Get Fluent in a New Language by Overcoming Yourself


you-brainSuccessful language learning is not necessarily about the methods.

Methods do help, but they are utterly useless if you can’t remove the biggest obstacle to language-learning prosperity.

You probably already know what it is.

It’s something very, very close to you. In fact, nothing is closer to you than this thing. Heck, it isn’t even different from you.

Do I need to tease you any more?

Of course, it’s you, yourself.

If you aren’t up for it, if you have the wrong mindset, your language-learning journey will be a short one and without the desired success.

And if nothing is done about it, you can pretty much forget about achieving fluency in another language.

But there’s hope.

Contrary to popular belief, you’re not forever chained to your character “flaws”.

The Language-Learning Obstacle Buster

In 2013, I wrote and published an article called “How I learned Two New Languages in Spite of Myself”.

It’s about recognizing obstacles — mostly of psychological nature — to language-learning success and discovering solutions for them.

An obstacle can be anything that stands between you and fluency.

Example: one obstacle could be your tendency to feel overwhelmed by your new language. Reminding yourself that you don´t have to learn everything to be able to converse comfortably could be the solution.

You can read the entire article here but the steps to overcoming the obstacles are as follows:

  • Recognize the obstacles
  • Come up with solutions
  • Document both the obstacles and the solutions (in a mind map I call the Language-Learning Obstacle Buster: download example here)
  • Execute the solutions when an obstacle strikes

The article also touches upon the importance of reviewing the obstacles and their solutions on a regular basis. This makes you recognize the obstacles and trigger the solutions.

It all sounds simple, yes. But it’s very effective.

It has helped me greatly in my own language learning.

In fact, that’s where the idea came from.

One of my personal obstacles was that I used to have the tendency to prefer leisure activities over language learning. I would play video games all night, instead of learning English. That’s okay for one night, but soon I was playing every night.

The solution, of course, was to first do my language learning for a set time and then play games.

So it was solved, right?

Not quite.

You see, gaining this insight doesn’t necessarily make you stop gaming. Or at least not for long. That’s because, over time, we tend to forget the lessons we learn.

And when we do…we become vulnerable to the obstacle again.

So the huge question was: how can you make these insights stick?


You document them, and review the obstacles and their solutions on a regular basis.

Then, when the obstacles rear their ugly head again, we’ll know immediately what to do.

It’s what I did and it worked wonders for me.

I never even thought I could actually learn another language! Creating my Language-Learning Obstacle Buster helped me blast through that inferiority complex.

If-Then Planning

Before starting to write the aforementioned article I knew the method was powerful, but I didn’t know why.

In fact, only recently I found out that what I was doing was something similar to what had already been confirmed by many studies as an effective way to achieve personal goals.

It’s called If-Then Planning — sometimes referred to as Implementation Intentions.

More than 100 studies have shown the effectiveness of If-Then Planning. On top of that, it’s also very simple to create an If-Then Plan.

It follows a straightforward format:

If X happens, then I will do Y.

For example:

  • If it’s 4p.m., then I’ll clean my desk.
  • If I want to eat a cookie, I’ll go for an apple instead.
  • If I’m about to yell, I’ll count to ten, first.

…or more focused on language-learning obstacles:

  • If I’m hungry while doing a language-learning activity, I’ll eat a quick and healthy snack and continue working on my new language.
  • If I’m feeling overwhelmed, then I’ll remind myself that I don’t have to learn everything at once.
  • If I get distracted, I’ll take ten deep breaths and get back to my target language.

It follows a very similar format to what was presented in the Language-Learning Obstacle Buster.

Reading about If-Then planning only reinforced my belief that identifying and “solving” obstacles is an effective way to overcome barriers between you and your goals.

Science now backs it up.

That’s one of two reasons I’m dedicating a second article to something I’ve already written about.

The other one is that an import ingredient of the whole process was missing (or maybe not emphasized enough) in the first article.

The Missing Link

After publishing the How I Learned Two New Language in Spite of Myself article, the reception was good.

For most people it was very helpful. But to my surprise, some reported uneventful results.

You never know exactly how they implement a method you share, but nevertheless, their failure to copy my success surprised me.

As time went by, I often wondered what could have been the reason for the mixed results when the method had been so successful for me.

The answer was simpler than I thought.

When I needed to build better habits in my personal life, I found out that an Obstacle Buster needs to be build one obstacle at a time.

Creating a giant mind map with all kinds of obstacles and supposed solutions before having tested and internalized them is a recipe for failure.

It’s nothing more than theory! You have to test your assumptions in the real world.

You’ll want to start with your biggest obstacle to language-learning success.

It may be distractions, for example.

A simple solution may be reminding yourself to find a quieter place. You then test it. If it works: great! You can explore and solve other obstacles.

If not, you have to try something else.

Just remember: don’t move on to another obstacle until you “solved” it.

Remember: it’s not just the testing that’s important. Working with an obstacle also helps you remind both the obstacle and its solution.

When you recognize the obstacle (trigger moment) you can execute the solution. If you start out with 25 obstacles and solutions without having worked with them, you won’t recognize the trigger moment nor the solution.

It’s all about clarity and focus.

Personal Power Within Your Reach

Learning a new language can be hard. But what makes it really difficult is rarely the material itself. It’s what’s in your head that causes most troubles.

If you take the time to identify the obstacles standing between you and fluency, and if you can come up with-and-test solutions for them, you’ll seriously increase your chances of achieving the success you desire.

Thinking too positively is like putting your head in the sand. Instead, prepare yourself. Know the pitfalls — your personal banana peels — and find ways to avoid them.

It’s the only way to overcome what’s been holding you back for so long.



  1. Thanks for the inspirational and practical advice! This is something I plan to test out not just for language learning but also for other endeavors. Great. I’m optimistic of the results!

    • Noel van Vliet says:

      Thanks, Jon.

      Yes, it’s equally suitable for other areas as well. With a little re-tweaking every now and then, it works great.

      I’ve found it even beneficial as an antidote for some bothersome emotions 🙂

      You just have to take it one step at a time. It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to solve all your obstacles and hurdles at once. But, as I explain in the article, that’s bound to fail.

  2. Hi Noel,

    Nice post and a great mindmap – very useful. 🙂

    Best wishes and happy language learning,


  3. Great! we run an academic assignment and dissertation help consultancy and I am sure these tips can help our students who are language learners and come from different parts of this world to learn. We look forward to more such interesting and informative articles for the learning of the language learners

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