When 20 year-old me discovered that she wanted to learn a new foreign language (Korean!), she was so excited to learn it that she went online and searched for a Korean grammar workbook to study all the topics that a beginner in the language needed to know. She barely did progress, she was tired of learning grammar and getting stuck in the units that were hard to understand. She ended up quitting Korean and feeling frustrated for a time.
Little did she know that learning a language requires you to cultivate other skills apart from grammar, and that consistency is a hundred times more important than talent. The good thing is that after some years, that young woman learnt from all the language learning mistakes she made.
If you feel identified with me right now, keep reading!
Getting stuck in specific content VS Priorizing what I care about
Every time I reached a unit I didn’t like in my language grammar books, I felt pushed to learn the topics and do the activities without arguing. I put the pressure on myself to just finish that section or whole unit because that was ‘what I was supposed to do‘ in order to learn the language in the right way. That made me feel discouraged and get stuck in that piece of content I couldn’t care less about.
Days passed and I always ended up giving up. I would just stop using that grammar book for a long time (months or even years!), and when I went back to it, I always felt more confused than before. I had already forgotten everything I learnt and that unmotivated me a lot.
Now, whenever I get to a unit I don’t really like to learn or that is not important for me to understand, I just skip it! It makes the whole language learning process a lot easier for me. This doesn’t mean that I give up on important topics that I need to know, but on topics that I feel I will never use.
For example, this month I got stuck in a topic about units of currency and measures in Dutch for WEEKS. I know that most likely I will NEVER use that information! I’m learning Dutch because I like the language and maybe I’ll travel someday to the Netherlands or Belgium, but will I use that information right now? Nope. So I just skipped it, and you know what? I could study the rest of that unit in a faster way after it!
My tip for you: If there’s something you are not interested in learning in a foreign language, just skip that piece of information for now. You can absolutely come back to it later whenever you want.
Grammar above everything VS a mix of skills
When I tried learning foreign languages a time ago, I thought grammar was the queen of the skills. Yes I did tried to learn some vocabulary, but I was mostly studying grammar tenses, rules and exceptions. That made me feel very unmotivated because I am not a big fan of grammar. I like learning in an immersive way by using the different grammatical structures while I write and speak, and identifying them when I listen or read. So whenever I had to just study a grammar rule, it felt a little boring for me.
But I learnt. I learnt to embrace my learning styles and avoid doing what I don’t enjoy in my language practice. So right now I include many different ways to learn a grammar topic. I study through song analyzis, trying to identify if the sentence is in present, past, future. I learn by creating my own sentences using themes I want to talk about. I develop my listening skills the most I can through vlogs on Youtube and Instagram stories. I try reading things I find interesting, instead of a parragraph of something I don’t enjoy knowing about.
My tip for you: Yes, study grammar because it is very important to know it, but don’t neglect the other skills. Learn vocabulary, read, try writing (you can chat with your friends from all over the world or even with your classmates in your target language), practice speaking, and enjoy your favourite kind of videos so that you improve your listening skills aswell. Playing is also a good way to use the language in a fun way!
Thinking talent in innate VS believing in the power of consistency
Back then when I was in high school and in my first years of university, I though that successful polyglots were a mixture of innate talent and intelligence. I was sure that they were fast learners, that they had a secret superpower that allowed them to speak their target language right away with the minumun effort. How wrong I was!
Many people has some language learning talent, that’s true, but that doesn’t mean that no one else can learn a foreign language. Reaching language learning goals and becoming in a fluent speaker has more to do with your consistency than with your talent.
When I realized that I wasn’t being consistent at all, I discovered the hidden power I had in me that I wasn’t using! (believe me, this hidden power is also in your hands). So I started to work in my consistency as a language student. I created a personalized language learning curriculum for me, I scheduled my language practice weeks ahead, I showed up to do my short or long study routines, and I started seeing the results.
Things that were hard for me to understand finally were making sense and my fluency got better the more I practiced, which gave me more confidence than before to perform in my target languages.
My tip for you: Reflect about your own consistency. Are you really learning in a consistent way? Are you showing up to study? Or you’re just practicing a couple of days in the month, a couple of months in the year? Try to study your target language some days in the week and immerse yourself as often as you can. Week after week you’ll be able to see your improvements!