Like most college students with schedules dominated by numerous courses and weekly meetings, I’m not immune to occasional bouts of burnout. In fact, after taking two winter session courses in January, academic fatigue arrived just in time for the beginning of my spring semester classes.
Dealing with academic burnout is difficult for a number of reasons, but there are some tricks from language learning that, in my experience, help train your brain to overcome the challenge and persevere.
Anyone who voluntarily studies foreign languages can tell you that it’s not all smooth sailing through new vocabulary and advancing grammar constructions. There’s an added motivation factor that comes with practicing your target language outside of class, in addition to your homework assignments, and over lengthy school breaks.
A lack of motivation to practice my languages was never a problem for me when the excitement of first learning was fresh or when I was in immersive environments where the language itself was inescapable. However, when the honeymoon phase is over and studying, reviewing, and memorization become daily requirements, that continuous linguistic curiosity starts to diminish.
I often experience this during school breaks when lacking the structure my classes provide each semester starts to take a toll on my ability to schedule a balance between three different languages each day. I’ll start with blocking off specific times for each, and then over the course of a few weeks, it is a rarity if I get to all of them in a day.
Language learning burnout is well documented by language learners in all contexts, whether they’re majoring, minoring, or learning in their free time. Most other fields of study do not require daily regimens to maintain a level of comprehension, though I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt.
In order to overcome burnout in language learning last year, I first had to take a step back and reexamine my initial interest in each of the languages. Reminding yourself why what you’re working on is important to you is an important step in combating fatigue and burnout. Find a way to reconnect with that excitement you felt at the beginning, whether that was back when you first decided your course of study or at the start of the semester when you were looking forward to your classes.
For me, this could mean everything from picking up a short story my honors French professor recommended to watching Sotto il sole di Riccione, my favorite Italian film on Netflix, to listening to a German political podcast and wishing I understood everything the hosts are saying. The point is to put myself in low stress situations where the target language is necessary and then allowing that to inspire and motivate me.
From the perspective of academic burnout, it could help to reexamine what it was that made you intellectually curious about a subject or class in the first place. Even breadth requirements are chosen because something about the topic generally interests the student, and reconnecting with whatever that was can go a long way in getting reinvested.
The best part about this is that you can tailor your burnout-combatting activities to your own tastes. Whether you prefer watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, reading books or articles, or something else, you can find a number of different places where information from your courses has been practically applied.
The next step is finding the perfect place to reconnect with your academics. Go sit outside on a sunny afternoon or curl up on your couch in sweatpants—whatever makes you feel the most relaxed! It’s important that you don’t feel like an experience or activity is being forced on you. Instead, take a deep breath, get comfortable, and tell burnout goodbye.
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