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Why is language learning an uphill struggle?

languages are hardYou sit down, exhausted. You know you should do a bit of studying, even though you really can’t face it. Have to keep at it. But you’re hungry, need to eat. There’s an email you really should reply to, you still haven’t finished the last season of Breaking Bad and you may even have some little ones in the house competing for your attention.  “It’s alright if I don’t study today, isn’t it?” you tell yourself. “It’s only for one day. And I really need to chill out. I studied for an hour the other day, so I’ve earned a rest.”

You used to be so enthusiastic. So why is it becoming such a burden?

“It’s meant to be fun,” you complain to yourself.

It’s not meant to be easy

Languages are hard. Had you forgotten? It’s not meant to be easy. If it were, and anyone could do it, would languages be so highly valued?

If it were easy, would you feel so proud of yourself when all the hard work pays off and you realise one day that you’re fluent?

Because you will get there.

You will become fluent because you have a goal. The day that you decided to learn a language, you had a vision of what it would be like when you could speak it fluently. You imagined yourself speaking effortlessly, travelling to the country, chatting with the locals and making friends. That was your dream and the thought of it will keep you going now, when it’s getting tough.

Languages and the brain

how the brain learns languageOf course, your brain’s not making it easy for you. You face a struggle, persuading it to wake up, dust itself off and get to work adapting to the new language. But it’s tough for the poor thing, creating all those new neurological pathways. That’s why from now on you’ll be kind to it, to get some sleep, maybe take a few days away from the books and have some fun.

Nevertheless, you’re confident in the brain’s ability to adapt, because it is an incredible organ that will respond to any challenge. That’s why you know that what you have to do now is keep going.

Why am I frustrated?

That frustration you’re feeling? Well done for remembering that it’s nothing more than heightened awareness.

frustration in language learning

The more you learn, the more you’re aware of how much more there is to know. But then, you wouldn’t know all that unless you’d improved in the first place!

So it’s not all so bleak, is it? After all, you’re in the hardest phase right now. You’re putting all that effort into building up a core of words and phrases so that you can start to communicate and understand the language. But building up such a large bank of words is the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do in the language.

It’s hard. And it’s supposed to be. The pain you’re experiencing is nothing more than proof that you’re going about it the right way. But you remember why you committed to learning a language in the first place: it’s the unsurmountable, life-changing pleasure that you will eventually get from becoming fluent that keeps you going.

 The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you’re in control of your life. If you don’t, life controls you.

Tony Robbins

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Image1: rainbirder Image2: Greg Edelsward

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This article was written by Olly Richards.

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  • Forrest

    Thanks for the post. I am learning Arabic and have been slacking the last month.

    • Thanks for the comment, Forrest. I’ve been learning a bit of Arabic recently and it’s been frying my brain – totally understand! 🙂

  • Good post, Olly – just came across your site.

    I’ve got a bit of pre-learning jitters in regards to my French goal that I’ll be starting in a couple of weeks. It’s important to remember this kind of stuff so that when the inevitable “whyyyy am I doing this” comes up, there is a strong base of motivation to get through it.