If you’re a fan of apps like Duolingo or Babbel, this may surprise you:
No language learning apps have ever released any numbers about their users’ success rates.
We don’t know how many users complete the apps. We don’t know how many users who complete app content ever learn a language. We don’t know how many users use the apps as a springboard to something else.
One good guess could be that very few users stick with a language long enough to make real progress.
But the good news?
Most language learners get caught up in the same common obstacles, meaning language coaches can address them directly and quickly.
So if this is your first time learning a language as an adult, let’s troubleshoot the 5 most common problems you’ve likely had.
🛑 Want to get the most out of this article? Grab a pen and paper, and take your time! It can be used as a tutorial.
Obstacle 1. Giving yourself unreasonable expectations.
Now, when you’re new to learning languages you’re not going to know what to expect… because you’ve never done this before.
In fact, because the language learning community is relatively small, the most exposure you’ve likely gotten to how other adults learn languages is probably from marketing campaigns.
Those types of expectations normally come packaged in:
- “My resource can teach you everything you need!”
- “Learn a language in x time!”
You can see why that would be attractive marketing right?
The other place where unreasonable expectations come from is our own idealizations of what we as learners can do. New language learners often think they can spend “an hour or two” a day learning their new language, but why something comes up? That plan falls apart instantly.
Here are some more realistic expectations.
*We’ll get to routines and motivation below in this article!
So if you find yourself falling victim to one of these false expectations, just take a moment to pause and reflect:
How can you reframe your thinking to set yourself up for success?
If you want even more information, here’s an in-depth video:
Obstacle 2. Not being thoughtful about goal setting.
Okay, so your goal is “to learn a language” right?
Well…. what does that really mean?
“To speak it fluently”? Very few people (including linguists and polyglots) can truly define the buzzword “fluent”.
It’s an incredibliy abstract goal.
And if you try to amend that by specifying your goal is to “speak like a native”, then you’re setting yourself up for years of heartbreak and frustration. (Just think about how many people live in your country without being able to speak like a 100% native!)
Here are a few different ways you can set better goals:
- Vision goals. In your heart of hearts, how do you see your future self using this language? Who are you with? What are you talking about? Where are you? Write down that vision!
- Micro goals. Forget about the big picture: Can your first goal be just speaking your first sentence? What about listening to your first song? Set a dozen tiny goals like this and put them on a vision board. They’re closer at hand than you might think!
- Habit-based goals. This is an awesome way to stop focusing on the results and start breaking your goal down into micro-steps. How many days do you want to streak? What is the minimum that you can do each of those days? How do you want to track it? If you can find trust in the process, this is a great goal for you!
Want more on those habit-based goals? We got you covered:
Obstacle 3. Not setting a routine.
Now that you have a better vision for where you’re trying to go, let’s get you there!
We already touched on routine in the last section, but now let’s go into it more in-depth.
Because if your big goals are your final destination, realistic learning routines are the tires that you rely on to move you forward.
In my experience, the most common moments that people put aside for learning a new language are (1) right after work or (2) right before bed.
But for a lot of us, there are two big reasons we are setting ourselves up to fail:
- We’re bound to get interrupted. Gotta grab some groceries on your way home? Friends coming over? Kids and dogs and partners all suddenly VERY MUCH need your attention? Everyone is out of work: stuff is bound to come up.
- We’re not at our peak. Language learning is mentally taxing. If you save it until the very last second before you go to bed, even night owls probably won’t be thinking as clearly as they were earlier during the day.
Instead, here are a few steps to build your a better routine:
- Find a moment where you’ll truly be uninterrupted. Look at your schedule and think of our weekly flow. When is the one time of day where no one is going to call you or ask you for anything? That’s your language nook! (Consider when you first wake up, during your lunch break, or after the kids go to bed but before you’re too tired. )
- Build a base routine of 5-10min. But still, stuff will happen. Emergencies will happen. Weird days and colds will happen. So what is the one thing you can do bare minimum every single day? (Consider something on your phone, since you’ll always have that with you!)
- Set up a plan for your 3-4 high-productivity days. Now find 3-5 other activities you might like to do on the days where you’re excited and productive. These days are going to be the days you use to really make progress, so we want something productive here: maybe workbooks, online tutors, or video tutorials. Whatever it is, make it count. (Take a look through this site and the Crashed Culture YouTube channel for dozens and dozens of product reviews!)
