There’s no other way to put it: learning a new language is challenging. It takes years of dedication and practice, periods of total immersion, and an overwhelming amount of flash cards, so we understand that at times it can seem impossible. It’s as easy to get discouraged learning a second language as it is to forget all of the ways to conjugate in the imperfect tense. Therefore, it’s important to stay positive and focused when pursuing the goal of polyglotism, especially if you’re attending a language school abroad.
If you decide to learn a second language abroad, don’t forget that you have an amazing opportunity to develop a highly-valued and needed skill! While it’s normal to feel like you’re on a roller coaster, don’t let the challenges of learning a second language get you down. If you want to really learn from your language classes and your language school teacher, and benefit from connecting with fluent speakers, don’t even think about muttering any of these things:
1. “I can’t do it.”
Think about it: you learned how to speak a language once. You are reading this article because you were successful in your language classes growing up. What makes you think you can’t do it again?!
If you’re really feeling overwhelmed and challenged by learning a second language, try to break down why you feel this way. Is the grammar too confusing? Does it use a different alphabet and you’re having a difficult time remembering the letters? Is it the accent and pronunciations? There is probably a very specific reason why you think you can’t do it, so try to isolate the problem and work through it with your language teacher. Just like The Little Engine That Could, if you think you can do it, you probably can.
2. “I won’t do it.”
This is “I can’t do it” on steroids. No teacher, we repeat, no teacher ever wants to hear this. Language school teachers recognize that students have different proficiency levels and not everyone’s performance will be stellar, but if you at least try to learn it, you will eventually get somewhere. Students who don’t bother to try and give up immediately are missing out on a huge opportunity to be able to communicate with an entirely different culture and people; there is no sense in traveling abroad to learn a second language if you aren’t willing to attempt to adapt.
The famous quote by James Michener is true: “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” Being able to speak a second language is a gift, and if you have the chance to develop a skill like this, you would be crazy not to take advantage of it!
3. “I hate (insert language here).”
Soooo, why are you taking this class? Think back to whatever initially motivated you to sign up for language classes abroad and learn to channel that passion. You obviously enrolled in language classes abroad for a reason, so why the sudden change of heart? Did you think that learning a second language was something that just happens overnight?
We hate to break it to you, but being able to speak a second language takes years of hard work.
You didn’t just wake up one morning when you were two and automatically know how to speak your native language. It took your parents years of drilling proper grammar and vocab into your head, and then more years of language teachers at school drilling it even further into your head. Learning a second language is exactly like this, but harder.
4. “That’s weird.”
Rule #1 of doing anything with a new culture, language, or region: nothing is weird, it’s just different. Just like the Cheshire Cat explained, “I’m not crazy, my reality is just different from yours.” You might think it’s “weird” to go to a movie in India and have to see it three times because everyone was too busy dancing instead of watching during the musical numbers, but this is a regular occurrence in the Bollywood film scene. What’s weird for one person is totally normal for another (and in this case totally awesome).
Whether it’s learning a second language or trying new foods, if you go into the experience thinking that something new is strange, you are setting yourself up for failure (and a lot of people assuming you’re a jerk). An open mind and a willingness to try anything and everything are crucial keys to success with nearly anything abroad.
5. “Why do I need to know this?”
You might not think you’ll ever need to know how to say “Frau Schmidt bought 19 containers of Nutella last week” in German, but your teacher actually knows better than you (and trust us, if you’re studying abroad in any German-speaking country, you will definitely need to know how to say that). Just because you deem something as unnecessary doesn’t mean it really is.
Remember in math class growing up how there was always that obnoxious kid who piped up with “I will never need to know how to ‘solve for x’ in real life, and if I do, I’ll use a calculator”? That kid may be right that you might never need to apply this to your real life, but what if that kid is wrong? How embarrassing will it be to not know how to do something that you should’ve covered in basic classes? The same thing applies to learning a second language.
You might think you’ll never need to know a certain word or phrase or how to conjugate in a specific tense, but how do you know for sure that you’ll never need it? Unless you’re Gandalf, you simply don’t know with certainty, so get studying!
6. “It’s too easy.”
If it’s too easy then maybe you’re misunderstanding something. There’s always a danger in language learning to assume that something is a cognate or there aren’t any exceptions to the seemingly simple grammar rules. If something appears easy, there’s a good chance that there are a lot of changes coming up or it’s just the building blocks to something much harder. Buckle up for the hidden challenges of learning a second language!
Even if it really is too easy and you’re just a language fiend who can pick vocab up like a champ, someone else in your class might be struggling, and you announcing that it’s too easy might make them feel bad and ultimately damage their language learning experience. If they are embarrassed that they can’t pick it up as quickly as you, it might deter them from asking questions when they don’t understand something. Therefore, it’s always the better route to talk to your language teacher privately if you really aren’t being challenged enough.
7. “Well in (native language) it’s like this…”
Don’t you remember how infuriated Pocahontas was when John Smith started stomping around and claiming that her ways were “savage” while his were inherently better? Remember how much you cringed at how ignorant he sounded? Okay, so don’t be John. Just because you’re used to something being done in a certain way does not mean that it’s better. Pipe down with the ego and let your language teacher continue explaining all of the ways to say “more croissants, please” in French.
8. Anything in your native language.
This is a no-brainer. No language school teacher ever wants to hear anything in your native language, because it disrupts immersion and can really set you back (not to mention affect your classmates, too!). If you need to say something or ask a question and you haven’t tried to sound it out in the language you’re studying, you are only going to frustrate your teacher.
In the real world, you can’t stop halfway through a conversation and switch back to your native language because you don’t know how to say something in the other language; you have to simply work through it as best as you can in your new second language. Imagine how annoyed you would be if you were talking to someone from Mexico in English and they just switched back to Spanish halfway through. You’d probably want to say adios immediately.
Overcoming the challenges of learning a second language (or third or fourth…) requires years of hard work and a totally open mind, to say the least. You simply will not learn a second language without overcoming challenges, and you certainly won’t achieve fluency if you’re saying any of the above statements.
Not only are these statements indicative of the wrong mindset, but these sayings will definitely create tension with your language school teacher, only making it that much harder for you to learn. We can say with absolute certainty that the only things your language school teacher wants to hear constantly are “teach me more Chinese, please” and “how do you say ‘I never want to speak English again’ in Portuguese?” You could even throw in an “amo italiano” to really cinch that A!
Ready to face the challenges of learning a second language abroad? Find a language school now.