The many reasons (32 so far) why we DON’T succeed in learning languages, and retorts for why we can. Let’s hear your reasons/solutions in the comments!

The many reasons (32 so far) why we DON’T succeed in learning languages, and retorts for why we can. Let’s hear your reasons/solutions in the comments!

Benny

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. :D”

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 jobas 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!

Thanks to the incredible prominence of expensive courses like Rosetta Stone in the states, I have found that Americans especially feel that it’s a question of throwing money at the problem.

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!

Did you do poorly in languages in school? Well, me too. I could have easily thought that learning a language wasn’t my destiny, but that’s simply not the case.

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.

Ditch perfectionism and make mistakes! The “ready point” is what us engineers refer to as an asymptote – something that is only achievable with infinite time.

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.

This is a delusion. I have found that the best way to “get over” this imaginary problem is to stop thinking about it so damn much!

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! :D ), 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! For that I created Fluent in 3 Months PREMIUM, an exclusive package of all the knowledge I have on topic, along with all the tools, apps, tricks & tipps I’m using to speak a language quickly. 

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!

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, […]

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  • Guest

    The reason for me was: Being too passive and/or not putting enough effort into it

    I became interested in learning languages after my brother did a college course in spanish. I thought I’d gone about it the right way when .. I brought a grammar book! :D
    I tried this along with writing sentences in Spanish to myself for about 3 months on and off.

    As terrible as this must sound, to me then this was the only way I could think of because – “of course” Spanish natives wouldn’t want to speak with me when I couldn’t conjugate estar in the subjunctive or some other crazy reason. :)

    So after that I realized I wasn’t getting any progress at I started researching the idea online, and after watching some of the methods used by Steve Kaufman and some others

  • Caymane

    The reason for me was: Being too passive and/or not putting enough effort into it.

    I became interested in learning languages after my brother did a college
    course in Spanish. I thought I’d gone about it the right way when .. I
    brought a grammar book! :D I tried this along with writing sentences in Spanish to myself for about 3 months on and off.

    As terrible as this must sound, to me then this was the only way I could
    think of because – “of course” Spanish natives wouldn’t want to speak
    with me when I couldn’t conjugate estar in the subjunctive or some
    other crazy reason. :)

    So after realizing I wasn’t getting anywhere, I started researching the idea online, and after watching some of the methods used by Steve Kaufman, I started listening to pod casts and reading native material, again without getting much success.

    It was only after reading the blogs of Polyglots like Richard Simcott, Luca etc (including FI3m) that I realized I was missing 2 things really: A dedicated Mindset and a human element! Most Importantly i think it was the mindset , as I simply hadn’t been putting the effort into and therefore not getting anywhere :-D

    Thankfully I’ve started writing regularly on lang-8, as well as skyping with natives whenever I can ,as there probably isn’t many Spanish nearby in rural Wales :) , and already I can feel the progress, my thoughts are more spontaneous – and most importantly (for Spanish) I’ve virtually mastered the trilled R sound.

    Sorry for the double post :P

  • http://www.facebook.com/piettes Stéphane Piette

    Tu peux rajouter : “Je n’aime pas cette langue, elle est super moche !” Ça a été mon cas pendant plusieurs années pour l’allemand, mais aussi le cas de beaucoup de gens que je connais ici à Berlin. Ma solution à ce problème : aller au cœur de la culture, trouver une raison d’aimer un pays/des gens , jusqu’à avoir assez envie d’en apprendre la langue ! Dans mon cas, la techno et les clubs berlinois m’ont complètement convertis :p

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Bravo Stéphane !! :)

      On apprend bc d’allemand dans les boites berlinoises, c’est vrai :D Comment trouver l’allemand moche quand on l’écoute d’une hyper jolie et sympa allemande ? :)

  • Stef De Langhe

    My reason was: don’t need to learn another one, I already speak some of the most important languages at an acceptable level, so the local people will help me for sure in one the languages I’m able to speak.

    I believe that speaking English/French/German/… in a country where the people don’t speak any of these languages can be very offending. And it can embarrass yourself as
    well if the person you speak for example English to doesn’t speak this language
    at all…

    These days, I feel it’s some kind of a duty to make at least an effort to get some basics. And it works! You might
    impress people by speaking their language a little bit, because they believe
    that their language is ‘way too difficult’.

    As a Fleming, living in complicated Belgium, I know exactly what I’m talking
    about.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      This is definitely true. When I learned even just a puny amount of Polish, people were very please and “impressed” with me because they consider it such a hard language. I agree with you that forcing English on them would have been quite rude.

      Some day I’d like to go to your part of Belgium! I’ve met lots of nice people from there and hope to trave…ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD!!

      • Stef De Langhe

        Visiting the Flemish part will be a good occasion to learn the differences between Flemish and Dutch. They aren’t big, but count to my opinion :)

        Next to that we also have a lot of dialects. There are also some in the French part, but it’s less popular than here.

  • http://amanofnonation.com/ Kevin Post

    I have a good excuse that I’ve heard before: “No one around me (friends/family/significant other) supports or encourages my language learning endeavors”

    • http://www.facebook.com/randybvain.torques Randybvain Torques

      … and they point up all my mistakes and tell me that I will never ever succeed…

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Ah yes, good one! I’ll add it as one of the next batch when I update this tomorrow :)

      • http://twitter.com/ozgurdiksoz Özgür Diksöz

        They even try to discourage you. For example, I’m studying Dutch as my 3. foreign language and some of my friends say “You can communicate with Dutch people in English and in German easily. It’s unnecessary to try to learn their rough language.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/randybvain.torques Randybvain Torques

    I would agree with most of the points you made. However there are some I disagree with. For example 1, 2 and 5. They might be combined into one point: I don’t have skills which are necessary for any learning: time management, knowing how to take notes, how to organise workplace etc. I suppose you can’t imagine how hard was for me to get back to the track of everyday learning – something which I used to when I was long time ago at school – especially after a day of work when I almost fall asleep going back home. You seem to forget that it is not only the time, but also the physical and mental capacity to learn. How many times you had to force yourself to stay awaken? One may like learning and have enough time but still would achieve nothing if the fatigue won. Also “lack of time” might mean that there are other priorities. So ideally today I could spent six or more hours on learning French, but my experience tells me that I will start, after four Pomodoros I get tired and will go to bed. I would be lucky to not get an urgent call to help somebody or have to do anything else.

