I know that not everyone who reads my blog is a language enthusiast. Maybe you’re learning English because you need it for work. Maybe you have got to the stage where you can communicate pretty well, but you want to move to the next level and explain things as clearly in English as you would in your first language.
I’m all about figuring out what works – and what doesn’t work for each person because I know how important this is in terms of getting results.
I’m on my 3rd serious language-learning project now and I decided to take a look at what worked and what didn’t work when I was learning German and Turkish. This will help me not to repeat some of my mistakes now that I am learning Romanian.
Here’s what I came up with. Do you relate to any of these things? What would you add to the list?
Things that went well the first time
These are the things that I would like to continue doing because I know they helped me to learn and grow.
Work hard and you will get results
There’s no getting away from it! If you want to learn a language, you have to put some work in. People who tell you otherwise are probably trying to sell you some quick-fix solution, but real progress takes time and effort.
However, it’s true that you can work smarter without working harder. Look at which methods bring you the best results. Look at what you are learning – is it relevant and will it take you closer to the goals that you have or the things that you want to be able to do? We can waste a lot of time and energy on things that don’t really add value in the end, and that’s time that could be spent on something else.
Do different things so that the learning process doesn’t become boring
When I buy the grocery shopping, I get a range of things for us to eat. Maybe you like to have the same food every day. If that’s the case, it’s fine, but many people need variety.
For me, it’s the same with language learning. Sometimes I have energy for a chat with someone and sometimes I want to curl up on the sofa with a book or podcast. Sometimes I want to learn new words, and sometimes I just want to listen to some music in the other language.
If you look at the timetable at high school, the students have variety throughout the week. Learning a language is just one subject, but we can make it more exciting by mixing the activities up a bit.
Find things that work for you
It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing if those things won’t work for you!
You can get some help and guidance, but the best person who knows you and what motivates you … is you!
Watching TV series in another language doesn’t work for me because I rarely watch TV series in English. They’re not part of my world and I don’t have a high motivation drive to consume content in that way. There’s also the challenge that I can’t read the subtitles, though I’m not convinced that this is a bad thing because sometimes the lack of them really makes you listen harder. Not being able to see what characters are doing is more of a problem though, so I prefer more factual, or at least less visual content.
Some people love language learning apps where you meet other people. To be honest, I can’t be bothered with yet another app or network, so I tend to find communication partners online and then move the conversation to a platform that I already use. There is no right way here, but I know which one I prefer and I do that.
I like the Duolingo app, but I know some people don’t. It has its drawbacks, especially for languages such as Romanian that don’t have explanations, but the repetition and sentence-building helps me to retain the new words. Other people have other apps that they enjoy. The best way is to try some out and see which ones you like.
Make real human connections
If you only speak with people with whom you need to speak at work, they will always feel like high-pressure encounters!
Or, if you don’t have any real connections with whom you can practice, it will feel like a very theoretical exercise with no practical use. This is one of the mistakes that I made with my venture into learning Hindi.
I have used German at work and now I have started to venture into some business events in Romanian, but when it really comes to practicing and opening myself up to feel vulnerable, it’s much easier to do that with my friends or a teacher.
In terms of both Turkish and German, I understood that I’m a social person and I like human contact. So I found friends who spoke those languages. Now, with Romanian, this is one of the first things I did, even at the beginning when I struggled just to tell people what I did at the weekend! Apart from making some lovely new friends, I know that this motivates me to keep learning and keep using what I’ve learned – because I want to communicate with my new friends.
Make the language part of your everyday life
It’s hard if you have to keep finding time for something. Routine is key. If you train yourself to read something in the other language, if it keeps popping up on your social media feeds, if you know that you have a lesson on a set day, it will become part of your everyday routine and it will be easier for you to be consistent.
Things to leave behind
Ok, that’s all very positive! Here are some of the less positive things that I used to do and that I don’t want to do any more!
Don’t punish yourself after bad experiences
Today just wasn’t your day – tomorrow will be better if you let it!
It’s easy to feel that we let ourselves down if we didn’t say everything that we wanted to or if we were hunting around for words. It doesn’t make you a failure. You’ll know some of those words for next time and it’s not the end of the world!
Don’t neglect the skill that you like the least
for me it was, and still is, speaking. I never really got past this with Turkish. I felt comfortable about reading, listening and writing, but speaking was a challenge that I never really mastered and something about which I never felt confident. My priorities have changed now, so I probably won’t do anything about that in the near future.
At the beginning, I had exactly the same challenge with Romanian. My brain wouldn’t find the words quickly enough and the longer the other person had to wait, the worse I felt.
But I knew that I didn’t want to make the same mistakes again, so I put myself in situations where I would need to speak – in lessons, with friends, and later, the scariest of all, in business networking meetings.
You’ll never improve a skill if you neglect it and hope that magically somehow things will get easier.
Don’t think that the only way for you to feel ok / good enough / competent is for you to make no mistakes
If you do, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Nobody is perfect. We make mistakes in our first language sometimes. We aren’t always eloquent and as smart as we know we can be! Most people aren’t waiting for us to make a mistake – and if they are, are they really the kind of people with whom you want to spend your time?
This is still work in progress for me, but recognising the problem and identifying a solution means I’m halfway to solving it! I’m good at giving the advice to my clients, but sometimes not so good at taking it myself!
Don’t make it harder for people to get to know the real you
We can put a lot of time and effort into making a good impression, but sometimes we lose some of what makes us “us” in an attempt to do well in the other language. There can be different reasons for this, but usually it’s because we’re shy about making mistakes / saying the wrong thing / not knowing what to say.
It took me time to learn this one, but I know I have done myself a massive disservice in the past when I squashed my personality into a bland and rather boring persona because I was trying too hard to create perfect sentences every time. Some people got past my protective mask, but it was more work for them and for me. It’s better to be more authentic and real than to only say things that you know are 100% correct and be silent the rest of the time!
So, how about you? Do you relate to any of these things? Some of these things are practical and they relate to language learning strategies, but many are about our mindset and the way we treat ourselves. For me, both are important in terms of making faster progress.
We can put many of these into practice without any help from others. However, if you’re learning English and you’d like some support, send me a message so that we can discuss what you need and how I can help.
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