How I learned Two New Languages in Spite of Myself


mind mapping in language learningHave you ever noticed how certain behaviors repeat themselves?

You try to learn a new language and the same things derail you again and again.

Or you promise yourself to do at least one language-learning activity each day and the same kind of thoughts and feelings prevent you from actually doing it.

So you try again.

This time, you’re 100% sure you won’t fall in your old traps.

However, just a few weeks later, they strike again — shattering your dreams and your self-belief.

So the big question is:

Can you do something about it?

You bet!

There’s quite a simple way to blast these obstacles out of your path and set yourself up for language-learning success.

Sounds like a lot of hype?

Let’s Have a Closer Look

When I first tried to learn a new language, I was hindered by the same kind of patterns I mention above.

I tried and tried but there always seemed to be obstacles I couldn’t get through.

And after failing a few times, self-doubt took over.

“All these people I see succeeding in language learning — I’m not like them. There must be something wrong with me.”

I did notice that many of the things that threatened to derail me were recurring, and most of them were psychological.

So I thought about all that and sometimes I would find solutions to the obstacles that were bothering me.

For example, realizing that sometimes you’re actually progressing more when it seems that you’re at a standstill helped me get through an apparent progress-less period.

Or when I slipped up on my self-prescribed language-learning regime, I learned that discipline isn’t so much about not falling down, but rather about refusing to get back up.

So, from then on, every time these obstacles appeared — ready to kill my language-learning adventure — I just had to remember about what I learned and I would be alright.

Problem is…

There Are Just Too Many Obstacles

Shortly after I successfully evaded one, another obstacle would pop up.

I noticed, for example, that doubts about my language-learning materials were distracting me.

I would read on the Internet about some new method that was supposed to be superior to all others, or at least, they made it seem that way. And it would sometimes make me start anew, effectively rendering my earlier language-learning efforts close to useless.

I quickly found out that the difference among *good* materials and methods is very small. And I just needed to remind myself of that every time I was bound to get distracted by the next shiny object that promised me fluency in a month.

There were plenty of these obstacles and I needed a way to collect them all and put them in some kind of system that reminded me of them.

Initially, I created a big list of all obstacles and their solutions or disputing beliefs. But I quickly found out that a big lump of text isn’t consulted very often.

And So I turned to Mind Mapping

A mind map is a visual way to outline stuff. But it’s superior to outlining because you have a better overview and, if you make them on a computer, you can move things around easily. Usually the main idea appears in the center of it all.

Here an example of a basic mind map on what to eat for dinner:


After I started using this method to document recurring obstacles and their solutions, I noticed great improvements.

Everyday before I started to do my language-learning activities I would review the map to reinforce my awareness of the obstacles that were standing between my current state and my goal of speaking another language.

Suddenly, I was able to keep studying when the going got tough and I was also procrastinating a lot less.

From time to time I would add, remove or improve something and with time, the mind map grew into an incredibly useful tool.

If I felt there was something wrong with my language learning I would do a little introspection to find out more about it. If it was something that was already on the map, all I had to do was look it up and implement the solution or disputing belief.

If it was a new obstacle, I would analyze it and look for a solution. I would then add both to the map.

I’m sure you can see the power here.

Learning from experience is a great way to learn but not always as easy as it seems. You will always remember a few of the prominent lessons you’ve learned in life, but if you need to remember ten, twenty or even thirty things, it becomes almost impossible.

It’s not likely you’ll remember all of them when you need them most.

And then we haven’t even talked about the weight all these things have on your mind. They unconsciously sap your mental resources just by having to hold on to them in order to not forget them.

Which you will do with most of them, anyway.

So what do you?

It’s simple, really.

You document them in an easy to reference manner.

That’s what I did and it worked amazingly for me.

And it can do wonders for you too.

It’s like having a manual for your psyche!

And the best part is that if you do it right, it gets better all the time.

The Language-Learning Obstacle Buster

Now, I have a gift for you.

If you subscribe to the (free) Smart Language Learner Email Updates, I’ll give you the Language-Learning Obstacle Buster absolutely free.

The Language-Learning what?

The Language-Learning Obstacle Buster!

It’s exactly the kind of mind map we’ve been talking about. It includes many general language-learning obstacles that you may come across and what to do (or think) about them.