    One more thing about the “language gene”. I think this is rather working-hard gene. The majority of people I know, who started learning whatever it was, couldn’t get much far because they couldn’t work methodically or had attention deficits. They lack the patience and cannot commit themselves to the regular work. But is it something you can learn? What about all these learning disabilities? You don’t mention them but if you were dyslectic or had serious problems with comprehension, this would be a big impediment. I experience this when learning French. There are many texts to read in my course which I am unable to understand even after several readings and knowing the vocabulary and if I wasn’t meticulous and willing to spend two hours on a 200-words article I would give up.

    I would also agree with your assumption that there is no talent for languages but again I experienced something completely different. If you need 1% of talent and 99% of hard work to achieve the succes, if you don’t have the talent you will achieve only 1% of the succes. I see this in my working place. My colleagues (who have longer working experience than I) have to work much harder than I and they still are unable to surpass me because I have a talent and they don’t. Whatever they do I will always be better.

    Then memory (11). I think you have no right to label your memory as “crap” after remembering so many words. The techniques you use don’t work for me. Anyway I think it is more about ability to recall the words in the proper moment. The stress is so big that one forgets everything.

    3. Yes, there are plenty places when you could find a speaking or writing exchange but it seems to be hard to find somebody if you are not English. So far, after more than one year, I found only two people which wanted to learn Polish in exchange for English, than maybe one English-French, nobody for Welsh.

    4. You probably don’t see it, but you are rather well-off and from this point of view spending money on Italki doesn’t bother you, you have also ability to go to whatever place you want and finally the possibility to earn enough money. I don’t know, you have been in so many places and have never met people for whom 5$ was a day-living rate? Such people exist, I assure you and even 8$ for a phrasebook or much more for an access to Internet would mean for them a day without food or drink.

    Now my “excuse”:
    I won’t understand what they say to me! I learned a few phrases and I am not shy to say them from the first day. I will get over mistakes, mispronounciation, stress and grimaces. But what am I to do when what I hear is #$%^ ^&* *() @$%#$%^ @#? Je suis désolé, pouvez-vous répéter ? #$%?&&* &** $%. Mae drwg geni, dw i ddim yn eich deall, allwch chi ddweud hyn eto? # & &*() E$%& *&^% %^. Dziękuję bardzo, to ja przepraszam, do widzenia 8<

  • AegeanRain

    This may be just me and a few other people:) I think my enthusiasm to learn a language, or my mood in general is in a sinusoidal form. That is I can study the language for a certain period of time, but even if I don’t over-study I won’t be able to keep up my interest continuously for an extended period. My enthusiasm will diminish, and then will come back in a repetitive form. It doesn’t prevent me from learning a language though, it just delays it :D

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I don’t see that as necessarily a huge brick wall, but rather a need to learn how to ride the wave :D

    • hokietide

      That is absolutely me! For several months I willdo EVERYTHING EVERYDAY: Verbling, italki, memrise, etc., etc. Then for a month or so I will lose interest. I’ve learned to ride the waves of it by forcing the language into my day. I translate sentences in conversations, read the things on my Facebook feed that are in another language and so on. Instead of feeling frustrated by my lack of interest I use it as a mini break (while still studying some) come back with more fervor than before. I’m glad to see someone has the same “problem” that I do.

      • AegeanRain

        Yes, I do change my routines, and try to learn the language even at a minimal rate (e.g. simply by listening to a few songs, listening to podcasts as I go to sleep and putting subtitles on in my target language) when I am at the bottom of the wave, so that I don’t end up completely giving it up at the end. I suspect though that a lot of people will stop their efforts once they lost their enthusiasm for a few times. Depending on the person I think a wave might be as deterrent as a brick wall :)

    • http://languagewanderer.wordpress.com/ Mariola

      Oh I see what you mean, that’s the point. But I also struggle with it, but I try to vary my studying and it really helps! If there’s no routine, you’re not likely to get bored:) good luck:)

  • http://languagewanderer.wordpress.com/ Mariola

    I think that there are always some reasons that can lead to abandoning studying a language. For example when I was trying to teach myself Russian, I started to notice so many other things that I’d like to do. Eventually I quited Russian, but now I’m learning Norwegian and I changed my method a little so it’s better now. Basically I have motivation and a will to study, but sometimes I’m just too lazy or I leave all the things that I have to do till the last moment, so when there’s time for studying Norwegian, I can’t do it due to other obligations. I know that I should try to manage my time better :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Just added a “too lazy” point, and a link to a post with incredibly intense detail on how I manage my time. ;) Hope that helps!

      Best of luck with Norwegian!

      • http://languagewanderer.wordpress.com/ Mariola

        Ok great!: D

  • Guest

    My comments have disappeared or have been deleted?

  • Jean Smith

    I think a huge one for a lot of people (and especially me) is “I failed some ‘test’, and therefore it proves that all of my hard work was useless, so why bother?” I had this experience in both French and German. After 6 years of studying French, I failed my AP French exam (1 out of 6, you would get the same score guessing blindly). As for the German, after 2 years of studying, I went to Germany and met up with some older relatives that couldn’t speak English, and I realized that I didn’t understand about 95% of the things they said and we could barely say anything to one another.

    In both cases, I gave up learning for several weeks afterwards with a “why bother? I’m a failure” attitude. Of course, then it turned out that my AP Exam was graded in error (I got a letter several months later saying that my answer sheet was “lost/deemed unreadable” and a note would be put in my transcript) and that my relatives have heavy accents that even native speakers find difficult. But both cases really taught me how much emphasis I put on these “tests” and how much it affects my motivation to continue. Of course, I’m still studying French and German to this day, and added Russian and Japanese to my list of languages! Now, I put a lot less pressure on myself and just enjoy the experience.

  • Saunatina Sanchez

    Frustration with being understood is the biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome. The first few French teachers I found on italki were not very encouraging and I felt they didn’t make an effort to understand my very broken French and wanted me to tell them in English what I wanted to say so they could translate it and repeat it back to me in French.

    That was not going to work for me.

    I got really frustrated with finding someone I could converse with in a low stress manor and it put me back a few months.

    I finally did find a teacher (informal conversation practice) who encouraged me to explain in simpler French when he couldn’t understand what I was trying to say, so he could understand and help me with the concept or phrase.

    I think the relationship between the conversation partners needs to be looked at differently when someone starts learning a language. A formal teacher can be very helpful, but if you don’t want to have a chat with your teacher or look forward to your sessions, it puts a big damper on enthusiasm, which leads to frustration, which leads to unmet goals.

