I don’t know about you but whenever I look for language learning advice online, it all seems so easy. Just do this one thing, then do this other thing, and a little bit of that, and it’ll all be good.
It’s one big success story. It’s all positive, motivating and inspiring.
But is that a true picture of what it’s like to learn a language? No, it’s not. And nobody seems to be talking about it. Nobody seems to be talking about the dark side of language learning.
You keep learning new words and the more you think you know, the more frustrated you get. Because you can’t use them. You forget them when they’re needed. You think to yourself, but how is that possible? I studied so much, I used all the right techniques and it’s still not working.
You start doubting yourself. You might even think that you will never get better. That that’s the peak of your ability.
This thought makes you disappointed. And angry. And hungry for more. More learning and more fluency. And you do move forward. Slowly, but you do. Until you hit another plateau phase. When everything seems so pointless.
Time is your enemy too. There’s never enough of it.
You end up on Facebook and Twitter, you end up reading articles about how to find the time you think you don’t have. Instead of spending that time on language study.
You blame your own lack of discipline.
Everyone else seems to have time. Especially the people who talk about it online. They manage to find the time, so why can’t I?
You sometimes feel shy when you speak. It’s a strange feeling because you’re not a shy person in your native language. You’re really extroverted. Or just comfortable with people.
But you do get shy and nervous whenever you need to speak the language you’re learning.
Your body is tense and you apologise in your head for every mistake you’ve just realised you’ve made. You’re so, so sorry. I knew how to say it so why didn’t I?
You have a different personality when you speak a foreign language. You’re not as funny. You feel like you’re younger than you really are. Less experienced and less educated. You feel inferior.
You feel bad when people keep talking really fast because they don’t realise how hard it is for you. And when they intentionally speak more slowly to help you out. You feel patronised.
And the constant fear of having to ask people to repeat what they’ve just said. More than once.
It does get better, though. As you learn more idiomatic expressions, you begin to sound more natural. You begin to understand a lot more too.
Years after people start telling you you’re perfectly fluent, you still have doubts, though.
In noisy environments, you blame your listening comprehension on mishearing conversations. When it’s probably too loud for even native speakers to understand what’s being discussed.
You know people you’re very fluent with, and people you’re not fluent with, even if in absolute terms you’re perfectly fluent. Situations can make you less fluent. Emotions can make you less fluent. Lack of personal connection with someone can make you less fluent.
It feels unpredictable. Sometimes things go really well. And sometimes they go really badly. Good days and bad days. It’s not a story of constant success.
And you know what? That’s ok. It’s ok to feel frustrated. It’s ok to feel lost and helpless. Sometimes. Because we all feel that way sometimes.
However you may be feeling right now about your language skills, about your progress, you’re not the only one.
It’s ok to feel that way. And do you know why? Because it’s a normal part of the learning process. A process which involves ups and downs.
Good days and bad days. Successes and failures.
And that’s why you should know there’s always hope. The good days will come but in the meantime, it’s ok to feel the way you feel. It will get better.
I though it was important to say this truth that everybody knows but not many people are willing to talk about. And I hope it will make you feel at least a little bit more confident and proud of yourself.
Because you are doing good, language learner. You’re doing great! So keep it up 🙂