What do you want to learn, and what for?

The biggest, most important question to be asking yourself over the course of your learning journey, and the one to which the answer will keep you going when the journey gets tougher, is not ‘HOW am I going to do this’, but ‘WHY am I going to do this’!!

In writing this, I am mainly addressing foreign language learners – however, the principles of prioritising the WHY over the HOW can be applied in any domain (professional, sporting, creative, …), and to whatever you are in the process of learning to do or trying to accomplish!!!

Hence, this is generally one of the first questions I tend to ask my new students in order to find out the nature of their goals, and exactly what we are to begin working towards. 

Another reason I ask is to hear from them what outcome they envisage, so that it becomes what they keep in mind when work begins, gets tougher, and eventually rewards them!


Undoubtedly, when embarking upon any new adventure or endeavour, we can always expect to encounter obstacles of some description. But we wouldn’t do without them – in their absence, there wouldn’t be much of any substance involved in the learning experience, and what use calling it an adventure or an endeavour if it’s no more challenging or fulfilling than any of our other regular, day-to-day activities? So how best to ensure our perseverance in order to see our enterprise through to the end, past the challenges and obstacles? 

The temptation or, perhaps, the initial reflex, is to ask ourselves the question of: ‘How?’, but repeating the question ‘How…?’ fixates our attention on those obstacles, whereas by focusing instead on the question ‘Why…?’ we liberate ourselves from such concerns, thus allowing creative energy and inspiration to flow freely…

Why… did you decide to undertake it in the first place?

Reflect on the original motivation or incentive which struck you, the spark of genius or inspiration which gave you the initial idea to go forth and be brilliant… Is this a creative endeavour, or one related to your profession, or a sporting ambition? When, in the beginning, you first felt a rush of excitement thinking about what greatness lay ahead, already then were you making a connection in time with the rewarding sensation of accomplishment at the completion of your journey, not to mention the countless victories and challenge-surpassing along the way! Hold onto it – if concentrating on the feeling you want in the end is what it will take to get you there, let it lead you blindly along!!

Why… is the outcome so important to you?

What will achieving your ambition allow you to do that makes you want it so badly? What will the result prove to you? Visualise and make a connection with the ways in which your life will change for the better when you succeed, and think about how you see yourself and your environment: is your home beautiful and renovated, making it a comfortable, safe space to share with your loved one(s)? Has your body changed, and do you feel healthier, stronger and more resilient? Do you finally see for yourself how capable, intelligent, skilled and disciplined you really are? EXCELLENT. THAT is why you embarked upon this journey. THESE are the reasons you want to succeed, and THIS is why YOU WILL CONTINUE and see it through!!

These questions hold on the basis that you personally, not someone else, e.g. at work, set yourself a particular task, goal or ambition. The only way for you to justify dedicating so much of your time to a particular endeavour (least of all when it’s easy, and especially when it’s not) is to focus on how it is significant to you, and not just what it means to someone else or how it will benefit them.

Does thinking about it now make you reconsider your goals somewhat, either altering them, adapting your approach or setting yourself entirely new goals? To that end, do they hold even greater power now that you have reflected on their real significance?


The strength and conviction of each of your answers is the premise of your motivation to continue, so those answers had better be strong and full of conviction!!!

My goal is for you to DECIDE WHY you are starting what you’re about to start, or REMEMBER WHY you started it in the first place, and – in either case – FOCUS ON THE ‘WHY’ from now on and through to the end of the journey!

I invite you, kind readers of this post, to share your own personal goal, foreign language-related or otherwise, in a comment at the bottom of this page (whether or not you intend to pursue a course with me in future, or to make use of the resources soon to be available on this website), as another means of reinforcing it for yourself as well as to provide encouragement and inspiration to your fellow readers by sharing it with them. Thank you in advance! I shall begin that part of the discussion by sharing with you a couple of my own sources of motivation:


Why… learn and improve in Japanese …?

==> so that I can talk with confidence and at length with the Japanese karate instructors with whom I have the good fortune to spend so much time, and so often;

==> so that I can stay constantly so far ahead of my students as to motivate them, and always have some new knowledge, advice or learning material to offer them.

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Creating your own world of foreign language immersion!

The four disciplines within language are: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Until such a time as you are in a country or living a life in which you only read, write, speak and listen to the language(s) you are learning, how can you make every effort to create that environment for yourself, everyday?