    As it is now, I look forward to each of my French lessons and want to make progress so I can have more complex conversations with this interesting person I met!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I just added one about the other problem – the learner understanding the native speaker.

      Generally, I haven’t had so much trouble having people understand ME, since I use simple language at first, try to work on my pronunciation and try to enjoy the process.

      Note that I have found the French in particular (i.e. Parisians etc.) to be quite mean to learners, even when they are motivated to help you by money or an exchange, to “not understand” something that is totally understandable, but that they refuse to be a little imaginative. This is a unique problem I have found almost nowhere else.

      This may seem strange, but I would actually recommend you switch to italki users in OTHER countries. There are very affordable French teachers from Tunisia etc. (they genuinely speak it as a first language), and exchanges in Belgium, Switzerland, and more (paid) teachers in Quebec. These other cultures are way more flexible and encouraging than those from certain parts of France.

      Luckily, I have found those outside of Paris to fight this stereotype and they have been incredibly patient and helpful with me in my French learning endeavours in the past. We can think that Parisian French should be all we should care about as learners, but in this case of cultural issues, I think you are better learning another accent and tweaking it to “formal” French in later stages when Parisians are more patient with you with a higher level.

      Right now with my C1 or C2 level French, I have a vastly different experience with Parisians and enjoy talking to them. To get to this stage, I highly recommend you avoid spending much time with certain French speakers. This may be strange advice, but as I said, it’s only ever happened to me with French.

      Although, it would seem from your conclusion that you’ve solved this problem with less formal lessons. Hopefully my reply helps others if that’s the case!

      • Saunatina Sanchez

        It’s amusing you recommend non-Parisians because I actually did avoid teachers from Paris for that reason. I have a friend who majored in French literature in college and told me similar stories to the ones you tell about Paris.

        I use French as an example because that’s what I’m learning now, but I had a similar problem when I was studying Spanish. Some people have an easier time conversing with one person than they have talking with another.

        I think the point I was trying to make was that people learning a language can get frustrated very easily because it was difficult to converse with “one” person and they don’t want to do the work to find someone else they could have more in common with that will make a conversation easier. Your encouragement for people to get out there and just start speaking is important, but it is a little skewed from my perspective.

        I’m not that interested in meeting random people in English, so the idea of doing that in another language turns me off. I am interested in meeting people in other languages that share my interests like biking, history, gardening, and other stuff. If I don’t have a reason to talk to you, I’m not going to be interested in learning to talk to you.

        I think many teachers of any language have an idea of how learning a language is supposed to go. When I told one I didn’t want to hear any English and wanted to talk about video games and gardening, she said that wouldn’t work because grammar was too important to put off. Some students would relent and stick with the teacher’s style instead of moving on and finding someone they fit with better.

        Shoot, before I read your blog, I might have done the same thing. It almost feels more difficult to find a teacher with the restrictions I put on the lessons. But the end result is worth the initial frustration.

  • http://www.creativityandlanguages.com/ Peter

    23: I spend too much time reading blogs about language learning (and no time is left to actually learn) ;)

    • Caymane

      Haha, thats me totally :)

      * Sits down to do some quick revision.

      * Ends up reading language blogs instead.

      Still way better than watching TV!

      • ASBusinessMagnet

        My suggested solution: Use the Google Translate widget above.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Done!! :) See reason 23, added thanks to your comment ;)

  • Ilge

    My problem is….I can’t decide which language to choose. I wanted to learn Italian, but want to travel South America and use Spanish and Portuguese. I also would love to learn Turkish and Japanese. Looks like I have to carve out my own polyglot story, 1 language at a time.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Best of luck with that story!

  • http://twitter.com/Mwhlr Mwhlr

    Perhaps one excuse would be the simple lack of a positive mindset.

    During my learning, I try very hard to make myself BELIEVE that I’m going to become fluent – that it’s an inevitability. However, being quite a cynical person, I find it extremely difficult to keep a feeling of doubt out of my system. This worries me, as I don’t want such a stupid thing to hamper me. I’m sure there are plenty of people who question things and doubt just as much as me – any suggestions for overcoming this?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      One major problem is definitely self fulfilling prophecies. Identifying yourself as lazy/dumb/negative (see point 27 recently added), can be the same as identifying yourself as cynical, as if that is a part of you you can’t change like your gender or height.

      Being cynical is a mentality. Stop identifying yourself with it because doing so only feeds it.

      I can highly recommend spending time with hippies, budget travellers, Brazilians, and other groups of people with great outlooks on life. Their lack of cynicism is contagious and could well overflow into your language learning philosophy ;)

  • http://www.pagef30.com mithridates

    To the plateau point: I would add that often the plateau is just an illusion, and maybe there is no need to change one’s strategy at all. Progress is easy to see in the beginning but after reaching the intermediate level it becomes harder and harder to see. There is a lot of fine tuning and vocabulary acquisition (especially the rarer, less frequently encountered kind) at this stage, which doesn’t feel quite as dynamic, but is just as important.

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    For what it’s worth, not knowing where to start is one that I hear a lot, as well as being afraid that they’re going to start off the wrong way and end up learning bad habits which thereby leads to an unwillingness to get started in the first place until they’re absolutely certain that they’ve chosen the right way in which to go about starting (the right method/technique/program/etc.).

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Oh yes, a very good one! Just added it ;)

  • Language Learner

    One unfortunate excuse is getting discouraged because ___ learned ___ language to fluency but I have spend ___ years and have gotten nowhere…just the whole comparing yourself to another person. I have noticed this leads to people being bitter and said person will try to discourage others in the future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/julie.ferguson.9421 Julie Ferguson

    “I’m too disabled.” I’m severely deaf and I’m partially sighted, and that’s not an excuse in my opinion. I’m a native English speaker, and I’ve learnt to decent levels French, Spanish and Swedish. I’ve learnt basic Scottish Gaelic, and BSL. I’m currently working on Japanese. I have a strong accent in those languages and a deaf sound, and I struggle with listening. However, my reading and writing are really good and can back me up. Even in English I have to ask people write something because I couldn’t understand it, so what’s wrong with doing the same thing in a foreign language? Might as well use the same hacks that I use every day! :-)

    That’s the personal excuse, now for the peer pressure excuse… “you’re deaf, there’s no point” Erm, yes there is. I enjoy it, and I get to talk to people in their own language which feels great. It’s for making my travels more fun. Don’t tell me I can’t just because you can’t imagine how you would cope in my shoes.

