Q: how do you convince yourself that you can learn the language?
It’s a pretty common issue to feel like you can’t learn a language, and there are many reasons that could contribute to that feeling. Sometimes it’s because teachers or friends have discouraged you, or maybe you’ve had some unsuccessful attempts in the past.
Just constantly telling yourself that you can do it until you believe it isn’t really the only solution. I would suggest taking the first step in understanding why you have this self-doubt. It’s not as simple as just saying, “You can do it, believe in yourself,” because feeling incapable of learning a language usually indicates a deeper issue.
We all have our own unique experiences and insecurities when it comes to language learning. That’s why the first thing you need to do is figure out what specifically makes you feel like you can’t learn.
For example, you might think, “I can’t learn a language because I’ve tried so many times and failed.” I totally get it. I’ve been through that too. Many language learners go through this because there are so many different methods and advice out there. You end up trying all these different strategies recommended by different people, but you don’t make any progress. And that’s when you start thinking that there must be something wrong with you since everyone else seems to be able to learn a language except for you.
There’s no easy solution here – if language learning was that simple, I wouldn’t have a job! It really comes down to finding what works for you. That’s why I’ve created a new free mini-course to help you evaluate language learning resources based on your preferences and goals. But I must say that my full course, The Method, provides much more detailed guidance.
If you truly believe that you can’t learn a language, the first step is understanding why you feel that way. Once you identify the underlying reasons, you can systematically address them using The Method. In the first lesson of the first phase, we focus on your limiting beliefs and tackle issues like:
- Why do you think you can’t learn a language?
- Why do you feel like you’re too busy?
- What fears do you have when it comes to language learning?
By addressing the root causes of your struggles in language learning, you can overcome any mental roadblocks. This way, as we progress through the rest of the course – which covers language learning strategies, consistency, and enjoying the process – you won’t be held back by mindset obstacles that currently limit your progress.
We make it a priority to eliminate these mental barriers because language learning itself is already challenging enough. It’s crucial to recognize that these obstacles don’t stem from being unintelligent, lazy, or lacking time. Our mental roadblocks are the ones that create significant problems and hinder our progress. Even if you have the best strategies and courses, if these obstacles remain unaddressed, you’ll inevitably face difficulties.
Q: how do you not take mistakes personally?
A lot of people go into language learning, and they make mistakes, which is inevitable in language learning. And every single time they do something wrong – they forget a word, use a word wrong, maybe they’re laughed at by other people – and so it really kind of shuts them down. And we get into this habit, we get into this pattern of every time we make a mistake, we stop, and we get this negative reinforcement that we’re doing it wrong, and when you’re learning a language when you’re learning anything new, but especially when you’re learning a new language, it is really important to shift that mindset.
So mistakes are a good thing. And this is easier said than done. Obviously, I do have a mini course that helps with this, actually. Mastering Mistakes will help you with this specific problem.
Stop thinking that mistakes are a bad thing. Okay, mistakes are a good thing. And we have been generally conditioned to think mistakes are a bad thing and mistakes are where you get punished disciplined yelled at embarrassed, humiliated, and all sorts of things.
A lot of people are going to always treat it like that. And that’s okay. You can’t control other people. But what you can do is when you make mistakes – because you will make mistakes – it’s to look at them differently and look at them as opportunities for improvement.
Let’s say you’re in the scenario when you’re trying to have a conversation in your target language, you’re in a language exchange, or you are working with a tutor. And you’re talking back and forth in your target language. And you want to express a certain sentence or phrase, but you get stuck because you’re thinking, “I think this is how you say that, but I’m not entirely sure”.
There are two options when you’re in this scenario.
Option 1: hope for the best
Follow the idea that you have: I think this is what I say that I think this is correct, but I’m not sure. If you follow that, even if it could be wrong, you follow it, hoping for the best. And if it was correct, congratulations! It’s an amazing day, you did something good.
If it’s wrong, that is also okay. Because now you’ve learned, and you can say “Okay, so how should I have said that?” And that is a way that you learn from your mistakes, because mistakes are an opportunity to learn and to not be stressed out about that problem in the future conversation.
Option 2: don’t try
Or, if you make the other choice, and just don’t say anything, then you don’t learn anything. The conversation ends, and then you feel really bad: “I wanted to say this thing, but I couldn’t”. And you miss out on that opportunity to either prove to yourself that you were right all along, or learn to do it better the next time.
