If you have ever tried to learn a second language, undoubtedly you have had to deal with doubt and discouragement along the way.
Why can’t I remember how to conjugate that verb? How long is it going to take before I can understand what they are saying? What the hell is a past participle? Why do I feel like I am not making any progress?
Many years ago I decided to adopt a “positive mental attitude,” and I really believe that life is richer and a whole lot more fun when we stay positive, look for the good in everything that comes into our lives, and practice an attitude of gratitude. But having said that, I have found myself feeling a little discouraged lately in my progress toward becoming fluent in Spanish.
So for my sake and for yours, here are a few thoughts that will help each of us to stay positive and encouraged:
- Don’t compare yourself with anyone else. We all have different talents and abilities, and it appears that some people learn languages a little more easily than other people. You cannot be anyone else, so be grateful for the person you are, and do your best with the language learning abilities that you have.
- You started when you started, so be grateful for your start. I must confess that one of my recurring negative thoughts has been a sense of discouragement over when I started the process of learning Spanish … specifically, that I did not start until I was in my late forties. What’s worse, I can even find myself being pissed at my family for not putting me in language immersion school when I was infant (in spite of the fact that those schools did not exist in my neck of the woods when I was an infant), or even being pissed about not being raised in Europe where it seems everyone is raised to learn 4 languages. That’s garbage thinking – get rid of it! None of us can go into rewind and change our start date, so be thankful for when you started, and do your best from this point forward.
- Be in daily contact with your new language. From everything I have read, it is very important to spend at least a little bit of time each day learning your new language – so don’t skip several days between learning sessions. Even 15 minutes a day is better than nothing … but get more each day when you are able, probably at least an hour, and the more time the better. Work it into your daily life, for example have Spanish radio or tapes playing in the car while you are commuting, or practice your Spanish by listening to your iPod while exercising. Remember, you need daily contact with the new language.
- You already know more than you think you know. I am reminded of this about every time I speak with a native Spanish speaker … I realize that I am nowhere close to being able to understand Spanish like I understand English, but even if I only know a few Spanish words, I am able to communicate and be understood, and a native speaker can help me understand what they are trying to tell me. Celebrate what you already know.
- Have short range goals, as well as a long range goal. It’s important to get clear on where you would like to be eventually, say, five years from now. That will give you something to shoot for. Have a very specific long range goal in mind, and write it down … this will help you develop some short range goals that will help move you in the direction of your long range goal. And, if you are getting close to the date you had set for achieving your long range goal, and find that you are nowhere close to achieving what you had hoped to achieve by that date, no problem … set another long range goal, and start working toward that new goal. Again I must confess to my own failing on this issue, for I have found myself being a little discouraged lately, feeling like I am bumbling along while forgetting my long range goal. So I just need to re-focus and set some achievable short range goals that will move me in the direction of my long range goal.
- Practice with native speakers. This is a great way to broaden your horizons and expand your cultural awareness, as well as to improve your new language skills. It’s EASY to find people on the Internet who want to learn English, and they will help you learn your new language if you will help them learn English. You can find intercambio partners at Hello-Hello, Verbling, LiveMocha, Yabla, Busuu, and at various other sites. I do have some intercambio partners, but I have found that I would rather pay a native Spanish speaker to talk with me so that I can maximize my learning time, and this also enables me to give someone work who may need work. Moreover, it does not have to cost a lot of money. For example, I have a friend in Guatemala who lost his job 2 years ago, so I pay him $5 USD an hour to talk with me. That might not seem like a lot, but to the average Guatemalteco, that is a fair amount of money. So, it helps him because it gives him some work, and it helps me because I am getting a good deal on language learning … and who among us doesn’t like to get a good deal on occasion? Or, offer to take a local friend out to lunch … again, it does not have to cost you a lot of money, and they might thoroughly enjoy having a free value meal while having the opportunity to talk with you in their native language.
- Keep it fun. I’ve said this before, but I will say it again … if learning a new language seems like drudgery to you, I would encourage you to find something else to do. Or, find ways to make it fun. Life is too short to spend it doing something you don’t really want to do … that is, if you have the choice. So if you really want to learn a new language, then find ways to make it fun and keep it fun.