24 Unorthodox Ways To Stick To Your English Learning Goals in 2024

Published on
January 5, 2024
Updated on
January 4, 2024
min read
This article may contain affiliate links
Written by
Alastair Budge

Learning English is hard, and one of the hardest things about it is staying motivated. Here are 24 ways that you can stay motivated and hit your goals in 2024.

24 Unorthodox Ways To Stick To Your English Learning Goals in 2024
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It’s the start of a new year. You’ve probably started this year with great ambitions: lose 5kg, run a 10km race, get a new job, train a pair of prize-winning racing pigeons...

If you’re reading this, you might even have a goal related to improving your English:

  • Get my B2 certification
  • Get a 7.5 on the IELTS speaking
  • Watch a film in English without subtitles

You already know that the best way of achieving these goals is by putting in the effort every day (or most days). 

But what normally happens is a little bit like my resolution last year to run every day:

  • January 1st: 6km
  • January 2nd: 6.5km
  • January 3rd: 4km
  • January 4th: 0km (it was raining)
  • January 5th: 4km (a quick one because my son needs a bath)
  • January 6th: 0km (raining again)
  • January 7th: 0km (no time because had urgent work to finish)
  • January 8th: 0km (I played squash instead, that counts, right?)
  • January 9th: 0km & goal abandoned (“I’ll just run whenever I have time”)

The extra trouble with learning English is that it can feel like you aren’t making progress. 

At least if you go for a run or you are trying to lose weight, you can feel the endorphins flowing or you can look at the scales and see the number going down.

Learning English doesn’t have quite the same satisfying numerical way of tracking your progress, so it’s easy to give up.

With that in mind, here are 24 tips for you to stick to your English learning goals in 2024.

1. Write the goal down (and put it somewhere you’ll see it)

It’s the first tip, you probably know it already, but you are 42% more likely to achieve your goal if you write it down. 

So think hard about what it is you want to achieve, pick up a pen, and write it down

Make the goal “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound). For example, “I want to have a 15-minute conversation with my son-in-law by Christmas next year” (good!), not “I want to get better at English” (bad!)

But don’t just write this goal down and put it in a drawer somewhere. Put it on a post-it and put it on your fridge or next to your desk. Add it to your phone’s wallpaper. Make sure you see it every day.

2. Tell (+ email) 5 people your goal

This is related to the first one. Tell 5 different people your goal. My advice is to follow it up with an email and remind yourself about that email in 12 months’ time.

Writing something down makes it more permanent, and telling people about it means that they are more likely to ask you, and you are more likely to keep doing it.

After all, you don’t want to hear someone saying “Oh no, Walter, you sounded so enthusiastic back in January, it’s a shame you stopped doing it”.

3. Give yourself a financial penalty

Like it or loathe it, money can be a powerful incentive. Instead of telling yourself that you’ll reward yourself with something if you complete the goal, give yourself a financial punishment if you miss it.

It doesn’t have to be a big one, it can be something as simple as “if I don’t practise English five times a week, I have to buy coffee for all my team”.

Or if you want to be even more extreme, make a rule that every time you miss a scheduled English learning activity, you need to donate money to a political party or organisation that you disagree with…

4. Pay for it

Think of all of the things that you use “for free”, and the things that you have paid to use. You probably use the things you pay for much more often and efficiently than the things that you use “for free”, right?

Learning is exactly the same. At Leonardo English (after 4 years of operations) our data suggests that paying members use our resources much more frequently and achieve much better results than those who don’t. 

Whatever type of resources you use, actually paying for them is a very powerful incentive to start using them.

5. Make it podcast-related

OK, we’re a little biassed here, but English podcasts can be incredibly flexible and helpful when it comes to keeping up a learning habit. 

Think about it - you can listen to a podcast episode on your headphones on the way to work, the next day you can listen to another one at home and practise shadowing, and the next day you can listen to another one and try to write down a summary. 3 days, 3 different activities, 3 different skills developed. 

And in case you haven’t seen it, we have a big list of different podcast-related learning activities you can do here.