So that’s how you look at them as opportunities to improve. Benny Lewis, for example, has said that his goal is to make mistakes, like a certain number of mistakes every day. And while that is an extreme version of that, the concept behind it is true, to purposely make mistakes, because you recognize that mistakes are a positive thing and an opportunity to learn.
Q: how do you keep going when it feels like you aren’t making progress?
You’ve spent all of your time playing on Duolingo or reading a textbook or having conversations, and you look back every once in a while you say, “Why am I not fluent yet? Why haven’t I learned the language yet? Why am I still struggling? Why aren’t I getting better? And if I’m not getting better, what is the point of trying?” Right? And then that is a really hard thing to fight.
The third phase of The Method is Metrics, and this is really important because when we are looking for progress, it’s really important to specify what metrics you’re looking at. It’s really easy, really common to try to start learning a language and try to continue learning a language and you’re looking back, you say,
“Why am I not fluent? Why am I still making these mistakes? Why can’t I learn this concept? Why am I still tripping over my words? Why can I still not think in the language?”
When you are looking back at the progress that you’re making and trying to clarify what progress there is. And the problem is, when you’re looking back, you say, “okay, am I fluent yet? Okay, am I learning new vocab yet? Am I able to have confident conversations yet? Am I able to think in the language yet?”
In Phase 3, in Metrics, we talk about what metrics are you looking at for your own language learning? So for example, let’s say that you want to be able to think in the language instead of having to translate from the language. And so you are learning all of this vocab, you’re memorizing all this vocab, and all these translations, and then you do that for a month. And then you look back at your language learning, and you say, “Okay, can I think in the language yet? Can I stop translating?”
“No, I can’t. But I’m learning language, I’m studying the language, I’m learning all this vocab, I should just be able to think these words that I’m learning what is wrong with me? Why can’t I make the progress?”
Now, the answer to that question to that specific scenario is that the things that you are doing to learn a language are not matching up with the progress that you are looking for. If the progress that you’re looking for is to memorize a bunch of words and be able to translate them, then it matches up with what you’re doing every day.
But if the measure of progress is, let’s say, being able to read Harry Potter in your target language, but you’re not practicing that, the metric does not match with what you’re doing with your time.
So, of course, it’s going to feel like you’re not making any progress, it’s going to feel like it’s a waste of time. Because the thing that you are doing in the moment is not going to get you the progress that you’re looking for. Because you have to make sure that the progress that you’re looking for in your language learning matches up with the activities that you’re doing to learn a language.
There are unlimited ways to learn a language. That’s why what every language learner needs to do is get very clear on what progress they’re intending to make, what it’s going to look like, what it’s going to feel like what they’re going to be able to do when after they spend six months learning the language, what they’re expecting their ability to be like.
Because if you’re going in saying, I’m going to learn German, and then you do that, by watching German TV shows, that’s fine. But if you are spending all your time watching German TV shows, and the metric that you’re looking for is being able to have conversations, when you’re not practicing having conversations, it just doesn’t make sense.
So it’s getting really clear on (1) what progress that you’re looking to make and (2) making sure that what you’re doing day to day matches up with that.
It’s not about using the best apps and like, you know, spending your entire life learning a language because that’s “what you’re supposed to do”. It’s about being intentional
about how you’re spending your time and what skills you are building.
Q: should I stick to my current learning routine?
I want you to focus on your needs and what’s working for you. Friends, family, people on the internet have the best intentions in mind, and they have the best goals and they want to help you. But the problem is, they only know from their own perspective and experience.
I’ve been around the internet, I’ve been working with language learners, been working with clients forever. And I have learned to separate myself from what I think somebody should do to learn a language from what other people actually need. If there’s a reason why you feel like you need more direction – if you need a teacher, coach, or mentor to support you, give you more direction, hold your hand, maybe give you more professional practice because you have a need that needs to be met, go for it.
But if you’re happy with your current approach, if you are making the progress that you need to make and if there are no problems, then I would say to your friends, “thank you for the recommendation, but this is working for me and so there’s no reason for me to change what is working for me.” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
A lot of people will be very stubborn about how they learned languages, and will tell you you should do the same. There are many people on the internet who come from this perspective.
And that’s just not true. If it’s working for you, and you don’t have any need for any change in strategy, and you’re finding progress, then there’s no reason to change your strategy.
Q: How long should it take a learner to improve their spoken Spanish, so they can have normal everyday conversations with the native speaker?