    Bit of a long comment, sorry!

    • Deirdre Magner

      Keep learning languages, Julie, and don’t let anyone discourage/dissuade you! My son has a moderate hearing impairment and his entire life I’ve encouraged him to do whatever he wanted! Your only limitations are those which you impose upon yourself. If you enjoy learning language, why should anyone want to stop you? Your reasons are legitimate and yet you learn – that makes the rest of our excuses pale by comparison!

      • http://www.facebook.com/julie.ferguson.9421 Julie Ferguson

        that’s the best way to help your son. :-)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Julie, you are truly a huge inspiration to language learners, and many more should know you’re story! You are definitely welcome to guest post on this blog any time you like to share your story with us; it would be my honour!!

      While I can’t say my challenge has been anything remotely like yours, I tried my best to give some encouraging words and wrote some thoughts on this in point 25. Your feedback would be more than welcome.

      Those who read the blog regularly know that I don’t use the word “awesome” often, as I find it is overused by way too many to mean nothing when they do use it, but what you are doing truly inspires awe. You are definitely awesome in my eyes. Keep it up!

      I can confirm that I have met several deaf people who know other languages. There is definitely a point to it, which I am sure you are well aware of. Your life will be enriched by it, and you will experience more than those with full hearing will ever dream of.

      As Hellen Keller once said, “It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.” I’m sure the quote could equally work for hearing but not communicating, and you are living proof!

      • http://www.facebook.com/julie.ferguson.9421 Julie Ferguson

        You’re making me blush! Thank you for taking on board what I said and including it in your list. I liked your take on it and the info about Helen Keller. Obviously, she’s incredibly inspiring!

        When it comes down to it, language learning, and life, is about having a positive attitude. :-)

        • http://www.facebook.com/julie.ferguson.9421 Julie Ferguson

          oops! I’ve never written a blog post, but if people were interested and wanted to know anything specific, I’d be willing to give it a shot.

          • balou67

            I’d love to read from you. Benny is just an alien, how could we relate to him? (kidding… or trying to counter point 5 :D )
            You sure can help a lot of us too, but no rush, you are free, do it when/if you feel like it :)

          • http://twitter.com/cyberdecker Giseli Ramos

            Yeah, that guest post would be awesome, Julie! :) Your story will indeed inspire other deafs (like me) and listeners. I’m also deaf, but I never used it as a excuse to not learn other languages. Yes, I struggle a bit with listening and speaking English (read and write good enough), but I can handle myself if I travel to an English speaking country. I’m Brazilian, and after learning English, I’m going to learn Spanish now. Although Spanish is similar to Brazilian Portuguese, the speaking and lip reading is a bit different for me. Cheers and success on your learning journey! :)

          • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

            I’m very interested in sharing your story! You can see that the latest post (today’s one) is about collecting such stories for others to see, and I linked to your comment here as an excellent example ;)

            Feel free to write a short comment on that post to summarize it, but otherwise use the contact-me form on the site and I can tell you the kind of format I’d be looking for if you’re interested in sharing your story as a dedicated guest post. I definitely am! You will see soon how many people your story could potentially touch and inspire :)

  • Deirdre Magner

    I’ve just found your blog and am fascinated by it! Have spent the entire morning poring over posts! I’m a language teacher and agree totally that you have to speak!!! I especially love #5 – “the language gene” – that one made me laugh! I fully intend to use your “Skype Me Maybe” video with my students. Do you have any posts on how to locate language “skype buddies”?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I generally recommend using a language exchange forum, like the subsection you can find on this site, or italki or verbling. Livemocha and busuu can also be great for finding language partners.

      Glad you are enjoying the blog! I hope your students enjoy the video!

  • http://www.facebook.com/andras.lincoln Andras Lincoln

    Couple of thoughts.

    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. :D

    Secondly, you don’t have to travel to the country. So many opportunities within your own! If you search you will find communities that speak your target language!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Great thoughts! Just quoted you in point one ;)

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/FluentCzech FluentCzech

    One I hear a lot is “everybody speaks English anyway, so there was no point in me continuing, because their English is always going to be better than my XXXX”. Oops – sorry – I see you already have this. I should have read more closely. Sorry again.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/FluentCzech FluentCzech

    Here is a weird one I hear a lot from foreign men in the Czech republic: “My wife/girlfriend is Czech. She does all the talking in Czech when we go out anywhere, and we speak English at home. So, I would never get to use the language even if I learned it.”

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Do they actually say that? They use the word “never”, as if their gf/wife would interrupt them if they dared try? :) I think a quick chat (as I suggested in another point) with their significant other about their interest in genuinely trying, and a plan of action to do so, would bring them very far!

      See you in a month btw! Looking forward to it!

  • Elodie

    Great post ! I’ll spread it around me, as I’m fed up to listen all these excuses :) And by the way, I wanted to thank you as I got my HSK 3 in 6 months! You gave me the energy and courage to go beyond my fear to speak chinese even if I wasn’t ‘ready’ ;) !!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      That’s fantastic! Please go to today’s blog post and share your story with us :D

      Appreciate you sharing it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jhalverson4 Jean Halverson

    I have decided that it is counterproductive to compare myself to other language learners. When I do that, I find that I am completely overlooking my own accomplishments and making myself unnecessarily stressed and depressed. I will never be just as amazing as Einstein (for one thing, I am just not into math), but I am amazing now when I remember how I was just a few years ago.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Someone else mentioned this, so I added it to the list! ;)

      Keep in mind that Einstein was actually bad at math in school, and improved later in life when he found a passion for it. Nobody’s perfect, including our most dearly loved idols ;)

      • http://www.facebook.com/jhalverson4 Jean Halverson

        For me it’s even more complicated. for instance i am an older learner (47) and i have been older than most of my professors in university, not to mention being far older than almost all my classmates. if i let myself continue to compare myself to all these people, i’d just stop, go to bed and stay there. people my age are supposed to be done with their formal education and to have all their life not just planned out but the plan firmly set in motion. There is a constant barrage of the idea that because i have no plan i am doomed to failure.
        but life itself is the adventure. being in university has been an adventure, and whatever happens in a few months will just be a continuation of this adventure.

