8 Commonly Cited Language Learning Excuses And How To Beat Them

main-difficulty-experience-when-learning-a-new-language
 

The above unattributed graphic that periodically makes its rounds throughout the language community, illustrates somebody’s impression of the top 8 difficulties experienced by those studying new languages.

I’m not sure what the original source of these figures might be, but actual statistical accuracy aside these are by far the most common 8 reasons I hear from struggling learners.

I want to address some of these “difficulties” and try to shed some light on how we can get around them and get back to making progress!

1. Keeping up the Motivation

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone at this point that motivation is absolutely key to learning a new language. If you don’t want it, you’re not going to get it.

So key is this point that I’ve written about it already in this post from a couple weeks ago: What Failing at Korean Taught Me About Motivation in Language Learning.

  

Losing motivation is probably the single greatest cause of failure in most peoples’ pursuits, from learning a language to mastering a musical instrument, creating a successful blog or learning to juggle.

If we can’t feel like progress is being made we may start to feel as though we can’t make progress. Interest wanes and we give up.

Steps must be taken to keep the pressure on and the interest up. Keep things fun and exciting and come up with ways to monitor your progress and prove to yourself that even if you feel like nothing is being accomplished – it is.

2. Not Enough Money

I can’t fully express just how much this one gets to me.

The illusion that you don’t have enough money to learn a language is perpetuated by the notion that the only ways to do so involves expensive software, tuition for college level courses or the funds to travel and live abroad for an extended period of time.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

With today’s global society and modern technology this excuse is no longer valid. Sure – going to live in Barcelona for a year is a pretty damn good way to learn Spanish – but that doesn’t make it the only way.

There are dozens, if not hundreds of ways to learn languages for free or for very little. From free mobile apps to Internet language exchange to library resources – don’t let your income stand between you and bilingualism.

3. Not Enough Time

This one is the absolute king of poor excuses.

It is the most commonly cited reason given by those language learners who have tried and failed, or by those who have for years said that they’d like to learn a language, but never do.

And enough is enough!

Time. You have more of it than you think. Obviously you have enough time to cruise Facebook and Youtube and sit around reading people’s blogs! Not that you shouldn’t do these things, but if you have enough spare time to do them, I’m willing to bet that you have enough spare time to devote at least a little bit of time to a learning a language.

There are plenty of strategies you can employ to make time in your busy schedule ranging from browser extensions that limit your social media time to simply knowing how to establish and follow goals.

Adults are busy. I get it. I have a wife, a child, I was a full time student and now have a full time job that, unfortunately, has nothing to do with languages. So I know you think your schedule is full, but there is always something you can do to squeeze a little bit more productivity out of your day.

Time management is a skill that many of us could certainly use improvement on, including myself, but I make do, and I know you can too.

I think that most people who say “I want to learn a language someday” are simply lacking motivation and using this as a quick and easy excuse that anyone will buy.

They don’t want to learn a language. They want to have a language. They know that it’d be cool to speak more than just one, but the effort required to get up and actually go do it is more than they can muster without the proper push.

All in all a rather poor excuse for most of us, sorry.

4. Bad Teachers

Unfortunately this one can’t always be avoided – particularly if you’re a student with little choice in the classes or teachers you’re stuck with. Some teachers are just plain better than others.

It can however be gotten around. The success or failure of your language learning project does not rest on the shoulders of anyone but yourself. Even if your teacher is bad and you’re not gaining much from the class you can be successful if you’re actually willing to put in the time and effort outside the classroom.

Is it possible that your teacher isn’t the problem? Perhaps you simply don’t respond well to the classroom setting? If that’s the case you will have to figure out which methods work best for you and adjust accordingly.

Again, sort of seems like a poor excuse to me.

5. Bad Teaching Method

A lot of us have rough memories from high school Spanish or French classes. We wanted to be anywhere but there. Sitting in stuffy, hot classrooms reciting conjugations in rote. I certainly didn’t enjoy Spanish. I didn’t think I was very good at it, and I didn’t like being told that I had to learn it.

As adults we probably have a reasonable idea about how we respond to various teaching or learning methods. Some of us are auditory learners, others learn by doing. Some of us are note-takers and others couldn’t be bothered.

As with number 4, there are things you can do about this. You have the power to take the learning process into your own hands and learn the way that suits you best. If you really want to learn a language your interest shouldn’t stop at the classroom door. There are so many methods. Why settle for, and complain about, one that isn’t working?


6. Limited Or No Access to Learning Material.

If you want to pull this excuse you had better follow it up with the words “for studying Kivallirmiutut” or “Anambé”.

Yes – some languages are easier to find than others, but most aren’t as hard as some make them out to be. I’m willing to bet that this is most likely another excuse employed by those who didn’t put forth the effort to look beyond their doorstep.

Admittedly – if you want to study Portuguese you’re not going to have a very hard time finding resources. If you want to study Pashto on the other hand, you may have to struggle a little more, but if you really want to learn you can’t let this get in your way.

