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January 2019

5 thoughts to keep you motivated when learning a language

Overcoming common language learning barriers

Anyone who’s ever learned a new language knows there are peaks and valleys when it comes to inspiration. Often, when we initially begin learning, we are filled with excitement and energy, a fascination with the new-to-us language that urges us to take in every detail. We are immune to our early mistakes because, as novices, we often make mistakes and so they are tolerated. A lot of times, it isn’t until we put the language to use that we face disappointment.

Studying a language and using a language, as we probably all know by now, are two different beasts. Putting knowledge of a language to use requires good working ability with the language. There may be the thrill in ordering food successfully with your target language for the first time, but, as we become more proficient and our expectations arise, we face more mental obstacles.

In this article, we’ll take a look at five common barriers to language learning motivation, and how we can move beyond them.

Not understanding native speakers

Understanding native speakers of your target language without effort is one of the goals of language learning, the other being responding deliberately and articulately. But often we discover how difficult it can be to understand what people are saying. This failure can lead to embarrassment and a drop in motivation. If we keep a few thoughts in mind, however, we can accept our level and continue raising it.

One important thought to keep in mind is that even fluent speakers of a foreign language eventually encounter words they don’t understand. There is always something more to learn, and so there is no end goal for language learning. You just need to be good enough for your desired purposes.

Many native speakers have accents, use colloquialisms, or speak in dialect, making understanding all the more difficult. This is not your fault. It just requires greater familiarisation with the language. Be patient, keep learning new words to broaden your vocabulary, and slowly expose yourself to new manners of speech as you progress. It was always meant to take much time, and the road to success is often paved with failures.

Your funny foreign accent

Native speakers sometimes comment on the accents of foreigners. If anyone should mention your accent, do not feel discouraged. It is inevitable that a student retains his or her native accent. While you ought to focus on proper pronunciation, don’t feel bad if you still have traces of an accent. In fact, you ought to feel proud of your accent. Many language students can’t hear their own accents, so don’t be too surprised either if someone comments on yours.

Think about all the foreigners speaking your native language. Do their accents bother you, or do you find them interesting and appealing? Most likely, if they speak well enough, it’s the latter. This is the same situation for you in your target language. Continue to be interesting and appealing, and embrace your origins.

Committing cultural mistakes

Cultures vary in their customs throughout the world, so it may be inevitable that you commit a faux pas in the country of your target language. Whether it’s as innocuous as not knowing how to buy groceries properly (in some countries you’re not allowed to touch the fruit) or you make a more “egregious” error (in some places, crossing arms while shaking hands or toasting purportedly brings about bad luck), you should just consider it all a learning experience and to not be too hard on yourself. There’s simply no way to know everything, even if you’re already very familiar with the culture.

Reverting to your native language because you’re stuck

It’s a good idea to try and use your target language as much as possible when speaking with native speakers. Sometimes, however, we get stuck or we lose track of the conversation, and, rather than saying the wrong thing, we may opt not to speak at all. We ought to keep in mind that communication is key when speaking, and if reverting to your native language is necessary to continue the flow of the conversation, it should not be seen as failure. Do the best you can in your target language and don’t feel too bad about using your native language if necessary.

Feeling like you don’t belong

We eventually run into this grand existential feeling after prolonged time in the country of our target language. It’s not particularly the best feeling, but it’s very natural. Even if we’re very familiar with living abroad and already have solid working ability with our target language, it can feel lonely being away from home. We may think others see us as outsiders, and often this may be true. But, ultimately, we are all human, and people, fundamentally, are more alike than different. Remind yourself that your being abroad and out of your comfort zone is one of the greatest adventures in life, and others see this too.

What discourages you most when studying a foreign language, and how do you keep motivated? Let us know your thoughts on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” telc English for more articles on language learning.

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