Today’s post is my serious attempt to collect every possible reason why we don’t learn a language in list format, and to offer possible suggestions to overcome them, or to request your solutions to these problems! I will be updating this list to add new reasons based on your comments.
(Note that in the post after this, I am looking for the opposite to reasons why we can’t and I want to hear your success stories that could potentially inspire millions of people!)
I am genuinely going to try to get the number of reasons and their possible retorts up to the high double digits, because I want there to be no more excuses for us to remain monolingual throughout our lives. Because of this, I will start with what I feel are the main reasons I have heard, or that I believed at the age of 21, and offer a quick thought or link(s) to a possible solution to or reframing of the problem.
If any of these apply to you, please consider my reply to them seriously and follow the links in each point to blog posts where I dive into it in more detail.
As an engineer, I do feel many problems can be looked at analytically and a possible solution offered up when you think about it logically enough!
So without further ado, here are some reasons I have come across, and my suggestions for them. Please reply in the comments below with your own challenges, and other commenters can chime in with their own suggestions! I’m also interested to read other solutions to the reasons I’ve already presented here.
1. I’m too old to learn a language
This old wives’ tale may or may not have been inspired by research showing that Feral children can’t learn a language after a certain age, but when talking about second language learning some research has actually shown that adults are better language learners than children, and my experience has also been that we tend to make these kids-are-better judgements falsely.
I consider myself a vastly superior language learner now than I was at the age of 6, 10, 14 etc., and I’m getting better with age. A good learning strategy, positive attitude and passion can put you very far ahead of those younger than you.
Also, something someone said in one of the comments below: “Kids aren’t better language learners. Ever talk to a 6 year old? They speak fluently but still say things like “funner” and “me and her went…”, and they still have trouble pronouncing a lot of consonants like TH, R, and L. And it took them 6 YEARS to get to this point, and they’re surrounded by it everyday. ”
It wouldn’t take me 6 years to fix these mistakes (considering I’m an adult with decades of experience using some language already). So why should we keep claiming children are so much better language learners if the reason to bring the point up is to discourage adult learners? I say that we should encourage everyone. Encourage children to use their advantages, and I’ll try to encourage (with this blog) adults to use their many advantages.
2. I don’t have any time to learn a language
Another presumption is that you can only succeed in language learning if you do it full time. This is also false, and I have come across an incredible number of people who have succeeded in learning a language while working a full-time job, as well as having other responsibilities. In fact, it’s way less typical to find a successful language learner who was able to devote his entire day to learning the language.
While I can do that myself recently, the vast majority of my language learning experiences have been quite different, while I worked full-time or even much more than full time. For instance, I worked a 63-hour-per-week job immediately after arriving in Italy, and still managed to reach a good level of Italian.
The trick isn’t about having more time, but making more time. We are all very busy, but many of us still achieve great things because we organize the time we have control over much better, and remove things that suck time out of our day, like television. Being successful in language learning isn’t about having months or years of free time, but putting in the individual hours.
3. I can’t travel to the country
Many of us feel that it’s impossible to learn a language if you can’t live in the country.
While I think the question of whether or not you could move abroad is one worth considering by embracing minimalism so you don’t need to earn so much money to buy so much crap (everything I own in the world weighs 50lbs/23kg, and I don’t have a car, have a smoking or drinking habit, and got by very well on $1000/month or less for the vast majority of the last decade on the road in simple but adequate living conditions with priceless life experiences instead, covering everything including accommodation and flights through various travel hacks), let’s presume this isn’t an option for reasons other than financial ones.
Actually many people learn languages to very good levels without ever setting foot in the country. Most of the other polyglots that worked with me on the Skype Me Maybe music video travel way less than I do, or not at all, and have incredibly high levels of their languages. Another example is Khatzumoto who learned Japanese to a professional level before ever setting foot in Japan, and I recently learned the vast majority of my Egyptian Arabic in the middle of Brazil.
The thing I do feel is really essential to successfully learning a language is speaking it. Don’t just stand there, say something!
While it’s true that you have more opportunities to do that in the country, you can actually create many opportunities to speak your target language in your home town. Do this in person using social networking tools to set up meetings, or be adventurous and “level up” in your target language. You would be surprised how easy it is to find an unlikely language in the “wrong” country.
