When we embark on the journey of learning a new language, we soon find ourselves going through four distinct stages. Understanding that these stages will happen and that they are normal can go a long way to helping us enjoy the ride.
Stage 1: The Honeymoon
This is the exciting, first, stage of learning just about anything. You’re going to learn a new language! You sign up for lessons (live or on-line), buy books, DVDs, and instructional programs, and resolve to study diligently every day.
Anticipation is what makes this phase particularly fun. Those shiny new books are enticing and encouraging. The first few lessons are easy. You can do this! You dream of the day (just around the corner, surely!) when you’ll be able to converse with confidence.
Stage 2: Reality Trip
After a few weeks (six weeks on average, though it can vary from person to person) you suddenly realize: This is hard work. And you begin to wonder if this whole language-learning thing was such a good idea.
Perhaps the lessons have gotten more complicated. Perhaps you’ve found that it isn’t as easy to sit down for that regular practice you resolved to do when you started, or that other things suddenly seem more important or attractive than studying or attending classes.
Suddenly the shine is off the apple, and you’re not so sure you want to do this anymore. It’s more work than you’d expected, and you’re busy with other things. And — let’s face it — some aspects of language learning can be (gasp!) boring!
Sadly, this is the stage at which many people give up.
It’s a little like a road trip
If you’ve ever planned a family road trip, you know this phenomenon well. Poring over maps and brochures, planning routes, anticipating what you’ll do at each stop, buying clothes for the trip…all of that is great fun.
Then, when you’re several hours into driving — the kids are bored, your partner is hungry, you realize it’s going to take longer to reach the hotel than you’d thought, and you think you may have missed your turn-off — suddenly that road trip doesn’t seem so fun after all.
Of course, if you’ve ever done this kind of trip, you also know it will get better. If you just keep going, things will start to be fun and interesting again. You’ll get your second wind, food and routes will get sorted, and you will reach your destination eventually.
The secret is to keep going
Knowing that this is a natural part of the learning process makes it a little easier to keep going. And, if you can do that, I promise, it will get to be fun again.
Just as a driver may stop at a roadside attraction to recharge, you may decide to focus on a less stressful aspect of the language for a while. Read children’s books, sing songs, watch subtitled soap operas. Then, when you’re ready, hit the road again.
Stage 3: Riding the roller coaster
Once you’ve got past the “reality trip” phase, you will likely find that your language journey more closely resembles a roller coaster than a road trip. There will be plenty of ups and downs and unexpected twists, but for the most part the ride will be worth it!
The highs will be great! You’ll never forget the first time you were able to follow a news broadcast, or read an article without picking up a dictionary. The first time you really carry on a conversation will make your confidence soar!
The lows are part of the ride too, though, and sometimes they can be jarring. The important thing to remember is that we all go through them. When you find yourself using the wrong word or forgetting something you once knew, you’ll have lots of company!
The sudden twists are the best part! As you continue your studies, you’ll find yourself meeting new people and learning things that you never thought you’d care about: history, songs, stories, poetry, folklore…even jokes!
Stage #4: Realizing it’s a life-long journey
One thing you will never hear a real language learner say is “”Now I know everything I need to know about this language.” No matter how fluent you get…no matter how perfect your grammar…there’s always something yet to be discovered.
The ups and downs will still be there as well, but it will come to seem less like a roller coaster and more like a road through hills and valleys. And because language is, by it’s very nature, a social activity, you’ll have lots of friends on that road with you!
The most important thing is to keep going and enjoy the trip.
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