I have included things like:

  • Boredom
  • Distractions
  • Frustration
  • Lack of confidence
  • Methods
  • Procrastination
  • and even Social Pressure

Here’s how the section on Methods looks like:

Your Personal Language-Learning Obstacles

Now, the Language-Learning Obstacle Buster as-it-is will already be a great help in your language-learning journey, but it is likely that you have some obstacles or solutions that are more personal.

Therefore, I recommend that you personalize it.

First, you add the obstacles that you already know are going to molest you . Then, while you continue your journey toward speaking another language, I want you to observe yourself and your surroundings, find new obstacles and their antidotes, and add them to your mind map.

In order to edit the Language-Learning Obstacle Buster or make your own mind map from scratch, you’ll need some software to help you with that.

There’s a plethora of mind mapping software. They come in all shapes and sizes.

I use a free tool called Blumind. It’s a very simple program. Anyone should be able to handle it comfortably.

If you want to edit the LLOB, you’ll need Blumind.


In order to successfully discover your personal hurdles, it’s necessary to be very honest with yourself.

You need to have an excuse detector.

It’s easy to come up with tens of reasons not to learn another language even if it’s a dream of yours to be able to speak one.

Your supposed:

  • Lack of talent
  • Lack of discipline
  • Lack of time
  • Lack of a young brain

…can all come up in different disguises.

The best way to get to the bottom of any obstacle is to ask yourself questions.

Let’s say you’ve failed to do any language-learning activity for the last two days:

When did the problem begin?
What did you tell yourself about it?
Look deeply — did you lost motivation because you compared your progress with those of other people?
Were you finding it hard to actually start your study sessions?
Was your self-belief waning due to a lack of progress?
Were there any warning signs that your dedication was to about let up?
If so, what caused them?

If you keep asking yourself questions like the ones above you should quickly get to the root of it.

Sometimes though, the obstacle has to appear a few times before you recognize it.

So the first few times that you get off track, make sure you get back on it. Consider it a fantastic opportunity to learn (about what holds you back) and a step closer to making your dream of speaking another language a reality.

Don’t expect all solutions to work all the time. Sometimes you’ll need various solutions. Other times, you’ll need to improve one. But as you go, your mind map will get better and better and more personalized until you basically have a manual on how to achieve your dream of speaking another language.

Just make sure to review the map every day before you do your language-learning activities and when the going gets tough.

When it does, analyze.

Already on the map? Implement solution.

A new obstacle? Analyze, find solution, and add it to your mind map.

Let’s Do a Quick Recap

  • In order to overcome obstacles in your path to learning a new language, you need to know what they are and then document them.
  • The best way is to use a mind map. Use the Language-Learning Obstacle Buster as a starting point.
  • Spend some time thinking about personal obstacles that you know will occur.
  • Add them to the map.
  • Think about possible solutions or disputing beliefs and add them as well.
  • If there’s something on the LLOB that isn’t helpful to you, remove it or change the solutions.
  • As you progress in your language-learning journey, new obstacles will pop up. Analyze them and add them to the map along with the solutions.
  • Review your mind map everyday and every time your language-learning threatens to go bad.

Your Mind — a Tool or a Handicap?

I strongly recommend you start implementing all this, right now.

Look, if you don’t learn from your experience, if you don’t document your obstacles and their potential solutions, they’re likely to happen again and again.

It’s even possible that you are stopped in your tracks by an obstacle you have a solution for but don’t think of in that moment.

I’m sure you’ve read some self-help book or article where they give you a solution to a problem you’ve had and you actually knew that solution but it didn’t occur to you when you needed it.

You may have asked yourself:

Why didn’t I think of that!?

Well, the reason is that you can’t have all those solutions ready in your mind.

You need to store them in an easy-to-review format so you can free your mind and use them when needed.

Doing something as simple as identifying your language-learning obstacles, learning from them, documenting them, and finding effective solutions to them, can make all the difference between learning to speak your target language comfortably and disappointing yourself continuously.

Would You Do Me a Favor?

Ok, to wrap it all up, I have a favor to ask of you:

Do you have suggestions — general obstacles to language-learning success — that can be added to the Language-Learning Obstacle Buster mind map?

If so, let me know in the comments or send them to me directly through the contact form.

Let’s make it better together!

I promise to make the updated mind map available to all subscribers.

Thanks and until next time!



