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Whether your goal is to lose weight, save money, or speak a language, out of the many obstacles you will encounter on your path, the biggest one by far is you.
In a language-learning context I see people spending countless hours on forums and even the few blogs like this one to get the latest “trick” to help them progress, or they'll spend endless hours studying grammar and vocabulary and make no progress in speaking the language and not realise why.
They look for external solutions – jumping on silly debates about whether more input versus more output is better, or researching precisely “how many words” they should know before they are “ready”, or simply just getting caught in an information-overload loop. Studying a ridiculous amount or reading more about the topic will surely give them the key… the magic bullet, the instant solution to their problems, right?!
ENOUGH OF THIS NONSENSE!
The wall holding you back was one you built yourself
There seems to be this ridiculous inferiority complex so many people have about speaking another language. It comes across a lot in how impressed so many of them are when they meet people like me who speak other languages, like we are some amazing glitches in the Matrix.
It's time to realize that speaking languages is totally natural. Most of the planet can speak more than one language. If you happen to come from a culture that is mostly monolingual, don't let that define your boundaries!
One of the main reasons some people tend to not speak foreign languages, even when they have studied them for a long time, is feeling that they are not good enough. Sure, they may phrase it differently (“I'm not ready yet”, or “I'm too tired today – maybe tomorrow”, i.e. I'm not motivated enough), but they are all different shades of the same problem.
Where do you think this comes from? Is the language posing this restriction on you? Are natives constantly telling you that you are not worthy to attempt to speak their language?
NO. YOU are inventing this wall. You may have personally constructed an invisible barrier and are banging on it like a mime would. It's only in your mind. Stop thinking that outside forces are at work here. The language is not high up and out of your reach – maybe you just need to stand up and embrace it.
Lack of confidence – it will hold you back more than lack of technique and how-much-you-know ever can
Lack of confidence (as well as lack of passion) is in my opinion one of the main obstacles holding people back from becoming fluent in another language (and hell, nearly everything else they try to achieve and fail at over the long term) even though they actually have all the potential and intelligence they need already.
Sometimes a good self-help book or hearing a few motivational speeches can do more than studying grammar ever can for your progress. Maybe an encouraging and open talk about how you feel with a friend can help you speak today or get over what is holding you back, where studying obscure vocabulary that “might” appear in a conversation wasn't helping.
Think about it! Maybe the problem isn't the grammar & vocabulary & tones & writing system. You simply “don't feel ready”. Spending more time focusing on these technical details helps, of course, but if you aren't confident enough to use them, then no amount of study will ever make a difference.
I have met people who could run circles around me in a particular language if you put the two of us in an examination environment. They know words for pretty much everything and know the grammar inside-out. But they stay silent when it's time to talk, for fear of having one or two mistakes slip through. What's the big deal?
Success comes from within
No, I'm not trying to get all zen on you – but a huge part of the reason I have achieved what I have in many parts of my life (speak almost ten languages, have a blog with 50,000 monthly readers, travel as I like etc.) is not down to luck. It's hard work (of course) and a positive attitude. I've had many challenges along the way, but I simply don't focus on them. I find a solution and apply it and focus on my successes. Every day has a failure of sorts, but I shrug it off and continue as I was before.
People who generally fail more often than me meet the exact same challenges I do, but they focus on those challenges to the point where it consumes any progress they can make.
Second-guessing yourself serves NO USEFUL PURPOSE. If you want to “be realistic” then realistically look at successful people and ask yourself how much you think they hesitated, told themselves they were worthless or decided that “today I'm not ready, but ‘soon' I will be!”
From day one I tell myself that I own this language. I presume I'll be mostly successful in all my missions, even when things are looking tough. Confidence is the fuel that brings me further than natural talent ever could.
Maybe working on your confidence can be the most beneficial thing you can do to achieve mastery in your target language or success in any other mission you might have. Stop attacking the problem obliquely – work on your confidence directly, not on things that will “eventually bring you” confidence.
Pessimism gets you nowhere
I worked on my confidence a lot over the last decade by simply putting myself in situations that force me to be confident. If you retort that with “But I'm too scared to put myself in those situations!” then think about that invisible wall again. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. You are scared and you lack confidence because you tell yourself you are scared and lack confidence. Repeating that mantra over to yourself will maintain it as your reality.
Why not try a new mantra and see how that works?
Positive thinking can't in itself change the universe – you can't ever “will” the world to be the way you want it to be. But the power of negative thinking and how much it influences your life is immense. It boggles my mind how little people see how much they are causing their problems by simply focusing on these problems all the time. More attention does NOT equal more solutions.
I hate sugar coating things for people, call me insensitive if you will but if you are feeling a lack of confidence get over it! Stop reading and thinking about how to solve your problems and just SOLVE them! Action will always produce more results than overanalysing ever will.
You are your worst enemy when you are a pessimist, and your own hero when an optimist.
No more procrastination and excuses, stop holding yourself back!