SPEAKING

Do you live with someone? Perhaps a partner, children, housemates or family? No matter whether you’re in constant contact with people, animals or #1, what’s important is making a daily habit of incorporating elements of your target language (the language you are in the process of learning) into your regular speech.

Here are a few suggestions for common words and phrases that you could very well work into your daily routine:

“Good morning/Goodnight!”

“Thank you!”

“I love you!”

“See you later!”

If you want to go further than that, you could also try:

asking for/telling the time;

asking/saying what is for tea;

phrases which, in English, begin with “Let’s …(cook, watch a film, go for a coffee, …)!”.

The key is to adopt what you usually say, ask or talk about within your daily rituals into your target language – which is also the key to the success of this exercise: making a daily commitment to include this as part of your routine, if immersion really is what you’re going for!!


READING

Do you own a phone? Possibly a laptop or tablet, too? One thing you can do to make sure you are frequently exposed to reading material in your target language… or, at least as often as you look at your device… is to tinker with the settings and overdo the whole thing in a bright new shade of: Japanese, French, Italian or whatever you wish to be more exposed to!! If you’re learning more than one language, use each for a different program on your computer!

However, even if you set up your phone in a different language, it may be that you don’t really spend enough time looking at the screen to make that one gesture worthwhile (a little like me!). If this is your case, worry not – it’s not the only thing you could be trying! Commit to reading a passage daily or even weekly in your target language(s)! It doesn’t have to be an enormous amount – but it does need to be done frequently, in order for you to feel that your are being immersed in your language(s) of choice…

By making a daily habit out of reading any resources in your target language, you are simultaneously allowing yourself to become used to the feeling of immersion in this language and giving yourself the opportunity to recognise and therefore begin to learn those words, phrases and constructions!


LISTENING

One reason I so love listening practice as a daily ritual is that it is an activity you can do almost anywhere and anytime, including at the same time as doing something else! Knowing how busy you undoubtedly are, that is a huge benefit!!

Whereas (personally!) I find reading, speaking and writing to be activities which require you to dedicate time to them and them alone, listening is something you can do whilst otherwise dedicating time only to yourself. Unless you can read and knit at the same time, speak and run at the same time or write and meditate at the same time, listening is your go-to activity for daily language immersion which doesn’t stop you from knitting, running, meditating, cooking, doing yoga or even sleeping while you do it.

Choose from the ample selection of free listening material available on the internet… Go for audios on YouTube (set it to, and then type in, your target language!), podcasts on any number of websites (my personal favourite being TuneIn), and, of course – music! Set your iTunes Country/Region accordingly, and discover artists whose music you can later search for online, or buy and listen to anytime!

Even without particularly focusing on, or even 100% following what you are listening to, by exposing your ears to the sounds and structures of the language you aspire to acquire, you are bringing yourself ever closer to being in sync with that language!


WRITING

Depending on the particular activities which make up your own personal daily routine, writing as a practice might be more or less easy to incorporate into your daily rituals – get creative!!

Here’s how your target language could contribute to your daily writing rituals… You could use it to write:

the days of the week and the months on your calendar/diary;

notes which you leave on the fridge as nice surprises (think of what you would say to those you share your home with – ‘SPEAKING‘, above!);

recipes, shopping lists or to-do lists – at a stage where you have gained sufficient confidence in yourself so as to entrust such tasks to your foreign language, perhaps!!

As with all the suggestions I make above, what I’d like to emphasise the most is the importance of integrating these gestures as part of your daily rituals; indeed, they are certain to benefit you only if they are based on your current daily practices! By dedicating the time you spend each day accomplishing your daily tasks to incorporating your target language(s), you are bound to make leaping progress and – above all – love feeling a sense of immersion in your foreign language!

“Language”: An Introduction

My main aim in establishing this website is as much to help you learn your foreign language as to help you help yourself learn independently!!

The sooner you take your learning into your own hands, whether you are already on a language course or studying alone, with or without a tutor or teacher, and the more independent you become, the more certain you can be of your absolute success acquiring a foreign language!!

« On ne doit pas juger du mérite d’un homme par ses grandes qualités, mais par l’usage qu’il en sait faire. »

— Jean De La Bruyère

This means…

more effective learning methods,

more efficient study time, and

・a more motivating and rewarding overall experience!

If you are passionate about foreign languages, I hope you are inspired to embark on the next steps of your journey with me!

Hannah Johnston
Away With Words⎪Language Tuition