Grrrrr. There’s that sensation again.
That burning feeling. The feeling of being powerless.
You want to study but can’t even think straight.
You feel overwhelmed. It doesn’t seem that you’ll hold out for much longer.
If you don’t learn to deal with the negative experiences that bother you during your language learning, you will never learn a new language. You may keep trying but the same thing will happen again and again.
It’s a pattern. You start your study all excited but once the excitement wears off, you’re in the middle of reality.
And reality is tough.
Now if you prepared everything right — and if you educated yourself on what it takes to learn a new language — a big slice of the frustration will already be conquered.
But every new session brings with it its challenges, and thus negative feelings.
Almost every language study session I’ve ever had was somewhat painful — I’m a naturally lazy guy with little patience — but bit by bit I learned how to manage them and how to apply certain antidotes to the disturbing emotions.
They were successful to me every single time.
The Path of Least Resistance
We are wired to take the path of least resistance.
If you take a different road you will be severely challenged. All emotional forces within yourself will try to push you back to the safety of the path of least resistance.
It’s a survival instinct. It was useful when we were cavemen. Now it’s keeping you from achieving many things that could enrich your life beyond your wildest imagination.
If you already have an event-driven motive to learn your new language, you’ve already turned the tables significantly. If you need to speak Chinese for your six-month solo trip to China, you have made *not studying* the path of least resistance.
You know that if you don’t study, your chances of feeling well in Beijing will be seriously diminished. Just think about the shame you would feel if you needed to return home early because you were homesick! It’s easier to study a lot than to have such an experience.
However, even with a strong event-driven motive as the fuel of your study, you’re still going to have to deal with an array of negative inner experiences. Here’s how you do it.
1. Limit Your Session Length
The most important one. And for a reason.
If you feel frustrated or overwhelmed during a study session, it’s difficult to sit it out if you have two more hours to go. However, if you only have 15 minutes left till your next break, the world suddenly looks a lot brighter.
All the other techniques will be a lot less successful if you don’t limit your session time.
Oh… and if you’re not convinced: psychologists now say you learn best when studying in short chunks of time.
Limit your session time to 30 minutes per session — followed by a short break.
Try it for a while. Then, let me know how much more effective your study has become.
2. Don’t Focus on Results
You’re in pain — in a negative state. This is not the time to evaluate yourself nor your language-learning progress. Do not demand improvement in this session. Just complete it. That’s your goal. Keep at it until your time is up.
If you make the mistake of judging your progress when you are frustrated, you will come to unrealistically negative conclusions.
Don’t try too hard. Don’t stress about the results. Results come slowly. They take time. For now, all you focus on is finishing your study time.
3. A Moment for Yourself
Although it may seem somewhat ‘new age’ — I recommend that before each session you take a minute for yourself.
You shut your eyes and you remind yourself of:
- Truths about learning a language (for example: without a challenge we can’t learn)
- What you’re all doing it for (the goal of your study and your event-driven motive)
- Inspirational quotes
Remind yourself of them before each session and every time you get stuck.
Don’t discard this technique for being too ‘spacey’. It’s not The Secret — it won’t miraculously make you speak a new language just by doing this. But it does make sure you start each session with the right mindset.
4. Accept Negative Emotions
When your negative inside forces overwhelm you, you need to accept them. If you can do that, they will lessen their grip on you. You will feel them less and they no longer order you around.
You can do what *you* want in spite of the negative feelings.
Accept them and let them be.
5. Vary Your Study Setting
One of my favorite techniques is to simply vary my study setting. In other words, pick a different study location. Don’t keep learning your new language in the same old place. Keep it fresh.
It’s not just a good method to beat the language-study blues, you will actually learn better if you do this. Simply alternating the room where you study improves memory retention.
6. Stand up Walk Around
When you are struggling with frustration you can feel that energy in your body.
You need to burn it off.
Put on your MP3 player, use the audio from your main course, and get up and walk around. Yes, just stroll around a bit while you keep studying. It’s an effective trick to reduce the emotions that are bothering you.
I used to live in an apartment with a long hallway. I can’t count the times I walked up and downthat hallway, all the while moving my Spanish along nicely.
7. Change Your Study Material
If you’re just starting, I recommend you focus more on your main course, but it can be very soothing to change it up a bit.
So, grab your vocabulary workbook or a newspaper in your target language and do something else for a while. It can prevent boredom and frustration.
8. Go Outside
If you feel the need to blow off some steam, why don’t you go outside for a while?
It’s good to breath in some fresh air.
Just take your MP3 player with you so you can keep studying.
Note: if you don’t want to speak out loud, you cannot log this time as study time. Don’t fool yourself. Just listening to something in your target language is good, but you can’t count it as hard-core language learning.
9. Reward Your Inner Child
Much of our frustration and whining originates from deep inside of us. We are not as mature as we think we are.
So how do you make a child do something he doesn’t like?
Right, you give him a reward in return.
Reward yourself for completing your study time. The reward can be watching your favorite television show, eating a piece of chocolate, or whatever you like.
Experiment a Little
There are, of course, other things you can do to lower your study anxiety. If you are a self-critical person you can experiment a lot. If not, you need to be a bit more disciplined in your methods. It’s easy get off track.