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Overcoming Discouragement in Language Learning

By Edited Jul 29, 2016 1 1

Every language student will come to the point where they just 'know' that they will never be able to speak fluently, and will find themselves in a situation where they completely fail to make themselves understood. Knowing this in advance will help you to deal with it when it happens.

If you are in an intensive language learning situation after about two weeks your brain starts to scream, "I can't take any more of this! I'll never learn to speak!" It's important to know that this is normal. You've been spending four to eight hours a day studying, memorizing and practicing, and you still struggle to say anything more than, "Good morning," and the mere thought of going out in the street and making a fool of yourself again turns your knees to jelly. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that it will come, and keep on. One day soon, you will realize that you are not just spinning your wheels, but have just had a real conversation with someone.

Perhaps worse are the days you set out on an errand having carefully memorized the phrases you'll need and then find yourself unable to communicate at all. I remember walking to the Post Office in Paris one day and trying to buy a stamp. The teller did her best to help me, but we could not understand each other and I left without my stamp, thinking how pathetic I was. A similar thing happened in an airline office when I was trying to change my flight. After my first few stumbling phrases the attendant asked, "What language do you speak?" I was so embarrassed that it was all I could do to complete my task, but the lesson I learned was just to get over it and keep trying. After all, it is rather funny to see someone else making a complete fool of themselves - even if it is not so funny when we're the ones being laughed at.

After learning three languages you can imagine the quantity of mirth that I have provided for my listeners. In one class I made a mistake that sent all seventy-five students into hysterics. I was embarrassed and laughed along, not even sure what I had said that was so funny but when I looked back through my journal that night I must have been encouraged because my entry for that day describing the incident also reads "three months ago I couldn´t even carry on a conversation, today I am lecturing on the structure of silicate minerals." It's always good to remember that laughter is good for the body as well as the soul, and think of the benefit you are providing for your hearers.

Nothing worthwhile can be gained without a combination of hard work and failure, and learning a language is very worthwhile. Keep the goal in mind and choose not to give up.

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Comments

Dec 23, 2010 11:17am
budgetgeek
This is a highly-recommended article for English learners. I teach ESL on the side and I do sometimes share their frustrations.
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