3 Things That Will Kill Your Motivation Fast When Learning English

In a previous post “Don’t forget motivation”, we talked about how important motivation is when it comes to learning English fast and effectively.  Long story short: if you’re not motivated to learn, then it’s going to take longer and be less fun. Motivated English learners are the best kind. 

So why is it so hard to stay motivated sometimes? There are as many answers to that question as there are students in the world, but for English learners I’ve talked to as a teacher, there are 3 things that kill students’ motivation the fastest. In no particular order, these are: 

  1. Perfectionism 

Wanting to do things the best possible way is not a bad trait. The striving to make things perfect is a very common behaviour; you probably know at least one perfectionist yourself. Maybe it’s you, and that’s ok. 

But if you’re trying to learn a language, perfectionism can really kill your motivation. The dark side of needing things to be flawless is that when they are not, you can get demotivated and upset. 

The problem with learning English is that there is no perfect. It is impossible to speak English perfectly, because that’s just not how languages work. I had one student who complained frequently that her “accent wasn’t good enough,” and that she wanted to give up learning as a result. It wasn’t that her accent was difficult to understand or even very strong- she didn’t sound like a BBC newsreader, which to her perfectionist brain was unacceptable. 

There is nothing wrong with setting high standards for yourself and constantly wanting to be better. In fact, these things can be powerfully motivating for anyone. But wanting to achieve perfection in an area of study where perfection literally does not exist… well, it’s not going to help in any way. 

So by all means try to do better, but don’t worry about perfection. 

  1. Relying on School Books

Some teachers are going to hate me for this one, but here it is- School books are not good for motivation. Using them as the only source of information, particularly in English or other languages, is a recipe for lacklustre learning. 

Why? 

Because they’re boring. 

Don’t get me wrong, you shouldn’t immediately throw out your copy of English Grammar in Use. Books are great, but if you rely on them for your only source of knowledge and the only way to learn, you’re missing out on a whole range of more interesting and in many cases better options for learning. Interactive media is key for language learning, and books simply aren’t going to cut it. 

Despite this, I get students every now and again who complain that English is boring- because at school they only read out of books. Ridiculous! 

If you want to be motivated, try new learning methods that are more fun and interactive. 

  1. Comparing Yourself to Others

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had to tell students this, but here it is again: 

LEARNING IS NOT A COMPETITIVE SPORT. 

You do not learn a language because you want to rub it in someone else’s face. 

I suppose you could always learn English to compete in the Language Olympics… oh, wait. There is no Language Olympics. 

If you want to beat people at something, try chess. You don’t learn a language so you can be  better than other people, and it’s demotivating to think about it that way. 

English is a tool to be used for communicating with people. That’s it. 

This is the worst in tests, especially at school. You get your result and you immediately start comparing it with other students to see who is the “best.” This is bad for motivation, and the truth is the only person you should be comparing yourself to is you. 

I used to compare my language abilities with other people, especially when I was in school. I got the best grades in my class in French and German, and to be honest I was too proud of myself. We’re talking school- grade language, I was pretty far from fluent, but still, I was the best. 

Then one day I happened to meet a 6-year-old child who spoke English, German and Mandarin fluently. On that day I gave up comparing myself to other people, and weirdly I felt a stronger motivation to actually learn the languages I was trying to learn. When you stop focusing on grades and comparison and focus on yourself, you can see how much work there is to be done more clearly, but you can also focus on the rewards, the feeling of achievement for their own sake rather than to “beat” someone else with grades in a test. 
So, stop comparing yourself to other people who speak better or worse than you, unless you want to learn something from them.