How to Take a Break from Language Learning (Without Giving Up Forever)

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No matter how much you love language learning, there are times when life just gets in the way.

Maybe you're overloaded at work. Maybe you're on vacation, far away from your language books. Maybe you're between jobs, and you need every extra moment to get yourself back on your feet again.

Whatever the reason, you need to stop learning your target language. Not for good, but for long enough that your habits will likely break down, and the Duolingo owl will be knocking down your door.

You need a break from language learning. 

If you've never taken a break from language learning before, it sounds easy enough. If you have taken one before, though, you probably know that it's much easier said than done. 

Once you stop, it's extremely difficult to get started again.

Good thing for you and I that "extremely difficult" does not mean "impossible".

It is indeed very possible to take a language learning break without giving up a language altogether, so long as you know how to make it happen.

Today, I'd like to teach you how to do that, through sharing five tips that will help you take a break from language learning.

1. Set a "Restart Date"

First things first: if you really intend to restart your language learning efforts after your break has concluded, you need to know exactly when your break will end.

And when I say "exactly when", I mean an exact date—you know, so you can pull out your calendar, find the day in question, and write "Back to French!" all over it in big red marker. Maybe even emblazon it with a sticker or two.

Figuring out the exact date to start again should be easy, at least in theory. If you're going on vacation, simply pick your first day back home. If you're busy with work or school, choose the beginning of next quarter, or next semester.

If your situation is a little more uncertain, then try to figure out a restart condition, rather than an exact restart date. 

Something like:

  • I will restart my Spanish studies when I find a new job.
  • I will begin Welsh again when I close on my new apartment.
  • I will pick up Japanese learning once more as soon as I’ve gotten over this cold.

Conditions like these aren't as compelling as exact dates, but they at least give you a clear indication of when break time will officially be over, and when your language learning will begin anew. 

Just follow the formula “I will restart [language] on [date]”, or "I will restart [language] when [condition]", and you'll be well on your way to getting things started once more.

2. Hold Yourself Accountable

Setting a new start date is only the first step to ending your language learning hiatus: the next step is actually getting started again.

If you've ever set a New Year's Resolution, you know that putting a date on a new habit often isn't enough. We all know what should happen once January 1st rolls around, but we lack the discipline to actually do it.

The solution, then, is to not rely on discipline at all. What we'll rely on instead is an accountability system—something external that will compel you to stick to your restart date, no matter what.

Accountability systems come in many forms, including:

  • Accountability partnerships - Tell a trusted friend of your plans to begin learning your target language again. Ask him or her to impose a penalty on your behalf if you do not stick to your commitment.
  • Accountability groups - Find or organize a group of like-minded people who also want to start (or restart) their language learning efforts. Keep eachother updated on your progress.
  • Accountability tools - Download/sign-up for a habit-tracking app, and set it up to charge you money if you do not resume your studies on time.

Implement one or more of the above systems, and you'll be heavily motivated—or even financially obligated—to resume your language learning on your chosen restart date.

3. Plan Your New Language Learning Routine

Now that you know when you're going to start learning again, you need to start building a clear idea of what your renewed language studies will look like on a day-to-day (or even week-to-week) basis.

You want to avoid a scenario where you get yourself all ramped up to start again, only to fall flat because, quite honestly, you don't know what your learning routine will be.

Even if you're planning on resuming the exact same routine as you had before your break, it's important to take some time to write it down and think it over

A good way to get a bird's eye view of your routine is to answer the "five W's" — who, what, when, where, and why.

  • Who? - If your routine involves other people, who are they? Do you have a tutor, or a language exchange partner? Do you need to find one?
  • What? - What will you do every day to practice and learn your foreign language? Will you follow a workbook, or online course? Perhaps a specific language learning method?
  • When? - On which days will you learn? At what time?
  • Where? - Where will your learning take place? At home? At a language school, or coffee shop?
  • Why? - Why have you chosen the activities in your "what?" section? How will they get you closer to your language learning goals?

4. Find Something to Look Forward To

Though an accountability system and a set routine can help give you external motivation to start back up, developing internal motivation to go along with it can be beneficial as well. That way, you don't feel like you're forcing yourself to restart a habit that you're not interested in in the first place.

For our purposes, we'll make things simple: reward yourself!

Find a way to equate restarting your language learning with something new, interesting, and/or exciting. 

Here are a few different ways you can make that happen:

  • Book a language tutoring lesson with your favorite tutor (or a new one!)
  • Buy an online course or other resource that you've had your eye on for a long time.
  • Book a trip to a country where your target language is spoken.
  • Buy a new book or movie in your target language that you haven't read or seen yet.

The above are just a few examples. Your new, interesting, and exciting things can take any form, so long as they fit that description for you, personally.

View any of the above things as a "gift" to yourself; a reward for taking initiative and getting back to your language learning again. Implementing such a reward will make you even more motivated to get back to your studies than you already were! 

5. Keep Enjoying the Language and the Culture

The nice thing about taking a break from actual language learning is that you do not need to cut yourself off from the language altogether.

Even if you're too busy to study, you can still find time for things that are related to your target language and culture, but don't actually require any learning in and of themselves.

I'm talking about:

  • Having dinner at a restaurant where cuisine from your target culture is served
  • Watching target language movies (yes, even with subtitles in your native language!)
  • Listening to target language music
  • Reading books about your target culture.

Assuming you already find enjoyment in doing these kinds of activities, then doing them during your break will help maintain your motivation to get back to actually learning the language after your break. 

Conclusion

It's not always easy to find the time and space to learn a language every day, even if you've done it before. 

There are countless obstacles that can arise suddenly, and make it so your current language routine becomes difficult—or impossible—to maintain.

It's normal in these situations to want to put your studies aside—to take a break until your current circumstances calm down a bit, and you have more time for language learning again.

What's not normal, unfortunately, is actually following through with that plan, and getting back to your learning. More often than not, once you stop, you stop for good.

However, with the five steps I have outlined above, you'll have more than a fighting chance to restart your studies once your break is over, and restart them with style.

Written by Kevin Morehouse

Kevin Morehouse is a language coach and teacher who is on a journey to make the world a more multilingual place. A member of the LucaLampariello.com team since its inception, Kevin's principal role is that of writer, editor, and content developer. He is currently learning Korean, his primary language focus since mid-2017.

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  • When I feel exhausted and tired from learning, I take a pause – it is necessary, otherwise there is a huge chance that I will hate the language. Factually, a break is necessary for everything, including learning the language. This pause (not stopping, but taking a break) helps me understand why I am learning something new at all, and it also charges me with the power to sink back into this routine. During the break, I find interesting ideas, new exercises, new resources that I want to test, and I literally get excited again to continue. It motivates me in a way!

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