Overcoming the Frustration of Language Learning

April 21, 2011 / by Rachel Reardon

There comes a time when you are trying to learn a foreign language that you feel you are not making any progress. You still make mistakes; you do not understand what native speakers tell you; you try to speak in the foreign language and they answer in English because they understand you are a novice and do not want to embarrass you, etc. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt that however hard you try there is still a lot to learn? Is there a point that you are utterly confused by the information that you have absorbed and do not know what is correct and what is wrong anymore? At that time you get frustrated and lose momentum; you get discouraged and you start thinking of giving up learning the language, which was maybe the dream of your life. Getting frustrated doesn’t help at all.

Language learning goes through stages or phases. At first you’re very happy and enthusiastic with your new free-time occupation. You are satisfied that you can greet, tell your name and talk a bit about yourself. And people around you start congratulating you on your progress. After that, you start working on more challenging stuff, a bit more grammar is involved too, lots of new words. Around that phase comes the frustration I’m talking about. Beyond the basics, you need to express some more complicated ideas but here your knowledge fails you. You know how to form good sentences; you have acquired a good amount of vocab; but sometimes when you try to construct a new sentence with what you know, it’s wrong because you are missing some new grammar rule or because "that’s not the way we speak." How come? How many things do you still have to learn? How many more uses do these Japanese particles have? For how long do you still have to strive?

What is the best to do at such moments? Here are some tips:

Re-define your goals: Was your goal to be proficient in a year? This can be possibly achieved if the language you are learning is related to your mother tongue or to another language you are good at or if you learn languages easily, but most of the times this may be far fetched. Language learning takes a lot of time and actually never ends because languages change. Always remember this, because we still learn new words even in our native tongue. I have a friend who teases me on a regular basis by sending me a new word every now and again. At first I thought, “That can’t be true." But then I thought that it’s only natural.

Try to improve your pronunciation: Try to sound natural. Imitate what you hear and how words and sentences are pronounced. Conquer the difficult sounds. Talk to yourself using the difficult words. Don’t worry if your housemates start thinking you have gone nuts when they see you going from room to room trying to pronounce the Arabic qaf. No native speaker will think of speaking to you in English again!

Listen to a song, watch a film, or read a book in the language you’re learning: I believe this will boost your morale. Choose something relatively easy – don't go straight to the corresponding Shakespeare – and you will see that you understand some things and you can tell more or less what is going on in a song, film, or book. You’ll see how much progress you’ve made. This will keep you motivated.

And of course, Persevere: Our mind needs time to arrange the new information. Once it does, you will experience a real breakthrough. Keep listening and learning; your mind gets all this information, but you do not realize it. When it is ready, you will be able to speak and say whatever you want.

What other tips worked for you when learning a foreign language?

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Topics: Language Learning and Culture

Rachel Reardon

Written by Rachel Reardon

Rachel works with some of the coolest marketers, designers, and writers around to help Mango look and sound its best. She loves bold colors, old books, the Montréal metro, and Star Trek. She has conflicting feelings about the Oxford comma.

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