  1. Great idea, but I think you made the mind map too big.

    It just takes too much time to review the map every day.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Henry.

      And, good point!

      I made it big on purpose to include many general language-learning obstacles that people could have.

      So, it’s likely that you’ll find a few that aren’t a problem for YOU.

      Therefore I recommend that you delete them from the map.

      If it’s still too big, then you could drop the daily review and only check the problem once it starts to bother you.

      The only problem with not reviewing daily is that you sometimes forget the obstacles and thus, you don’t recognize them when it matters. Sometimes, when you’re discouraged by something, you’re already too far gone to go and check the map.

      This could lead to lost time and maybe even giving up learning a new language completely. A situation you probably wouldn’t be in if you had recognized the obstacle immediately.

      Hope that helps.

  2. My greatest obstacles:
    1. Lack of time – I have to earn money and have other trivial duties.
    2.Realism – Being 73 I’m learning Italian. But I know that I will not learn Chinese – life is too short, even for Turkish.
    Yet, I try to preserve languages I know. Listening and reading all possible media. So I still learn them in most pleasant way.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Stanislaw.

      Great to hear you’re still going strong!
      Many people of your age think they can’t learn anymore.

      I see the two obstacles you mention as basically the obstacle AND the solution.

      1. Obstacle = A sincere lack of time.
      2. Solution = Be realistic.

      Some would advise you to rearrange your day, but who am I to suggest that you haven’t already.

      Besides, even with the most advanced time-management techniques you can’t have more than 24 hours in a day. (Something you generally realize once you start implementing them.) 🙂

      Having said that, many people who say they don’t have the time actually do have it. They bring that up too easily in order to have an excuse not to commit themselves. Or they haven’t really build up their language-learning time yet.

      Therefore, I won’t put this issue on the map. But if you plan to use it, I recommend YOU do. (You may want to elaborate a bit on the obstacle and the solution, though.)

      Personalization is the key here; documenting your personal obstacles and weaknesses, and finding solutions to them.

      Thanks very much for the contribution!

  3. When I first looked at the map, I thought you were suggesting a way to learn vocabulary – I thought – brilliant idea. Learn words that surround a common theme.

    I think I will adapt it for that purpose. what do you think? how do you learn vocab?

    1. Hi Brian,

      Thanks for the comment.

      That could be a great idea, indeed!
      I would love to hear how you will be doing with it.

      The sky is pretty much the limit with mind maps. I love them.

      One of the most important convictions I have when it comes to learning a new language is that self-management is the most important thing. You can never learn a new language if you (yourself, your mind) keep sabotaging your efforts.

      This MAY be less of a problem for those who have a strong passion for learning languages and want to dedicate their lives to become a polyglot. But for everyone else it is.

      The Language-Learning Obstacle buster was made with this in mind.

      As for the vocabulary, I’ve never used Anki or anything like that. Although I’ve used a similar approach — learning words first from the language-learning materials and later from “real-life” stuff (books, TV, the Internet etc.).
      I write the newly learned words down to review them in certain intervals.

      I even do that with sentences that illustrate certain grammar rules that I tend to forget, or re-reading a piece with many complicated words in it. ( I will have an article up soon that explains this in detail…)

      If you’re already capable of reading well in your target language, then that’s an excellent way to learn and maintain your vocabulary. If you read a lot, you will get exposed to the words pretty much without the need for techniques or methods. This is especially effective for passive vocabulary.

      To increase your active vocabulary (words that you can recall and use in speech and writing) you need to make an effort to actively use words from your passive vocabulary.

      Why not write 3 words from your PV down every morning that you will use during the day? (if you’re in the country and hanging around with locals this should be easy. If not, use language exchanges or even do it in writing if you don’t like that.)

      As I’ve been very busy lately, the only thing I CURRENTLY do is directly making a few sentences with a word I don’t know or couldn’t recall. But this is easy for me to do as I practically speak Spanish all day long.

      There are of course plenty of ways to improve your vocabulary, but there’s no one method that outperforms the others by 1000%.

      We will keep searching, though. 😉

      Thanks for the contribution, Brian.

      And let me know how it goes with your vocabulary mind map.

  4. I find this map particulary useful to help me learn collocations , puttng on the circle the main word and adding prepositions, verbs, adjetives etc, that usually colocates with them. Great post!

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