Yes, I know: You always make New Year’s resolutions, but you only actually stick with them until February. So what’s the point?
Well, it turns out that even though many of the people that make resolutions end up not keeping them, one study suggests that almost 50% do continue to keep their resolution after 6 months.
More promising still, people who make new year resolutions are over 10 times more likely to accomplish their goals than people who don’t make them.
So if you’re on the fence about making New Year’s language resolutions, go for it. Picture yourself strolling along the canals in Amsterdam in 2021 and ordering a stroopwafel in Dutch… or getting directions to the train from Kyoto to Osaka entirely in Japanese.
Sure, the realities of Covid mean that you may not be traveling much now… but by summer we could be getting back to semi-normal. And what a great way to use all that time you’re stuck at home—by learning a new language?
In this article, I want to give you some inspiration to get you going on your New Year’s language resolutions, give you some tips on making them SMART goals that you can actually accomplish, and then leave you with some advice on how to actually stick with those New Year’s language resolutions.
Get Inspired For Your New Year’s Language Resolutions
“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.” — Amy Chua
But for me, I get most inspired to learn another language by thinking about all the places I could travel to and the new people I can meet.
Having trouble imagining it?
Try watching videos of people learning a new language and speaking them. Watching polyglot videos always leaves me thinking about learning 10 new languages at once.
Favorite Inspirational Polyglot Videos
In this Ted talk, Tim Doner describes how he fell in love with learning languages and how he did it on his own.
(See this video for watching him speak them all on a culture tour around New York).
In this video, Christine (from polyglot stories) explains how she learned 12 languages… and she explains that using those 12 languages.
Finally, in this TED talk, Lýdia Machová tells us the secret to learning a new language every two years (spoiler alert: she chooses activities that she enjoys).
Give yourself the afternoon to go down a YouTube hole watching polyglots talking about language learning—by the end of it, I can guarantee that you’ll have some new inspiration.
How to Make Your New Year’s Language Resolutions Stick – Use the SMART Method!
Pumped up for your new language?
Then you’re ready to make a resolution to learn it in a year. You’ll have the most success if you make your language goals SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
Create SMART Goals
Be clear about what your goal is. Rather than simply making your New Year’s resolution to “speak French”, choose the particular kinds of skills that you want to learn. For example, your goals might be to:
- Be able to greet someone in French
- Be able to order a croissant at a cafe entirely in French
- Be able to have a basic conversation with a new friend
- Be able to go to a party in France and understand what everyone is saying
- Be able to give a presentation on a complex subject in a professional environment
These are all very different—and very specific—goals.
Making your goal specific will help you focus your learning activities on exactly what you’re trying to achieve and it will help you know when you get there.
There are two good reasons to make your goals measurable.
The first is that it keeps you motivated. Learning a language takes time—often a long time. And it happens slowly. That means that there are often points where you’re putting in a bunch of effort without necessarily seeing any results.
If you find a way to measure your language learning progress, you’ll be able to see how much you’re improving and you’ll feel more motivated to continue.
The second reason is that when you measure your progress, you’ll know when you’ve actually achieved your goal.
If your goal is to be able to “learn to speak Ojibwe fluently”, you’ll never be done. There’s always more to learn. But if your goal is to “speak Ojibwe at a C1 level” then you’ll have accomplished it when you meet the criteria of that level.
Measurable goals help you stay motivated and allow you to see the finish line.
Make your goal something you can actually accomplish. If it’s too hard, you’ll give up. Look for something that you can reasonably expect to accomplish if you put in the work.
Make sure you actually want to learn a language.
Sure, you think it would be nice to be able to speak to your in-laws in Russian. But is it important enough to you that you’ll put in the work?
Choosing goals you care about will help you continue to work at them.
Give yourself a time limit.
You know how it was easiest to write that essay in school on the night before it was due? Deadlines give us pressure.
You can get that same pressure from a deadline when it comes to language learning. Putting a time limit on your goal will help you actually work at it.
Putting it All Together
Here’s what SMART goals look like when you put that all together.
