How To Learn Something New (and not fail)

New Year’s resolutions come around every year, and every year we all promise ourselves we are going to: go to bed earlier, eat less sugar, go for a run every morning or possibly stop an annoying bad habit.  How many of us actually get to February and still have our resolution intact?  Resolutions must be one of the most common promises broken.  Is there a reason why? Are they too difficult? Are they too ambitious? Are we going about it the wrong way? How can we succeed in not failing?

We asked around in the staff room (because our teachers are very wise and know very well why resolutions fail so often) and came up with a few ideas of how to keep them and be successful.

Make them simple – Be realistic – Have a goal – Have a reason

For argument’s sake, and because it is a good example of learning something new, this blog has used ‘Learning English’.

At LSI/IH Portsmouth one of the most common questions we ask and get answers for is:

 ‘Why are you learning English?’

We thought it would be interesting to have the answers written down, so, we recently surveyed about 700 of our students with that question, and the answers we got back were as varied as British weather.

More than one answer was possible

The most common response was for work (50% for now, 32% chose for the future). They felt learning English would improve their prospects and/or make life at work easier.  While we get many students who come to LSI/IH Portsmouth to improve their academic English and who continue on to university, that didn’t appear to be the main reason they were actually learning English, as only 9% chose this as the option. It appears that the ultimate goal was after university, once they were working.  A lot of people, just under half, were learning English in order to be able to travel more easily. There were a few who were either just learning it for fun or were very specific, i.e. because they had an international conference to attend.

Make it simple: i.e. “I want to learn/improve my English” “I want to lose weight”

That’s nice and simple.

Be realistic: i.e. “I know I won’t be fluent by the end of the year but I want to be able to improve my level by half a band and use phrasal verbs more easily …”.

Wanting to improve your skill in a language is more realistic than wanting to become an expert in a really short time. In the same way as “I want to be thinner is very hard to follow or judge, saying “I want to lose 3 kgs a month” is a realistic target.

Make it measurable: “I will learn 20 phrasal verbs a month, 20 business terms and write one email in English every week”

This is the difference between ‘I want to lose weight’ and I want to lose 10 kgs’.

How will you know if you have improved in your English? Because you will know more phrasal verbs, you are able to write business emails and you will know 20 more business terms than you do now.

For example; learn 100 phrasal verbs or understand the English tense system or learn the vocabulary related to your work by the end of the month/year.  By having actual targets, you are more likely to stick to your resolution as you will be able to see progress and will be able to measure your progress and know when you have you succeeded.

Have a goal: To be able to apply for a job that requires English, or “I want to be able to participate on social media with my English speaking friends”

So these four points may be the most crucial difference between succeeding and giving up. If it is very clear in your mind why you are doing something, you are much more likely to commit to it and continue.  If you make it measurable, then you can see when you have achieved your stated target and are ready to achieve your goal, which is possibly the most satisfying thing about doing something new.

So if you have already failed at your New Year’s resolution, why not choose a new one. If your English is already fabulous then maybe learn another language or a musical instrument.  Just make sure you know why you are learning it and what your goals are, then you are more likely to be very successful.