Sometimes you could swear your brain is your worst enemy. You keep forgetting words, getting stuck when you try explaining yourself, or failing to understand native speakers after studying for months. The good news? There are several things you can do about it. Hop in!
5. I Can't Memorize New Vocabulary
Our brain is a wonderful thing.
Sometimes it will terrorize you with Nicki Minaj's new hit on repeat, but "conveniently" forget that super important word you needed to express yourself in French that day.
Or maybe it will remind you - time after time - of a hilarious meme you saw the other day, but completely shut down when you just wanted to get that irregular German verb right.
It might even memorize the entire lyrics of "Despacito", but when the time comes to write a simple essay in Spanish? Oh dear...
A common complaint among language enthusiasts all over the globe is that at a certain point in time, new vocabulary just stops coming in.
Maybe you have tried creating lists, organizing vocabulary by topic in columns, repeating the words until they seem to come naturally, or tried using sentences to put them in context...but two weeks later, you can't seem to remember them when you need them the most.
How you can fix it:
The idea behind repeating words several times is actually logical, so you shouldn't ignore that strategy completely in order to learn a new language.
The key is not repetition itself, though.
What you are looking for is consistency.
Way too often, language learners will focus on a category of vocabulary (for instance, food-related vocabulary) and repeat it endlessly...for about a week. After that, it's on to the next unit, the next topic, the next set of words you feel the urge to memorize as quickly as possible.
A quick solution is to write sentences every day adding more and more vocabulary, while still repeating previous words.
It is essential that you keep reviewing previous material, and the more diverse the ways you are exposed to it, the better. For instance, let's imagine you have just learned how to build the Present Continuous in Spanish.
- Week 1 - I am exposed to this grammar for the first time. I write at least 5 sentences every day for a month with these new words.
- Week 2 - I find a Spanish song I really love that happens to include the Present Continuous, and keep listening to it regularly.
- Week 3 - I watch a movie in Spanish and take note of the times I find the Present Continuous. I also notice it when I am watching a TV show or series.
- Week 4 - I look in the mirror and say 5 sentences aloud, using the Present Continuous.
And so on. Variety and consistency work wonderfully when it comes to memorizing new vocabulary and grammar!
4. I Get Stuck When I Try Speaking
There are two main reasons why people get stuck when they try speaking to others. Do any of these speak to you?
Reason number one: you fear making a fool of yourself. You believe you will look stupid or dumb. You fear awkward silences, as well as the long moment others will be waiting for you to remember a particular word. You know for sure that you will say something silly or be misunderstood. Sometimes, this could even lead to an overall state of anxiety.
Reason number two: you just can't seem to remember words as you speak, even though you don't fear the act of speaking itself. You are the first to volunteer and begin a conversation, but find yourself struggling to keep words flowing.
Maybe you are even a victim of both, depending on the day or the topic!
How you can fix it:
Have you ever participated in a theater play as a kid?
Let us invite you to go back in time.
The first step is to think of the purpose of your next conversation in your target language. Conversations have goals and tones, and everything will depend on your priorities.
Are you going to have a business meeting in Spanish? Planning on having an informal conversation with a German friend? Dreaming of improving your intermediate communication skills in Russian? Prepare three to five expressions you are very likely to need, and write them down on a piece of paper. Regardless of what field you want to focus on, some expressions will be used universally and in all contexts, such as words of agreement, disagreement, request, offer, or greetings.
The second step is to find yourself alone in a room. It could be your bedroom, your kitchen, your living room, even your bathroom. The location is not important, as long as you feel comfortable and nobody is watching. And here's the trick:
You must now become an actor who has a script to memorize and deliver in the best possible way. Your goal is to sound spontaneous, natural and like yourself, rather than a robot!
How do you achieve this in practice? First, look at your small piece of paper, repeat the expressions and try reading them slowly, then faster and faster. Try reading them with different intonations. In fact, try reading them with different emotions! You may try an expression with a smile on your face, then aggressively, then nervously, then as if they were the most exciting news you've ever heard!
Next step? Gradually becoming so familiar with the sentences that you won't need the paper anymore.
Bonus if you can do this one: look at the expressions you have been collecting and try saying the same thing in at least three alternative ways. This will help you keep that versatility muscle alive, and could help you when you find yourself stuck.
