Here’s a Simple Way to the Win the Battle Against Learning Frustration


language-learning-frustrationWe all have tough moments in our language-learning journeys.

And as much as we would like, preventing them entirely is impossible.

Any kind of learning involves at least some pain:

Whether it’s study frustration, or embarrassment from pronouncing a word incorrectly in a conversation…..

No matter what you do, some frustration is inevitable in order to grow. You can’t learn something worthwhile without challenging yourself.

That challenge can be felt as a kind of pain, a frustration. A frustration that can quickly build up, and when it does, you just might want to throw all your learning materials into the trash can. 

And if your learning material is digital, you might want to smash your Smart Phone into pieces as well.

The trick, then, is to not let that frustration get the better of you.

A simple shift of mind is usually enough to accomplish that.

Focusing on Results Increases Frustration

In difficult moments, your confidence goes down.

You think you aren’t learning (or not fast enough) when you most likely are.

The frustration causes you to evaluate your learning, and, mostly, evaluate it NEGATIVELY.

You judge your progress, and you haven’t learned enough words, your grammar is an absolute mess, and your pronunciation isn’t much better than a boxer who’s had too many blows to the head.

When you have these negative moments, you tend to focus even more on results than you normally do.

Focusing on results is beneficial — it allows you to see where your weaknesses lay — but not on short-term results and certainly never when we’re in a negative mood.

In fact, that will only significantly increase your frustration!


Well, let’s see:

You’re challenged because you’re doing something difficult.

A grammar drill, a conversation, a pronunciation exercise, whatever it is.

So you’re somewhat coming up short.

You’re just about not good enough.

That’s how you feel.

And that sentiment colors your thoughts and evaluations and, suddenly, everything you’ve learned so far looks pretty much worthless.

So while the natural thing to do is to focus on your results, it’s also the worst thing you can do when frustrated.

You’re never really in control of short-term language-learning results, anyway. Too many factors at play here:

You may have a bad day, you may be tired, you may not be emotionally completely there.  Maybe you learned X before Y and this made you confused. Had you learned it the other way around you’d be better off.

Pffff …. Too many potential factors to mention.

So forget about results when in a state of frustration.

Do this instead:

Just Get Your Time In

Yup, that’s right:

Your only task when in a frustrated state is to finish your listening or flashcard session, your conversation, or whatever language-learning activity you’re involved in. 

Always, always, work with time-limited sessions. Take breaks. They’re your friend. Your brain uses more energy than any other organ. It needs to rest every now and then.

So just focus on finishing your sessions. If you already converse in your new language then do that in a time-limited way as well.

Don’t worry about how you are doing …or … how you’ve been doing … or … how you’re gonna do, OK?

You’re frustrated!

Now is not the time to evaluate anything. Just get your language-learning time in!

I even don’t want you to make a great effort. Just be there with your materials or your conversation partner.

Save the real effort for when you can afford it.

Three advantages of this approach stand out:

  1. You’re not evaluating as much, while (likely) still learning. This helps significantly lessen frustration.
  2. You take some of the pressure off of your performance, which ironically can result in a better one.
  3. Though it may seem you’re not progressing, most of the time you ARE. If you just focus on finishing the session you’re currently doing, before you know it you’ll see the world in a different light and that you have progressed. It’s happened to me countless times and I’m grateful for the lesson!

What about You?

Not focusing on results when in a state of stress has been the most essential tool I have used to learn foreign languages.

But this blog shouldn’t be too much about me. So I would like to know: what’s yours?

It can be something simple like always doing your language-learning stuff first thing in the morning, or a physical tool like a dictionary.

Then again, it doesn’t matter if it’s weird or outlandish…. In fact, those are the most interesting ones.

If you’ve found you learn better with two fingers up your nose, that’s perfect. Winking smile

Just let me know in the comments below.

Maybe I can persuade some scientists to do a study on it. Smile



  1. Uncounted thanks sir for encouraging me.

    • Noel van Vliet says:

      You’re welcome. 🙂

    • Students are often getting frustrate due to load of learning which is little bit hard for them and just because of it sometimes they become so stressed and can’t learn properly. Thanks for sharing remarkable ways to battle a learning frustration. Many many thanks to you for motivating students, so they can concentrate on learning and achieve good results.

  2. Juan Alejandro says:

    Nice article! easy to read! I am an English teacher and I am always looking forward to new information on how to help students to really learn English as a foreign language. It is difficult for some of them when they are in large classes, but now I’ll get these tips for students, and teach them as part of different lessons. It would be like “the fifth skill”, that is “patience”. Thanks for a wonderful article!

    • Noel van Vliet says:

      That’s great to hear, Juan. Let me know how it goes.

      Great idea, btw! Patience as the fifth skill of language learning. And maybe it’s the hardest skill of all. 😉

  3. I’ve been learning to take I ELTS exam and sometimes I feel I don’t have progress or it’s too slow. Thanks for your advice and I will try; especially take a rest often. 🙂

  4. Leesa Johnson says:

    Nicely written article and I enjoyed reading your post. I would like to share with my friend because some problems while learning the language so I’m sure that he will get help from your post.

  5. Hi Noel, very nice points you have got there. Language learning becomes fun and joyful when you are not learning for the sake of just learning, but when learning a language is your passion. Most students because they are new to languages and are probably learning what is a second language first time, hesitate to speak with confidence and this is what is the most frustrating part. I always from first lesson, encourage them to speak with confidence whether it’s their first day of learning a new word or a sentence.

  6. Hi Noel, thanks for article.
    Overcoming the frustration, especially in the ‘ plateau’ stage of language learning is crucial in being able to succeed in learning.
    Also I believe setting yourself realistic goals helps a lot.
    It’s never any good expecting to be speaking fluent Spanish , or anything else, in three months . You’re just setting yourself up for total frustration if you do!
    Regards. Marie.

  7. You are a mind reader…. 🙂 I really want to keep sharing my experience with you and I really need the person as a companion like you.

  8. Suraj gajhans says:

    Thankyou sir….i will start it and then i will comment here again for u..

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