14 Tricks to Beat Procrastination in your Language Learning - Lingua Materna

14 Tricks to Beat Procrastination in your Language Learning

beat procrastination

“The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.

Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second we can turn the tables on Resistance.

This second, we can sit down and do our work.”
Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

If there’s one shared skill that society has taught us to master, it’s procrastination. And in an age where we all have instant access to the internet 24/7 through our phones, the possibilities for procrastination and wasted time are arguably greater than ever. Humans are very good at doing things, we’re just not always that good at doing the right things.

Personally, I define procrastination as the resistance that gets in the way of you achieving your goals or completing your projects. It could take the form of half an hour on facebook when you should have been working or daydreaming instead of finishing that important university paper. It affects our work, our home lives, and our studies. And if you’re anything like me, procrastination all too often plagues your language learning as well.

Procrastination is a problem that affects all of us to some degree or another and when learning a language it will inevitably occur at some time during your learning. The challenge is to overcome it and still manage to make some progress with your language.

In this post, we’ll look at some tricks you can apply to beat procrastination when it occurs and make it less likely to happen in the first place!

14 Tricks to Beat Procrastination in your Language Learning Pinterest


#1 Start with something simple

Start with something short and easy and use it to gain momentum. If you don’t feel like sitting down to practice, challenge yourself to do something easy like reviewing 10 words you learned during your last session. Just completing a short, simple activity like this can be enough to get the ball rolling. Once you’ve gotten started it’s much easier to move onto the bigger tasks.

#2Work in Short Bursts

Oftentimes, we procrastinate because the task we need to do is long or difficult. Maybe there’s a specific topic you need to work on but you know it’s going to be uninteresting or take a long time? When this happens you can overcome procrastination by just getting started and working for a short period of time. Try telling yourself “Ok, I’ll work on this for 25 minutes and when the time’s up, I can take a break or do something else”. More often than not, you’ll find that once you get through that first 25 minutes and you’ll be ready to keep going!

Try to study or practice in 20-30 minute sessions like this and take short breaks of 2 or 3 minutes between each session. This will allow you to return refreshed and ready for more. You’ll find that this makes it much easier to get started and avoid procrastination. After all, the idea of doing something for 20 or 30 minutes is much less intimidating than working for hours.

Working in short bursts not only makes getting started less intimidating; there are other benefits too. For a start, it’s much more efficient than working for long periods without a break because it allows you to give full concentration to your learning. Speaking, listening or memorising vocabulary for 2 hours with a high level of concentration just isn’t possible! However, when you learn in short sessions, you can be attentive the whole time and take a lot more in.

You’ll learn much more efficiently when you do this. Give 100% attention for 25 minutes and you can easily learn as much as you would if you worked at 50 or 60% for an hour or more.

#3 Know Why You’re Learning a Language

Why are you learning a language? What's your motivation?

Another reason we tend to procrastinate is that we’re not motivated or interested in what we need to do. This is one of the most common reasons that language learners procrastinate. It’s easy to find the motivation to practice when you’ve just started a new language, but soon you forget why you wanted to learn the language in the first place and you don’t feel motivated to continue. When this happens, what can you do to keep yourself going?

You need to know why you’re learning a language and remind yourself of that regularly. If your motivation is strong, it will be easier to sit down and practice even if you’re not in the mood for it. Our motivation reminds us that the sacrifices we make in the short-term are not in vain. There’s actually a bigger reason why we’re doing what we’re doing. Language learning is a great example of this because it has lots of ups and downs. There will be moments when you feel discouraged and that’s when you really need to remind yourself of why you’re putting in all this hard work.

Write down the reasons why you want to learn a language and make sure you can easily find that list whenever you need it. You could print it out and pin it to the wall above your desk, or save it to your computer desktop. Just make sure it’s easy to find for when you need a burst of motivation to overcome your procrastination.

#4 Find an Accountability Partner

Language learning has lots of ups and downs, especially if you’re learning alone. That’s why having someone to share the journey with is a huge help. If you find yourself struggling to maintain your motivation or get things done, teaming up with someone else who’s learning a language is a great idea.

Nothing helps more with procrastination than knowing that someone else is depending on you. When you’re learning alone, it’s easy to skip days or procrastinate – no one knows but you! But when you’re committed to a learning routine and someone else is expecting you do it, it becomes much harder to put it off!

Are you really going to want to have to admit to someone that you didn’t live up to the plans you set for yourself?

#5 Make a Plan and Write it Down

Procrastination can strike at any time, but it’s much easier to overcome if you know what you’re supposed to be doing. If you simply have a block of time you’ve assigned as ‘practice English’ or ‘practice Spanish’, you’re more likely to procrastinate than if you have a clear plan.

Sit down once a week and decide what topics you need to focus on to improve your fluency. Make a plan for how you’ll tackle these topics and write down the actions you need to take each day to achieve your goals.

This way, when it’s time to practice your language, you’ll know exactly what you need to be working on. You can just sit down and get started. That’s a lot easier than thinking ‘hmm, ok, what should I work on today?’

#6 Set specific, time-sensitive goals

One of the best ways to beat procrastination is to add a sense of urgency to what you need to do. In university, did you ever procrastinate writing a paper for weeks and weeks, then suddenly manage to write the whole thing the day before the deadline?