Every language learner is different. It depends on how much time you have, and how much time you want to spend improving your spoken Spanish. Even if you have three hours free every single day, I’m not suggesting that you use those three hours, you’re allowed to have other hobbies, you’re allowed to take care of yourself, you’re allowed to rest. You’re allowed to spend time with friends and family, whatever.
I would focus less on how much time it’s taking – and I know this is really difficult because everybody loves to brag about how it only took a certain amount of time for them to learn a language.
But the time it takes you to do something is not going to be a very helpful metric and that is because you cannot control it. It is not something that’s within your control. If you spend a month having conversations in Spanish, and then you look back and you immediately think you’re not making enough progress, that’s just not helpful.
If you’re making zero progress, then that’s something that we can look at. But when you’re looking at the progress that you’ve made, and you’re saying, “This isn’t happening fast enough, how can I make this happen quicker?” we need to change that mindset so that we’re not constantly judging ourselves for how quickly we’re able to learn something.
We need to be taking our focus and our perspective off of how long something is taking, and instead focus on what is happening and if that matches up with what your intention is. If the progress that you’re making matches up with your intention, then I would really recommend you find acceptance in that, instead of trying to learn as quickly as you can.
Q: I occasionally find myself wondering if having a tutor could potentially accelerate my progress
If you want to try working with a tutor, by all means, if it’s something that you’re curious about, and you haven’t really experienced with it, there’s no harm in trying, right? If it’s something that’s really you’re really curious about, I would get really clear on what your expectations are with a tutor, and then be able to go into that session and see how you feel about it. You can ask yourself questions like:
- Do I feel more supported?
- Do I have the structure that I’m looking for?
- Am I being intentional about working with a tutor?
If you’re curious, go ahead and be curious, there’s nothing wrong with that. You may learn something new, you may learn that that’s actually a better way for you to learn languages right now.
Your personality changes, your life changes, your lifestyle changes, your the time that you have available changes, and that will all directly affect your languaging strategy. So if you have less time or if you are more emotionally exhausted, that can change your approach to learning language. So that can change over time.
And you as a person change over time, right? So be aware that these changes exist and they affect your language learning strategy. And if you go into another language with that same strategy and you’re disappointed, don’t take that personally – accept it as data.
Phase 3 of The Method, Metrics, is all about the data: your expectations and how they relate to what actually happens. Are your expectations too high, too low, or just right?
Q: how do we know which way to learn a language works best for us?
You’re right – there are so many different people who will say so many things, and a good percentage of them are just trying to sell you something. In my experience, many people are more concerned with selling you their program than they are with actually with making sure it actually helps you.
So there are two ways to go about this.
Option 1: try all the resources
The first way is to just try all these different resources and hope for the best: learn what works for you, what you enjoy, what is actually helpful for you, what is sustainable for you in your life, taking that data and applying that long term.
So if you use StoryLearning, for example, and you realize you hate it, what kind of data can you get from that experience? If you find it boring, what is boring about it? What could change about it for to be more interesting to you? Take that data and learn from it instead of just resource hopping.
Phase 2 of The Method Phase two is all about strategies, and it starts with a lesson on Shiny Object Syndrome, which is when something is working well for you but then you feel motivated to switch things up because of a great deal, for example. That first lesson is about learning how to differentiate between what is actually an educated decision in what is just impulsive.
That’s actually the longest lesson in The Method, and that’s like 15 minutes. But that really goes into being clear on whether something will actually help you or if you’re just kind of feeling impulsive and uncomfortable and impatient.
Option 2: The Method
If you don’t want to spend the time, money, and energy trying all these different resources and hoping for the best, I’d recommend you join The Method.
Phase 1: Mindset
Phase 1 starts with helping you to understand if there’s anything holding you back from learning a language and fixing it. Once we remove any obstacles you’re dealing with, we talk about your goals for learning a language: progress will look like for you, what you want to achieve in your language, etc.
Phase 2: Methods
The very first lesson of Phase 2 is Shiny Object Syndrome: how do you know if you are interested in a language learning resource because you need it, or if you’re just getting distracted by good marketing, lack of patience, etc.
After discussing Shiny Object Syndrome, the final 5 lessons teach you literally every language learning strategy there is. What most language learners don’t understand is that while there are new language learning resources every single day, the strategies don’t change. The strategies to learn a language are exactly the same and they have always been exactly the same. And I can teach you them.
