You Can Learn a Foreign Language Even If Your Memory Is a Total Mess

In our contemporary world, many people face the demand of using at least one foreign language in everyday life.

It might be work that involves international contacts. It might be in education where significant research may have been published in another language. It might be in private life when we travel, buy items online, or look for entertainment. And in a world of a mass immigration, people speaking other languages might become our neighbours or life partners.

What percentage of the 7.5 billion of the world population could be in this situation? Half? Even if it’s a quarter, it’s still a legion of people. Embracing how to effectively learn a foreign language is a must for millions of people.

Institutional teaching doesn’t satisfy students

Most learners leave classes unprepared to use the language they were taught in real situations. Online teachers partially fill this gap by offering more customised services. Still, there are thousands of people struggling to learn languages.

Many obstacles stand in the way of mastering a second language. They’re mostly a combination of personality traits, health issues, learning difficulties and personal life circumstances. When we don’t understand this, we got frustrated. Frustration causes self-doubt and weakens motivation. That pulls learners into the mud of self-pity “I have no talent for languages.” This silent despair threatened me before I identified my learning obstacles and worked out the way to overcome them.

People can successfully learn whatever they want when they understand themselves well and practice regularly.

Understanding your own “operating system” is crucial to your success.

Spend time in regular self-reflection.

Find supporters who can boost your efforts.

Find a mentor who can lead you through the hardest times and point out the right solution. Talk to him about what you’re learning so he can help you through your struggles and celebrate your victories.

“Clarity comes with action”

(Jeff Goins, “The Art of Work”)

To me, the first sign of clarity came four years ago, when my co-worker commented that I made mistakes like a dyslexic. I hadn’t thought about myself this way before.

Later, at home, I analysed my learning experiences and noticed that after Lyme disease, which I had thirteen years ago, my memory and concentration had drastically decreased. I was ashamed of this but hoped that my learning ability would be back to normal over time.

It wasn’t.

In the meantime, I moved abroad. The struggle with activities requiring multitasking dragged me down. I didn’t drive a car. I couldn’t master my second language no matter how hard I persevered.

My confidence plummeted.

When an online test confirmed that I had dyslexia traits, I felt the relief many other people feel when their problem has a name. Finally, I could tackle it properly.

First, I searched the topic in depth and found practical tips about which learning methods might suit my needs.

Second, I implemented changes into my daily routine.

In short, the change required that I break complex tasks into manageable jobs. Then repeat learned skills over and over until full automation.

Little by little, these changes began bringing the results I desired. My first breakthrough was getting my driving licence. I was lucky! Some convalescents of Lyme disease never sit behind a steering wheel again.

Then I learned to drive my mastery of English.

“If It Doesn’t Suck, It’s Not Worth Doing”

(Benjamin P. Hardy, an article on Medium)

When you measure my current level of English against academic ranks, you can see many gaps. I admit I’m still a work in progress, but I’ve learned to appreciate what I have achieved. Surprisingly, we can do lots of good things even though we haven’t mastered a skill yet. Inspiring others might be one of them.

This year, I passed an efficiency exam in English and completed the course work with the highest grade. It wasn’t rocket science. Still, it was a real challenge for someone with working memory that is lower than average.

The college I attended sent me to a specialist to confirm my dyslexia. The results showed I wasn’t. However, my working memory could process only three items of information at a time. The average score is four to seven.

Bloody inconvenient when it comes to carrying out multitasking operations. Don’t you agree that using a language is super-multitasking? You have to memorise hundreds of words, use them in the right form, collocations, and sequences. While speaking, you must control pronunciation, accent and intonation. While writing, you’re concerned with spelling, punctuation and grammar. On the top of that, you have to organise sentences into a logical text. Whew!

It took me ten years to find out the reason for my struggle with learning a second language. I feel fortunate the right people supported me through the hardest times. Now, I’m ready to help others who face the same challenge.

Call to action

Do you relate to the issues raised in this article?

Have you found it hard to learn a foreign language or a new skill? In next article, I’ll reveal more details about online learning.

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Thank you for reading.

Originally published at on August 29, 2017.