It’s very easy to become swept away on a cloud of positivity when you read language blogs. There’s a great number of highly positive, motivational, inspirational, and down right fabulous language learning blogs out there, and that’s brilliant.
The problem is, sometimes, you feel a little niggle, a little negativity, and it can be difficult to let it show for fear of being branded as a Negative Norman (or Norma). Well, today I want to do just that. I want to open up a little and share some of the insecurities, uncertainties and confessions of being a language learner.
But so as not to leave you on a downer, I’m going to also give you some tips that have helped me to overcome these doubts. Pep talks, if you will. Here’s to supporting one another.
Never doing enough.
Quite a relatable starting point, I’m sure. You love language, your brain is full of it – but it’s always craves to be fuller. I remember discussing this with Chris Broholm on the Actual Fluency podcast. Language learning is a lot like exercise: you do it, you feel great so you want to do more. Then one day you don’t do it for whatever reason and you feel disappointed with yourself.
Next up is a day, week, month, or even year of not getting back to it because you just feel that if you open that book again, or log into Memrise, you’ll be sure to skip a day somewhere along the line and feel like poop all over again.
But then you’re also beating yourself up because you say you’re learning Korean or you speak Russian but do you?! Do you really?! You’re not doing enough to validate that statement!!
Making it better
Ok, so the recovery from this is two-fold. You have to decide what “enough” means for you. In my (free!) ebook Finding Time in Your Life for Language Learning, I talk about establishing what “regular” means to you. But it’s also handy to establish what “enough” means for you when it comes to your language learning.
Because here’s the thing: there’ll always be something more to do. You will never finish learning a language. So how can you ever do “enough” if you don’t lay down a personal description of “enough” for you?
Are you happy with at least 5 minutes each day? Do you need to do an hour before feeling like you’ve done enough?
The second thing to consider is how much is possible in your day. If you feel like an hour each day is what you need to feel satisfied, is this actually possible given your current daily routine and other commitments?
Once you’ve established what “enough” means for you and how you can satisfy that on a daily basis, you’ll feel so much more comfortable and productive with your language learning. Yay!
Never being good enough.
URGH. Look at that guy on YouTube speaking 324 languages fluently. URGH. Look at that girl on Instagram sharing her flawless Portuguese grades. URGH.
It’s so easy to get caught up in (I’m going to say it even though we’d all deny it) jealousy of other language learners and their achievements. After all, with the modern trend for sharing everything, it’s kind of unavoidable.
This can make you feel completely bummed out about your own languages because you’re just not “good enough”. What language achievements do you have to share?! Nothing as good as that guy on YouTube and that girl on Instagram!
Making it better
If we measure our achievements against others’ then we will spiral down into a pit of self-despair and misery and then we probably wouldn’t have any language achievements to share.
The key here is to take that feeling of ‘jealously’ (which is a completely normal reaction by the way) and change it to ‘inspiration’. Instead of saying “I’m so jealous of his Finnish skills. I’m never going to be good enough.” say, “I’m so inspired by his Finnish skills. I’m going to work to achieve that level too.”
Forgetting what you’ve already done.
I really hate the question “how many languages do you speak?” I’ve studied many languages, to various levels, yet some of them I wouldn’t say I “speak”.
This is because I forget stuff. I forget language, pronunciation, and grammar rules I’ve learnt because I don’t practise.
Why aren’t you practising?! You spent all that time learning that language and now it’s in a dusty box in the back of your brain! What was the point?! Why are you learning a new language?! The same thing is going to happen!!
Making it better
However (if you’re anything like me!) you probably want to keep moving forward too and learning new languages as they come into your life and interests and lifestyle change.
Chances are, if this is a point that you can relate to, you don’t have time to remember and maintain all the languages you want to. Accept it.
Accept that you can’t maintain every language perfectly and learn new languages unless it’s your job. (If anyone can think of a way to make this their job, let me know. I’m in.)
If something really really really matters, you will remember it. There comes a time when you have to prioritise certain languages and let others slip slightly. Don’t worry! The one thing to always remember is that you can always go back to review languages you’ve previously studied. There’s no shame in that.
So I have all these languages to remember already and all these languages on my languages-to-learn list and I have zero time to do it and the world is going to end. ARRRRGH.
Why can’t I just focus on one language?! Why don’t I spend more time on my languages each day?! Why did I just spend 5 minutes on Facebook when I haven’t even opened Memrise today?!
This is supposed to be fun! Why does it feel so crazy?!
Making it better
I don’t know about you, but I love learning languages as a way to learn about culture, history and people. But that doesn’t mean that if I don’t learn a language then I’m ignoring its culture, history and people. There’s no rush.
Take your time to get as involved in a language as you want. If that just means spending an hour glancing through YouTube videos and Wikipedia to give you an overview of Tibetan, then that’s cool too.
Learning a language doesn’t have to always mean reaching absolute native-like fluency in every language you touch.
If you’re learning any amount of language, you’re doing something awesome, productive, and worthwhile with your time. Enjoy it.
Having a love of language learning isn’t exactly like enjoying playing football. There are more football teams and clubs I could join locally than language ‘teams and clubs’ I could join nationally.
The Internet helps to connect with people and to learn but a screen is not the same. I want to meet real people, I want to learn from them and teach them and I want it to be here, where I am.
Am I weird? Am I alone in this love for language learning?
Making it better
You are not alone. There are thousands of people sharing their stories online, there are thousands of people joining and starting meet-up groups locally, there are thousands of people JUST. LIKE. YOU. Seriously.
It can definitely feel lonely at times, but you are not alone in your love of language learning and you are most definitely not weird. Remember that.
I hope this post has helped you if you’ve been feeling any of these doubts lately and if not, I hope it will help in the future if you ever need a pep talk. We all do from time to time, and that’s totally ok.
What is your biggest language learning struggle? How do you overcome it? Share in the comments.