Still have questions? Check out the video:
Obstacle 4. Comparing yourself to other language learners.
Now you’ve done all of that….. so why aren’t you fluent in 6 months?
Why does it seem that other language learners have some sort of special talent?
Why aren’t you speaking from day 1 like some YouTuber? (And why does YouTube keep suggesting “Polyglot Speak 25 Languages” videos to you?”)
First off, we’ve already touched on marketing. Most people have something to sell.
Don’t believe us? Let’s look at the facts.
1. It takes between 550-2200 hours to learn a new language to a competent level.
Every language and every learner is different.
You don’t know the difficulty of the language you’re trying to learn, the situation the other learner is in, or their relationship to that language. (For a full calculator on how long it takes to learn a language, you can find your personalized number here.)
2. Some content creators are single and child-free, plus getting paid to learn languages full time.
These are pure hours, not weeks or months.
If your language habit is 15-60min a day, that’s awesome! But you will end up with a different number of months or years than someone who can put in 3-4hrs a day.
(And some content creators are even studying for 6+hrs a day because it’s their full-time job!)
3. After you learn the first few languages, it gets easier.
On your first day at the gym, do you compare yourself to the 25-year-old bodybuilder who’s been virtually living there since he was 14?
On your first day of biology class, do you compare your knowledge to that of the teacher?
The more you know, the easier the whole process will become and the faster you can acquire new knowledge. Don’t compare your new language learning hobby with the skilled training of professionals.
4. You can edit YouTube videos.
Yup. We’ve said it.
A big scandal in the language learning community as of recent is just how much certain videos have been edited.
A jump cut between pauses? Sure, almost all of us do it in every language.
But a video creator who’s reading from a script and editing out the errors? You never know what’s happening behind the scenes of a YouTube video.
(If you want two realistic videos of where hobby learners can get after a few months, check out our own videos where real language learners analyze their levels to see where they got in a few months. These are the opposite of show-off-videos: the videos aren’t about showing off success, but talking about the process!)
Obstacle 5. Losing motivation.
Finally, just because you’re motivated now does not mean you’ll always be motivated.
In fact, most psychologists would agree that your motivation will inevitably fail.
- The nature of motivation is that it’s temporary. If it’s based on enthusiasm, that’s an incredibly momentary mood. When our moods shift, we’ll find motivation disappearing too.
- Languages get hard. Once you start running into your first roadblock, you’ll find that that spark of optimism isn’t enough to combat things like the Spanish subjunctive mood or the French passé composé.
- Not sticking to a routine can spiral us. One bad day will quickly lead to pessimism about the next and so on until we’ve built totally negative beliefs about ourselves.
- We decide like we can’t. See the spiral happening? Our inner monologue quickly tells us that because we’ve likely failed once, and now we’re failing again, that it’s totally impossible.
Here are some techniques to combat the common causes of motivation fatigue:
- Build yourself an unbreakable routine. Just like brushing your teeth, it’ll need to feel weird and uncomfortable on the days you don’t do it.
- Fight negative self-talk. Something is hard? Remind yourself of a time you learned something new. Thinking you failed before? Remind yourself that other people have learned the language before, and so will you.
- Celebrate tiny victories, not just the one big one you’re waiting for. Remember those micro-goals? Every time you reach one, give yourself a tiny celebration. Create ton of positive reinforcement and success to build on.
- Find new things to get excited about. As you reach your micro-goals, what’s next? What is the next fruit close-at-hand that you simply can’t wait for?
If you want a more in-depth look, check out the video:
Putting it all together
Now that you’ve read this, here is your step-by-step guide to setting up a bullet-proof new few months.
(Just check back to other parts of this article if you need anything clarified.)
- Reevaluate your goal setting.
- Find your tiny nook of time for when you can practice your base habit uninterrupted.
- Plan the resources you’ll want for your super-productive days.
- Start tracking your negative thoughts and keep a running list of healthier mindsets for when the bad ones creep in. These could be unfair expectations, comparing yourself to others, or anything else.
- Start tracking your tiny victories and things you can celebrate, no matter how tiny they are!
Want to keep moving forward in your language learning journey without the B.S. of marketing promises?
Get in touch with a professional language coach who can help you laser-in on what’s stopping you from reaching your language dreams.