5 Easy Ways to Build your Language Learning “Muscle!”


Welcome back, language learners, to Adventures in Language!

Dia duit! Language learning is a lot like hitting the gym. That’s why in this article, we’re sharing 5 practical tips for building your language learning “muscle.” After reading this article, you’ll be motivated and ready to put these tips into action! But before we dive in, we need to cover something important first. If you’re learning a language, you need to think about the process in a way that inspires you — because doing so can change your whole approach to language learning. To get us started, answer the following question… 

What’s your language learning metaphor?

  • Some liken language learning to math, where the grammar underlying every sentence is like an equation that just needs values to be plugged in.
  • Others think of it like painting, where words are like colors you blend together to create meaning.
  • It has also been thought of like an archeological dig, whereby you uncover a new culture word by word, phrase by phrase.
  • It’s also a lot like exercise, in that disciplined training leads to a kind of muscle memory.

Here’s the deal -- there is no one “right” metaphor.

All that matters is that you rely on a metaphor that inspires and motivates YOU. For example, if you hate math and you’ve been associating language learning with math, your confidence in learning that language will be low and your motivation will likely wane. The good news is that you have the power to strategically reframe the language learning process in terms you find inspiring to you. And there’s no time like the present! In this article, we’re continuing with the metaphor that learning a language is like hitting the gym. If ‘hitting the gym’ isn’t a metaphor that inspires you personally, fret not! These 5 practical tips will still help you make progress on your fluency goals. Well, Без да губим повече време (‘without further ado’ in Bulgarian), let’s get to it! 

Here are your 5 tips for building your language learning “muscle”

1. Get an accountability buddy

2. Build routines, but embrace disruptions

3. Track your progress

4. Make sure you’re enjoying the process

5. Set realistic goals

Now, let’s break those down…

#1 Get an accountability buddy

It can be easy to let your language goals fall to the wayside when you’re going it alone. But when you have a friend or family member learning along with you – you can hold each other accountable to your goals. For those of you who use the Mango Languages app, did you know that you have access to the Friends & Family feature? You can add up to 5 friends and family accounts with your account. And you don’t have to be learning the same language – you could be learning different languages but keep each other accountable on consistency in committing to your study sessions! If you want to go to the next level, you could even consider getting a personal trainer (language coach) through Mango Live. Mango Live is a virtual, language-training experience that provides you with options for group and one-on-one instruction. Led by language experts from around the globe, Mango Live works with employees and their organizations to support unique schedules and customized learning goals. Reach out to us here to see if you’re eligible!

#2 Build routines, but embrace disruptions

Do you have to make time to practice your language? Yes. But does that mean you need to stick to a rigid routine? Not at all! All too often, language learners lose their steam because they set out what they think is going to be the perfect plan, the perfect routine, for their language learning. But then life gets in the way, they feel guilty for not sticking with it, and they give up. The key isn’t to avoid disruptions to your routine – but adapt to them. Embrace them. Maybe you set out to study every morning for 20minutes, but something came up this morning and you had to skip. Fret not – just make it up during lunch or before you go to bed. Here’s a little nugget of cognitive science for you: a little variation in the when and where of your language learning can actually be helpful to storing information in long-term memory! The reason for this is that it helps you form new associations to the learning content. If you can’t stick to the routine you set up initially, find a new one that works. Maybe you protect time for language study on your calendar. Maybe you get up early to do it. Or, maybe you fit a few minutes of a lesson during a couple small breaks throughout your day. Don’t confuse consistency with rigidity. Build routines, but embrace disruptions.

#3 Track your progress

People track their heart rate and fitness goals with a fitness watch. You can do the same with your language learning by tracking your language activity! How many hours were you able to dedicate to language practice this week? Was it mostly during the day or at night? Were there any noticeable gaps in your routine? Do you notice any patterns? How could you improve your study habits next week? The great thing about tracking your habits and your progress is that you’re able to more objectively identify your weaknesses —- and (just as importantly) celebrate your successes! Don’t want to keep track of your study patterns manually? The Mango Languages App can help you with that, as it tracks your activity on the app so that you can reflect on it later!

#4 Make sure you’re enjoying the process

It sounds so simple and obvious, but you absolutely must be able to find a way to enjoy the process of language learning — or else you won’t stick with it. It’s the same principle with exercising. If you hate running, don’t make running the central part of your exercise routine. Find another way to exercise that you actually enjoy. For example, if you dread studying from home, go outside for your language learning! If you find learning animal words boring, learn instead the words for concepts that genuinely interest you – the ones you’re most likely to use in your real-life conversations. Point is — if you want to stick with it – you need to enjoy it.

#5 Set realistic goals

Your success comes down to your goals in the language. You might think simply “getting fluent” is your goal – but there’s a lot more to it than that. If you haven’t recently checked in on your specific language learning goals, it’s highly recommended that you do so — and sooner rather than later. If you’d like an easy step-by-step walk-through to help you do that, check out our FREE Setting Good Goals worksheet. It’s the best 5 minutes you’ll ever spend on your language learning.

To recap, the 5 tips for building your language learning “muscle” were:

1. Get an accountability buddy

2. Build routines, but embrace disruptions

3. Track your progress

4. Make sure you’re enjoying the process

5. Set realistic goals

Thanks for reading!

We hope you leave this article feeling inspired, motivated and re-energized to use these tips to reach your language learning goals. Slán go fóill!  We look forward to seeing you back here for our next article!

Wondering what languages were used in this article?

  • English | (recording language)
  • Irish (Standard) | Dia duit! (DEE-u ghit) means ‘Hello!’ and Slán go fóill! means ‘Bye for now!’
  • Bulgarian Без да губим повече време (bez da gubim povecher vreme) means ‘without further ado’ (lit. ‘without us losing any more time)
  • Interested in learning English, Irish, or one of the other 70+ languages that the Mango app offers? Click here to learn more!
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Meet The Author:
Author - Emily Rae Sabo
Emily Rae Sabo
Linguist at Mango Languages
Emily Sabo (Ph.D., University of Michigan): A travel-hungry content creator with a Linguistics Ph.D. in bilingual language processing, Emily has studied 7 languages and loves getting to use them to connect with people around the world. When she’s not creating content for the Mango community, you can find her dancing, yoga-ing, or performing some good ole’ fashioned standup comedy.

To embark on your next language adventure, join the Mango fam!

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