  • http://becomeyourvision.com/ Isobel Phillips

    My ex-pat friends and I seem to have one “excuse” in common – we’re older (in our 50s and 60s) and we’re embarrassed to make mistakes and afraid of being laughed at. Actually the only people who have ever laughed at my Hebrew are other ex-pats, not Israelis!
    We were discussing this just the other night and saying that when you’re very articulate in your native language, to be reduced to the communication ability of a small child is humbling (or humiliating, depending on how you look at it). If we continue to speak English we can at least feel superior in that language.
    I know, it’s an excuse – but it’s one that’s holding us back so we need to find a way past it.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      This has generally been my experience too. When I learned Chinese, I found that the only people being mean to me about my level and mistakes where other white Europeans and Americans, NEVER locals.

      It’s humbling indeed, but you have to shake off that perfectionism and embrace the child-like rediscovery of the world ;) Keep experimenting with doing different things in the language until you find one that is enjoyable at your level, and keep it at it to help you progress to be able to do more things. Always remember that time with natives will bring you much less frustration than time with books and with cowardly expats.

      Best of luck!

    • http://twitter.com/Tahl Diane Owen

      I’m in my 50s, too. If you view the language as a toy to delight in, it’s a lot easier to feel free to play with it and mess up. Laughing at yourself and letting your friends laugh at and with you is utterly essential. I’m perfectly happy to tell stories on myself, like the time I asked for chicken in my lemonade.

      Another thing: I’m convinced that for every person who thinks worse of you because you speak a new language simply and with errors, there are more who quietly envy your courage in putting yourself “out there.”

      • http://becomeyourvision.com/ Isobel Phillips

        My finest hour so far has been confusing the words for hobbies and underwear. Led to an interesting if slightly surreal conversation! lol A friend and I have decided to go out together and speak only Hebrew, because making an idiot of yourself is more fun in company :) Thanks for the support.

  • Judy

    This isn’t so much a reason why I don’t learn (because I do), as a struggle to keep from getting discouraged, but I can see how for many people it might make them stop trying – comparing yourself to other people. Don’t do it! Compare yourself to yourself! Who cares if someone else is faster or better at it? Someone will always be faster or better at it than me. Am I making progress? If the answer is “yes”, then that’s all that matters.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Good suggestion! Brought it up as point 30 ;)

  • http://twitter.com/microsnout Barry

    Two more reasons …

    1) Turned off a language by being forced to “study” it in school.
    I hated French class in school and dropped it as soon as possible, after grade 9. I can’t remember learning a single thing – not a word – from those years and I rebelled at even the suggestion of studying it for 32 years! Then starting at age 46 I learned it well enough to, on one occasion, help a French immersion graduate (someone who studied all subjects in French throughout high school).

    2) Technology will eliminate the need.
    With advances in new smart phones and technology like Google Translate, soon we will have Star Trek like universal translators. Not!!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Oh yes, the universal translator :D I just added it in ;)

  • Mark

    Rustiness!!

    “I used to be good at language X, but it’s a bit rusty these days. I’d need to brush it up before I could speak it again.” How many times have you heard THAT?

    This applies to people who have learned to speak a language well, but whose ability to speak the language has decreased through disuse.

    The problem is that although you have probably retained quite a lot, you avoid using the language because you think you’re no good anymore, or not as good as you feel you “should” be. You then try to “brush up” your language, but your endless attempts never seem to work, so you eventually end up concluding that you’ve lost the ability permanently (or that you’re now too old / no longer have the time etc etc).

    The truth is that a lot of these rusty-brushy-uppy-itis sufferers have failed to notice they’ve developed some of the problems listed above, which they may not have had first time round. For example, having attained a certain standard in the past, they may have allowed perfectionism to creep in which was not there when working towards that standard originally. This then becomes a case of number 7 above i.e. they won’t feel “ready” to use the language again until they’ve “finished” their brushing up.

    How do I know this? Because I’m the worst example! I completely STOPPED speaking a language I studied to A-Level and could actually speak with a reasonable degree of fluency.

    The solution is, of course, to assess which of the above have become problems for you, even if they were not problems previously, and take corrective action. This does have to be an honest appraisal of which of the above apply to you – just reading through Benny’s list and nodding in intellectual agreement won’t help you figure out what your own stumbling blocks are!

  • rob.my.language

    “But my life REQUIRES me to speak English!”

    I’m an ESL teacher in China and I hear this all the time. Because my job is to teach English, I have to spend all day using it, and so have no other time.

    Obviously this is silly because even with 8 hours for sleep and 8 hours for work, you still have another 8 hours of potential study time. But even more than that, as an ESL teacher I still figure out ways to get some Chinese in during the day. I do flashcard reps as a “break” when Pomodoro’ing my grading/planning, and I’ve recently started an “English Only” policy in my classroom that I enforce with fines for speaking Chinese.

    Usually students would find this unfair, but part of the “contract” is that I have to use Chinese with them during any break periods where we have casual (non-class-related) conversations. If they “catch” me speaking English casually during break periods, *I* get fined! (All the money goes to a class party at the end of the year, though with the recent SIchuan earthquake some students are talking about maybe donating it instead.)

    So now I have 35 Chinese teenagers *trying* to trip me up and catch me speaking English, which makes me extra vigilant (almost to the point of being paranoid) about NOT speaking too much English at work (outside of class, obviously).

    So this makes me step up my game, and my students have stepped up theirs as well, and use much less Chinese in class.

    Beyond that, I’ve recently started trying to attend and participate in more parent association meetings. I don’t understand everything, but yesterday I volunteered to give a little 2 minute speech in Chinese about a recent charity walk we did with the students. It was a simple, silly little topic and a prepared speech, but it forced me to speak Chinese in front of 100+ native speakers. And while my tones were a bit off, I was understood and people appreciated the effort.

    So really, even when English IS THE OBJECTIVE of your work (not just the medium), you can find opportunities if you invest in the community and try to be creative.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ronnie.hoffman.3 Ronnie Hoffman

    How about being “camera shy”? I’m normally a very outgoing person and am comfortable having conversations with native speakers, but meeting new people over Skype makes me extremely nervous (which then gets in the way of my speaking). I suppose the true solution to this is to grit my teeth and start speaking, but there’s probably some other strategies I haven’t thought of yet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/keripeardon Keri Peardon

    This isn’t an excuse, but a positive. I had 3 years of Spanish in school EIGHTEEN years ago and promptly forgot all of it.

    Or so I thought.

