you just reviewed. For example, imagine you read a newspaper article yesterday, and you added the vocabulary you wanted to review in Anki. The next day, ideally in the morning, you would review your vocabulary, and then read the article again. This will evaluate and strengthen your understanding. Importantly, it will also emphasize proper ways of using the vocabulary in context.
Daily Habit THREE
A third habit you can create is to take advantage of any time when you are doing something mundane, meaning doing something that you have to do that doesn’t require mental effort. During these times, it is a perfect opportunity to get natural listening input. These are a lot of examples for this. you can listen to a radio show in English while you are doing the dishes, you can watch a Netflix movie in English while eating a meal, you can listen to a podcast in English while taking a walk, or you can listen to English language music while cleaning the garage. These are all ways to immerse yourself with English.
Daily Habit FOUR
A fourth habit is to get an online tutor or engage in online language exchange. I made a 3-part series about this earlier, starting here. If you are talking English language course already every day, you might not feel this is necessary, but having an exchange that is just for you is a great way to increase your skills quickly, especially if you do it almost every day. The ideal time is probably right after eating, because this is a time when you are probably more tired and speaking with someone in English is a great way to keep you alert.
Daily Habit FIVE
My fifth habit is to get some extensive reading into your routine. A great time to do this is just before you go to bed. Now, in my case, usually once I lie down, I cannot keep my eyes open for very long. If you are also like this, perhaps read in a chair next to my bed. If you don’t know what extensive reading is, check my link up here or down below.
Of course there are many more and different habits you can introduce, but I think the ones I’ve mentioned are effective and relatively easy to adopt.
Now, how long will it take for you to adopt these language learning habits? According to a 2009 published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit. On average, though, it takes 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. It will depend on the difficulty and time required for the habit as well as your personality. Remember the goal is to start doing your desired habit automatically, without having to think about it or motivate yourself to do it, even when you don’t feel like it.
What are some tips to help you create new habits like these?
The first thing to remember when trying to create a new habit, is to just create one at a time. I would suggest starting with an easier, simpler task. Try to do it regularly for two months, and if you can do it without any effort after that time, then it has probably become a habit! If you try to create too many new habits at once or at one time, you might be setting yourself up for failure. Setting yourself up for failure means preparing yourself to fail. We learn from failure, but failure can be very demotivating. And we don’t want that when creating a new habit. If you are not used to creating new habits, be careful not to adopt a habit that is complex or time-consuming at first, as it’s going to be a lot harder to maintain.
A second tip for creating a new habit is to make use of an action to accompany the habit so that you remember to do it. For example, you can combine eating lunch with watching TV in English. – Or combine exercising on your stationary bike with listening to an English-language podcast. – Or always look at cue cards or a vocabulary app when you’re waiting for the bus. For study that requires more of your focussed attention, you can create prompt or cue to go along with the habit. Creating a new habit is often hard because at first, you might forget the promise you made to yourself to do it. But if you have some sort of prompt, it will help you remember. For example, after you prepare to go to bed every night, right before you get into bed, you can create the habit of reading a newspaper article in English about a current event. Put the newspaper by your bed! – Or, every Saturday after cleaning the kitchen, you will do 10 minutes of extensive reading in English. Put the book on your table to remind yourself!