If you don’t live in a major city that is likely to have speakers of your target language, then create a virtual immersion environment and get on Skype and speak to them directly on sites like italki, Verbling, or by setting up a language exchange through forums or many other online sites. This way, you can practise speaking your target language for several hours a day, as good as if you were in the target country!
Keep in mind that way too many lazy expats default to just using English even when they live in the country, so moving abroad is no guarantee whatsoever to success in the language. It’s way too easy to fall into the English speaking bubble and learn nothing. Only true effort, whether from home or in the country itself, is what determines success!
4. I can’t afford it!
In fact, you can learn a language very well without spending a cent! The worst possible advice you can get in language learning is to make it all about the most expensive materials. Cheap or free materials (either online or from your local library) actually tend to do a very good job, and in many cases a much better one than expensive courses offer.
I generally start with a phrasebook that costs about $8 first, and then make it about meeting people, or talking to them online which can be totally free on the sites I mentioned in the above links.
5. I’ve got no language gene!
This doesn’t mean anything except that you don’t do well in learning languages in an academic setting, or more likely, you were missing the most important ingredient at the time and wasn’t passionate about learning that language.
Language learning is not a gene that we have or don’t have. It’s almost always actually a case of self-fulling-prophic-itis that you have. Luckily, this is not genetic and can be treated with a few doses of common sense and putting in some hard work.
While it may seem that others learn their languages “effortlessly“, in fact if you look behind the curtain you can see that there is nothing impressive about many language learners other than dedication, and everything they do is something pretty much any other human can do!
6. I haven’t found the right language learning technique for me yet!
I have my way of learning a language, but this doesn’t mean that you should do exactly what I do. In fact, the last thing you should be wasting your time on is endlessly researching me and other language learners to see which one of us has that one perfect language learning approach.
This isn’t about searching for that perfect technique for you. Experiment and see what works and what doesn’t work! If you spend all your time trying to find just the right learning technique then years will pass you by where an “adequate” learning approach would have actually advanced you towards fluency already. Stop wasting time and get busy using your language, and adapt your learning approach to the challenges that you face!
7. I’m not ready to use it yet, and may not be for years
This is not a real reason, but a flawed mentality of perfectionism, which I find to be totally incompatible with non academic language learning.
Learn a few phrases and then use them. You are ready for that immediately.
8. I don’t want to
This may seem like a strange reason to include, but based on the 700 or so emails that I get every day, when people start coming up with really imaginative excuses that are not at all valid at all when you look at them carefully, you have to simply wonder if they don’t want to learn this language and are trying to justify getting out of the task? As if I was to say “Ah OK, then you are the one exception in the world, and can never ever learn this language!”
This has much more to do with the person simply not caring enough to put real work in.
For instance, while I was learning German in school, I could blame many things like an inefficient academic system (despite a good teacher), and many other things in this list, but I could have overcome all of those challenges if it weren’t for the simple fact that I had no passion to learn the language at that time.
What changed for me was seeing German not as a super hard language made up of nothing but complex grammar rules, but to see the German people as interesting and worth getting to know, with the language being simply a tool to go about doing this. This switch in learning languages for the people and culture, ignited a passion in me that killed all devotion to my previous excuses.
9. This language is too hard
It doesn’t matter what language you are learning, you will always find some people claiming that it is the one true hardest language in the world. I’ve heard it for every single language that I’ve taken on (except for Esperanto), and for many I haven’t. If you think about it for a second, clearly a hell of a lot of people are wrong here!
There are excellent reasons why Polish isn’t hard, Hungarian isn’t hard and Chinese isn’t hard. The thing is, if you are biased enough you can come up with a list of reasons why these or any other language is hard, but that’s only when you have an arse-backwards mentality about it, and could do with a little optimism.
The truth is that there is nothing particularly special about this particular language that you are taking on. It’s a language spoken by carbon based human lifeforms, like every other. Learning every language is hard work.
Where one language has hard grammar, it may have incredibly easy vocabulary or simple sounds. When one language has tones, it may have super simple grammar, very short and logical words, and the tones could be an aspect of making it much easier than other languages to distinguish words.
Nobody wins in this comparison game. If you aren’t learning them forget other languages and focus on the one you are truly passionate about!
10. I’m not even sure which language I want to learn, or I want to learn several and can’t!
When someone tries to spread themselves thin and dabble in several different languages at the same time, then I feel they are going about it the wrong way if they want to become a polyglot.