    All inspired by you, I recently picked up a couple of used Spanish language books and a software program (don’t shoot me; I paid $14 for it!) and started learning words and basic sentences. I was very surprised to find that I had a pretty high level of reading comprehension (for someone who last looked at Spanish 18 years ago). As I reviewed the material, a lot of words I learned long ago started coming back to me. And even though my books don’t emphasize verb conjugation (something that was drilled into us in school), I find myself remembering those conjugations. And even though I don’t have perfect grammar, I can still get something out that a Spanish speaker is likely to understand. (Just like a native English speaker can understand “We no like dinner of fish.” Having the correct words is more important than the order they’re in most of the time.)

    The major reason why I felt that I was never very good at Spanish in school is because I was afraid of speaking aloud and making a mistake. (Teenagers–oddly enough–have a fear of messing up and facing public ridicule!) Compounded with that is the fact that I have pronounced Southern drawl, and I always felt slow in class because I couldn’t understand rapid-fire Mexican Spanish and certainly couldn’t reproduce it (I don’t speak that fast in English!). But now I don’t worry about it so much. If people know you’re not a native speaker, they’ll speak more slowly (just like I do with some of our law clients who aren’t native English speakers) and they’ll wait for you to reply. And, if worst comes to worst, I can get them to write it down for me; I can usually figure out something that’s written, thanks to spending a decade puzzling out medieval English, Latin, and sometimes French and Italian. It’s made me a good guesser and opened my eyes to how many root words even the Romance languages have in common with English.

    Confidence is really the only skill that was lacking when I was 13.

  • http://www.profitfrommma.blogspot.com/ Ryan Bruno

    Awesome article.
    Thank you very much for sharing it.

  • Aza Makher

    I think one excuse that deserves a smack-down is the “Americans are bad with languages” idea, or assuming that one would be better suited for the path to fluency if only one were born with a different nationality.

    Or perhaps the very idea of this is so inane that it doesn’t even deserve to be toppled, but it certainly can be a self-defeating attitude, and a powerful one that can keep someone’s learning mindset permanently in the “negative zone”.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      “Americans are bad with languages” is basically a combination of 5. and 14. ;)

      • Aza Makher

        Makes sense, indeed. I forgot to mention how inspiring your writing and your overwhelming positive take on everything is, a marvel to behold at any hour. Greetings from Heidelberg!

  • Rémi

    It may be just me but I often start things without completing them. Once I start learning a
    language, I often stop due to lack of motivation. So that may be reason #32:

    32. I lack motivation to continue learning this language.

    Any tips?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      This sounds like pretty much what I wrote about in 8! See my suggestions there ;)

  • MikeF

    I’m a Russian struggling to learn some English. Simultaneously I’m trying to improve my Russian writing skill – I want to become a writer. In order to do that I have to read and write a lot: the more the better. Ideally I should read books in Russian up to 8 hours a day and write in Russian up to 8 hours a day. Ideally. Every additional effort may improve my voice and writing skills. In addition I’ll have writen something sooner.
    On the other hand I have to learn English. It means not only that every book that I read should be in English, but also that my progress will be better if I do everything in English. Ideally I should get rid of using Russian and practise my English 24/7.
    If I had a typical 8 hour workday then, yeah, I could do whatever I want in my spare time. But, frankly, even then I think I would be very preoccupied with the question: what useful activity should I spend more time on and what should I sacrifice in behalf of the others.
    It would be one continuous war among jym, English, drawing, pick up practices, formal education, the Klingon language and many etc-s. For example, I can’t understand how polyglots can and do cope with this problem. The only solution I can see is to choose something one and be satisfied with what you’ve chosen.
    P.S. Right now, while I’m writing this comment a little Englishman in my head enjoys the given practise, when a little fatso is getting no exercise and crying, and a little Tolstoy is furious. Shut up, fake Tolstoy, the true one wasn’t bothered by the burden of his English and French.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kerry.nitz Kerry Nitz

    I only want to learn the language so I can read books in it – speaking it doesn’t interest me

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I don’t see what the problem is? :) I would highly recommend you use the “Learning with text” tool included on this site, or simply get active in reading books in that language.

      Different interests are quite fine, but that isn’t a “challenge” or a reason not to. Focus on reading if that’s your passion ;)

  • Le Squide

    My personal favourite, which I’ve heard a couple of times, is: “I’ve always wanted to learn XYZ Language.” It may not sound like an excuse, but it is. Whenever I’ve pressed them about it the response is always: “Yeah, I really should learn it, shouldn’t I.” No other reasons, nothing. They want to but aren’t. Maybe they like the idea of speaking a language, but just don’t have the motivation to actually learn one (kind of like Reason 8)?

  • Richard

    32: Anxiety problems

    I do have quite a few problems with anxiety sometimes with just about anything, especially when learning a foreign language. This leads me to not really progressing in the language and, at times, getting stressed when ever I hear the language. E.g. I’m trying to learn Korean at the moment, and I often have times where I am afraid to go near any form of Korean media (K-pop, TV etc.) which, as I’m sure you can guess, doesn’t help at all. This being a problem as it has been a dream of mine to speak/understand another language.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I’d use the same reasoning as in points 15 and 27 with you for anxiety… ;)

      I do hope you find a way to get past this relevant to your situation! If so, please share it with us!

  • http://twitter.com/TWorldHeritage Julio Moreno

    I like #28. I feel like this a lot of the time, and realize it later that it is only because I don’t know the words. Once I know the words, it doesnt seem like they are speaking so fast!

  • Dominique

    Benny, will you ever do a post about beating procrastination, or how to force yourself to study after you’ve had a tiring/busy day?

  • lhasa67

    While I agreed with many of the points above, I have noticed the trend in your posts of ascribing many monolingual expats as ‘lazy’ not always a fair assessment. There are other reasons expats do not learn a language that you have neglected to mention; it is an issue of priorities and not simply laziness.

    For you, learning the language of the country you are in is priority, but this is not the case for many other people. Many expats, for example those in the non-profit sector or in international aid work, have vastly different priorities. For them, learning the local language many not be anywhere near the top of their agenda. Learning a different skill may be more valuable to their work or livelihood than this.

    I can appreciate the time you have invested in learning these languages, and developing your own methodology. But realizing that other people do not place ‘language learning’ at the very top of their agenda may help to understand why some people fail to progress or choose not to learn.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      “If you don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.” Yiddish Proverb

      I WAS that lazy expat for 6 months in Spain. I justified not learning the language on many things, but it was very ultimately because I wasn’t swallowing my pride, letting go of my ego, and opening myself up to being a beginner language learner. It was laziness, no matter what other reasons (no time, no talent, no money etc.) I came up with.