Don’t base your “available resources” list on what Rosetta Stone has to offer.

Don’t forget about the most abundant resource: native speakers willing to talk to you online. It’s usually free. Your learning partner may want to work on his or her English, or whatever language(s) you may speak, but it’s better than shelling out money, right? It’s more fun and more beneficial than most other methods so stop being shy and start searching.

You can connect with native speakers or find resources for a large number of minority or lesser known languages on sites like Memrise, Parleremo or iTalki.

7. No Access to Native Speakers.

Really? Now you’re just not trying.

Again, unless you’re trying to learn a moribund language, the Internet has what you’re looking for.



Furthermore, if you live anywhere near a major city, chances are the language you’re looking for can be found there. Cities such as New York and London have an unfathomable amount of linguistic diversity and speakers that are probably looking to improve their English.

It might cost you as much as a cup of coffee and a couple hours a week.

And you’re probably buying that coffee anyway, right?

Going outside and meeting new people is scary – even when they do speak your language. I know it’s even harder when they don’t, but again with the motivation thing – if you want this to work, you don’t really have a whole lot of choice. Any successful language learner will tell you that you need to get out there and you need to speak.

8. Too Ashamed to Speak

This one is pretty common as well, and it’s not surprising. Like I said – it’s scary enough talking to any new people, let alone in a language you’re less familiar with. Overcoming the fear of speaking is probably the greatest hurdle faced by language learners. Just remember that most people are not out to get you. They aren’t there to make fun of you or judge you for your lack of fluency.

I find that most people appreciate it when English speakers take the time to learn some of their language, even if they try to switch to English (as is often common in places such as Germany).

Even if you don’t receive the feedback you’re looking for, you don’t need to worry as much as you undoubtedly are. You’re going to mess it up, a lot. Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 Months says that he likes to make over 200 mistakes per day! Each and every mistake is a chance to improve and should be embraced rather than avoided.

And the more you do it, the easier it gets. Just as with everything else.

 

Conclusion

Most of these ‘difficulties’ are little more than excuses created by those who lack the proper motivation to learn a new language.

While they can all prove challenging; nothing worth having was ever easy, but more importantly they probably aren’t as great a hurdle as you, or other people, have made them out to be.

What are some of your favorite excuses?

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  • Julie Hoffman

    Very nicely put responses to these excuses! As a Spanish and Russian teacher (and therefore a lifelong language student as well!) I find all of these to be true in adult students. I teach Spanish to Kindergarten through 4th Grade, so the “excuses” are different. I think in adult students, motivation, or rather frustration, is a huge hurdle. Most adults begin their language learning journey with the misconception that it will be a quick process, as so often proclaimed by any number of commercially available products which state ‘Learn Spanish in Two Weeks!’. Such an unrealistic goal quickly turns to frustration when the student realizes it is a much harder an endeavor than thought, that if they truly want to be proficient (let’s not even talk about being fluent, which, in my opinion, is completely misunderstood and misdefined by the vast majority of the adult populace!) they must be prepared for the long haul. Most, if not all, of your other points fall under this large umbrella as the frustration must be overcome, the motivation ramped by engaging native speakers, interacting and seeking out opportunities to practice, creative ways to encounter language found- in short, the effort must be made if one wants to speak a foreign language!

    Julie
    Mundo de Pepita, Resources for Teaching Spanish to Children
    https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Mundo-De-Pepita

    • I agree! At the end of the day the primary reason that language learners are met with failure is because they just didn’t want it badly enough. There may be a few exceptions, but finding motivation is certainly key.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • Laurie Chilvers

    Going to Barcelona for a year would be a pretty damn good way to learn Catalan… not “Spanish”

    • I would argue that both are true. Spanish is still the most widely spoken language and is understood by virtually 100% of the population. It would be a great place to learn Catalan though – figures indicate 95% of residents also understand and speak Catalan.

  • Romina

    I liked this article, you know I often know people who is learning Spanish that complain about how hard it is to learn a language but they don’t really practice, they are not commited enough. They want to learn but they don’t want to make any sacrifice! It’s true there are many language resources around on the internet there is no excuse anymore. When I started to learn English, I had a lack of material… I only had a dictionary, I didn’t know how to use a computer plus at my school the teacher was always sick or pregnant believe it or not, so the only thing we learned with her was the verb to be… in spite of that, it didn’t stop me from learning something else. I did read the dictionary wrote down some words I thought it was useful, tried to make sentences (not really that good I could only use one verb tense and using google translate later didn’t help either) I wanted to learn it so bad that it pushed me to learn how to use the computer. So when you really want something you find a way. It just needs motivation, imagination, dedication, patience! a lot of patience. I have nothing against the courses that promise people to learn a language in 3 months or 7 days, I think it is possible, but that’s for someone who is willing to make the sacrifice to practice everyday and many hours (I think).

    • Absolutely! Motivation is the catalyst if success.

      Thanks for reading and for your comment!

      ~Brian