Rather than asking other people which languages you should learn, and putting a little bit of work into several, pick the one that attracts you the most and focus entirely on that until you can speak it well.
There will be plenty of time later to get to other languages, but until you succeed in learning one, it becomes a lot harder to gain the momentum and “polyglot edge” required to learn other ones.
11. My memory is terrible for learning new words
My memory is crap. I can’t remember someone’s name unless I hear it several times, I always forget where I put my damn keys, and I walk into rooms way too often to do something particular and then ask myself Why the hell did I go in here again?
Despite this, I can remember most new words quickly, not because I am naturally good at it, but because I trained myself to become naturally good at it. I use a combination of image association, and spaced repetition flashcarding, and this has greatly expanded my memory capacity! A site like memrise combines the two with pre-made mnemonic cues for many sets of vocabulary. Try some of these, and you will be surprised how great your memory capacity suddenly becomes for new vocabulary!
Also, before you even start you should know that you may already know thousands of words in the language!
12. I’m going to frustrate native speakers!
I have been to many countries over ten years of travelling the world, and spoken languages in the wrong country many times to maintain and practice them, and (with just one exception) I have never ever had the native speaker be frustrated with me speaking their language.
They are always overjoyed and if you have a fun personality and aren’t nervous about your hesitations, then they feel less uncomfortable with you in the early stages.
Frustrating others is always just in your own head, and you are misreading people if you think that most of them will laugh at you. Embarrassing mistakes happen, and you simply shake them off. Any frustration that could occur is more likely a result of your nervous body language, which has nothing to do with your language level.
I find an attitude of failing fast and failing often will help you get used to and get more comfortable with this learning stage, so that you can have more fun with it and others can enjoy you speaking their language more.
13. They only speak English with me when I try to use their language!
This may happen to the best of us – we confidently try to practice with a native speaker, either a foreigner in our country, or while we are in their country, and they immediately reply to our attempts to use their language in English.
There are actually very simple ways around this problem, first just tell them you want to practice and be convincing in other ways and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to stop all that English. And if that doesn’t work? Then be much more insisting and you can always be the more convincing person and make sure you get language practice. No worries!
14. The entire world speaks English, so why bother?
What is more likely than the above reason, is your own laziness and misconception about the prominence of English. I have found that even in Northern European countries, it’s incredibly easy to keep the conversation in the right language.
In fact, English is absolutely NOT as prominent as many would have you feel. The problem is that those who travel, and do so with more interest in snapping photos and eating in expensive restaurants, while staying in five star hotels will be very much convinced that the entire world speaks English. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Once you veer off the beaten (and incredibly expensive) path you’ll find that quite a lot of people pretty much have next to no English. I was surprised to see that even in Norway, a friend of mine couldn’t buy cold medicine because the pharmacy didn’t understand “cold” in the context of an illness. And once I got outside of Shanghai and Beijing, I absolutely needed my Mandarin to do anything in China, since I very rarely met people with any English.
If you plan to have anything beyond a superficial encounter with locals, or if you want to be able to talk to not just the university educated elite, then learning the local language is essential.
English’s world dominance is an illusion beyond specialized industries, and nothing more than a lazy excuse to not bother putting in some work to respect the locals and speak to them in their own language. There are many wonderful benefits of English-free travel!
15. I’m too shy to approach people for language practice!
I have found that this excuse stems from nothing more than a self fulfilling prophecy, that you tell yourself you are too shy and that creates a psychological feedback loop of you being too shy to approach people.
16. I will never be able to learn that foreign pronunciation
While it may take a lot of work, I firmly believe that there is nothing physically stopping you from learning how to pronounce a new sound the right way.
For instance, it’s way easier than you think to learn how to roll your R. If you watch videos online for the particular sound you are looking to practice, or have a patient native sit down with you for a few minutes, you may be surprised at how manageable reducing your English accent really is!
The same goes for tones in Asian languages. It certainly takes a lot of practice, but you can learn to master them with time!
And just keep in mind that while you are improving your pronunciation, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having an accent!! Once you reach a certain stage in language learning, no matter how “bad an ear” you have, you will be understandable in your pronunciation, and it won’t hinder communication.
Some say it’s impossible to be confused for a native speaker if you start learning as an adult, but this has not been my experience. Although such tidying up should be left until later stages in language learning.