      It’s exactly the same for the vast majority of expats, even though they’d never admit it. You’re right that they don’t prioritize language learning. For someone living in a country that speaks a particular language, this is a very very strange thing to do if you really think about it.

      If you are not a tourist in the country for a weekend, then maintaining the English speaking bubble is VERY easy to avoid if you cast aside the excuses.

  • Brian

    Reading through the reasons, for me it seems to be a mix of no. 8, 21 and 27. I’ve been in Prague for almost 3 years and I ‘officially’ have a B2 certificate in Czech. In reality, I think the exam (and especially the spoken part) was marked very easily and I’d probably rate myself as between B1 and B2 somewhere. My main problem is that I just don’t really want to talk very much or very often, even in English. I’m one of those “say what you need and no more” guys. I can talk when I want to but it tends to be only on rare occasions or on something that I’m particularly interested in. In these moments I feel that I’m doing ok but they come along all too infrequently and don’t really give me anything to build upon. I’ve also found that I grew really tired of conversation exchanges due to constant scheduling problems (I’m sure a lot of people reading this have had the same problem) and have thus pretty much given up on them. It also began to feel like I was spending all of my evenings ‘preparing’ for a fluent future while ignoring the opportunities to have fun in the present, and therefore growing resentful of it.
    So what would the solution be? I’m really not sure, but one step I have taken is to start training with a local Czech football team. Czech is the only language spoken there so I have to make the best of it, and I also get to do something fun at the same time. Perhaps that is the key? That I need to make this whole thing more fun?

  • http://www.zarachiron.com/ Zara Chiron

    I adore this article! Especially #13.

    While in France, in the beginning I would sometimes have to be a bit (awkwardly) rude and keep silent in social settings. I would say to myself, “If I don’t have the French words to reply then I just won’t say anything at all.”

    It gets easier as your language skills improve because then you can just reply in the language each time someone tries to speak to you in English. In Spain, I am struggling to remain focused with my Will of Steel and speak only in Spanish!

    I came here a complete beginner so I have had several moments of frustration but little by little I am making progress and I know that once it eventually gets much better it will feel so rewarding! :) *

  • Vincent

    I have the same problem. I keep wishing for something without actually committing to it, and often use the excuse ‘Well, it’s because of personal or financial reasons’. Well for starters, I’ve decided that I’m not going to do any of that anymore!

    I’ve decided on a solution: Couch-surfing!

    I’m to couch-surf this summer in order to meet with people who share my passion for speaking and learning languages. This summer I’m going to Quebec for French.

    Next few summers I’ll either go to Colombia to speak and learn Spanish or go to Egypt to learn THEIR form or Arabic. Either way, I’ve got to do this. One way or another.

  • Sue F

    I live in The Netherlands, and “off the beaten path”, as you put it, and when I was looking for classes I was told by the council that I didn´t need to speak Dutch as everyone speaks English (which is as far from the truth as you can get!) and they wouldn´t help me, wouldn´t even give me a list of schools that ran classes.
    I have a couple of problems that are holding me back. People in this part of the country speak in such a strong dialect that it doesn´t relate to what I learn in class. I suppose like learning English in Glasgow! Even my native speaking husband has had real problems understanding people!
    I was progressing well with the language while I worked, but since giving it up 3 years ago because I was pregnant I have noticed how much it has got worse. I just don’t get the chance to practice. I couldn´t find any mother and child groups and the neighbours are very closed, after we moved in I used to say “hello” when I saw them in the street, and for the first 9 months no one said anything back, not even returned my greeting, and even now after 7 years I haven´t got much further than “hello”. After such negative experiences I don´t have the confidence to start conversations. My husband isn´t really supportive, he always speaks to me in English. I do speak to him about it, and he does chance, for a couple of days, and then things go back to how they were! Just frustrated by it all.

  • Florencia

    Hi!
    Spanish is my mother tongue and I’m fluent in english.
    I’ve been trying to learn norwegian and lived in Norway for six months. Several times I found myself thinking about some of your excuses. But the main “problem” that discouraged me was the dialect situation in Norway. Even though I made a lot of progress reading and “kind of” speaking the language, I was studying the official language and I had a really hard time understanding people when they talked to me, not only because of the speed of the speech, but mainly because of the different dialects where lots of words where very different from what I was learning.
    I would really appreciate a word of advice on this!
    Thanks!! bye bye!

  • Karthikeya Deshmukh

    Extremely helpful, thanks a lot.

  • Laura

    What happens to me is, after spending some time on studying a language, I finally realise that I have put in so much effort for no specific aim. To put it in simpler words the reason why I do not learn a new language or I stop studying one is because I do not see any way for me to make a good use of the language, which ends up having no specific purpose in my life.

    I think “yes, ok, i start learning language B and I speak language A already (which is not my mother tongue), and so what?
    When I come to questioning myself about the ‘SO WHAT?’ thing, it all ends there. I basically see no reason why I should be fluent or I should study a language If I do not know what do with it.

    I have studied Mandarin for a good four years, spent one year in China, reached a good fluency and than nothing much, did not find any interesting way for me to apply it in my everyday life, all of a sudden I did not have any inspiration or motivation to keep speaking it or learning. I wanted to learn Spanish but not knowing how to use it in the future, I did not bother learning it.

  • Gage Martinez

    I believe I have an interesting case:
    I am an extremely avid language learner, but in an ironic twist of fate, I also have Social Anxiety Disorder. Please understand that this is not just a simple case of “shyness”. I’ve had full blown anxiety attacks before.
    Just the other day, I tried joining a language practice hangout on Google+ so that I could improve my Spanish. When the session first started, it was just me and the host (who was a native speaker of Spanish). He tried talking to me in Spanish, and he said something I didn’t quite understand. I almost instantly started having an anxiety attack, and I had to quit out. I spent the almost the rest of the entire day de-stressing.
    Since talking with a native (or at least someone fluent in the language) is an important part of learning a language, you can see this to be a problem. It’s grinded my progress to a halt, and I’m not really sure what to do.

    • Sue F

      Gage, you have my sympathies having such a disorder. I have never heard of it before, but believe I have something similar as I have had experiences similar to yours. People just tell me to “get over it” which is not very helpful. I wish I had the answer…..

