Top 5 Reasons Language Learners Fail

Have you tried learning a language and failed? Maybe one of these reasons got you. In an effort to be suspenseful, the five reasons language learners fail (as purported by yours truly) are below, in reverse order:

5. Lack of Guidance

Especially in the beginning, I think all language learners experience a bit of anxiety when confronted with the obvious realization, “I know absolutely nothing about this language.” Naturally, being the pain avoidant creatures we are we kick into gear and work to resolve that anxiety by getting a book, taking a class, or looking for a guide of some sort. Without this guidance, like a shopping cart with a rusty wheel, the learner unknowingly may drive in circles, taking far long to get from A to B than one would with a guide pointing the way. (Note: In my opinion, the best guides are fellow learners, just slightly more advanced).

4. Lack of Exposure

With or without the guidance of a friend, tutor, teacher or text, most learners starve their language plant of the sunshine it needs. Often, this happens subconsciously because, being the pleasure seeking creatures we are, clearer the shows/ movies/ other media we have been consuming on a daily basis for years provide us with more entertainment value than something that registers as a sleojff sljjgooa[p[e gobble dee goop of sljjo awvn text sdlas jolkedfg. How pleasurable can it be to slfjan ennwa slgjhlwll dke n nnna slehg? Frustrating? “Ehhhh… let’s just watch something in English…” A thought that is usually the beginning of the end for a language learner.

3. Lack of Actual Use

Okay, so there are a lot of people that get past these first two. With guidance and ample input, the language plant will no doubt take root and grow. Experiencing some success, the learner continues to do so, and after some time gets comfortable with ingesting the language. But whether due to lack of effort or social fears, the learner fails to find a place for the vines and branches of the language plant to spread, flower, and make their way into the real world. Without actually practicing speaking the language and using it in real life, the growth of the plant will most certainly be stunted. Knowing the path and walking the path are very different things.

2. Fear of Making Mistakes

Although tempted to put this as number one, I put it as number two because I suffered from this for a long time. Even beyond the point where I considered myself fluent in Korean, I still had an acute fear of making mistakes — ingrained in us early on by a school system that marks mistakes with the color of blood. RED mistakes flooded papers onto which we had poured our energy and time. Each assignment a battle fought and lost to the deathly red pen. Such a deep-seated sensitization to “wrong” carries over into the language learning process and manifests itself in the form of certain decisions. These decisions, whether the learner is aware or not, will sabotage their learning, leading them to stay inside when they should go out — to keep their mouth closed when they should speak up.

1. Giving up — As incredibly obvious as it is, ponder the following statement for a moment:

If you never give up, you are absolutely 100% guaranteed to successfully learn a language.

Amazingly obvious right? You may find yourself thinking, “Well, of course, but it could take 100 years.” This is, of course, correct, but it just goes to highlight the importance of overcoming mistakes 2–5 above. Make up your mind that you will never give up. There is no choice anymore. This language is a part of your life — it is a part of you — it is tattooed onto you brain, no getting away. So throw away the ‘quit’ option. Start your hike up the language mountain. If and when it starts to get tough, take a break. Look around. Breath in the crisp air at your new altitude because, whether you know it or not, each time you start to feel like things are getting hard — legs tired — it is a symbol of how far you have come. And in this realization, we find the sweet nectar of success.

Success is not learning a language to perfection, it is solidifying the habit of moving forward.