Have you ever felt exhausted, tired, unmotivated, and negative towards your work or language learning journey? If so, you may have experience “burnout.” Today, let’s learn about the different types of burnout, why they are bad for language learners, and how to avoid suffering from them while studying English!

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Studying a language is a long process. For most people, it takes years to reach the desired level of fluency or language ability. Sometimes progress can seem quick and impressive; other times progress is painfully slow or non-existent.

Recently, I have been waking up one hour earlier than usual – and using my extra hour to study Japanese. For months, maybe years, I have been telling you guys (my listeners) how important it is to study consistently and regularly – how you need to have a study schedule and plan to make real progress.

Language learning is not always easy… Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But while I’ve been advising everyone to do this… I haven’t really followed my own advice. I took a few Japanese classes a couple of months ago, but I never kept a regular study schedule for myself. I told myself that I would study when I had time – but I never had time… there was always something else to do. Now, I’m changing and studying for an hour every morning.

I’ve heard from some of you that have a similar study schedule to mine. And I know many of you study a lot more than I do – I’m sure there are English learners out there studying for 2 or 3 hours a day. Reading English books, studying vocabulary, listening to Thinking in English, taking online classes, and taking practice tests as often as possible.

And while this is great – an excellent way to improve your English and language skills – there is a risk that comes with studying so hard and so often. That risk is known as “burnout.”

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What is Burnout?

There are a few different types of burnout, but in general burnout is “a state of physical and emotional exhaustion.” There are a variety of different causes of burnout (which I’ll talk about in a minute), but it is most often associated with stress, busy work schedule, and physical or emotional exhaustion.

Many of you work full time jobs, with busy careers and stressful days. You also have families and friends who you need to dedicate time with. And perhaps hobbies or activities you also want to spend time doing. And then, in addition, you need to find time to study English as often as possible.

The consequence of this can be burnout – or exhaustion. I’ve definitely experienced burnout over the last few months – working my day job, writing the podcasts and launching the Patreon, teaching English in the evenings, studying Japanese, and trying to keep my social life.

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com

I’ve been doing too much. And the result is that I feel often feel tired. I constantly doubt myself – or tell myself that I’m unsuccessful, bad at what I do, and there’s no point studying Japanese or working on the podcast anymore. I procrastinate too much… and I often feel overwhelmed. All of these are symptoms of burnout.

Burnout not only makes it hard to motivate yourself and keep studying – but it can have long term negative impacts on your ability to learn English. Negativity, lack of motivation, and exhaustion make it unenjoyable or even impossible to study.

So, today I want to introduce a few different types of burnout to you, and give you all some tips on how to avoid and prevent such burnout in the future! And I should probably mention the Harvard Business Review article which has inspired this episode – I’ll put a link on the blog/transcript.

Three Types of Burnout

Overload Burnout

The first type of burnout, overload burnout, is also the most common and well-known type. Overload burnout occurs when you keep working harder and harder, with more intensity, in order to achieve success. Perhaps you work incredibly hard and long days in your career, and then spend most of your free time doing housework or studying English – and you don’t properly take a rest or break.

This type of burnout can have negative consequences for your physical and mental health. It usually happens to the most dedicated and hardworking people – who work and study at an unsustainable or unhealthy pace. Many people feel they need to work harder and harder to achieve their goals – but this can have negative consequences.

Overload burnout? Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

How do you know if you have overload burnout? You forget about your health or personal life, and instead focus exclusively on achieving success – working hard at your job and studying languages. And you spend more time than is healthy working or studying.

How can you prevent or avoid this kind of burnout? Well, you need to realise that overwork and overstudy can have a negative impact on your achievements. A few years ago, I was studying Japanese for 1 or 2 hours every day. I wasn’t learning as fast as I wanted, so I started studying more and more – but this did not have the effect I expected. I thought I would quickly improve, but in reality, I just became more tired and confused.

There is a saying in English – “quality over quantity.” 1 hour of quality study or work is probably better than 4 hours of exhausted work or study. Rest is necessary for success – and studying or working with a fresh and healthy brain is important.

