How to Make a Habit: A Guide For Language Learners - My Daily Spanish

How to Make a Habit: A Guide for Language Learners

Spanish Habits

Spanish is a fairly easy language to learn, but if you don’t stick with it and practice, it becomes really difficult.

While we would love to be able to visit your house once a day and hover over you to make sure you’re getting things done, we can’t exactly do that. So instead, we’ve created this guide to help you come up with a method of habit-forming that works for you.

Part 1. 10 Easy Steps to Follow

Yeah, you read that right. Only 10 steps! Whether you you use them all, or just pick and choose the ones that fit your personality, these will definitely help you to make this Spanish learning habit stick. So no, you can’t watch “just one more episode”, and your shoe closet doesn’t need to be reorganized for the third time this week… Let’s go!

1 . Make short term and long term goals.

When learning Spanish, it’s good to have more than just the one main goal in mind. Of course, the ultimate goal is probably something along the lines of being able to speak fluent Spanish with a good accent. But if this is your only goal, you might start to get a little discouraged when you don’t achieve it quickly.

That’s why you should have short term goals as well. Try giving yourself a goal for that day or week. So that when you achieve it, you’ll have a nice little confidence boost! Then, just like your online shopping addiction, you’ll just keep coming back for more.

2. Reward yourself whenever you achieve one of these goals.

Find something that you can reward yourself with after you’ve been working hard to reach one of these Spanish goals that you set. Because you know what? You earned it! My only advice with this one is that if you’re setting daily goals, not to make your reward a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream… No, this isn’t coming from personal experience. It was uh—a friend of mine.

3. Pick a time of day that works for you and stick to it.

Whether it’s when you just get home from work, or maybe for an hour before bed, it’s important to carve out a chunk of time that you can keep as your sacred Spanish study time. If you just do it “whenever”, it’s way harder to form a habit. So figure out what time of day works best for you and mark it in your calendar. Hey, put that pencil down and use a permanent marker!

4. Tell others about your goal so that they can support you.

Remember in middle school, when a police officer would come into your class and warn you about the dangers of peer pressure? Well it turns out that peer pressure can be a positive thing!
Tell a close friend (or a few) about your goal to learn Spanish. That way, when you’re thinking about skipping your study sesh to watch another re-run of Breaking Bad, you will think about how bad it will feel to tell this friend that you haven’t done anything when they ask about your progress. They can hold you to your word, because it can be really easy to talk yourself out of studying.

5. Find a study buddy.

Things are always so much more fun with friends! A fun idea could be to meet once or twice a week at someone’s house and cook up some Spanish food to eat while you study. Make a fiesta out of it! And some Spanish wine wouldn’t hurt. In fact, it may just improve your Spanish skills.

6. Make a specific goal.

What is it that you really want to get out of this? Do you just want to be able to have casual conversations on your upcoming trip to Spain, or do you want to master the language and speak like a local? It’s important to know exactly what you want to get out of this so that you can start planning out those goals we were talking about earlier.

7. Visualize your goal becoming a reality. 

Picture this: you’re lying on a Spanish beach and that sexy lifeguard that you’ve been eyeing comes over to talk to you. Instead of giving them a blank stare, you are able to effortlessly ask them if they want to have a drink with you after their shift is up. If that isn’t good motivation for studying Spanish, I don’t know what is!

8. Have a clear motivation for learning Spanish.

This goes hand in hand with your main goal. If you’re just learning Spanish to prepare for a week long trip to Spain, you won’t have to work as hard as someone who is looking to get a government translating job. But if you know exactly why you want to learn Spanish, it will be easier to make it a reality.

9. Give yourself a realistic deadline.

If you don’t give yourself enough time, you will most likely feel really stressed and pressured and then give up. But if you give yourself too much time, you may use that as an excuse to put it off and then it won’t become a habit. So think about how much time you actually need to reach your goal, and then stick to it.

10. Familiarize yourself with the reasons that habits don’t stick (listed in Part 2) so that you don’t fall into the trap.

There are many reasons why people fail at making something a habit. We’ve gone ahead and made a list of the most common reasons so that you know exactly what you’re up against!

