Understanding Second Language Learning Difficulties (and how to conquer them)

Understanding second language learning difficulties

I’ve been studying foreign languages for years. No, I’m not a poloyglot. I’m not even bilingual. I’m just an English-speaking white girl who’s pretty comfortable in Spanish (for the most part, and only if I’m listening to a specific accent). That being said, I’ve gotten pretty good at understanding second language learning difficulties, and I’ve learned to conquer a lot of them. If you’re still trying to get past a road block, here are some suggestions.


This is one of my biggest problems in second language learning, probably because it’s so general – you can get frustrated with literally anything in the world. I get frustrated that it takes me so freaking long to learn a foreign language! I see stories of people learning languages within months, and I wonder why I can’t be like that! In the past, it’s definitely screwed up my goals, and I’ve definitely learned that getting frustrated with myself is definitely a giant language learning mistake.

Solution: don’t put so much pressure on yourself! The amount of time it takes you to learn a language is exactly how long it’s supposed to take you. There are people who will learn faster than you and slower; these people aren’t important because you know who they are? They’re not you. And comparing yourself to other people who aren’t you is just a silly way to set yourself up for failure.

It gets boring

Look, nothing’s fun all the time. It’s just not. If it were, you’d get bored all the time – even fun is boring when it’s monotonous. How does language learning break up the fun? Memorization. Grammar. Vocabulary. These tend to be the greatest problems in second language learning. While finally hitting that moment where you can really communicate in a foreign language is giant breath of fresh air, getting to that point isn’t very fun for a whole lot of people.

Solution: make it fun and easy! Take new words and concepts in little bitty bites. Give yourself the chance to feel accomplished much more often. If you sit yourself in front of a list of 100 new words, you’ll get flustered and give up. On the other hand, give yourself 5 new words to learn. You’ll get them down in half an hour, and then you have every right to get excited about your progress! 30 minutes of struggle, 5 minutes of pride and accomplishment. Sounds like a pretty good ratio to me!


You better believe learning a foreign language is overwhelming. Even when I’m just thinking about tackling a language, I look at how many words there are in the language, and how many words it takes to be fluent (‘cause let’s be real, that’s always the goal). I mean, that’s just asking for another language learning challenge.

Depending on your source, you’ll generally find it takes tens of thousands of words to achieve fluency. Holy crap! Yeah, talk about overwhelming! Then when you look at sources to use and you just can’t understand a thing because you haven't actually learned anything yet, and it’s even worse.

When you get overwhelmed, you know what you do? You give up. Understanding second language learning difficulties like overwhelm means you can solve the problem before the problem happens!

Solution: don’t think so hard! Don’t worry about it. Take a breath. Focus on short term goals. Don’t think about what you want to achieve in the end, think about what it will take this month to work towards that goal. Think about this week, this day, this hour! Give yourself a small chunk to accomplish, tackle it, and keep tackling mini goals. Focus on what you can do here and now, not what you want to be able to do later in some inappropriately-chosen period of time.

I’ve been studying language for years, and these three things have held me back more than I’d like to say. That being said, understanding second language learning difficulties is the first step to actually conquering them. Do you have any other problems in second language learning you’ve had to conquer? 

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