The Ebb & Flow of Language Learning

Not a question post, just a venting post.

It’s one of those weeks for me. The ones where one starts to feel disillusioned by the whole process. I’m sure you know it - when one encounters mostly new content and the sheer magnitude of the undertaking becomes apparent. The vocab mountain seems to be Everest and the ascent has barely begun. None of the new content is ‘sticking’ and this furthers the disillusionment.

It’s not just vocab though. Thats a tough climb, but a predictable one - the rest of that climb is exactly what has just been done but repeated many many many times over. Its a test of willpower primarily - the willpower to encounter, notice, consider and use new vocabulary. Grand Master Time is the adversary here and he intends to fight for many many rounds.

Above all it’s the mind-bending grammar, all the nuances and turns of phrase which are all so very different. At the root of all these lies the biggest impediment: the gnawing worry that by doing what I am doing, I wont be able to achieve my goal; that maybe I do need to spend hours pouring over textbooks, filling out exercises, doing little quizzes. Even so, I can’t see how I will be able to understand the spoken language ‘in real time’. Ever.

It feels like setting out on a journey where the distance, intervening terrain and obstacles to be overcome are all unknown but somehow keeping up the faith that the destination can be reached!

I still don’t have an answer for these learning doldrums. I just set my eyes on some future point and decide “well lets just get to there”. So “Well, I’ll keep this up until <current month + 3> and see where I am”. Eye on the prize doesn’t seem as applicable when the prize doesn’t seem attainable.

/end rant :slight_smile:


I think that every word I write wrong or I don not understand it is a good experience. This is the process of learning. If I feel disappointed it is no matter, because the results are not immediate in learning languages. But, it is difficult to overcome.
Good luck.

1 Like

I imagine we’re all going through the same thing, what I think separates those who progress with those who don’t is how they deal with these obstacles, and I think that’s probably where experience comes into effect.

I liken it to when I got heavily into online poker, obviously you can’t win every time you sit down but persevering through tough times, not losing faith, you know eventually if you keep doing the right things, it’ll come good. This was called ‘dealing with variance.’

Usually, the most experienced players would deal with it best and wouldn’t let it effect their game, other less experienced players would constantly change what they were doing to try to beat variance, it never worked as variance is unavoidable.

I think there’s a lot of variance involved in language learning too. It’s an Inevitable feature of language learning, the more experience you have the better equipped you are to deal with it.


Thats certainly true - point well taken. I’m under no illusions that I have a significant time commitment to make and that in the end I’ll have taken more steps forward than I did backward.

What was/is bugging me is not so much whether I am progressing, but whether I am progressing toward my goal.

I often read blogs and accounts of other language learners as a means of motivation. There are many who clearly are doing the wrong thing during their study time and I’m sure by various metrics they ARE making progress, however it’s not toward their goal of conversing in the language.

So they find themselves with countless hours and years worth of study behind them, but unable to consume real authentic content in their target language. Sometimes unable to hear a single thing said in their target language.

No doubt they have filled their time with vocab flashcards, conjugation exercises and the like but neglected to actually listen and read the language.

I do have faith that my reading of 500+ words a day, listening to an hour of spoken material is the backbone to fluency. Supplementing this by reviewing flashcards and looking up grammar helps get the most out of my primary activity. But this faith gets shaken from time to time when content labelled as ‘beginner’ just reads like a word salad to me.

It can feel like I am scaling the wrong mountain :slight_smile:

But I’m likely to next visit Korea late this year. So maybe that will be a good point for me to stop and take stock of how my language learning has gone.


There It comes handy the experience of having succeed on another language, as you relay on the confidence that what you do will pay off. But I’m agree

Hello, I’m looking for some friends in all over the world to improve my English speaking via Skype.
Anybody here add me on Skype, my Skype ID: friend123456 . If you are Native English Speaker. You are mostly Welcome !
Welcome all, I can help you in Bengali If you want.

Yeah, I can relate to that feeling of “am I on the right path?” “will this work?” I guess we have to remember what definitely doesn’t work… Giving up.

We just have to trust the advice of those who’ve been there and done it, that what we’re doing will get us there in the end.

1 Like

Haha. I’d sure feel a lot better if I had already learnt a second language as an adult and could infer some confidence from that.

I find it difficult to believe most claims from people. I know plenty of people who do speak multiple languages but none learned the additional ones entirely as an adult - most had tuition growing up and are now immersed in their second (or third!) languages. So their situations are a bit different.

For the people on the same path as me, I find most people tend to really inflate their claims. “Yeah I can kind of follow a conversation” often means they really dont - they just hear occasional words and try to assume the context.

A friend of mine who was born and grew up in Germany told me he once met a university student from Ireland who had been studying German for 3 years. She proudly attempted to tell him a bunch of stuff in German. He said he couldn’t understand a single thing she was saying - it was like gibberish to him. Yet she was doing really well in her courses and had her eyes set on being an interpreter.

A am extremely skeptical and I tell you this: the day that I can start to understand 50% of Korean conversation as it is spoken will be the day that I loudly trumpet (well, silently as it will probably be on the internet) that my goal has been reached!

And yeah, I’m a wordy person. Sorry for the long posts. Speaking of word salad…

1 Like

I’ve learned all foreign languages I know after childhood. I began learning English when I was 17 years old and that was at a normal language school, meaning I didn’t learn all that much. I did receive some tuition at school in French but I think it was the same kind and “quality” as the foreign language education you might have received in your school years. Ditto for the little Latin and old Greek I was taught at high school.
My breakthrough in French and English (mostly on my own) happened later and it took a long time. All of it took place after I was 18 and most of it in my twenties. I began learning German when I was at the university, also in my twenties. I’ve learned Italian and Portuguese and improved my Latin (and some ancient Greek) much later than that and now (in my late forties) I’m learning Russian.
Along the way I’ve learned some modern Greek, Chinese and Japanese, although I didn’t get very far and I’ve forgotten almost all of those. Anyway, all that was in my thirties/forties.

Well that is encouraging :slight_smile: Mostly because one of the languages you learned as an adult I am quite familiar with and your post alone speaks volumes toward how well you have mastered it.

Mostly demonstrations of people babbling away in foreign tongues just shows a level of confidence to me. I am not well positioned to judge the ‘quality’ of what they are saying… unless its English :slight_smile:

Anyhow, thank you for the pick-me-up. This week has been a harder slog working through material.

1 Like

I’m very glad if you found my post useful. Because I’ve been through the process of learning languages a couple of times, now i can take it easy when I run into difficulties. For example, I remember I thought that I could never learn English because it seemed to be impossible to remember the spelling and pronunciation of each word separately. I also remember when I kept confusing German “schweigen” (be silent) with “wiegen” (weigh), when I had to look up hundreds of times the right conjugation of “recevoir”, …
And, after some time, I did learn and now I feel confident. Be sure that I stumble once and again on Russian expressions, vocabulary, grammar, etc. I just know that this is normal and that some degre of frustration is part of the process.
Keep that in mind, take it easy and don’t give up. I’m sure you’ll get there.