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Part 2. The Most Common Reasons Habits Fail

We’ve all been there. You start out really excited about a new goal. You tell yourself “This time it will stick! This time will be different”. But somewhere along the way, your goal gets lost in the everyday-life equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle. You know, the place where lost socks and car keys end up.

However, we want you to really achieve your Spanish learning goals. But before you can do that, you need to know why habits don’t stick. That way when one (or let’s be honest here—more than one) of these strike, you will have an alarm going off in your head because you were prepared for it! Come on now, we can tackle this beast together.

1. Procrastination

This is probably one of the most lethal to a habit. Countless habits have fallen prey to this deadly habit-predator. Alright, that was a tad dramatic. But I just wanted to stress this so that you guys don’t procrastinate!

Whether it’s a new episode of your favourite show, or a friend wants to get drinks after work (do you really need that double vodka soda? It’s Monday…), there are always reasons to put off working on your Spanish. But we have to be stronger than that!

2. Setting the bar too high

If you make your goal something that isn’t realistic, you will end up getting frustrated and quitting. Make sure that you pick a reasonable goal and give yourself enough time to complete it.

3. Too much fantasizing and not enough doing

Are you one of those people that just makes lists and plans and gets all excited, and never actually ends up doing the work that’s required? You’re not alone. While a little fantasizing is good because it will motivate you, you need to also get your head out of the clouds for long enough to actually work on your Spanish.

4. Negative thoughts

“I’ll never actually be fluent in Spanish so there’s no point in even trying.”

“Even if I can speak it fluently my accent will always be horrible and the locals will just laugh at me.”
Thoughts like these need to be eradicated. You need to be kind and patient with yourself when learning a new language. I would never say things like that to you, so please don’t say them to yourself. You’re already ahead of the game by having the desire to learn the language!

5. Distractions

One new email. New text message from Brad. Three Facebook notifications. We live in a world where distractions are constant. Try to minimize those distractions by unplugging from the world before you start studying.

Put your phone on silent. Tell your friends and family which time of day you will be using to study Spanish so that they know you won’t be available.

6. Falling Off the Wagon

It’s so easy once you’ve fallen off the wagon to just stay there laying face down in the dirt. Once you miss one Spanish study session, then it becomes two, and three. Then before you know it, it’s been three weeks and the only thing you can remember in Spanish is “dos cervezas por favor”. (Who really needs to know more than how to order a beer anyways, right?)

If you miss one of your Spanish study sessions, get up, brush yourself off, and try again the next day.

7. Lack of motivation

If you’re not motivated, you’re not going to achieve your goal. It’s as simple as that. So don’t let yourself become unmotivated. Just keep thinking about that lifeguard!

8. Doing it alone

If you don’t have anyone to study with, it’s really easy to convince yourself that you don’t have to work on your Spanish today. But if you have concrete plans with a Spanish study buddy, you are more pressured to actually do it.
So whether it’s someone who is accompanying you on your trip, or just a friend who wants to learn for fun, find someone to study with so that you have positive reinforcements!

9. Too much pressure

Some people work great under pressure. But if you’re anything like me, you are not one of those people. This is why setting realistic goals is so important. You don’t want to pressure yourself so much that you end up just throwing in the towel.

10. Excuses, excuses!

Ah, nasty little excuses. Let’s face it, there is always going to be some excuse not to do your Spanish work. Do not fall prey to these! Accept the fact that you need to be doing this. Set it as the top priority for that time of day, and don’t allow yourself to do anything but study. This is you sacred Spanish study time, remember?

Hopefully this guide has helped you figure out what you need to do to make this habit stick. Now that you’ve finished reading this, I’d say you’ve achieved a short term goal. And you know what that means! So perhaps open a bottle of Spanish wine and reward yourself.

Build a learning habit with this awesome gift from My Daily Spanish: 100 Days of Spanish words and expressions. Get your FREE copy today!

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About the Author Nicole Dovak

Nicole Dovak is a 20-something Canadian writer who moved to Spain in September 2015. Living with a Spanish host family for one year allowed her to gain insights into Spanish culture and language (and not to mention tons of yummy Spanish food).

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