The reality of language learning in contrast to how you think you are in your mind may create a mental “tug-of-war” complex. You may not necessarily compare yourself to others but you feel like after months or even years of being associated with/studying the language you are a lot further than you are. When you meet a native speaker or you try watching TV in your desired language with no subs but you cannot understand, you feel extremely discouraged that where you thought yourself to be isn’t the case and perhaps you have considered even giving it up altogether.
A little of this is how I feel about learning the Korean language. I lived there for three years. I studied for two and a half years while working a full-time professional job. My listening skills are far better than my reading and writing and so when I take a deep dive into reading, I am sometimes discouraged by the fact that there seems to be very little progression. But as an overthinker, I took some time to think about what’s works for me and maybe these tips can be useful to you when you are studying a language or returning to a language.
Here’s what I have been doing (in no particular order):
1. I’ve stayed active in the language
Whenever I stayed active in my target language, I would look for resources to be aware of the country’s politics, daily life, books in that country that are popular, for example. You would need to find what you’re interested in and keep up to date with what’s going on there. Mind you, I read lots of things in English regarding Korea, but it doesn’t necessary take away from the point of keeping engaged in the country. When I do come across some things in Korean, I attempt to read what I know then translate it as a little “test,” sometimes I am right, other times, not so much.
Take away: find topics that you’re interested in in your target language’s country and be aware of the conversations they’re talking about regardless of your level. If you are able to read in that country’s language, great! Go ahead and stay up-to-date.
2. I’ve taken tests to snap me back into reality
Yeah, so I really thought my Chinese level was waay better than it was, and it wasn’t. Not that tests are the be-all and end-all of languages but they do give you a good gage as to where you really are and it can help you build up on vocabulary/grammar you don’t know rather than going around in circles in what you do know already.
Take away: Even if you are not taking proficiency tests, take a quick online test to see where your language level really is.
3. I’ve learned to be patient with myself
This one is something I seriously recommend. Of course, you can go online and see people learning languages in a week/month/several months and I think if you are gaging your language skills by that, you’re never going to progress. I’ve watched linguists chat about the reality of those “learn a language quick schemes” and they challenged the feasibility of these YouTubers (mainly). If you are learning a language for travel, then, of course, you’re not in the category, but if you’re learning for long-term purposes, then you’d need to decide on what kind of content you’re watching regarding language and whether it’s in line with what you’re doing. If it’s not, then you can happily dismiss it and go back to learning your desired language at your pace especially if you are returning a language after many years.
Take away: Learn at your pace.
4. I’ve learned to know when to take a solid break from the language altogether
To be honest, I have yet to hear people say “put it down for now.” There is no failure culture when it comes to language but if it is built on a rush to something (popularity because it’s trending, peer pressure for example) then ask yourself, “why am I really putting energy into this?” That was how I felt with Spanish. I was learning it but I couldn’t get into the language. I wouldn’t spend that much time studying it or associating myself with the culture. It only lasted about eight months before I decided to do away with it completely. You may not need to put it down permanently but just to do some other hobby and if you feel it beckoning you to spend time with it, then, by all means, return to the language.
Take away: Do what you enjoy and be alright with letting go.
5. I’ve learned to do something creative in the language
This could be journaling, taking up one of your hobbies in your target language which now kills two birds at once right? Bring the language you’re studying into every part of your life and see how much further you’ll get with your target language.
Take away: Integrate your language into your daily life.
I may do further articles on these topics I’ve listed from 1-5 so keep an eye out. Let me know whether you’ve tried any of these tips or write your own in the comments below.