Slow and Steady Wins the Race: Speed Isn’t Everything With Language Learning


We all want to know a second language, but that doesn’t mean we’re all ready to commit to going out and learning a second language. It takes a ton of time, effort, and willpower to acquire a new tongue so it’s no wonder that so many people simply don’t seem very interested.

It’s natural that we would want to be able to speak, read and understand a new language as quickly as possible. Studying sucks.

A quick Google search will reveal how frequently people search for the fastest methods and why all of the big language software companies claim that their method is the fastest. We’re all aware of the benefits of being multilingual, and we want those benefits as soon as possible. Only a precious few of us actually enjoy the learning process in and of itself, the rest are really only in it for the end result; which is fine.

However; in our mad dash to an imaginary lingual finish line we often place more pressure on ourselves than is due and I can’t help but think that this cuts into the time that we have to focus on the present.

Stop worrying about the end result and start focusing on manageable, short term language goals!


Some polyglot bloggers like Benny Lewis build their public personas on the premise of learning a language incredibly fast. That’s all well and good for him, and his ability to accomplish these goals – or at least make truly impressive progress – but I take issue with the idea that language learning has a finite end; as if fluency is the end of the road and we can all pack up and go home once we get there.

This really isn’t how language works.

Take It Slow.

A few months ago I wrote a piece called “Forgetting Fluency” wherein I make the claim that adult learners should focus less on attaining fluency and more on communication in their new language.

When we remove the burden of fluency from a learner’s shoulders they are free to pursue their project in any manner they see fit. This allows learners to create personalized SMART goals and see them through to completion. Small victories keep a learner’s head in the game, whereas sometimes we are more prone to losing sight of longer term goals.

Part of creating your language goals is to know why you’re interested in learning a particular language in the first place. The reason for your motivation will set the pace for your project.

Unless you have your heart set on becoming a professional translator – in which case chances are you’re already fluent and this article is irrelevant – you don’t need to be fluent – at least not right now

By focusing on the things that matter now; relevant vocabulary, grammar, and building speaking confidence, you set the state for continued learning later. Don’t worry about fluency; if you keep working and stay motivated long enough it’ll just happen.

The only thing that matters in language learning is that you make progress each day. It doesn’t matter if it’s only a handful of new words, mastering the next Pimsleur level, or finishing that first chapter of  a Don Quijote translation that you struggled through. As long as you’re moving forward the rate is unimportant.

You’ll get there.

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