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.