17. I’ve tried X and it didn’t work, so I’m a bad language learner!
You may find some convincing text that tells you that passive listening will magically solve all your problems, try it and and then fail miserably as well as wasting lots of time. You may have studied the language for many endless months or years, and still have nothing to show for it.
Does this mean that you are broken? NO! It means that this particular approach does not work for you (even if it has worked for others). As I keep saying, it’s not about finding that one true method, it’s about experimenting and discarding whatever does not work for you until you find what does!
18. I still can’t decide which course to invest in
I ran a survey and found that one reason people don’t learn languages is because they are too indecisive about what courses to go with. NONE of them are perfect.
Whenever people need to know the “best” resource/course to invest in, I now direct them to languageninja.com
In general, just find whatever course is in your library or bookshop that is affordable and use it. Don’t make it all about the course though – I only find that I get use out of such courses when I am learning with them between real spoken sessions or exposure to native content in some way, so that I have real context and something to passionately work towards.
19. I have a particular problem with a specific aspect of this language
Wondering whether to take on an Arabic dialect or MSA? Or how to learn a specific dialect like Colombian Spanish? Want to find the best online resources specifically for learning the Irish language? Frustrated about why the language has to have masculine and feminine (and neuter/common etc.)?
These kinds of questions don’t have a quick one-size-fits-all answer, but they do have an answer many times. Just ask. If a quick Google session doesn’t help you, sign up to a language forum and ask your question there! People will point you in the right direction and give you the encouragement you need!
Make sure to be public about your language learning project, and start a blog or language log or tell your friends about it, or update your Facebook status as you are learning it. You can get wonderful feedback and encouragement this way!
20. I did get somewhere, but am stuck at a plateau now
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The way I always get over plateaus is by re-evaluating my learning approach and to focus on solving my biggest problem, which is hard, but less overwhelming.
21. Fluency seems just so out of reach, and I’m so far away from it. Why even bother continuing?
The problem here is actually having ridiculously elitist standards on your fluency. Standards so high that you presumably have to speak your second language better than your first!!
Focus on getting up a tiny notch – keep your eye on the steps, not on how high the mountain is!
There is also nothing wrong with appreciating the early stages in language learning! Learning a few phrases can get you so much, and is an essential part of the project to eventually get fluent.
22. I’m just not confident enough to use my language
Confidence, like being shy that was mentioned above, is a state of mind. It’s not something you will find on page 67 of your grammar book, it’s a decision you make to decide to ignore all the negativity and empty reasons why you can’t, and to just stop thinking about it so much.
The way that I get confident with my languages is simple: I fake it until I make it. I “pretend” like I’m confident, do “what a confident person would do” and then next thing I know, I kind of do become way more confident. A state of mind is just that, and not a stamp for life, but something that you have much more control over than you think.
It turns out that our worst enemy on the path to success in language learning can be ourselves, when we keep sabotaging our progress. You can achieve the “impossible” when you look at it differently!
23. I get sidetracked too easily with vaguely similar tasks every time I try to work on my language skills!
I had made it to 22 reasons myself, but a few of you have already offered some good further excuses in the comments, so I’d like to go through as many as possible over the next points!
The first one is from Peter, who says “23: I spend too much time reading blogs about language learning (and no time is left to actually learn) ”
This may be somewhat in jest, but I do genuinely consider it a real problem (online and similar distractions in general, not language learning blogs . You can blame my one or two posts a week that take a few minutes to read as the root of all problems in the world if you like, but don’t expect me to take it seriously! ), and it’s one that I have faced too.
For instance, I may spend time on a language forum, Reddit’s languagelearning subreddit, look something up on Wikipedia and getting lost in random “interesting” links, seeing a new video by a language learners that I like and getting pulled in random directions on Youtube, discovering a new interesting language learning website and spend an hour or so playing around with creating a pretty new profile, discovering an interesting looking language learning book and get lost reading up on the author or online reviews of it, or trying to use social media tools to get a set up an in-person meet up and wasting too much time browsing profiles… and many other things.
While some people may like to presume that I am naturally more disciplined than they are, this is simply not the case. I have wasted endless hours doing pointless things many times when I should have been language learning. Discipline doesn’t fall from the sky or result from the right ACGT sequence in your genome (see 5, above); it’s something that can be learned.
One way that I have forced myself to work more efficiently is to hack my time better by using the pomodoro technique (one task and one task only for 25 minutes, and then a 5 minute break where I can clown around and waste time), and this small dedication means that for those 25 minute blocks I will stick to thing I’m supposed to do.