6. Make a plan & mix it up

But don’t just stick with podcasts. Read books, watch YouTube videos, and keep a journal (more on that below).

Variety is the spice of life, and it is certainly a powerful factor in staying motivated.

7. Don’t be afraid to change

If you’ve made a plan, it can be tempting to stick to it just because you have made it and think you should never change.

This is a mistake. Yes, make a plan (for the next 30 days), incorporate plenty of variety, but don’t be afraid to change the activities if you find that you enjoy some more than others.

After all, there is nothing less motivating than repeating an activity just because you planned it. Instead, swap it for something you know you’ll find more enjoyable and interesting.

8. Set themed weeks

To go one step further, you can give each week a theme. For example, British comedies, The news, Speaking week, Writing week, World War II week…it really doesn’t matter. Choose themes that are interesting to you, or areas of language that you would like to work on. 

This has the double advantage of keeping you focussed and deepening your understanding of a particular topic AND meaning you don’t have to think about what you’re going to learn.

9. Find an accountability partner

Do you have a friend, colleague or family member who is at a similar level to you and wants to take on this challenge with you?

Great, make them your “accountability partner”. 

You decide how you’d like to manage this, but this can be as simple as messaging each other every week saying what you are going to do this week and what you achieved last week.

If you want to take it one step further, you can include daily or weekly conversation practice, study sessions over Zoom, or even discussions about podcast episodes.

10. Do it “in public”

If you don’t have an accountability partner, how about “the internet”?

Communities like those found on Reddit (r/EnglishLearning)and Twitter/X (#langtwt) can be really powerful. Introduce yourself, post daily, and you will be surprised by how much support and motivation you receive from friendly strangers on the internet.

11. Don’t make it digital

Smartphones, note-taking apps and digital products can be wonderfully helpful for language learning, but lots of people get distracted by trying to create fancy systems for tracking their habits and creating plans.

Here’s one unorthodox approach to avoiding this distraction: pick up a pen and paper. 

Keep your planning analogue, on the wall or at least where you can see it, and don’t get distracted by creating systems. Dwight Eisenhower commanded the American forces and became U.S. President with a very simple box “system” for prioritising decisions in his life; there’s no need for you to overcomplicate your language learning habits.

12. Use Post-its

And on the subject of keeping things “analogue”, buy a stack of Post-its. Write down unknown and useful words or phrases, write down your “to-do” activity for that day, and remove the Post-it when it is complete. 

Post-its are your friend.

13. Celebrate your success(es)

Keeping up a habit is really hard, so when you manage to do something for a while, you deserve a pat on the back. If you’ve just finished your first entire book in English, instead of thinking you need to get straight back into another learning activity, take a day off and go to the park. 

If you’ve just listened to your 100th podcast episode, tell your significant other and ask them (nicely) to make you a delicious breakfast tomorrow.

Celebrate your wins; you deserve it!

14. Sprint and rest (or continue at a steady pace…)

There are two main schools of thought when it comes to motivation and language learning:

School 1: You should “sprint and rest”, i.e. do bursts of intense activity and then have periods of rest. 

School #2: You should do a little bit every day, never too intensely, but don’t take too many long breaks from activities.

As we say in English, different strokes for different folks. In other words, people work differently. The important thing is to not mix the two - don’t think that you can sprint every day for 365 days (you can’t), and don’t think that you can do a little bit every few days and then take lots of long breaks (you won’t make much progress).

15. Make time (don’t find time)

Duh, right? We haven’t even really talked about how to include language learning in your busy schedule, but you must make time for it. 

Don’t tell yourself that you’ll find time every day after everything is done: work, housework, kids, exercise, putting the bins out, watching TV…it’s not going to happen.

Make time for it, put it in your calendar, and make sure that it does not get kicked under the carpet at the first opportunity.

16. Stop making excuses

And on a related note…it’s very easy to find excuses to miss a day. “Too much work”, “I’m too tired”, “I’ll do extra tomorrow”. 

Instead, try to think of yourself as a person who doesn’t make excuses. Eliminate yourself from the decision-making process: like brushing your teeth or having a shower, it’s something you need to do every day. 

No excuses.

