Need motivation? Try taking a test

After the initial novelty of learning a new language wears off, you might find yourself opening your textbooks fewer times than you used to, or not maintaining your daily streak on Duolingo. It happens to even the most dedicated language learners. When learning a language, you soar to plateaus and plummet to depths (or hit brick walls) as you progress. The language slowly starts to show itself to you, and sometimes it makes sense, other times it doesn’t. It is in those times when it doesn’t make sense, when you come up against the wall, that your motivation can start to waver.

You need something to pull you through those tough times. For me, having a clear goal helps. When I learn languages, I make passing tests my goal. Of course, there is the argument that studying for a test will result in you studying to the test, at the expense of other areas of language not tested, but I have found that, at the lower levels anyway, the language elements which are tested are essential to mastering the language.

Most languages have tests for non-native speakers. In Japan, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is the most well-known. When I studied Japanese, it was the goal of getting 1st grade that got me through the tough times. That was 16 years ago. Once I passed that, I started to study Chinese. However, I didn’t aim to take a test. I remain at the elementary level after all these years, during which I have opened and closed my textbooks numerous times. Now, I’ve decided to take 3rd grade (intermediate level) on the HSK, and I am studying every day. I also want to master Korean and French, and plan to take tests in those languages too.

The added benefit of taking a test is that you get a qualification. JLPT 1 is required by many companies for positions in Japan in which you need an excellent command of Japanese. Getting the qualification opened up the world of translation to me. In the early days, I doubt many companies would have hired me without it. Some even specified it as a requirement in their job postings.

If you are trying to learn a language, and finding it hard to motivate yourself to open your textbooks or learning apps, set yourself a goal. Take a test, and get yourself a qualification to bolster your CV in the process.

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