To make sure that you really get into this routine and don’t waste time, see point 15. in that link and learn how to block the leeches. I simply cannot enter all those sites I mentioned above (Reddit, Youtube, forums, social media sites) when I’m in work/study mode, because I’ve activated Leechblock.
If fluentin3months is that much of an interesting website that you spend many hours here, then turn on the block for your study time… and just make sure to be subscribed to my email list so you do get notifications of new posts every few weeks, rather than checking that regularly, as I don’t want to lose readers
24. No one around me (friends/family/significant other) supports or encourages my language learning endeavours
The next one that came up in the comments was this post. It’s certainly one that I can relate to!
When I decided to get serious with my Spanish, after almost six months of being devoted just to English, I had announced it to all my friends and thought that they’d instantly support me!
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Some of my Spanish friends, it turns out, had been using me to get free English practice. Some of my English speaking friends were not interested in supporting me in this endeavour and would speak back to me in English and tell me to just take a break, since they don’t have any patience to help me.
While I was in France, for 9 months I found that my co-workers and those I would meet out and about in Paris would be very much impatient with my attempts to use French with them. It gave me a negative experience of Paris for many years until I went back to see why it happened.
There is no simple one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. But the first thing you should and be convicted about doing is sitting down with those (especially family members and friends you see often) and tell them passionately about why you are doing this, and that you genuinely need their support.
Like the initial steps to convince foreigners to speak to you in a given language, this reasoning with them emotionally can change everything. The problem may simply be that they don’t appreciate how seriously dedicated you are to learning the language, and could have thought it was just a silly hobby. In many cases showing them you are serious and appealing to their sense of empathy could convince them to ease off on you, and give you the support you need.
This worked with several of my friends in Spain, and I worked especially hard to make it work for those I would continue to see more often.
As mentioned in the same link, they may be “discouraging” you actually because they can see your frustration and may be trying to spare you from this. Far from them trying to sabotage your efforts, they see themselves as saving you from all this frustration.
When you lighten up a little, and have fun even with awkward moments, your outward behaviour shows that you are enjoying this and your close friends will want to make sure you continue to. If they are true friends and they love or care for you, try to realize that their motivation may genuinely be benevolent, just that you haven’t shown how happy language learning makes you, or how important it is to you.
If it’s people you see less regularly though, who don’t care much for your interests and are just being mean, you may have to seriously consider just stop seeing them again. This is what I had to do with the Spaniards only interested in advancing their English level for their résumés (when I needed to learn Spanish for more urgent reasons), and I simply stopped meeting them or talking to them and I made new friends.
There are always other people, both in person and in online communities, ready to give you the encouragement you need. We can’t convince everyone to go along with us on this, but stick to those who do encourage you and avoid those who don’t, it at all possible. If they are not supporting you in something so truly important to your life goals, then frankly they aren’t worthy of the title “friend”.
If you are with a significant other and want to learn a language, guest posters on this blog shared their thoughts about language learning when in a couple.
25. I have a learning or physical disability others don’t have
This is a rough one, because language learning is a mental effort, and our brains are our biggest tools in progressing and getting where we need to go. It can be frustrating when we think that we have unfairly been dealt a (real medically confirmed) disadvantage as language learners.
Due to an early illness when I was younger, I myself had to go to speech therapy throughout my childhood and for many years had trouble speaking English. I couldn’t pronounce simple letters, and had to think really hard as I was speaking to form my thoughts.
Some of this still lingers on and I have always had a little bit of an unnatural English – it’s one reason why people comment frequently that I don’t have a very strong accent, either from my part of Ireland or a way more comprehensible Irish accent for foreigners.
I decided to take this setback and reframe it as an advantage. Because I was more used to anyone else in making mistakes and sounding weird when I spoke (because I knew what it was like for most of my childhood), this meant that I was already used to making mistakes when I got into my second language (well, at least when I started taking it seriously with Spanish when I was 21), and this aspect is essential to making progress. The more mistakes you make, the more you are using the language and can get somewhere with it. Being comfortable and used to making mistakes puts you ahead of the curve!
Speaking a language badly is an absolutely essential part of language learning, so it’s OK that you do that too!
While your challenge may not be the same as mine, keep in mind that all learners have their own setbacks, whether one of the points I listed above, financial, stress, physical or mental setback. None of this is a stamp for life saying that you “can’t” do anything.