For me, with my goal to learn Brazilian Portuguese, I have the following SMART goals:
- Be able to speak at a C1 level (using the CEFR scale) in a one-on-one conversation by June 2021.
- Be able to understand 90% of what is being said in a movie or TV show by June 2021.
- Read an entire novel of more than 200 pages by December 2021.
- Be able to write at a B2 level about every-day things by December 2021.
Each of those goals is specific and has a time limit. They are each phrased in a way that makes it clear how I can measure my progress and know when I have achieved them. They’re each attainable for me at my current level. And they’re all relevant because they’re important to me.
How to Stick With Your New Year’s Language Resolutions
Great, so now you’ve chosen your resolutions. How can you actually stick to them? Here are some ideas, based on research, for staying on track with your resolutions.
Choose Resolutions You Care About
This was the “relevant” part of the SMART goals, but it’s worth saying again: you’ll only stick to your resolutions if they are actually important to you.
If you don’t care that much about learning a language, that’s okay! Learning a new language isn’t for everyone.
But if you have always dreamed about being able to converse in another language, then take the bull by the horns and make this year your year.
Make One Change at a Time
The best way to accomplish a big goal is by consistently taking small steps towards it.
You probably won’t succeed at learning a language if you decided to study it for eight hours every day. If you try to do too much, you might burn out.
Instead, start small. Pick up one or two activities that you can commit to. Once you’re doing those consistently, add another. Then another.
Building up slowly will help you not get overwhelmed and actually persevere.
Everything’s easier when it’s built into a habit. Habits are easy—we do them unconsciously. Make a language learning habit by pairing a learning activity with something you already do.
For example, I often listen to a podcast that I like in Portuguese while I am washing the dishes or making dinner. It’s now a habit: Before I pull out the cutting board to start making dinner, I unconsciously turn on the podcast. The result is that I actually follow through on listening to my podcast where I might not otherwise.
Other habits you could create:
- Do your Pimsleur lesson on your daily commute to work
- Listen to a podcast in your target language while you’re running on the treadmill
- Watch Netflix in your target language instead of in English
- Use recipes in your target language when you’re cooking
- Read the news in your target language while having your morning coffee
When you establish a language learning routine that includes your favorite activities, you’ll find that you really start to make progress.
Share Your Resolution
We’re better at sticking with something when we resolve to do it publicly. So tell your partner, family, and your friends about your goal. Ask them to help you stay accountable.
Better yet, resolve together. Find a friend that wants to learn your language with you—maybe even your partner. Making it a group project will make it more fun and also help you actually follow through.
Pick it Back Up Again if You Drop it
It’s normal to get busy and stop spending as much time on our hobbies. Rather than seeing that as failing at your resolution, look at it as an opportunity to try again.
Making mistakes is a normal part of learning a language, and that goes for consistently following your language learning plan: It’s okay to “fail”. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
Just start again when you’re ready. You can re-resolve any day of the year—it doesn’t have to be January 1st.
Finally, it’s Okay if You Don’t Do Everything
There’s a common misconception with New Year’s resolutions that you’ve failed if you haven’t kept to your resolution.
That’s one way to look at it. But here’s another: the more you try, the closer you get to achieving your goal.
As I said at the beginning of this article, the people that make resolutions are 10 times more likely to accomplish their goals than the people who never set a resolution. Simply thinking about what you want, and then working to achieve it, makes you more likely to actually achieve it.
New Year’s language resolutions are like that: they’re not all or nothing. If you want to spend one hour a day, every day, learning your language, but you only manage to do 2 hours a week, that’s still progress.
And you will learn that language eventually.
So get inspired. Then set your resolution using SMART goals and get started learning your language.
Start Today. Then Re-start Any Day You Need To.
Pimsleur lessons stream directly to your home and are easily accessed through your device of choice—mobile phone, computer, tablet, or Amazon Echo devices. Learn on your own or with up to 4 family members for the same price. Gain real-world conversational skills in the comfort of your home or anywhere life takes you in the future.
Lesson One is Free! Choose from 50+ languages!
Or, start a Free 7-Day Trial with unlimited access to all levels in the language of your choice! Afterward, pay as you go from $14.95 /month.