New Year. New habits. Language learning habits.
A habit is a routine or behaviour that we practise so often that it is almost subconscious. Habits can be good or bad. The amount of caffeine that I put away probably isn’t a good habit to have, however, my habit of walking a lot is quite healthy. We can and do use habits to our advantage; can you imagine how it feels going to sleep at night without brushing your teeth? For most of us this habit was forced on us by our parents at some time, and has probably helped our oral hygiene incalculably!
So how can we develop our own habits when we grow up? Can we adjust our current habits or make new habits altogether? Could we change our habits to help our language-learning process? Below are some ideas – some general, and some specific.
1. Slip English radio into your morning routine
Whether you give yourself two hours or ten minutes between waking up and leaving the house, this is possible. As soon as you wake up, put on the radio from an English-speaking radio station. I recommend BBC World Service, BBC Radio 5 or AlJazeera. This way, by the time your are sipping your coffee and crunching your cereal, you are silently practising your English. If you only understand half of what you hear, don’t worry – this is exactly how a habit can help you subconsciously.
2. Set realistic goals
You know that you watch an hour episode of a series every night, and that is an easy habit to keep – so why not an hour session of studying English? Unfortunately, whereas sitting down to passively watch a series is quite relaxing, doing English activities or even just reading, might not be. So be realistic. Just ten minutes of engaging your brain in English is beneficial. If you make your targets easy to achieve, it is much more likely that they will become habits.
After dinner: Ten minutes reading in English before clicking on Netflix.
3. Reward yourself
The links between habit-formation and reward have been studied for hundreds of years. Any parent who has passed ‘the toilet stage’ is likely to have used some kind of reward to keep the potty in use. But how can you reward yourself? Using the same example as above, you can think of watching Netflix as your reward for reading in English for ten minutes. If you have a sweet tooth – don’t let yourself eat dessert until you have done what you want to do. You could even make your reward before you start – like a hot chocolate that accompanies you every Wednesday evening as you read your weekly en-ingles blog article, or any other.
4. Adapt pre-existing habits to English
I have spoken before about ways of Anglicising your everyday environment. Think about what habits you already have, and how they can be easily, practically and realistically adapted to subtly boost your English! The most obvious example is never watching dubbed TV programmes and films. Less obvious ways include changing the language settings of your phone and social media accounts to English, and changing the homepage of your internet browser to an English news website, like The Guardian. Do you have a dog? Pretend it only speaks English!
5. Force a habit.
Some people simply don’t trust themselves and need an extra push. This is why a person might buy a gym membership despite never having been to the gym – the idea that now it has been paid for you have to go! A way to force yourself to study English may be to register yourself for some advanced classes, or a one-on-one online session once a week. If you like more precise goals, then enlist yourself in a course that specifically goes over an exam, and plan to take the exam in 6 months.
6. Make micro-habits in class
If you are lucky enough to have some weekly English lessons, there are some small, simple habits that can help you make the most of them. These may be turning your phone off, writing a summary of the class, or keeping all your resources in one easily-reachable place. Why not try the mini-routine of entering class, saying hello to your classmates, turning off your phone, and opening your notebook on your vocabulary page?
It’s believed that it takes from 21 to 30 days to create a new habit.
Do you have any secrets for changing habits? Do you have any habits that you like or don’t like? What works for you? Let us know in the comments section below so that we can help you find the habit you need.