Disappointment, 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 are going to look at why most language learners fail to become fluent in their target language and what you can do about it.
Let’s look at three reasons most new language learners fail to accomplish their goal of developing fluency in their target language and what you can do instead. There are doubtlessly several other reasons why learners cannot reach their goals but these are 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 foreign language learning, a good mindset is the key to success. Your typical language learner does not understand what fluency is, does not believe he is capable of becoming fluent and does not focus his energy primarily 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 What is Fluency in a Foreign Language? “fluency" is much different from “proficiency”. Your average Joe who learns a foreign language has never learned what fluency actually means nor how to go about achieving it.
Your goal should be to speak the language clearly so that native speakers can understand you. You also want to be capable of speaking about a wide range of topics. Also, you want to understand the main idea of more complicated conversations and topics in your target language. Here is what fluency is not: Fluency is NOT perfection. Most teachers do not even think to explain this concept and thus most learners put far too much pressure on themselves early on and burn out, realizing that they are years away from perfection. What they don’t understand is that fluency is 6-12 months away, with the right strategy, focus, and consistent, daily effort.
b) Remind yourself that you are capable of becoming fully fluent if you put in the work, focus, and time.
Positive affirmations are a great way to boost your focus, optimism, energy, and confidence. In my article, Positive Affirmations for Language Learning, I touch on this in more detail, but simple reciting out loud or writing an affirmation on a daily basis is a powerful method that can help you.
“I, _(name)____ can become fluent in ___(target language)_____. I will speak _________ fluently by __(date/year)______.”
Furthermore, this is powerful in that an absurd number of people have the belief that is a “language learning” gene existing in the DNA of some, but not 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 most classes 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 for curriculum designers and instructors to pretend that you about these areas equally.
We know this is going to be simply untrue 99% of the time.
When you know what you want, sometimes it's best to just cut to the chase. You want to focus on speaking your language. In my free guide, I go more into detail 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 "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 passively learned. 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 you will 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 become fluent over time.
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 method, but 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 grow from them. When you are studying, practicing, and having conversations in your target language you will inevitably 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 will 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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Ready to begin moving towards fluency in a foreign language? Download the free Fluency Guide: 5 Steps to Developing Fluency in Nearly Any Language. You will gain access to a solid overview of how you can take action and develop speaking fluency in 12 months or less.
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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.