What is the difference between language learning and a rollercoaster ride?
Both have highs and lows, triumphs and tribulations all time long. That’s why we came up with the idea of revealing how linguists and polyglots beat the hurdles of this journey.
When you start feeling like you’re mastering a new language – BOOM! – that’s when you encounter tongue-twisting pronunciation or grammar rules that seem to change with the weather…
In this article, we’re really dishing out several juicy tips to help you untangle those knotty language learning challenges – scroll down now!
- The motivation game
Before we even dive into the linguistic maze, let’s address the elephant in the room – motivation. Learning a new language requires a great deal of it.
See the case of John: he was thrilled to start learning French and eagerly subscribed to an online language course. After a few weeks, though, the novelty wore off, and the hours of conjugating verbs and practicing pronunciation became a bit daunting.
When the initial excitement wanes, and the harsh reality of hours of study and practice sets in, it’s easy to get demotivated. Many learners encounter a mid-journey crisis and question if they should continue.
Well, John found himself struggling to stay motivated, and finally discovered that persistence was key to reaching his language-learning goals.
Find what motivates you. Ask yourself what you would prefer doing:
- the thrill of exploring a new culture?
- the prospect of traveling to a foreign land?
- connecting with native speakers?
Whatever it is, it’s your source of motivation – it is your lifeline. Keep it close and refer to it whenever you’re feeling the language learning blues.
- Tongue twisters and pronunciation perils
Pronunciation is often a significant challenge for language learners (we have the best tips to boost it).
Each language has its own unique sounds, intonations, and mouth movements. The way you roll your ‘R’s in Spanish is entirely different from how you tackle them in Russian. And don’t even get started on tonal languages like Mandarin, where the same word with different intonations can mean entirely different things.
Mispronunciations are bound to happen, and they’re perfectly normal. But for some, this can lead to self-consciousness and frustration.
The key to overcoming pronunciation challenges is practice:
- record yourself speaking the language
- listen attentively to native speakers (observe the movements of their mouth and tongue!)
- mimic their intonations by shadowing their speaking
You will sound silly at first – everyone does -, and you may prefer to practice alone, in your room, at first!
- Vocabulary overload
Oh, vocabulary acquisition is an upsetting, never-ending endeavor in language learning!
It’s akin to pouring water into a bucket with a hole at the bottom… You memorize words one day, only to forget them the next. As you progress, you might feel overwhelmed with the sheer volume of words you need to learn.
Marco, an Italian student, spent hours cramming new vocabulary for his Spanish class, only to find himself blanking on those very words during his next lesson. He thought that Spanish words were the same or similar to Italian words, but he was completely wrong…
As the semester went on, the list of words he needed to remember seemed never-ending, and he sometimes felt like he was drowning in a sea of unfamiliar vocabulary.
How could one acquire a strong command of such a vast vocabulary in the target language?!
Please: don’t try to learn every word in the dictionary. Focus on the most commonly used words and phrases that are relevant to your language goals. The best ways to master them are these:
- language apps
- vocabulary games and quizzes
With them, learning new words will be more engaging. Dedicate a portion of your daily routine to expanding your vocabulary and come tell us about your success!
- Grammar gremlins
Every language has its own unique grammar rules, and some of them can be bewildering.
Navigating a sea of verb conjugations, tenses, and gendered nouns can be challenging.
For example, in French, nouns have genders (masculine or feminine), which can seem arbitrary and confusing to non-native speakers.
To tackle grammar gremlins, it’s crucial to understand the fundamental rules of the language you’re learning – practice, practice, practice!
- engage in conversation
- read books
- take on writing exercises and short compositions
- exchange written messages with partners
And be prepared to make mistakes – they’re valuable stepping stones to language mastery.
- Cultural context
Language and culture go hand in hand, as we always note. Learning a language means immersing yourself in the culture it represents. While this can be a fantastic aspect of language learning, it also poses its own set of challenges.
Understanding cultural nuances, idioms, and unspoken rules can be a daunting task. For instance, when Maria moved from Brazil to Japan, she quickly realized that the polite way to decline an offer in Japan was to say ‘I’ll consider it’ rather than outright saying ‘no.’
These subtle cultural differences often catch us off guard and make our cultural integration a bit more complex than we could anticipate.
To overcome these challenges, dive deep into the culture surrounding your target language.
- read books
- read news
- watch films and documentaries
- interact with native speakers who can provide valuable insights into the cultural context.
Remember that making cultural faux pas is part of the learning process, and most people appreciate the effort put into understanding their culture.
- Time and patience
One of the most underestimated language learning challenges is the element of time.
Learning a new language is a marathon, not a sprint. You won’t become fluent overnight (don’t believe those that say you will!), and the road can feel discouragingly long.
