Frustrations are familiar to any language learner and can manifest themselves in many different ways. They can also have different causes, and, therefore, different ways to overcome them, depending on why the frustration originally set in.
If these frustrations aren’t taken care of, they can result in disappointment and in a permanent loss of motivation. And a person once put off learning languages may never come back to the herd. There are not so many of us in the first place, and watching people, once motivated enough to start upon the journey, get burnt out and desert – to take upon gardening, perhaps – is quite disheartening.
But what is avoidable should be avoided. Languages can make our lives richer and more beautiful in so many different ways, and they are just worth fighting for. Not only can we deal with these pesky frustrations, but we can also help our fellow language enthusiasts overcome them while it’s still not too late. We just have to know exactly what is going on.
One of the most common reasons for language learning frustrations is the so-called plateau when, upon reaching a certain level, the learner suddenly discovers that the progress has slowed down considerably compared to the beginning. This phenomenon is very well known to linguists, but to a beginner it might look like the end of the world. People start talking about having lost their ability to learn; many actually give up at this stage. Yet all that is necessary is to read around, find out as much as possible about the plateau and accept it. Step after step, a milestone after a milestone, the road is still to be walked, but it’s okay to walk it at a comfortable pace and just enjoy the process of discovering more about the language. Sometimes a little break may help, but it should never last longer than a week, because otherwise there is a danger of its becoming permanent. Laziness is an even worse enemy of a language learner than frustration, and we have to be on our guard against it.
Another reason can be the fact that others make quicker progress. This sort of frustration is very common in classrooms, and is, perhaps, the hardest to deal with. It is, of course, very easy to say, ‘don’t be jealous of your fellow learners, but use their example to motivate yourself. We all have different abilities and different pace, but we will all arrive at the end if we work hard’.
Obvious things, but, alas, easier said than done. For someone lagging continuously behind the others these truisms may in fact be of no help, even annoying. What will really work is to switch to individual lessons, assuming that they are affordable, but constant attention on the part of the teacher, not shared with other students, can be too much for some. Whenever it’s possible to create a mini-group, in which there would be two or three students carefully matched by their abilities, that would be a perfect solution.
Some learners get frustrated if the language they have chosen has turned out to be too difficult. The majority of such complaints are about Mandarin Chinese, with Hungarian and Russian following close behind. What can I say to that? Russian is easy for me, because it’s my native language, but Mandarin is indeed a challenge. When at times I feel like giving it up, I remind myself that a lot of people have mastered it. It may have taken a lot of time, but it is doable. And that means I can do it too, so I just persevere.
But in some cases it might be wise to try another language if the one you have chosen is a total no-go. There are thousands of them around waiting for you to pay attention, and no one has learned them all so far, so, unless it is of the utmost importance for you to master the language you are struggling with – e.g. for your professional needs – it’s okay to shift your attention to something more agreeable.
But there is yet another and especially disturbing reason of language learning frustrations – and that’s meanness of people around us. Sometimes it’s a teacher freaking out and saying all sorts of nasty things to a student for no reason. Sounds fantastic? Well, it does happen; it has happened. The only way to deal with such a teacher is to fire him or her at once, but still it can be too late because harm has been done. Also, if you seek feedback at online forums, make sure you pick a friendly, supportive community, in which your fellow members will be aiming at helping you, as opposed to building up their self-esteem by means of destroying yours. Evil things do happen online, unfortunately, since being on the web gives many a sense of impunity; once get burned by such an experience, some of us hurt for months, if not for years.
Should we meet a person whose self-confidence has been harmed by someone else’s nastiness, it’s our duty to offer moral support. Language learning community should be a brotherhood (and a sisterhood, of course), but not a battlefield. Sometimes it’s enough just to tell an insecure person that they are in fact very good and on the right track. For various cultural reasons we might shy away from praising others, but a kind word spoken sincerely at the right moment can really work miracles.
To sum up, language learning frustrations usually have to do with the confidence of the learner. As long as the person in question has the strength to walk the road – step after step, no matter how small – there will be progress, but fatigue, doubt and loss of motivation can ruin it all. So, in order to succeed we need to learn to replenish our energy, to avoid overstraining ourselves and, most importantly, to believe in ourselves. We need to learn to seek help from the right people and to run a mile from those whose influence can be destructive. And, most importantly, we need to know exactly what we are doing it all for.
This guest post is written by forum member LinguaPony who speaks and writes in her native Russian and in English with equal ease and is now learning Italian and Mandarin Chinese with four more languages to be added within three years. You can read her language log here: https://forum.language-learners.org/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=7160.