When we don’t have a deadline or timeframe, we don’t feel compelled to do things urgently and we ending up putting them off. ‘I’ll do it later’ turns into ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ and before you know it weeks have passed.

Setting goals with clear deadlines can spur you into action so procrastination doesn’t become a problem. Setting short-term weekly goals can be a great way to apply this trick.

Goal-setting is also closely linked to knowing your motivation and having a plan. If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, you’re going to waste a lot of time. Unless you have clear goals, you won’t know what to learn and you won’t be motivated to get started! If you know what your goals are and what you need to do to achieve them, it’s much easier to take action.

#7 Find the right learning environment

Find the right language learning environment

Minimise distractions and interruptions. Nothing disrupts concentration and creates procrastination faster than a bad learning environment. Everyone’s different and my idea of the perfect learning situation might not be the same as yours; some people like silence, some prefer music in the background. Figure out what works best for you and stick to it.

Silence your phone or consider leaving it in another room while you practice and avoid social media at all costs. Social media can have a role in language learning but you need to know when to use it. Sitting down for your core language learning practice time with a facebook tab open is not going to end well … Instead, try to use social media as an ‘extra’ learning tool for some bonus immersion outside of your core learning time – for example, when you’re on the way to work or killing a few minutes at lunchtime.

#8 Know Your Weaknesses

What are the things that are most distracting for you? What’s your personal vice that you know will distract you from your language learning? Think about your weakness and take action to prevent them from getting in the way of your language practice.

For example, if you know that youtube tends to lead you down a rabbit-hole of one pointless, distracting video after another, don’t use youtube as part of your core language learning time. Focus on choosing learning resources and situations that help you to get the most out of the time you spend learning the language.

#9 Learn First, Reward Yourself Later

Another way overcome procrastination is to make a deal with yourself: 30 minutes of focused learning, followed by small reward or a break.

This trick can work really well but just remember … if you’re tempted to ‘treat’ yourself, do it after your language learning practice, not before. Use it as a reward. For example, if you’re compelled to watch silly youtube videos or play a game of Angry Birds, do it afterwards. It’s very easy to convince yourself ‘just one more video’ or ‘just one more level’ before you get started. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap because it tends to spiral and all of a sudden half an hour has gone by. Keep the rewards for after you’ve completed 20 or 30 minutes of learning.

Research shows that the ability to delay gratification is one of the strongest indicators of success and productivity. If you learn to delay the rewards until after the work is done, you’ll get more done and consequently make more progress.

#10 Build Good Learning Habits

As I mentioned earlier in point #3, knowing your motivation really helps you to beat procrastination. But in the long-term, motivation alone isn’t enough. There are bound to be days when you just can’t get yourself motivated and that’s why you need to turn practising your target language into a habit.

Habits are actions that our brains have learned to do automatically because we’ve repeated them consistently over a period of time. Imagine how much more you would learn if you could simply sit down each day and spend some time studying without having to fight procrastination constantly?

#11 Practice at the Same Time Every Day

The easiest way to turn language learning into a habit and ensure your make consistent progress is to practice at the same time every day.

If your practice schedule is unpredictable, you’ll miss days and skip practice sessions. By studying at the same time each day, you can guarantee yourself some learning time no matter how busy your schedule gets. Personally, I like to do my learning first thing in the morning because this means that my language learning is never affected by my daily schedule.

#12 Use Materials You Enjoy

If you’re using a boring, grammar-heavy textbook or other inspiring materials, you’re probably not going to be very motivated to practice are you?

To avoid procrastination you need to build excitement about learning and a great way to do this is to use resources that make you want to practice.

Before you start, it’s worth taking a little bit of time to find resources that are high-quality and that you really like. At the end of the day, any resource is only as good as the time you spend using it. You can have the greatest book or app in the world, but if you never use it you won’t learn anything. Find something that motivates you to practice and you’re much less likely to procrastinate.

#13 Book lessons or organise a language exchange

Language lessons and language exchanges

In point #4, we saw how having an accountability partner can help you beat procrastination. Another great way to add accountability to your learning is to schedule a lesson or organise a language exchange.


After you’ve booked a lesson and paid for it, you’ve made a commitment to practice. Your tutor is expecting you to show up and you’re hardly going to cancel without an excuse, are you? A great way to beat procrastination before it even starts is to schedule all of your lessons for the coming weeks in advance. This way you not only guarantee yourself a few hours of speaking practice, but you give yourself some extra motivation to practice between classes.

The same logic applies to language exchanges. Once you have a language exchange scheduled, you have to show up. Someone else is depending on you and procrastination is not an option. Sometimes this can be the little push you need to make sure you practice.

#14 Just get started!

No matter how small or insignificant, just do something to take that first step in your language practice. It could be something as simple as opening a book from where you left off or turning on your mp3 player to get some lesson audio. Just get started, take the first step and you’ll be surprised how much easier the second one is.

Need to motivate yourself to overcome your procrastination? Download your free personal motivation worksheet and get started right away. Seriously, don’t procrastinate on this – get started!

James Granahan

I'm a language acquisition expert and mindset-oriented learner. I love to learn new skills and push myself out of my comfort zone. I'm passionate about online business, travel and languages. Access the FREE e-course '5 Steps to Revolutionize the Way You Learn English for Business': http://goo.gl/IFTkWl

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