How to stay Motivated when Learning a New Language – Visualize and Connect
"Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere" - Albert Einstein
The year is 2011.
I had never felt failure like this before.
For the past few months, I had been learning Romanian.
I picked it up on a whim, thinking that it would be easy. After all, I already spoke four of Romanian's "sister languages" (Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Italian) and was very familiar with several Slavic languages (Russian and Polish) from the same part of the world.
If any language was going to be a "piece of cake" for me to learn, Romanian was going to be it.
Or so I thought.
Despite all of the advantages I had when starting Romanian, I couldn't bring myself to study. I had every reason to succeed, but something was missing.
So I gave up.
I had never done that before. Not with a language. As a person with a reputation for learning languages well and for sticking to them, it was something of a soul-crushing defeat.
In that moment, all my experience, all my techniques and all my methods to stay motivated counted for nothing. I was missing something essential, and it made all the difference between learning and giving up.
What was I missing?
Let me explain.
The Importance of Emotional Connection
At first, I didn't fully understand why I gave up Romanian. I saw it as a language like any other, and so I was completely confused when I couldn't find the motivation I usually have for such things.
Once I started learning Hungarian, however, I immediately understood why my efforts with Romanian had failed.
Unlike Romanian, Hungarian was a language I fell in love with as soon as I heard it for the first time.
I went to Hungary, and marveled at the beauty of the people, the food, the architecture—all of it. I only spent a few days in Budapest with my friends back in 2007, but moment after moment, I was completely blown away.
My first experience in Hungary naturally led to a desire to learn Hungarian. I wanted to experience that wonderful and beautiful culture again, but from the inside, as only a Hungarian speaker could.
In short, I developed such an emotional connection with Hungary and the Hungarian people that learning the language was not an option for me—it was an inevitability.
With Romanian, I had none of that.
I didn't go to Romania and experience Romanian culture.
Also, I had no Romanian friends.
Even worse, I didn't have plans to go to Romania!
There was nothing at all driving me emotionally to learn Romanian, like there later was with Hungarian. Romanian, at least at the time, was just another language. And that's why I failed to learn it.
I've learned my lesson since then. I know that to succeed in learning any language, you must absolutely connect emotionally with the language, its people, and its culture.
I also know, however, that it's not possible for everyone to have exciting and memorable experiences in a foreign country before learning that country's language.
So let me teach you a cool technique to get all the benefits of an emotional connection without having to set foot in the country where your target language is spoken (yet!).
1 - The S.E.E. Technique: State
When I started learning Hungarian in late 2015, the memories of the time I spent in Budapest were huge motivators in my eventual success.
Now, using what I call the S.E.E. technique, I'm going to teach you how you can use visualization to create your own imaginary "memories" that will motivate you in your own language journey. And this, as I said, without even going abroad!
S.E.E. is an acronym which stands for:
Each of these are key concepts that will guide you towards an effortlessly motivating visualization.
First, we have State or "State of mind." This concept represents how you think about the language you are learning.
Your state of mind is absolutely essential to your success. Being in a positive and optimistic state of mind considerably enhances your learning process, your capacity to retain information, and your willingness to stay on track.
Before preparing your visualization, you must make sure that you cultivate the following helpful mindset, which means that you:
2 - The S.E.E. Technique: Emotion
The second step in the technique is to imbue your visualization with Emotion!
Emotions are what bring energy and feeling to our lives. Often, they are what motivate you to take action towards some things and avoid others completely.
In your visualization, you should use emotions to make your imagined "memory" feel real, like it actually happened, or could happen to you in the future if you work hard on your language learning.
If you think about it, all of these factors are what help your most cherished memories stand out in your mind. We're just using them in a different way—not to reminisce, but to inspire future learning!
Once you've come up with a motivating scenario, write down the details from the list above. Something like:
3 - The S.E.E. Technique: Eye
The third and final step of the S.E.E. technique is Eye, which is short for "Mind's Eye", or the "eye" you use to visualize your imagined scenario.
In this step, you simply need to take the "emotional details" from the end of the "Emotion" step and use them to create an actual visualization. You can then use this visualization as a "goal" that you can realistically try to live out in the future.
To make your visualization as realistic and detailed as possible, I recommend writing it out first on paper, like you would a story.
Then, every day, read it back to yourself and try to visualize its events in your "mind's eye". With time, you will be able to conjure up the visualization completely from memory, and use it to motivate yourself before your daily learning.
Here's my example visualization.
"I am in Budapest, Hungary, during an evening in late October.
Standing near the famous Margaret Bridge, I take in my surroundings. To one side of the river, in Pest, I see the massive Hungarian Parliament building in all its illuminated glory. On the other side, I see the green hills of Buda, now cloaked in the darkness of night.
All at once, I’m overcome with a wave of nostalgia. I’ve been here before, almost ten years ago...
The scene before me changes. I am a decade younger, standing in the very same spot.
A girl joins me on the bridge. I recognize her face; it’s my friend Edit, who’s a local, unlike myself. She greets me and smiles, and we soon decide to head to a restaurant nearby.
Over the next few hours, Edit shares a thousand-and-one details about the fascinating Hungarian culture, in a way only a genuine Hungarian can.
Over several plates of traditional Hungarian food, Edit tells me about Hungary, and about Budapest. She recommends her favorite Hungarian dishes and tells me about the best Hungarian wines. Together, we share stories of our home countries, and try to determine all the small ways in which Italy and Hungary are both similar, and different.
From that night on, I was certain that the Hungarian language and culture would be an important part of my life and my future."
Over to You
Using the S.E.E. method is a great way to create a compelling and motivating set of reasons to learn a foreign language, even if you haven't had any experience learning it yet.
With the power of your imagination, you can visualize vivid scenarios that represent anything and everything you hope to one day do with the language.
The key to making these visualizations work is to use your emotions. If you can make the visualization sound and feel real, like something that will actually happen, then it will become a great motivator as your skills continue to learn and grow.
It will make a huge difference.
Written by Luca Lampariello