When this point comes up, I am always reminded of the story of Hellen Keller. She achieved the impossible in her life, despite being blind and deaf, and among her many achievements, she was able to read in five languages (in Braille). If she can learn other languages, with the most incredible biological setbacks that none of us could possibly imagine, then there are no limits to human achievements.
Others are proving that this is true, and Julie who wrote the comment inspiring this point is deaf and partially sighted and enthusiastically working and achieving great things in language learning herself!
26. I’m not sure how or where to start – if I start wrong, I’ll sabotage the entire project!
There is some greatly exaggerated discouragement about “fossilization”, where people claim that mistakes you make at the start will stick with you forever, and thus you need to start perfectly or your language will be messed up for all eternity.
This is absolute and utter hogwash invented by crackpots who need to get a life. You can quote me on that.
There’s nothing wrong with having a rough or bumpy start in language learning. I’ve rebooted my attempts to learn both Spanish and German after initial failed attempts (six months living in Spain getting nowhere, and five years learning German in school, also getting nowhere), and I still ended up sitting a C2 mastery level exam in both of them.
The only tiny thing worth discussing in fossilization arguments is that you will have an accent in later stages, but that’s not a big deal, and I’ve found that you can successfully reduce your accent even when you come back to it in later stages. The reason most people have an accent permanently is because they simply don’t work on it or care about reducing it.
With this in mind start right now, even if you don’t have “the perfect strategy”. You can reboot your attempts and not suffer any consequences except a little time spent to learn and confirm what doesn’t work for you, which is OK!
My personal suggestion for where to start is to buy a cheap phrasebook for that language (Lonely Planet etc.), which aren’t perfect but are quite fine to begin with, learn some phrases, and then hop on italki with a real human being, or meet up with them in person, and use what you learned, see what you definitely need to learn for the next session and learn that.
Take it “slow”, but realize that you can still learn quickly, and it’s OK to be in a “hurry“, but the only way to get there is to test what doesn’t work. Start now with an imperfect strategy (like what I just suggested; maybe it will work for you, and maybe it won’t – no worries!) and improve on it as you learn. Don’t research the best way to start for endless months or years, just bloody start!!
27. I’m too negative / lazy
This point is not a real reason, but a self fulfilling prophecy. You tell yourself that you are too X, and you become it and use that as justification for why you can’t do anything, and by not doing anything you have proof that you are too negative/lazy. It’s an insane vicious circle.
Get out of it! Work on creating a “reality distortion field” (à la Steve Jobs; note that I’m not a fan of the unscientific “Law of attraction” concept at all) to make sure you have the positive mentality to see your language as half full.
Watch some inspirational videos, or read something inspirational to get back on track and remind yourself what all this is about, shake off your laziness or negativity because (unless you are have a real medical problem) it is all in your head.
28. I won’t understand people when they speak back to me!
This seems like a logical complaint for a language learner – we imagine that until we reach upper intermediate stage, nothing more than “yes, that’s $5 please” and other such simple phrases will be within our grasp.
This is not the truth however. You can do a lot, even with a little of your language.
To see me discuss this in more detail, check out this post where I explain how I extrapolated enough of a complex conversation to be able to chat in Arabic at my 2 month point.
It wasn’t a case of me not knowing enough (that will always be true; even advanced learners have some obscure vocabulary that will catch them out on occasion), but of me being open to being more flexible on guessing what is most likely being said. Practice, and getting used to attempting to use clever extrapolation is something we can all learn, and can understand more than we think we do, much earlier in the language learning process.
29. What I am doing in the language is too boring, and I lose interest quickly
See point 20!! If what you are doing is boring then stop doing what you’re doing. This doesn’t mean that learning the language is boring, just that the way you are trying it right now is.
Try to expose yourself to some alternative content in the language, find a different exchange partner, or follow any suggestions I’ve given above or from other language learners. There are almost infinite possibilities to how we could be busying ourselves with our target language, so staying bored in it is ridiculous when there are so many different things you could be doing while learning or practising that language!
30. With technological advances, within a few years learning a language will be obsolete and automatic
Here’s a silly one that people have brought up, even suggesting that they can shove their smartphone in people’s faces now, and all communication problems will be solved.