17. Keep a progress journal

Imagine that you are on a long walk up a large mountain. You’ve been walking for hours, but it doesn’t look like the top of the mountain is much closer. Then you take a look behind you and see how far you’ve gone.

If you keep some kind of journal, it can be incredibly motivating to look back at it and see how much of a habit you have kept up already. You can make it complicated, but you can also make a very easy and quick (and free!) version:

Easy & quick version: Take a piece of paper, divide it into 52 rows and put a tick for every day you did an English activity. Try to have as few gaps as possible.

More advanced version: Keep a journal and write detailed notes of every English-learning activity you do, adding the duration of the activity, what you did, words or phrases you learned, and your thoughts on the activity. Keep it in English, of course.

18. Stop all “teacher influencer” social media

It might seem that an easy way to get a “quick and free” English lesson is by following a load of English “teacher influencers” on TikTok or Instagram, but these can be such a distraction. 

You’ll probably follow them on your personal account, and you’ll find that you’ll get distracted by posts from your friends or other accounts, and before you know it you are watching videos of squirrels playing table tennis or scrolling through your high school crush’s wedding pictures. 

If you are really focussed on your English, stop following these accounts.

19. Make it interesting

Without sounding like a broken record, one of the major beliefs we have at Leonardo English is that learning English should be interesting. As an English learner, you are lucky in that English is the language of the internet, there is such an abundance of content related to every interest in the world. 

So start consuming content about subjects that interest you. And again we’re biassed here, but English Learning for Curious Minds was created with exactly this in mind.

20. Ask your boss (15 mins per day)

Who says that you have to learn English outside working hours? If you sit down with your boss and tell them about this ambitious goal, and tell them that you would like a small amount of time every day (15 minutes, let’s say) to study English, you might be pleasantly surprised when they say yes.

Lock yourself into a meeting room, put yourself out of office, and do it during working hours (so you’re being paid to learn English!).

Of course, this won’t be possible for everyone, but if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

21. Teach someone else (accountability + learning)

It’s well-known that one of the best ways of learning something is by teaching it. And offering to teach someone something is a great way to stay motivated too.

Imagine this: you tell someone that you’re going to give them a 30-minute English lesson on something you’ve learned that week every Saturday at 10 am. Now you have that on your calendar, you’re unlikely to miss it (as you’ll also disappoint them), and you’ll also be reviewing everything you learned. Double win!

22. Got kids? Make an “English” day

If you have children, make one day a week an “English” day. Try to talk to them in English, watch an English movie together, and read them a bedtime story in English (perhaps not if they’re 17…).

It’s a fun family activity, it’s a way of deciding on one activity per week without thinking, and you might even learn something new from your kids.

23. No young kids and a morning person? Do it before 7 am.

If you don’t have screaming children requiring your attention at 5.30 am AND you are a morning person, here’s an easy tip: do each activity before you start your day in the morning.

Set your alarm clock 30 minutes before, go to bed 30 minutes earlier if you have to, and get in an English-learning activity before you properly “start” your day.

Not only will this mean you’ll have some quiet time with no distractions, but you should also feel motivated and happy for the rest of your day. 

If you’re feeling extra studious, you can even slot in another bit of English in the afternoon…

24. Keep a private (or public?) video diary

One of the most common complaints that learners have is that they are afraid to speak in English. Speaking in a foreign language in front of other people can be really scary, and it takes time and practice before most people are confident enough to do it.

So, step by step, practise on your own.

Try to record a video of yourself every week speaking in English. Watch it again. It will be painful at the start, but it is painful for everyone.

Do this every week, for 52 weeks. After a year your confidence and fluency will almost undoubtedly have improved dramatically. If you don’t believe me, go back and watch the first video you made.

And keep these videos private, unless you are feeling confident and you’d like to share them with the world for support and encouragement. The important thing is that you make them, not what you do with them afterwards.

So, there you go. 24 Unorthodox Ways To Stick To Your English Learning Goals in 2024. 

The good news is that you don’t need to stick to all 24 of them. 

Pick a few, keep doing them for a year, and you will have made wonderful progress.

Good luck!

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