Why Learning Languages Seems So Darn Hard
Many things might stand in your way when you learn a foreign language, but most of them are only in your mind.
Many people love studying a foreign language but too few seem to see the journey to fluency all the way through. It’s a common struggle for everyone attempting to master a foreign language.
Looking at the reasons why this might be the case, it seems like the biggest, and most common, problems rarely stem from practical or methodological reasons. Rather, the inability to master a language is rooted mostly in psychology and motivation.
Barrier 1: Motivation Matters
For starters, it is important to know exactly why you want to learn a new language. If you are inspired enough to spend hours practicing the language every day, year after year, the reasons for doing so should be easily stated and important enough to keep you on track anytime you feel doubtful or discouraged.
Sometimes, people often fail to appreciate the real value of learning a foreign language, which in turn decreases their motivation. This is mainly because they lose sight of the final goal. If there is not a defined goal in mind to drive progress forward, try to visualize and construct one.
Put some effort into really understanding why learning a new language matters to you. Finally, relate the end goal to a specific mental image which creates positive associations.
Barrier 2: “I Don’t Have the Language Talent“
Many new students begin with considerable self-doubt. It is easy to assume that a huge undertaking, such as mastering a language, requires talent. This is, however, incredibly far from the truth. Almost everyone learns at least one mother tongue with very little effort.
Take comfort in the fact that language acquisition is an innate human trait. Language talent is therefore universal, but requires regularly intense stimulation to produce fluency. Polyglots, speakers of several language, simply devote the time and attention necessary to reach their goals.
Barrier 3: Trapped in False Promises
Whoever claims that learning a language can happen overnight is using, to put it mildly, marketing gimmicks. Learning a language is a long process and although guarantees to “learn a language in two weeks”or “master Chinese in 10 days” may sound tempting, they are far from realistic.
When starting to learn a language, try to accept the fact that this is a long journey that will take many years. Whether or not that journey is a pleasant one depends only on the attitude of the learner.
If the idea of mastering skills that will allow for the free and easy communication with foreign nations, the ability to work overseas, the privilege of reading books in their original language, and the enjoyment of broader cultural horizons is not motivating enough, then revisit the question, “Why do I want to study this language?”
Barrier 4: The Linguistic Environment
One of the most exciting ways to learn a new language is to move to a new place and live among native speakers. However, some people overestimate the benefits of cultural immersion when it comes to absolute beginners. The linguistic milieu is not a magical lake in which a new learner can swim effortlessly and then exit empowered with limitless knowledge.
If planning to study abroad and intending to travel without initial linguistic preparation, recognize the fact that not very much is immediately helpful when picking up bits of the natives’ speech. Consequently, language acquisition can ossify.
Only after mastering basic grammatical rules, grasping the intricacies of pronunciation, and working through the most challenging linguistic particularities can anyone confidently appreciate the idiomatic beauty and true value of the new environment.
Barrier 5: I Just Need the Basics
Go out in the street and listen to the people. Do they only use a couple of phrases? Most likely they do not. If they did, the world would be quite a boring place.
Luckily, everyday speech is “coloured” with the hues of popular culture, flecked with jokes, and studded with puns, irony and quotes. This is not to mention the pervasive social and cultural references that have little to do with language, as well as the intonation. Take any of our Language Level Tests and it become obvious it takes more than a small vocabulary of common words to reliably and meaningfully communicate.
Barrier 6: The Wrong Material
Learning a language has a lot to do with choosing the right methodology. But a great deal of success depends upon picking the right material. Using boring, lifeless texts can spoil expectations and destroy motivation.
If the material is exciting, engaging, and sensible, it is easy to pick up many stock phrases and idioms that are useful in everyday conversations, thus facilitating a decent start of correct communication.
Barrier 7: Stress
Many people are so self-conscious when they speak in a foreign language that, despite their knowledge, they don’t dare to utter a word lest they should make a mistake. This makes them hesitate and sound insecure; if faced with an eloquent speaker, they are struck dumb. All of this can be traced back to stress.
Break this barrier by finding a stress-free course that permits mistakes without repercussion. Be brave and experiment. Use the new language as often as possible, through either reading or listening. Find an enjoyable activity, like rewriting passages of favourite texts, or chatting with native speakers online. Just choose the methods that best suit your character, speed of learning, and skills. The less stress, the better.
What are the barriers you’re facing as you try to learn a new language? Contact Us and let us know what the language of your dream is, and we’ll help you dominate any obstacles in your way. If you already know a bit of a foreign language, and want to gauge your current skill level, take one of our free online language level tests!