We 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 frustration while studying, a simple miscommunication, 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 that can quickly build up and make you want to throw all your learning materials into the trash can. If you’re learning digitally, you might want to smash your smartphone 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 aren’t learning fast enough) when you most likely are.
This frustration causes you to evaluate your learning, and, usually, to evaluate it NEGATIVELY.
You judge your progress, and feel as if 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 long-term results is beneficial — it allows you to see where your weaknesses lie. However, this is not the case for short-term results, especially when you’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 coming up short.
You’re not good enough.
That’s how you feel.
And that sentiment colors your thoughts and evaluations and, suddenly, everything you’ve learned so far feels 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. There are too many factors at play:
You may have a bad day, you may be tired, you may not be completely there emotionally. 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?
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:
- You’re not evaluating as much, while (likely) still learning. This helps significantly lessen frustration.
- You take some of the pressure off of your performance, which ironically can result in better performance.
- 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 see that you have progressed. It’s happened to me countless times and I’m always grateful for the lesson!
What about You?
Not focusing on results when in a state of stress has been the most valuable 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 your secret?
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. 😉
Just let me know in the comments below.
Maybe I can persuade some scientists to do a study on it. 🙂
Until next time,