Even apps and resources and courses that claim to be new, modern, and “scientifically proven”, they’re not new. They’re exactly the same. They may be different ways to make these strategies accessible and provide access to them, but the strategies themselves are the same. And so taking those strategies and being able to look at language learning resources and understand the strategies they’re using to teach you a language drastically narrows down. the search for a new language learning app.
For example, if StoryLearning is not going to be helpful for you at all, like it’s not even close to what you’re looking for in a language learning resource, it makes it that easy to forget about it and instead focus on literally anything else will be beneficial to you.
Phase 3: Metrics
Phase 3 is all about making progress long-term. This means seeing our progressand what to do if we’re not making the progress that we want to be making. This Phase is all about looking at your language learning journey and asking if it’s really working.
We do this by looking at what you’ve been doing for the past week, months, six months, whatever, taking an objective, logical look at it, and making data-driven conclusions about your language learning: this is working, this is not, and this is how I can improve it.
So instead saying:
OMG this isn’t working, let me try another app and hope that this one isn’t a waste of time and money. I’m so stressed out and overwhelmed, I don’t know what else to do
…we can keep it simple.
Q: how can I get the most out of a language exchange session?
If you’re not familiar with what a language exchange is, it’s when you have a conversation with another language learner who is a native speaker of your target language and is learning your native language. So for example, my native language is English, and if I were learning Vietnamese, I could find somebody who speaks Vietnamese natively and is learning English. And we would have conversations where we exchange our languages.
The way these conversations are organized depends on so many different factors. First, I would recommend is to have a conversation with your language exchange partner, and be very clear on your expectations. For example, you could meet for an hour, during which you get to practice your target language for 30 minutes and they get to practice their target language for 30 minutes. Or, if you want to meet once a week, you could switch languages each week.
Some days you’re going to have your language exchanges and your brain is just not going to want to do anything. It’s not going to want to speak in another language. And in this situation, you can tell your partner, “Hey, I am not feeling good, but I’m happy to support you talking in my native language.” That requires zero effort. Then one day in the future when your partner is having an off day, they can return the favor and you get double the practice.
It’s really about keeping the communication open with your language exchange partner, which I know it can be difficult sometimes, especially with cultural differences. It’s important to be able to say, “hey, like I want to like meet up more,” or “I can’t meet up as much”.
Q: what’s the best way to stay motivated?
I do have a mini course on this, called Mastering Motivation. Anybody who gives you a very simple answer to this is probably selling you something you think you don’t need, to be completely honest. Because the thing is, everybody gets motivated by different things in different ways.
So here’s a little sneak peek from Mastering Motivation.
Motivation is an emotion, right? We cannot control our emotions, motivation is not something that we can necessarily rely on because we don’t know we’re going to be feeling day to day. And so when you are looking for that initial rush of motivation you get when you start learning a language, that first motivation of, “oh my God, I’m going to learn every single day and this is so exciting and I love to do this,” and so you sit down for like 2 hours and you study and you feel great…and then that disappears, right?
Depending on that motivation will always leave you disappointed, because we cannot depend on our emotions to be exactly what we want them to be, exactly when we want them to be that. I really recommend my clients to focus on other things besides motivation, because motivation will come and go, right? We can take those really motivating days and run with them. Like if we want to sit down and practice for 3 hours because we’re feeling really motivated that day, there’s nothing wrong with that.
What’s wrong is expecting that level of motivation and commitment and energy every single day. We have to take a step back and manage our expectations, keep them realistic, because if we have unrealistic expectations of motivation, then we’re going to fail every single time.
Q: how can I effectively use a teacher for language learning?
I would really focus on getting clear on what your intentions are with your language learning and with your teacher. What are your goals? Because when you work with a language teacher, they generally have their own approach to teaching. Most of their students come to them and have no idea what they want to learn. That’s a teacher’s job, to provide that structure and give them a path to learn the language.
In that way, language teachers are the same exact way as apps and courses: they all teach with their own choice of language strategies. Many language learners end up unhappy because the path that that particular teacher teaches is not beneficial to the student’s goals.
That doesn’t mean the teacher is bad. That doesn’t mean the teacher is wrong. That doesn’t mean that you are bad or wrong or that you’re learning wrong. But it’s really important that you are clear about what is it that you want to learn and how you want to learn it, because otherwise it’s just another obstacle for learning the language.