Escape the tyranny of deadlines

Escape the tyranny of dealines on PanglossityI love deadlines. I especially like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
Douglas Adams

Setting deadlines when we’re learning another language can helpful, but it can also easily turn into yet another artificial pressure we create that commands our state of mind. This, in turn, commands our feelings about the learning process.

Having deadlines sets the pace, but if you let them overtake the process, you will not experience the fulfillment that comes with making progress.

Instead, make a commitment to show up every day, to open that workbook, to log into that app, to notice the progress bar change color. Don’t let the deadline rob you of the experience of learning.

Motivation, sustainable motivation, rarely comes from a deadline. My students come to me desperate to learn a foreign language, or to improve their language skills, because they want that promotion, that job abroad or they need to pass that exam. In other words, they have a deadline. The promotion will not be there next year, the job abroad closes applications in three weeks and the exam can only be taken twice a year.

But the students that are really successful in advancing their language skills are those who see what’s after the deadline; those who show up every lesson with their work done, with a myriad of questions, with the eagerness to learn.

The students who achieve their goals are the ones who, no matter how tight or far away the deadline is, do not put “that date” at the center of their journey.

The students who let their learning process fall under the tyranny of the deadline usually binge-memorize, forget faster and have a more superficial approach. The sad part is that they make themselves miserable in the process. Often a nervous wreck, often procrastinating, often lying to themselves about their progress.

Think about it. Which one would you rather be?

Commit to the process. Show up every day.

Image: A Canterbury Pilgrimage illustrated by Joseph Pennell and Elizabeth Robins Pennell, 1885


  1. Sarah Greesonbach

    This is so true! But so unfortunate that the average (public) classroom is focused almost entirely on deadlines and time tables. (As an English teacher, everything was timed down to the minute to get through certain units by certain dates). It’s interesting to learn that it’s a talent you can train in yourself — being passively aware of deadlines as guideposts for the real learning that occurs because of that internal motivation.

    1. Mickey

      Thanks for the comment, Sarah! I think that’s one of the main reasons why people who “learn” a foreign language in a school system end up hating it and not being able to speak it, sometimes even after years of study. As adults, they think they don’t have the “talent” to learn a language, the ability or the intelligence. That’s certainly not true. I work with adults who have a hard time believing they can learn a language, mainly because of the “regimentation” that they were subjected to as children in the in the public classroom. There are amazing teachers out there, but sometimes the system stifles even the most dedicated ones.

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