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Under-Challenged Burnout

Next up is under-challenged burnout. Although this is less common for language learners, I know a few people who have suffered from this while taking language classes.

Burnout doesn’t just occur from overwork, but also from underwork – from not doing enough or not being challenged enough. When you are bored, not challenged, and unstimulated by your work. In your career, this burnout can occur when you feel like your tasks are repetitive or too easy and comes from a feeling that your bosses don’t understand or appreciate your talents.

Under-challenged? Photo by Mizuno K on Pexels.com

Under-challenged burnout can also occur in language learning. I have taken classes in both Japanese and Chinese at universities. When I was taking a beginner’s Chinese class a few years ago, there was a student who had been studying for about a year already – but he took the beginners class because he felt it would be good to review the content. We were studying in Taiwan and had 4 hours of classes in the morning 5 days a week.

The problem for this student was that he knew everything already. While the teacher told him to move to a more advanced class during the first week, he refused as he thought he needed to review the basics. So every day, for 3 months, he had to sit and learn beginners Chinese. And quickly he became bored with the classes and frustrated that the other classmates were a much lower level.

This under-challenged burnout can make you lose your passion or interest in work or study – and you can start procrastinating or avoiding work. I know a lot of students and English learners who don’t challenge themselves enough – who don’t try to learn new things or improve their language. Instead, they keep reviewing the same content over and over again. Eventually, they get bored of English, feel unstimulated, and often stop studying.

How can you address this kind of burnout? The key is to give yourself a challenge – make sure you are using new, fun, and challenging material to study English. Don’t keep using the same thing year after year – use fresh material.

When I was studying for a Japanese proficiency test a few months ago, I realised that I had already answered every single test question in my textbook… it was no longer challenging. Studying from the book became boring and a little easy, so I bought another textbook to make sure I was still learning!

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Neglect Burnout

The final type of burnout I’m going to introduce is neglect burnout or worn-out burnout. This type of burnout often occurs when you feel helpless – you don’t know what to do or how to achieve your goals.

I have talked about this a little before – during the episode on motivation I talked about how you need to control your own actions in order to stay motivated. Feeling as though other people or outside things control your life makes it really hard to stay motivated.

Neglect burnout can be similar. At work, neglect burnout often occurs when you are not given enough structure or guidance. In this situation, people struggle to keep up with their work or meet expectations, and thus feel incompetent or frustrated.

For English learners with this type of burnout, the neglect is a kind of self-neglect. And this is certainly a type of burnout I’ve faced before. For example, for a long time I had no structure or plan on how to study. I had a goal – improve my Japanese and pass a test. But I had no idea how to achieve this. I felt helpless and did not know the best way to study.

And this can lead to burnout. Eventually, you can develop something called learned helplessness – where you always feel helpless even if you are not. Even if there is an easy solution or method to achieve your goals, people with this type of burnout struggle to find them.

People with neglect burnout tend to become passive and stop trying – after all, what is the point of studying English or working hard if you think you will never improve or achieve your goals?

The solution to this burnout is the same as the solution for being unmotivated – take control over your own learning. Control what you study and how you study – and make a schedule or plan which leads directly to your goal. If you want to take the IELTs exam, make a study plan based on passing IELTS. If you want to improve your spoken English, make a study plan based on speaking!

Final Thought

Burnout with language learning is something that is often not discussed. But I think it is essential that you all take steps to avoid and prevent such things – recognise the signs of burnout and adjust your studying, schedule, and life so that you stay motivated and healthy.

The key is to keep English learning challenging, enjoyable, and manageable. You need to find that perfect zone – don’t work too much, but at the same time don’t work too little. Everyone is different – some people have the time and energy to study for 3 hours a day… other people might only be able cope with 30 minutes.

Understanding your own limitations is an important tip in both language learning and life in general. And if you do suffer from burnout – make sure to rest, recover, and remember what motivated you to study English in the first place!

Have you ever suffered from burnout before? In language learning or in life in general? How did you deal with burnout? Do you have any tips for other listeners on how to keep the right balance between work, study, and personal life?

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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