A while back, we published an article about people who will never learn a language because they never actually learn it – they just like talking about it, but they never really get down to it. In this article, we’ll have a look at the second group of people we mentioned then; those who do actually learn but despite their effort, they rarely see any results. This is usually due to them doing something wrong.
These unfortunate folks can be split into five categories and we’re going to look at them one-by-one right now.
Bite-sized learners are those who want to study, but they are only willing to do the absolute minimum for it. They sign up for a language course or schedule one lesson a week with a native speaker and think how much they’ve achieved. It’s a somewhat dangerous strategy. It gives us a false sense of productivity – “I’m doing something, so that should count, right?” Unfortunately, that’s far from enough. Nobody has ever learnt a language by having one lesson a week.
You’ve taken the right first step, you just need to move forward with your learning. Language schools are not Las Vegas, so whatever happens in a language school should not stay in the language school. 🙂 While attending a language course, you can do a lot more activities which don’t even have to feel like learning. For instance, you can watch TV series, listen to podcasts while gardening. Or, you can have a 20-minute conversation in a foreign language with your children/partner at the dinner table, or even talk to yourself!
Many of us have this problem – if we don’t see immediate results, we quit learning. When a Rusher decides they want to learn a language, they download Duolingo and play with it for 10 minutes a day. The little green owl always praises them for their hard work and they’re all over the moon about it. But when a foreign colleague approaches them at work and they can’t produce a single sentence, their world collapses. Right away, they uninstall Duolingo, thinking it just doesn’t work. And their journey to fluency is over.
My advice for Rushers is very simple – don’t expect to see mind-blowing results overnight. Learning a language requires time. And all those miracle methods which promise to get you to fluency in two weeks of “learning” during your sleep are just a scam. In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear introduced a fantastic chart known as the learning curve. When we start learning something new, we expect our progress to look something like the green line. However, what usually happens tends to resemble the red curve.
As you can see, the progress is slow at the beginning. Only after some time does it start speeding up. This means you need to be patient and not give up on your learning. I actually prefer it this way because the journey to fluency can be very enjoyable if only you make the right plan and stick with it. And for that, you need to build strong language-learning habits. Not sure how to do that? Read our article on effective habit building – it may help you not only in your language learning but also in many other areas of life!
Old schoolers are those who keep learning, but use the same methods they remember from their school years. We all remember those high-school textbooks with boring texts, tons of new vocabulary arranged in neat columns together with the translation, and grammar drills, right?
I have a friend who really wanted to learn Spanish and she spent long years trying to do it. Her problem was that she was constantly learning and revising grammar and after all those years, she wasn’t even sure if she could actually speak the language because she’d never tried it. She kept buying grammar books and doing all the exercises again and again. I tried to get her to watch TV series, listen to podcasts and read books. Yet, she was stubbornly focused on studying grammar because “that’s how you learn a language!”
Later, she went on holiday to Argentina and couldn’t communicate at all for the first few days. It took her about a week or so to get used to Spanish and actually produce any language whatsoever. And only once she started using it in real life did she make a breakthrough and Spanish became a real hobby for her.
Don’t take me wrong – I’m not saying there’s zero chance of learning a language at school or with traditional methods. If it works for you, keep going! However, you’re probably among the lucky few who find the school system of teaching languages effective. For the rest of us, there are plenty of much more interesting and natural methods, which we’re trying to spread among learners through Language mentoring.
Do you happen to belong to the group of people who have a B1 or B2 certificate from high-school but can’t actually speak the language? Then remember what Tony Robbins once said:
So, if traditional methods have got you nowhere, try changing them for different ones, which are more effective and more fun! You’ll find lots of inspiration on our blog and Facebook, where we regularly post articles about great methods and sources for language learners.
Chaotic learners bring chaos to their learning. They simply decide that they’re going to learn a language and proceed head-first with no plan, because they’re sooo excited! This excitement lasts for a few days or weeks, but then, the initial motivation fades. And their learning gradually slows down until it stops completely.
Learning a foreign language is a long-term project and every long-term project requires a solid plan. At the beginning, we need to create a system of learning, which is as detailed as possible. For instance, every day, I’ll listen to a 15-minute podcast, read 2 pages of a book, and once a week, I’ll have an hour-long conversation with my teacher. Motivation can be pretty capricious – one time it’s here, next time it’s gone. Believe it or not, even seasoned polyglots can’t learn non-stop. It is physically impossible to be 100% motivated 100% of the time.
That’s why we need to use the initial excitement to the fullest and start learning in a systematic way from the very beginning. Because then, as your motivation starts to fade, it will be the system that keeps you going and doesn’t allow you to stop. I highly recommend keeping a score of your learning in a sheet or diary. That way, you’ll be able to see very clearly what you’ve done, which is really motivating!
“Fighters” have it very tough. They consider language learning hard work and don’t look for ways to make it fun. In fact, they don’t even know that learning can be fun! They think you simply have to suffer through it and fight your way to results. They go to a language school and perhaps they don’t even like their teacher, but they feel bad about skipping lessons. So they continue attending the course despite not enjoying it at all. However, they’re not making any progress. They just attend a language course, but that’s very different from actual learning. This is because one of the most important things about learning is fun.
We have several examples of what fun in learning can look like.
Meet up with friends over a glass of wine (you can also do it online through Zoom or Whereby, to name a few of the many platforms) and have a chat in your foreign language, just like you would normally do in your mother tongue.
Create your own materials which will make you happy each time you use them.
Take some “you time” and use it for learning. Just like Veronika, who likes to relax with an English book while her children are playing in the garden.
Have you just found out you’re a Bite-sized learner, Rusher, Old schooler, Chaotic learner or Fighter? Don’t worry, there is hope! You’ve started right and all you need to do now is change your approach to learning. If you want to learn a language, it is necessary to stick to a few rules. In the previous article, when discussing people who like talking about learning but never actually start, I recommended they take the first step. But even the first step has to be in the right direction. A good and universal rule to go with are these four pillars of learning:
I believe that those of you who found yourselves in one of these categories now know where the problem is and what you need to change in your learning approach in order to see progress in your language skills. Just stick to the four pillars of learning and success is guaranteed. Good luck! 🙂
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