No one sets a language learning goal with the expectation that they're going to give up.
Somewhere deep down, you may think it's likely that you'll fail, sure, but when you first set the goal, the hope is that this time will be the time that you'll finally follow through.
In reality, it rarely works that way. Even if you're blessed with a lot of motivation at the beginning, that motivation starts to wane as things get difficult.
You have a bad day, or two, or three. Maybe, you make a couple of embarrassing mistakes. You look for signs of progress, but end up focusing too much on your failures.
So you put things aside for a day.
But then that one day off turns into two, and those two days off turn into a week. Pretty soon, you’re out of the game completely.
Unfortunately, this happens to all of us. Without anyone or anything to keep us committed to the goals we set, we eventually give up, somehow forgetting how and why we wanted to do all of this in the first place.
What if, however, there were systems in place that kept you learning, even when you personally struggled with motivation? Tools and systems that actively keep you on the right path, so that you really can achieve your language learning goals?
Fortunately, there are many such systems. Today, I would like to share a series of seven ways to stay accountable to your language learning goals.
Here they are, listed in increasing order of accountability.
1. Make a Personal Pledge
When aiming to keep your goals on track, the first line of defense for any goal is always YOU. You need to understand exactly what your goals are, and remember why you set them in the first place. If you lose sight of what you're trying to achieve and why you're trying to achieve it, then your goals are as good as dead.
To avoid this, the best thing to do is to make a pledge. This gets the 'what' and 'why' of your goals out of your head and down on paper, so that they can serve as valuable reminders, even when you've personally forgotten why you started.
So get out a pen and paper, and write down four things:
Write it in the form of a pledge, or commitment, like so:
"I commit to learning Spanish for one hour every day, in order to pass the Spanish B2 exam by the end of the year. I am committed to this because it will help me get a promotion at work."
Try it yourself, following the format. It’s simple, but effective!
Post a copy of your pledge on your wall, or bathroom mirror, so you can review it regularly. If you'd like, you can even repeat it to yourself, like a mantra or affirmation.
2. Use a Habit Tracker App
Personal pledges are an effective way to maintain a laser-like focus on your goals, but they're not a whole lot more effective at actually keeping you accountable. If you write the pledge, post it on your wall, and then ignore it, making the pledge will ultimately have made no difference.
What you really need is something beyond yourself to keep you honest and accountable. A system or tool that will check in with you and make sure you're achieving your language learning goals, as you said you would.
The easiest resources for this are habit trackers, many of are available at low-cost (or for free), can be downloaded instantly to your smartphone or computer.
The majority of habit-tracking applications like these have features that will keep you accountable, motivated, and aware of your daily progress, including:
Try these apps, and you'll no longer have to devote time to remembering your daily, weekly, and monthly commitments to your language learning goals.
The apps will serve as your reminder, so all you'll have to do is take action!
3. Make a Public Commitment
After you've enlisted the help of your daily pledge and your smartphone to keep you on track, there's no better accountability resource to turn to than other people.
Why? Because no one wants to look bad in front of others. It's a trait that's hard-wired into us as social beings.
If you share your language learning goals with the people in your life, and ask them to hold you to your commitment, no matter what, there's a high likelihood you'll follow through with your goal, just to avoid embarrassing yourself if you don't.
There are a few different ways you can put a public commitment into action:
4. Get an Accountability Partner
One problem with making public commitments is that even though you're letting lots of people know about your goal, none of them are likely to beat down your front door if you're ever in danger of actually giving up your language learning goals.
For that reason, it can be even more powerful to ask one or more people in your life to really keep you on track. People that know all about your goals and objectives, and will take time to regularly check in with you to make sure you're doing what you said you'd do.
These types of people are usually called accountability partners.
In theory, anyone can be an accountability partner, but ideally you'll want to find someone who won't let you off the hook. If you're faltering in your commitments, the ideal accountability partner will waste no time telling you to get yourself together.
Those kinds of people can be tough to find (usually close friends and family members won't be that tough with you), so you may need to try a few accountability partners before you find a good fit.
For the purposes of language learning, it’s a good idea to look for accountability partners in places where there are already large groups of language learners, like italki.com or on the HelloTalk app. That way, you can even keep them accountable for their language learning goals while they keep you accountable for yours.
5. Start an Accountability Group
Of course, if you think one accountability partner can make a powerful difference in your language learning, imagine the difference a whole group of accountability partners can make.
Accountability groups work just like a regular accountability partnership, but instead of one person keeping another accountable, each person in the group works to keep all of the rest of the group accountable.
Depending on how many group members you have, that can be a lot of accountability.
Furthermore, if all group members are language learners, you can potentially learn a lot from the methods, strategies, and techniques that each group member uses to actually learn.
As with regular accountability partnerships, look for your group members anywhere where large communities of language learners gather. If every member of your group is a language learner—great! If you're all learning the same language—even better!
6. Make Commitments You Can't Back Out Of
Another accountability method that I like to use is something I call "commitments with teeth".
Basically, these are high-intensity commitments that are either:
So, even if you have nothing and no one else keeping you accountable for these goals, you'll have to follow through, or pay a meaningful price.
When I used to regularly schedule lessons on italki, one way I'd use "commitments with teeth" was to schedule my lesson just outside of the 24-hour no-cancellation period.
italki only allows you to cancel lessons consequence-free if the lesson time is more than a day away. Any closer to that time, and it becomes a lot more difficult to cancel. Even if I was nervous, the fact that cancelling was no longer an option would mean that I'd have to follow through with the lesson, no matter how I felt.
You can find even more intense forms of this kind of commitment when you use the habit-tracking service called Beeminder.
Unlike most apps, Beeminder requires you to pay actual money when you don't follow through on your goals. Depending on your settings, they'll even charge you more each time you miss out on a commitment.
It's intense, but it works.
7. Join a Language Learning Challenge
Finally, I'd like to recommend one last resource you can use to stay committed to all of your language goals. In a way, it represents the culmination and combination of all of the accountability methods we have covered above.
What is it?
A language learning challenge!
More specifically, an organized online language learning challenge, where large groups of language learners gather together to meet specific goals.
Nowadays, the most popular of these challenges are:
The italki Language Challenge is generally a one-month-long language challenge where you compete with other learners to complete as many hours of italki language lessons as possible. Each lesson costs money, but if you manage to complete certain hour milestones or rank in the highest number of completed hours, you can win italki credits and other prizes.
The Add1Challenge is a three-month language learning challenge where you pledge to have a 15-minute conversation with a native-speaker of your target language at the end of 90 days. Along the way, you'll also be required to record three progress videos (on Day 0, Day 30, and Day 60). The challenge also features additional accountability options, like a habit tracker, accountability groups, mastermind groups, and more.
Language challenges like these are among the most difficult and expensive of all the accountability options, but if you manage to make it through them, you'll have built some wonderful habits and rock-solid accountability that will be sure to make a lasting difference in your learning.
Find Your Accountability, Achieve Your Language Learning Goals
These are seven of the best ways I know to stay accountable to your language learning goals.
Accountability systems are like safety nets for goal achievement—they'll keep you on track even when your own willpower fails.
Some of the systems I've shared above might seem intimidating. Others downright scary. But that's okay, because that's why they work. They create consequences for inaction, which then compel you to act.
And ultimately, that's what you want. You want to act in the direction of your language learning goals, because that's the only way they're ever going to become a reality.
What accountability systems have you used in your language learning? What about in other areas of your life? Let me know in the comments!
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.