While technology does advance at an incredible rate (which I understand very well due to my background in electronic engineering), I can definitely say that learning a new language will never ever be replaceable by technology. Even if (in say 50 or 100 years time) the technology is there to give accurate subtitles on your i-Contactlense as people speak, there will always be something special missing about using the language yourself to interact with a human being.
You can’t live through translations. You have to deal with the language directly. That’s not to say that within the next few years there could be good apps or devices that can emulate basic touristy interactions pretty well (right now they really really can’t even do that satisfactorily in a real situation such as a noisy street when someone speaks normally; only in “ideal” conditions you will never meet in travels), but there is a brick wall they will hit very soon when you start to realize how much of our communication is not just words that have simple translations.
The universal translator cop-out is a lazy excuse to avoid work, used by zealous monolinguals who don’t understand how languages work. I wrote about why current universal translators are way off (way as in many decades or centuries, not as in 5 years) here: Why your smartphone will never be a universal translator. And yes, this is coming from a true Trekkie.
Rather than wait until when vacationing on Mars is the norm for technology to be an “OK” replacement for some interactions, just learn the bloody language now!
31. When I compare myself to other learners, I feel too inadequate
There is a major problem in comparing ourselves to others – the others we think have it so easy only let us see of them what they decide and what they reveal of their story.
It’s human nature to want to show our best features, and proudly share our achievements, and hide away when we have failures. For the individual, when applied right this can lead to a positive mentality geared towards success, refusing to give up, and moving forward constantly after minor bumps in the road.
But when they share their story and no attention is given to the bumps, it can seem like they had it easy, are way smarter than us, and that we are simply puny in comparison to such immense giants.
If someone ever thinks this of me, I like to point them towards my language learning failure résumé. This kind of thing is typical of successful people. I don’t write about such failures often because dwelling on them is boring, but they happen to me and other successful language learners as much as they do to anyone else.
In fact, when I’ve had the chance to sit down and talk with some very successful language learners as human beings, rather than as the image others may have of them, I see that they too feel inadequate at times, jealous of other learners, dumb that their level isn’t as high as it could be, and stuck on some challenge. It’s just not as “interesting” a part of their story that you would be aware of, and they have a great attitude and end up overcoming such things so you rarely hear them dwelling on it.
THAT positive attitude is what you need to emulate of them, not their seemingly perfect genius, luck and blessings from angels.
In my experience, for all aspects of life we simply can’t compare ourselves to others and think they have it easier without knowing all the facts.
Stop comparing yourself to language “gurus”. They face many challenges too, but keep a brave face to battle through them quicker. If you got to sit down and speak with them, you would see that they are human too, and mess up, and are perhaps jealous of some advantage you have that you happen to take for granted. The perfect learner you are jealous of does not exist.
Join the person you look up to in working hard, facing challenges and then having successes. This is something we all go through!
32.I’ve been exposed to the language since I was a child and STILL don’t speak it!
I have come across a few stories of people whose parent(s) speak a language that they were exposed to for the first few years of their life, but then were too exposed to another and never got into it.
Unlike the other reasons above, this has the extra frustration that they did indeed get exposure when they were young, but since they didn’t pick it up it is their fault for being so bad at languages. In fact, this is a problem many can relate to, and it’s just a case of re-booting your efforts and starting fresh with that language until you succeed. A commenter in the success stories post shared her experience in doing exactly that! Well worth the read if you need inspiration!
33. You tell me! I’ll be updating this list based on your comments
As I said, I am going to keep this blog post up to date with more reasons as they come to me. My initial list of 22 is now 29 and counting!
We call these “reasons” to ourselves, but they really are excuses.
I hope that by presenting possible ways around these issues, via the many links in this post for each point, that you will no longer turn to that excuse as holding you back.
If you have no excuses left, and stop thinking about why you can’t, then you can focus on how you can, and will make the progress you need to learn your language successfully!
Let me know your other reasons for not learning a language in the comments below, or your alternative solutions to these reasons I’ve presented, or give people a hand if they have their own reason that you may know a good solution to. Also, for a change in theme to reasons why we don’t succeed, please see the post after this one looking for your success stories to potentially inspire millions of language learners!
And don’t forget to share this post with your friends on Facebook if you think they may be relying too much on one or two (or several) of these reasons themselves!
Thanks and happy language learning!
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If you enjoyed this post, you will love my TEDx talk! You can get much better details of how I recommend learning a language if you watch it here.
This article was written by Benny Lewis
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