      • Gage Martinez

        Thank you, Sue.
        I sure know how that feels. I hate it when I’m anxious in social situations, and people just think I’m acting “weird” and stuff like that, and that I should just get over it.
        Alas, I only wish it could be cured in a day, but unfortunately, it’s a long process.
        Anyway, I think I’ve decided to halt my progress, because really, there’s nothing I can do. Maybe in a few years when I can handle my anxiety I can try learning Spanish again…

        • Jesslc

          Hi Gage,

          I have depression and anxiety. I don’t think my anxiety is a severe as yours (at least not anymore) but I still know how awful it is when people say things like just get over it. It’s been a long, slow process for me (years) to go from being extremely social anxious to only being social anxious sometimes but it can be done. :-)

          I don’t think you need to give up learning languages in the meantime though. I know Benny is really strong about the importance of speaking, (and he’s right, it is important), but there’s still heaps of language learning you can do without having to speak to a stranger.

          I’m not sure what level you are at, but here are some ideas (possibly you do them already though).

          Listening to Spanish radio (live over the internet) or watching movies/news without subtitles, will definitely help to build up your listening comprehension. (Bonus these methods come with real life speaking speed and real life accents – so when you are able to cope with a real life native speaker, you won’t be thrown off by how fast they speak).

          Practice speaking out loud in the privacy of your own home. Repeat aloud words spoken in a movie you’re watching. Read out sentences you’re studying. This will help with the uncomfortable feeling of stumbling over unfamiliar sounds when trying to speak a new language.

          If you have a good friend who is willing to help out once a week or so, teach them to pronounce a list of Spanish questions and get them to ask you some of questions every week.

          Use everyday life as opportunities to try to get yourself thinking in your target language. Say the relevant Spanish word in your head while eating/getting dressed/driving. Listen to Spanish radio/songs in the background while doing other things.

          As your ability to handle your anxiety grows you can gradually push yourself a little further, such as looking for a fellow Spanish learner who is also too anxious to seek out native speakers and practicing speaking with each other. Possibly even starting with chatting online before progressing to actually speaking aloud.

          Be patient with yourself but always keep trying. Progress, no matter how infinitesimally slow, is still progress and deserves to be celebrated.

  • Vladimir Georgiev

    I can add another excuse I heard by a lot of foreigners in Denmark: I’ll not learn, because I don’t know how long I’m going to live here.. or: You need the language only if you are going to live there
    well, I’m not sure if I really want long term constantly raining, but I can see how they are very talkative if they speak their language and very short when speaking English

  • Alan Zhou

    Another reason is the inability to gain access to relevant learning material of the target language. In my case it is the Latin Language which has become defunct. In my area there is very little material in Latin. It is also remarkably difficult to find them online.

    • http://fluentin3months.com/ Brandon Rivington

      On the contrary my friend, the great thing about Latin is that a lot of the resources are in the public domain! Check out http://www.textkit.com/. It’s all free and legally downloadable! Also try http://schola.ning.com/. It’s a Latin-only social media site with a very well frequented chat room.

  • Tom

    I know most of the comments were months ago and im pretty sure no one is going to comment back, however I find that I am motivated to learn Spanish but i dont know what topics to learn. Im taking a spanish course in my upper school here in the UK i can generally talk about my opinions and can hold a convosation with a native for a few minutes ( ive tried on skype and others websites ) but i want to improve my Spanish vocab and broaden my knowlege of the lanugage. What topics do i learn? do i learn how do ask for directions? how to ask questions? how to talk about food or sports? in general what are the 10 or say 5 topics that you would recomend learning in Spanish so i can talk more in depth to a Native. Thanks hope you can reply!

  • Mad_Man_Moon

    I think a good one to add would be “Not knowing ‘English’ well enough.”

    By this, of course I mean the tenets of what makes up language, verbs, adjectives, conjugations, etc. I didn’t know what a conjugation was (I swear we weren’t taught it in normal English schools, something that’s been borne out by other like-educated souls) and my Korean teacher was going on about them and irregular verbs, and suchlike.

    I had to ask what these things were.

    Put simply, in that situation, I decided to carry on the course and take what I could from it. But I have also resolved to have my next course be English Language. If I know how language is structured full stop then I can better understand the methods and teaching of others.

    I’m not sure that this is one that totally fits in with the ‘this is bad’, ‘no it isn’t’ of the article, but I think you could adjust it easily enough to fit that.

    The crux is that if you don’t understand English you still can learn Korean, despite not knowing what reflexives and whatnot are. But if you do take a short course, or educate yourself (money, etc), then you’ll find the theory of it a lot easier (and, yeah, I’m someone that just can’t do theory ;-) ).

    Cheers!
    M_M_M

  • Koziolek666

    reason 33. I really cannot learn languages :)

    Example – me. Ok. I write this comment and I not use google translate or similar software to correct mistakes, find words or to help myself. Just only simple browser dictionary that correct misspelling.

    I’m 30. I started learn English when I was 6 or 7. So 23 years of work. I try common school methods like learning grammar rules and vocabulary, using small piece of paper with words. I spent lot of time on private studies of English. Burn my parent money and then my money. Try all this “magic” methods like Callan. Effect? Burn lot of money…

    And my knowledge of this easy language is on pre-intermediate level. I try pass FCE two times and fail both.

    I’m not an idiot. I’ve bachelor degree on theoretical physics. Last 8 years I work as developer in financial sector and create lot of good software. So argument “not smart enough” is incorrect. For last 12 years each year I learn another programming language. I love learning and develop my knowledge. Physics, math, chemistry… basics of human biology and bio-chemistry when I started train at gym… 3 month and I know more than most of people that train with me. They spent years on gym…

    But still I cannot learn languages. As a developer I have to understand English. I read lot of documentations, books, tutorial, examples. All in English. So I use translator. Often use translator… or use my brain to try understand words base on context (nice method, very helpful).

    Of course I tried other languages. German – 3 years at high school and teachers give me note a little above F (I pass) an said “never ever use that language again”. All my German knowledge (I use this word 3rd time in this text and its first time when I write it in proper way) is only “wurst und bier bitte” (and some nazi-speak hehehe).

    Norwegian – 1 year of study just for fun and using experimental methods… I know only one word – Jag. That mean ‘I’.

    To sum up that text. How many mistakes I made in this text? 33 or more? Probably more. So I’m one of that humans who really cannot learn languages… I really want to know English and some other language. I try, but I can’t. I tried everything.

    ps. my native is Polish so I know what mean “‘language hard to learn”.