How to learn a language
How to learn a language

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How to learn a language

6 What are the barriers?

We all like to think that we are going to succeed in achieving our goals, but as anyone who has set themselves a New Year’s resolution probably knows, failure is also an option.

This might come as a surprise to you to talk about failure, as so much current thinking is about embracing a ‘can do’ attitude and thinking that everything is possible, and that the sky’s the limit.

You might indeed think it is strange that we would talk about failing in a course that is designed to help you succeed in language learning, but in our experience, there are always lots of things that get in the way of a good plan, ranging from lack of confidence to lack of time, other pressures on your day to day life, an unexpected personal circumstance, a habit of procrastinating, or simply not knowing how to deal with difficulties in your language learning journey.

Laura says:

I think it is important to understand that changes in life circumstance doesn’t necessarily mean you have failed – it may well mean you have to take a step back, re-evaluate your motivations, goals, routine etc. and accept you haven’t managed to achieve everything you wanted within the timeframe you envisaged.

There are lots of reasons why people come unstuck when learning languages. Here are some barriers that people have. Do you identify with any of them?

  • I lack confidence
  • I am easily distracted
  • I think I’m just not very efficient
  • I am easily discouraged
  • I always procrastinate
  • I am lazy
  • I have no willpower
  • I am really over-committed to too much stuff
  • I get easily stressed
  • I am very disorganised.

Activity 3 Identifying barriers

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Here are some of the unsuccessful behaviours that people can exhibit when learning a language.

For each of the behaviours below, decide which barrier best describes the situation

‘I am not very confident, and I am really scared of speaking and making mistakes. I’m not very good at languages, and I’m not sure if I can do this…’

a. 

He lacks confidence


b. 

He is very disorganised


c. 

He has no willpower


The correct answer is a.

‘I know what I’m supposed to do to learn a language, but I just seem to find so many reasons to put off learning new vocabulary or studying grammar… and if I have a test, I can revise for it at the last minute!’

a. 

She is lazy


b. 

She always procrastinates


c. 

She is really over-committed to too much stuff


The correct answer is b.

‘I just don’t like working hard… Life is about having fun and being happy, right? And studying a language is just such hard work!’

a. 

She is lazy


b. 

She gets easily stressed


c. 

She thinks she’s just not very efficient


The correct answer is a.

‘I know I should practice speaking and study grammar, but it’s just so much easier to play with this really cool app I found. I know it’s silly, because I’m not making any progress, but I just can’t find the determination to work hard.’

a. 

He lacks confidence


b. 

He has no willpower


c. 

He is easily discouraged


The correct answer is b.

‘I have all these books, and audio, and films, and apps… I start working on something, and then I give up and try something else. I can’t focus on anything for more than a few minutes.’

a. 

She is easily discouraged


b. 

She always procrastinates


c. 

She is easily distracted


The correct answer is c.

Activity 4 Reflecting on your own barriers

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Now think of three of the barriers that you most identify with and write a couple of sentences for each explaining how they affect your language learning.

Discussion

For instance, I am quite given to procrastination. I will settle down to study German and find that first I check my Facebook page or my Twitter account, then I might go and get myself a drink, and finally settle down to work. What this usually means is that I’ve wasted a lot of time before I settle down to study and usually run out of time to do the studying itself! I also know that if I have a lesson, I will leave doing the homework or preparation to the last possible minute.  

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