In fact, over half the folks trying to learn a new language end up quitting because they can’t stick with it for very long.
Take, for instance, the Finnish Yannic, who was determined to learn Italian. He started with enthusiasm, but as the months passed, he found it difficult to maintain a consistent study routine. He had believed he would be able to speak Italian within a few months, but it didn’t turn out that way, and he began to feel discouraged.
How can language learners maintain their commitment, until they master the target language, whenever it happens?
To maintain your sanity and motivation…
- be patient with yourself
- set realistic goals
- celebrate small victories along the way.
Embrace the journey as well as the destination: it’s not just about reaching it – it’s about the experience of getting there.
- Fear of speaking
You might get good at speaking the language when you’re alone or with a teacher, but… you’re definitely going to feel nervous when talking to a native for the first time!
A significant hurdle for language learners is this fear of speaking. It’s normal but can paralyze your progress and prevent you from reaching your language goals.
Take, for instance, Yuki, who was learning French. He was so worried about making mistakes that he rarely spoke in class or with native speakers, even by apps!
As a result, his progress in speaking the language was much slower than his progress in reading and writing. Yes, this fear can hold learners back from fully mastering a language.
The best way to overcome this challenge is to face it head-on.
- start speaking the language from day one
- seek out conversation partners or language exchange programs
And don’t be afraid to make mistakes – they can even be friendly to the natives. Brazilians are a good example: they are known for being fond of helping Portuguese learners overcome pronunciation challenges!
Making mistakes is an essential part of the learning process, and that will lead to growth.
- Plateaus and burnout
Learning a language can be a long and winding road with plateaus where you feel like you’re not making any progress. Few people discuss the challenge of plateaus, which can be so disheartening and can lead to burnout… you may even question whether the effort is worth it.
Yes, it is!
To overcome plateaus and avoid burnout, mix things up:
- try different learning methods
- immerse yourself in the media in your target language
- take a short break if needed
Often, a small change in your approach can reignite your motivation and help you break through plateaus.
- The comparison game
Comparing yourself to other language learners is just demotivating. Everyone’s language journey is unique, and progress varies from person to person.
When you see someone who appears to be learning faster or speaking more fluently, it’s easy to feel discouraged. And don’t say you are too old to master a new language!
When you see someone like Alice, who appears to be learning Arabic faster and speaking more fluently than you, it’s easy to feel discouraged. Alice has been in an Arab country for just a short time, and she’s already engaging in conversations with native speakers effortlessly.
Meanwhile, you’ve been studying the language for a year and still find it challenging to communicate!
Too discouraging, isn’t it?
Focus on your own progress and goals.
Don’t measure your success against others. Remember that every step you take is a step forward, and there’s no finish line in language learning.
Take a moment to reflect on what you’ve learned after each lesson (or each week).
Celebrate your own accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem – discipline is more important than talent!
- Technology and language learning
Some language learning apps, online courses, and resources are readily available, and offer amazing benefits, but it doesn’t mean they are all you need.
One common challenge is overreliance on technology. While language apps are a convenient way to practice, they should not replace real conversation and interaction with native speakers.
Just balance technology with real-world immersion.
The good news is that some apps can replace real conversation – the Speaky app is one of them, connecting you with live partners!
- Life gets in the way
In the midst of our busy lives, it’s easy to let language learning take a back seat.
Work, family, and other commitments can often overshadow your language learning goals.
For instance, Elizabeth was passionate about improving her Spanish, but her demanding job and family responsibilities left her with little time and energy to study. As a result, her language learning progress slowed down, and she ended up postponing her studies for an uncertain future…
Life’s demands can sometimes get in the way of our language aspirations.
To tackle this challenge, it’s important to integrate language learning into your daily routine, while..
- doing household chores
- during breaks at work
- while rocking the baby
- preparing the Sunday dinner
All the virtual resources and apps make it perfectly possible!
Keep your phone with you everywhere you go, so consistency will be guaranteed. By the way, we acquire our own native language while living our daily lives!
- Language chat drought
Have you been practicing your target language every day?
It’s clear that not having many chances to chat in a foreign language every day can totally throw you off, right?
But don’t sweat it! There are some cool ways to fix this!
Internet resources can do miracles in your life:
- watch foreign flicks
- jam to podcasts
- hit up language exchange groups to really get those convos going.
Language apps and online hangouts are also super helpful: you can have many partners to chat with on a daily basis! Much cheaper than living abroad, eh 😉 ?!
We insist: don’t miss out on any chance to chat, and you’ll be nailing that new language in no time!
Conclusion (the sweet taste of victory)
Despite all the challenges and hurdles, the taste of victory in language learning is incredibly sweet. We promise: the moment you have your first conversation through the Speaky app in your target language – wow! – is a euphoric experience.
The challenges you face along the way make these victories all the more rewarding.