If you’re a language learner— or even just a person who has ever had to learn anything in life, ever— , you’ve probably fostered a healthy amount of disdain for two things: slumps and overly long breaks.
Slumps can be described as periods of low activity that are usually brought on by negative factors like ‘burn out’ or issues with mental or emotional health. You may have exhausted yourself in some aspect (maybe through overwork or distress) and you just fall into a period of stagnation where you don’t have the capacity to continue.
Overly long breaks, on the other hand, might simply have to do with taking a conscious break of your own volition or someone else’s. Like when the final semester of school comes to an end and you find yourself facing the long stretch of summer break. Or perhaps you fell out of your studying habit and suddenly the weekend off that you planned became 3 months! Rest is definitely productive but too much inactivity can be counterproductive to your goals.
In both cases, it is highly likely that one of the negative effects you’ll regretfully encounter is regression. For a language learner, regression would mean losing the progress you’ve made in your studies or gains. If you’re burnt out, your mind can sometimes do a ‘reset’ of sorts and when you recover you may find that you haven’t retained a thing of what you worked on pre-meltdown. If you’ve entered a period of stagnation, like physical muscles, your skills could waste away without use. Either way, what a nightmare! And perhaps more daunting that either of these outcomes is having to figure out a way to get back into your groove.
If you find yourself needing to get over a slump or a long period of time without studying here are 6 tips for you:
1. BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF
Okay, so this tip isn’t strictly language related but it is still necessary to point out! Sometimes when we find ourselves in a rut or under stress, on top of the losses we sustain learning-wise, we tend to beat ourselves up as well. While giving ourselves tough love can be motivating at times, when we’re already down in the pits this treatment stands a chance of being demotivating instead, instilling with us negative reinforcement promoting feelings of shame and doubt. Sometimes we convince ourselves to give up altogether. Part of any growth journey is recognizing that, as humans, sometimes we falter and that is okay. Your energy is better utilised being gentle with yourself so you can rest up and start anew.
2. START! This might seem obvious but, for most of us, it's easier said than done. Recovering from a slump or an overly long break gives us a lot of practice in being still— or being stagnant if you want to look at it from that perspective. And stillness has its place along the journey but we must be wary of inertia.
Newton’s law of inertia states that an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted on by a force— the same for a body in motion. Just like Newton’s object, we may find it easier to continue in a state of inactivity until something triggers a change. Luckily for us, though, that ‘something’ doesn’t always have to be from an external source; that drive can come from within us. We don’t have to wait for a given season, or the weekend, or till we encounter a particular life condition to begin again. If you want to start something the best time to do it is in the here and now.
3. EASE IN TO IT
Instead of chucking in headfirst as if you never stopped studying, try and feel out where your headspace is at. Do I still remember A and B? Can I still do C and D? Maybe even do a few exercises that are simpler than you’re used to to help build your confidence back. If you had the habit of studying in a particular way before, your ‘muscle memory’ will probably kick back in and then you’ll be back to where you were in no time.
4. RECALIBRATE Sometimes you just have to reassess and approach a task differently to get a better result. Restarting your study life can give you a prime opportunity to recalibrate and see what you can improve in your system. You may want to consider how what you were doing before may have contributed to a burn out, for example. Or perhaps you could see how you can institute some more structure into your routine the next time you have a long break— not enough to nullify the rest but just enough so that you don’t find yourself starting again from point A. Reflecting on your method in this way can help to minimise the chance of you falling into the same traps the next time around.
5. GET MOTIVATED!
You may have lost a battle or two but the war is not over! Find ways to re-inject the spark of learning into your life! Go back to what first inspired you to start studying your target language. Check out what’s new in that community. Find a related film, tv show, book, etc and enjoy it! Let your passion for the subject entice you from the depths of your inactivity.
6. PHONE A FRIEND This tip goes back to care needing to be a central philosophy of life. As much as self-motivation and intrinsic power has been discussed above, sometimes what we need is outside of ourselves in the community that loves and cares for us. When having a hard time, even though it may not affect their material situation, many people benefit from having a shoulder to lean on. It can be liberating to talk about the blocks that prevent you from getting back into the game. It can be comforting to know that someone understands or has been through something similar to your situation. Perhaps you, too, can find strength in someone holding your hand as you get back into form.
All in all, it is important to remember that progress is not a straight line so, even if we have our down times, it is always possible to rise up yet again.
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