Disappointment, resentment, depression, and suicidal thoughts are all common aftereffects (just kidding). Maybe that’s a little extreme, but seriously, who doesn’t hate to waste time, money, and energy on something and have little to no results? In this article we’re going to look at why most language learners fail and what you can do about it.
Let’s look at three reasons most new language learners fail to succeed in developing fluency in their target language and what you can do differently. There are probably several other reasons as to why learners can not reach their goals, of course, but these are (in my opinion) the most important and ones that should not be overlooked.
I. They Do Not Develop a “Fluency Focused Mindset."
As with any challenging pursuit in life, whether that be in business, sports, or anything else, a good mindset is key to success. Your typical learner does not understand what fluency is, does not consistently believe he is capable of becoming fluent, and does not fully focus his energy on speaking skills. With a good mindset your objectives are clear, you believe in what you’re doing, and you are focused. Here are three key ways for you to develop what I like to call a "fluency focused mindset”.
a) Understand what fluency is.
As I wrote in my article, What is Fluency in a Foreign Language?, “fluency" is actually much different from “proficiency”. Your average Joe who begins learning a foreign language simply has not ever been taught (by no fault of his / her own) what fluency actually is.
Your goal should be to be able to speak the language accurately and clearly so that native speakers can understand you. You also want to be capable of talking about a wide range of topics. Also, you want to understand the main idea of more complicated conversations and topics in your target language. It Fluency is NOT perfection. Most teachers do not teach this and thus most learners put far too much pressure on themselves early on and burn out, quickly realizing that they are years away from perfection. What they don’t understand is that fluency is realistically 7-10 months away, with the right strategy and daily consistent effort.
b) Remind yourself that you are fully capable of becoming fluent if you put in the work, focus, and time.
Positive affirmations are a great way to boost your focus and bolster your confidence. In my article, Positive Affirmations for Language Learning, I touch on this in more detail, but simple reciting outloud or writing down, “I, _________ am capable of becoming fluent in __________. I will be speaking _________ fluently by __________.” is powerful in that many, many people have the idea of a “language learning” gene being omnipresent in some and nonexistent in others. This is nonsense. If you are able to speak one language fluently, you can learn to do the same with another. Use affirmations!
c) Focus Your Efforts on Speaking.
In the majority of classes, courses, and programs you are taught reading, writing, speaking, grammar, and culture. You almost never focus all of your efforts on being able to speak fluently in the most effective, efficient way possible. Instead, for whatever reason, there is a tendency to pretend that you about all of these areas equally.
We know this is probably bullshit.
When you know what you want, sometimes it's best to just cut to the chase. In this case, you want to focus on speaking. In my free guide, I go more into detail as to how to make this happen.
II. They Look for Products, Courses, Apps, and Teachers That Will “Make Them Fluent.”
The dirty little secret about language learning that language learning ‘professionals’ out there don’t tell you is that no one book, software, course, program, service, etc. can “make you fluent.” Language learning is not a skill that can be learned passively. In order to become fluent in a foreign language as a teenager or adult one must take full control of their language learning journey. You must embrace the fact that you are going to be using various tools, methodologies, and language conversation teachers / conversation partners to build your skill set. You must put in the work and immerse yourself in daily study sessions and situations that will provide the opportunities for you to interact, put in the work, and gradually become fluent.
Because fluency is not imperfect, you have to know that there is no perfect way to go about achieving your fluency goal. However, you will want to follow a certain methodology, but at the same time allow for some flexibility, make it fun, and look forward to doing it each day.
III. They Do Not Embrace Mistakes
The third and final reason here just might be the most important of the three. World class language learners all have one trait in common: they embrace making mistakes and they learn to quickly grow from them. When you are studying, practicing, and having conversations in your target language you are inevitably going to make mistakes. You want to make mistakes, take note, learn what the right way to do things is, and improve upon it.
So, let’s have a mini-mindset shift here: instead of trying to avoid mistakes in conversation practice, you now want to see how many mistakes you can make. You are going to remember that you are a non-native speaker. You are a learner. Your goal is not perfection. “Fluency” is the goal and fluency is imperfect. Embrace imperfection. Embrace your mistakes!
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Levi Flint is a language teacher, learner, and traveler frustrated with how languages have been viewed and taught in North America. He hopes to change things with a bit of clarity, perspective, and common sense.