Learning a foreign language is a very long process.
Fluency in a foreign language doesn’t happen overnight, unfortunately, but it takes years and years. In most cases, it takes all your life to master a language, and actually, that process never ends.
Moreover, that process is not a linear one, it’s not that you start learning a language and can constantly go forward without looking back. Unfortunately, learning a language requires lots of patience and the willingness to go back, review some old topics, embrace the fact that you may forget things that you thought you had learned, and accept the fact learning never ends.
I have started learning English when I was 12 years old and it was love at first sight. I still keep my first English workbook as I do with all precious memories. I have always loved the English language deeply and thankfully English loved me in return because learning it has always been very easy for me.
I have studied it in middle school, high school, university, and kept on studying and practicing it constantly to this day. I practice English on a daily basis, basically, and I think I can do well in reading, writing, and listening but I have recently come to realize that my speaking skills are getting weaker and weaker every day, so much so that I am considering hiring a tutor to help me.
I have always considered myself a fluent English speaker and I have to admit that realizing such a thing was kind of frustrating to me. But it’s part of the process, we have to retrace our steps and start some things over again.
A while ago, I wrote a blog post comparing language learning to hiking. The blog post is a bit old but I haven’t changed my mind: I still believe that learning a language is like climbing a mountain: it’s tiring, takes a lot of time, but it is also extremely rewarding and makes you feel really good once you’ve reached your goal.
However, if the path is long, you may experience some frustrating times: you may feel tired, you may want to turn around and go back home, you may ask yourself why you decided to do that instead of laying on the couch, you may think you’ll never get to the top of the mountain.
And all these things happen when you are studying languages too, especially if you have been studying them for a while and lack the enthusiasm of the beginning.
So you may start feeling really tired, you may feel frustrated and think that you are dumb because you do not get that grammar rule you have been studying for weeks or because you can’t pronounce a really simple word, and you may wonder why you have started doing this in the first place. Basically, you do not have fun anymore.
Been there, done that. Being a language learner myself and working with language students every day, I have seen all these things happen. I do not have any magic potion to solve these problems but I’d like to share with you some of the things that worked for me and for my students.
So let’s see how you can get back to enjoy learning languages again.
1. Take a break
This seems like the easiest thing to do, the most obvious recommendation one could give you but do really do it? Do you really take a break when you feel tired and frustrated or just try to push harder? Many language learners think that the only way to overcome a moment of frustration is to work harder when actually the most effective thing you can do is to just take a break.
What happens if you stop studying for a week or even for a month? Do you fear that your skills disappear? They won’t, believe me. As simple as it may seem, our language abilities work best when we are relaxed and when our mind is clear, so giving ourselves a break when we feel overwhelmed is the best thing we can do for our language learning purposes.
2. Look for new resources
When we start learning a language, we experience with different resources, just to see what works best for us. After testing some of them, we start using the ones that we like the most and we tend to forget about the others. So, we easily end up using always the same resources, be them videos or podcasts or books or grammar exercises.
A nice and useful way to overcome difficult times, when we do not enjoy studying as much as we did at the beginning anymore, is to look for new resources for our language learning purposes: the research process itself can be fun and give us back our lost enthusiasm. Moreover, resources and materials we have never tried can help us review old topics, approach them from a different perspective, and look at them in a different way, maybe finally fixing them in our minds.
3. Set one small goal at a time
This is actually something that works in all areas of life when you feel overwhelmed, and it worked great for me during this past Covid19 quarantine: my productivity levels were very low, due to anxiety and fear, and I just couldn’t concentrate on my work. The only solution I could find was giving myself only a task a day, something I could accomplish easily.
This simple idea helped me to keep on working and feel satisfied with myself. You can apply this to your language learning purposes: instead of trying to improve in every area of language studies, why don’t you just focus on one thing for a while? Maybe just listening or watching video resources or focusing on a grammar topic you are still not confident with or whatever you think is good for you.
These are very basic recommendations but all of these have worked very well for me – and for some of my students too – when I felt I was going through hard times. I strongly believe that we learn a language efficiently only if we enjoy the process, so it is important to find our enthusiasm again and those tips may help you do this.