Any time you’re working with a foreign language, you’ll experience periods of struggle. Persisting through that is one of the most important things you can do, as those moments of confusion are almost always guaranteed to come for any language learner.
Going with the flow, especially when you’re deep in uncertainty, is one of the hardest things to actually do. In fact, it’s usually the point where many language learners give up on their learning efforts. Some try to overcome it by working harder. While that can work, it usually just leads to more intense frustrations, raising your irritation and anxiety about the lack of results.
The trick, really, is to just keep doing what you’re doing. As long as you understand just one more thing today than you did yesterday, you’ll be fine. It will all come together. There are things, of course, that you can do to fend off frustration while you build up your competence.
Set Achievable and Measurable Goals
I have nothing against setting lofty goals. The farther you aim, the farther you’ll reach, after all. However, it takes a special kind of person to really brute force their way through unrealistically high goals. Most of the time, doing so invites a ridiculous amount of frustration. Some people can handle that. For most of us, it’s too much anxiety that’s perfectly avoidable by simply setting more realistic targets.
How do you know if you’re on spot with your goals? Set it and go after it. That will give you a good feel about where you actually stand — whether it’s right in your zip code or just way too far to bother with. When you realize it’s the latter, don’t be afraid to dial down and change up to something a little less lofty. A goal you actually have a shot of achieving is better than one that will leave you discouraged.
Choose goals that present just enough of a challenge that you’ll actually work for them, rather than breeze through. However, don’t choose ones that are so complicated you can’t even imagine a path towards achieving them.
Find Ways To Track Your Progress
It’s not uncommon to question whether you’re really improving in proportion to the effort you’re putting in at various points in your language learning journey. The best way to keep these moments at bay is to have some way of tracking your progress.
A language learning journal is a great example of this, as it’s something you can look back on to see how far you’ve actually gone. Some people I know record themselves using the language. Even if you only record yourself speaking alone, it’s a great testament to how much you’ve improved, especially when compared to older recordings.
Fact is, there are many things you can do to track your progress. And it will be in your best interest to pursue them, as they’ll help you out immensely when you find yourself struggling at various points in your language learning journey.
When frustration sets in, the highly-motivated language learner will have a tendency to try powering through it by concentrating more intensely, working even harder and just generally doing a whole lot more. If that’s the way you prefer to do things, then more power to you. In case that doesn’t get you the results you’re aiming for, though, try taking a break. Seriously.
If taking a week off makes you feel uneasy (like when you’re trying to get to a certain level of proficiency by a nearby date), then don’t slack off — instead, use that week off to practice what you’ve learned. Spend the time interacting with people using the language, whether in-person or over the web.
In case finding someone to interact with isn’t an option (for whatever reason), you can spend the off-week listening to native speakers instead. You can watch foreign movies or video snippets on YouTube. Personally, I’m very partial to watching Sesame Street dubbed in the target language — if it’s good enough for native-speaking kids, it’s good enough for a second-language speaker like me.
You can also use a week off to reflect on your language learning activities. It’s a good time to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, looking at areas where you can improve and build on. From there, you can map out a clearer plan for going after your targets.
Find Ways To Make It Enjoyable
Language can be used in so many ways. As such, you’ve got a whole lot of options when it comes to customizing your learning experience. If you feel like you can benefit from a little enjoyment during your lessons, try tailoring it somewhat to suit your interests. For instance, instead of doing your language software lessons five days a week, you’ll use the fifth day to listen to songs in the target language instead (if you like discovering new music). You can use that day to learn specialty vocabulary outside of the lesson plan (e.g. engineering language) or visit show that relate to the language (e.g. a French art exhibit if you’re learning French).
Focus On The Important Things
If you find yourself getting frustrated with areas of the lesson you feel you can skip over, then skip them over. Not only do you save yourself from the aggravation, you also end up focusing your learning on the things that actually matter in relation to your goals. You don’t need to learn everything. In fact, it will serve you better to turn your attention onto the smaller list of things you will need to be functional with the vernacular.
When you go out and attempt to use what you’ve learned, don’t worry about getting things perfect. Just focus on what’s important: being able to communicate. Even if you pause in multiple parts, buckle a couple of times and even struggle coming up with the right words, consider it a success if you manage to be understood. Keeping that kind of attitude — where you put the value on what’s important, rather than being flawless — will be very valuable every time you interact using the target language.