How to motivate yourself to learning Spanish?

Why is it that some people learn Spanish so quickly? And others begin a few times, don’t succeed and begin again? The latter will probably say that the former have possessed some language skills. And that kind of opinion is often the cause of their failure. Especially, if parents say to their child: “Chris has a scientific mind, he is a genius in mathematics! But he is no good with languages…” And you will easily guess what the end of the story was. And it is motivation and positive thinking that’s crucial in second language learning success (or many other fields).

So, how to motivate yourself to study?

If you’re learning Spanish, it means you have some goal. I can only guess what that might be. Maybe you want to find a very good job, to communicate without any problems while on holiday in Mexico, maybe you wish communicate with your spouse’s family that comes from Chile or maybe you want to pass your high-school exam. Finally, it may be that you have always wanted to learn Spanish, but had so many commitments that you have never had a chance to learn it and when your kids have their own homes and kids and you have some more free time, you can eventually fulfill your dream.

Note that in this list of possible goals I have not included some like “I don’t want to be fired because I do not know Spanish”, or “I want to avoid being scammed in Mexico” or “I do not want to fail my high school exam and lose the chance to get into a good college” etc.

That is because your goal has to obey three simple rules:

  1. Your goal has to be positive. It should focus on achieving something and not on avoiding something. This almost guarantees you success. Because of two reasons: 1. Life full of positive goals in much more fulfilling and fun and creates pleasant associations with your goal and the way that leads to it, so you want to go this way and achieve this goal! 2. If you want to avoid something, first you have to imagine that terrible thing or situation that you want to avoid! So your brain focuses on this negative image and you learn Spanish having this image in mind? Isn’t it what we call sabotage?
  2. It is YOUR goal. You want to achieve it. It is not your boss who tells you to learn Spanish, you want to learn Spanish. This closely correlates with the first rule. By taking ownership of your goal and generally, responsibility for your life, you will be better motivated to work on your goal and will be more happy with achieving it, because it was your autonomous decision and you will feel a sense of fullfilment.
  3. Before stating clearly the third rule, let me briefly tell you about one research: Kasser and Ryan form the University of Rochester examined how people’s aspirations and goals (and achieving them) correlates with what we call happiness and well-being.  Research has revealed that having strong relative aspirations for extrinsic outcomes (wealth, fame, and image) had negative influence on one’s mental health, whereas  placing more importance on intrinsic aspirations (meaningful relationships, personal growth, and community contributions) was found to be positively associated with mental health indicators. Studies have also shown that people who attained their intrinsic aspirations reported well-being, which was not the case with attainment of extrinsic aspirations.

What does it mean for you? Well, while it is quite understandable, that sometimes your goals can be “down to the earth” and connected with money and admiration from others, rephrase them to reflect your intrinsic aspirations as well. The examples that I gave you at the beginning of this chapter can most of the time be connected with both extrinsic and intrinsic aspirations. It is only up to you what aspect you will choose.

Choose to learn Spanish because you want to spend wonderful vacations in Mexico, while learning Mexican culture and finding new friends. All of these are just pure personal development. Or you want to pass your Spanish exam in high school because you want to use your school years the best way possible and get to the best college possible to be a well educated person. Or maybe you want to have better relationship with your Spanish speaking extended family?

  1. It has to have a timeframe. That is obvious. You want to learn Spanish in this life, not in another, don’t you? Anyway, a goal without a deadline is merely a wish.
  2. It has to be ambitious enough, but at the same time achievable.

You may want to learn Spanish within a year to freely communicate with Hispanophones, which includes also discussing different topics. This is an ambitious goal, but you can achieve it if you are really committed. But how about: achieving native fluency within the same time framework? Don’t you feel discouraged? And how about this one: “Within a year I will learn how to order a beer and buy sombrero in a gift shop”. How will you be satisfied upon achieving this goal? Or do you think it is easier to achieve it? Really? Do you think you will get round to it right away or convince yourself you still have 12 long months to learn these few phrases?

Once you have decided on your goal, try to imagine what would happen if you already achieved it. Imagine yourself, shining in a pub somewhere in Mexico or a happy face of your mother-in-law when you talk Spanish with her. Imagine the wonderful feelings. Isn’t it great to achieve your goal? Imagine how great you feel then. You have become a better person, haven’t you? You are self fulfilled, you have better understanding for another culture, you are a better person!

Such a visualization of success will motivate you to study. Imagine also how easy it’s going to be and how eagerly you are going to start.

If you have some problems visualizing your success or the full learning process, you can use a motivation recording, which is easily accessible.

3 comments so far ↓

#1 corky peavy on 03.04.13 at 6:05 pm

Great post! I’ve been struggling to learn Spanish all my life, which is pretty embarrassing. Once I entered the breadwinner/family years, it was just pretty hopeless, but now that the nest is emptying I’m at it again but the “old brain” syndrome makes it slower. My wife and I went to Nicaragua (affordalbe, safe, unspoiled) for two months to study intensively. That helped a lot, and we met over 30 teachers while there. But then we came home….

So to keep the momentum going we started studying with one of our favorite teachers via Skype. A larger “intrinsic aspiration” for me in the trip was using business creation to employ poor people, and Nicaragua is the 2nd poorest country in this hemisphere. So I’m trying to create a company to connect language learners with people in Nicaragua (and later perhaps other poor countries) for a win-win. It’s incredible to me that for $32/mo a person can have two face to face classes per week. That is enough to make a difference. To make a friend, actually. And without a Spanish speaking friend who I want to communicate with, I never seem to go anywhere in my studies. That has been critical.

Amazingly it only takes about 15 students to fully support someone in Nicaragua. And that pumps my intrinsic goals!

#2 Valerie Lawrence on 01.25.15 at 10:01 pm

How affective is studying Spanish while taking 3 other courses?

#3 Maria on 03.21.16 at 11:37 pm

Buenos días!

Soy Maria, responsable de Soloidiomas, academia de idiomas en Madrid. Me pongo en contacto al constatar la calidad de su web y el interés de publicar una entrada según el tema educativo.

Si mi propuesta le parece oportuna, le puedo enviar un artículo redactado por nuestros profesores con consejos para el aprendizaje de un idioma o cualquier otro tema que sea de interés para su sitio web.

Qué le parece?

Le envío saludos y espero sus noticias.


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