The work of an actor is to take on a new role, a script, a personality and yes, even a language that is completely unknown to them and become that person in a matter of weeks or months, with the audience perceiving the result as natural, organic, effortless, seamless. You get the idea.
So why wouldn't it work with you for language learning? Dare to be playful!
3. I Don't Have Enough Time for Language Learning
In between your job, college degree, taking care of your children, or having a social life at all, language learning may be postponed indefinitely.
If the thought of cooking dinner can sometimes be overwhelming, what to say about language learning, right?
How you can fix it:
There are two things you can do about it. First, take every minute you can to get some small language bites. Then, surround yourself with your target language (yes, you can learn Chinese even outside of China!) so that even when you are not exactly studying, you are still not completely detached from it.
This is when apps come in.
While you should give yourself some time off and allow yourself to relax at several moments throughout your day, it isn't a bad idea to start playing with language apps while on your way to work, waiting for the next tram, a few minutes before sleep, or waiting for the doctor's appointment.
For example, here at Speechling we give you the opportunity to access vocabulary flashcards, listening practice, a quiz to test yourself on your progress, and dictation practice - all to use whenever you find yourself with a few spare minutes.
Also, try writing 5 sentences every day. This isn't time-consuming and it will help you keep the language alive at a bare minimum when you can't do anything else that day.
Listen to music in your target language. Again, perhaps on your way to work, school, the doctor, and so on. This is a very easy step that allows you to stimulate your brain to react to a different language without letting it die completely while you don't find yourself more time to study intensively. It might seem like a cliché, but believe us - it works.
2. I Can't Understand Native Speakers
Maybe all things are clear when you're studying your manual, listening to your teacher or practicing with a recording, but when you're face to face (or on a Skype interview) with a native speaker, you feel overwhelmed, nervous, or simply lost.
This could happen if you have only had exposure to material created for language learners, which tend to make pronunciation clear and simple for the outsider to understand.
In reality, though? Expressions change, accents vary, slang takes over and some words just seem to become shorter and shorter.
Reality can be so ridiculously different from what you are taught in language courses that it can feel like a completely different language when you are finally exposed to how natives actually communicate with one another.
How you can fix it:
You need more exposure to material made for native speakers, not for language learners.
Go specifically for listening practice.
This means choosing movies, TV series, reality shows, interviews, documentaries and YouTubers (lifestyle, sports, commentary) that will help you see how natives actually speak. Choose content created by natives, for natives.
This will help you get familiar with the rhythm of the language and how quick it can get without the pressure of having to reply.
Bonus? Take notes on how particular expressions will sound absolutely different when they are on paper and when a native speaks. Practice saying them out loud.
1. My Pronunciation is Terrible!
Ever been through that awkward moment in which you spell a word so absolutely incorrectly that the other person couldn't get what you were saying at all and asked you to repeat at least 3 times?
Have you ever gotten that awkward smile, in which you realize the person didn't get your question but was too polite to say anything about it?
Bad pronunciation can really take a toll on your confidence and self-esteem, especially when you remember the vocabulary, get the grammar right, showcase your skills...but still end up getting misunderstood.
How to fix it:
Remember your goal is to be efficient and understood, not perfect.
Your goal shouldn't be to sound like a native tomorrow, but to be understood first; perfect your pronunciation later, when your expression of basic ideas is already clear and successful.
Step one would be identifying the particular sounds that are specific to your native language and that are somewhat "contaminating" your target language. Consider the widespread stereotype of the German native who attempts to speak English, and commonly replaces the English sound "th" with a "z". This would be the sound you would have to focus on and practice! In the end, it's all about understanding what parts of words make it clear that your native accent is sneaking in.
Do not be afraid to ask for help to identify what harmful pronunciation habits you are currently relying on, and practice several words in a row to eliminate them gradually.
Here at Speechling we can help you with this particular point, because not only can you practice pronunciation from day one and record it to compare with native speakers' recordings, but you can also get feedback from an actual native coach the following day. No Skype calls, no awkward pauses, no pressure.
And most of all...do not forget that the secret to solve your language learning problems can be solved with persistence, consistency, curiosity, and asking for help when you need it. Have fun with your language!