Why is learning a language difficult and how do you get around these difficulties?

personne ayant des difficulté pour apprendre le français. persona con dificultades para aprender francés. person who has difficulty learning French.

Who hasn’t felt discouraged about learning a foreign language as an adult?

Everything is new at the beginning, memorising vocabulary is difficult, building a sentence requires a lot of energy, you cannot make yourself understood (pronunciation difficulties), you do not understand what people are saying (your ear does not perceive all the sounds).

Even in immersion, after a whole day listening to a foreign language, in the evening you have a headache and you may feel a sense of rejection of the target language.

We will see together what are the main difficulties you may encounter, how to get around them and what advice to apply to optimise your learning.

The mistake of trying to move too fast:

Frustration is one of the difficulties in learning a foreign language. Thinking that you can learn a language perfectly in just a few months is a source of disappointment. Learning a language requires regular effort, curiosity, and above all time to assimilate its mechanisms and vocabulary. As with all learning, you need to set yourself precise and achievable goals. For example, you can set yourself the objective of introducing yourself to your new colleagues, or asking simple questions to someone you would like to get to know better, or asking the time on the street.

Wanting to do too much is also a hindrance to your learning. If you try to learn ‘too hard’ or ‘too perfectly’, your brain will quickly become saturated and you will not be able to memorise anything. For this reason, children, who have a more intuitive and spontaneous approach than adults, have an advantage and progress faster. In order to remedy this, you have to accept that not everything will be perfect at the beginning, neither in syntax, nor in your pronunciation or comprehension. It doesn’t matter, you will improve at your own pace and get more satisfaction out of it.

Moreover, if you feel like you are stagnating, don’t worry, it is normal, your brain needs rest to integrate and memorise what you have just learned. In this case, take this time instead as an opportunity to either listen to videos on subjects that interest you or create flash cards. Every little effort you make will be rewarded.

Parallels between languages

Among all the languages that exist, don’t some seem more affordable than others? Have you ever felt that, instinctively, you understand one language better than another? What about languages that you can understand without being able to speak them, without having studied them?

Research by the Donders Institute and the Max Planck Institute on psycholinguistics reveals that our brain likes similarities between languages and will always try to understand the target language according to its own system. The closer it is to our mother tongue or another known language, the more our brain will understand it and make it its own.

In other words, the more similar the target language is to your mother tongue, the easier it will be for you to learn. In just a few minutes, a grammatical confusion you had no idea about can be cleared up and become familiar. Hence the importance of having a teacher who can draw parallels between languages.

Setting reasonable targets

Time is often what you lack most when you embark on a new apprenticeship. How do you manage to make time when you are already short of time before you even start the new training? So, after an already busy week, you arrive at the weekend without having had time to practise and, feeling remorseful, you embark on 2 hours of intensive practice and then, tired, abandon your teaching and only return the following week. As a result, your brain does not have time to digest what it has learned intensely and the lack of practice the following week condemns you to forget everything.
It is better to spend 30 minutes a day, or even less, if you don’t have the time. Regularity pays more than quantity.
Use different combinations of words to practice vocabulary

How many words do you use every day in your mother tongue?

The majority of people express themselves with 5,000 words a day. However, especially when you start learning a language, only 500 or even 400 words are enough to make yourself understood in everyday life. This ridiculously low number is rather encouraging when you set about the task of learning a foreign language. It means that with just a few words you can already express yourself properly if you know how to put them together.

In this respect, learning a foreign language differs little from learning a dance. Learning steps does not make a good dancer. It is the combination of the steps together, in harmony with the music and your partner that gives meaning to the dance. The same goes for language. From the very beginning, after only a few lessons you already have a richer vocabulary than you think. It is up to you to create different combinations of words and phrases. If you make syntactic errors, it doesn’t matter, the important thing is to get started. What’s more, the satisfaction you will derive after creating your own sentences will motivate you to continue.

A little friendly advice

Expose yourself as much as possible to the language you are studying! Change the language on your social network accounts, computer and phone. Download movies, listen to music and podcasts, read novels and magazines, watch documentaries and prepare foreign recipes.

Have fun with your accent. You think you have a bad accent and find it ugly, ridiculous, incomprehensible? Natives, on the other hand, will find it charming, exotic, cute…

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