This modern world is all about getting results and getting them quickly and sometimes the language learning community falls into the same patterns. Wherever you turn you’ll find advice on how to learn a language fast, how to have a conversation within a few weeks, how to become fluent in 17 days…
A tiny little bit overwhelming, isn’t it?
I often feel like the very same consumerism that I despise in other aspects of my life reflects here too. Pick a language. Chew it for a few weeks. Now on to the next one!
I find it impressive how some people can juggle work or studies, social commitments, language learning all at once. It’s hugely motivating and it keeps me want to try my best. Sometimes, though, I get to the point where language study starts becoming one more source of stress in my life. I try too hard to be productive and I get dangerously close to burning out. Been there? When that happens I slow down and tell myself that it’s not a major crime to break my schedule for as long as I need to recover.
If you don’t particularly care about getting fluent in no time and are not ready to commit to a regular routine, worry not! You’re not alone. There is a huge difference between neglecting language learning (which, obviously, won’t get you very far) and having your own pace, however slow it may be.
If you don’t believe me, I listed 5 situations when slow language learning is the way to go.
Speaking is not your top priority
Some will strongly disagree with this point, but you might want to learn a language for a purpose other than communicate with native speakers. Everything depends on what your goal is. Maybe you don’t aim at ever getting to speak fluently, but you want to understand academic Russian for your researches. Do you want to read Cien años de soledad in Spanish or watch Xavier Dolan’s movies without subtitles? Then you might not need to find a language partner quite yet.
Of course if you are planning on moving to Germany or to talk with your Polish friends you will have to learn how to speak those languages. Never forget, though, that learning a language should always be a joyful activity. If you dream of translating the lyrics of your favourite K-pop songs but never really plan on visiting Seoul, it’s OK to dedicate more time to listening than speaking.
Language learning is not your biggest love
Yes, this can happen as well! You surely love spending time practising your French pronunciation, but if there is one thing you could do all day long that is singing. No one in this lovely, welcoming community will think less of you because of this. As a matter of fact, I’m a cinema geek and my biggest passion is watching movies. I like it even more than studying languages. See, I said it.
Now luckily for you there are so many ways in which you can integrate your main hobby with learning. You can pick a film in Japanese, cook a scrumptious cheese cake using a recipe in Spanish, practice singing a beautiful song in Swedish, listen to a podcast in Chinese while you exercise at the gym. Get creative!
And if you want to dedicate most of your free time to an activity that doesn’t involve language learning at all that is fine too. Feeling guilty won’t do you any good.
You are shy and/or an introvert
I’m sorry to say I read some harsh articles on the topic. Being part of the category myself I get quite upset if someone tells me that basically I should stop being so fussy. Fellow introverts, don’t let the words of someone who lacks empathy affect you. It took me a long time to accept this part of my personality and to realise there isn’t anything inherently wrong with me that I have to change.
There is no way I am trying some small talks with a speaker of my target language whenever I have the chance. Heck, sometimes I don’t even want to say a single word to a native of my own language for a whole day. It’s more likely that I’ll carefully pick an exchange partner that shares interests with me and try to nurture this relationship, having more personal or meaningful conversations, but that takes time.
This is not to say you can use shyness or introversion as an excuse all the time. Getting out of your comfort zone is an important and enriching experience, but there isn’t any need to get to the point when you are painfully ill at ease.
You don’t want to hack time like crazy to fit language learning in your days
Many claim that there isn’t such a thing as being too busy for language learning and most of the time they are right. The time you spend scrolling down your Facebook feed isn’t exactly a necessity, right?
At the same time you can totally be too tired to review vocabulary on your commute back home after 8 hours in the office. You could listen to some music in your target language, but it’s been a tough day and you need to loop your favourite song 200 times. Don’t worry, everyone has days like that.
A daily routine would make you progress faster, but it’s also fine to dedicate one hour on Sunday mornings to your studies if you can’t manage more than that. The moment you get more anxiety than pleasure from your practice it becomes pointless.
You want to learn the culture of a country hand in hand with its language
Alright, you hacked time like crazy, you started speaking from day one and after a few months you call yourself fluent. You are confident enough to converse with a native speaker but you end up offending them due to a cultural difference you were unaware of. They ask you about your favourite film from their country, but you know none. You don’t know anything about their traditions, the novel that everyone has to study in school, the most famous singer. What is the point in knowing a language if you ignore the culture it’s tied to?
I strongly believe that a language is only fully understood through its culture. You need so much more than fluency if you want to communicate with, and not only talk to, a native speaker.
Give value to the adventure, not just the outcome. Take time to enjoy the travel without obsessing with the result. Whatever your learning style is embrace it and remember to have fun. It’s a scary enough world we live in, no need to get worked up over not being fluent at a language yet.
What is your learning style? Do you strive to get to fluency fast, do you prefer to learn slowly, or are you somewhere in between? What is the main reason for you to learn that way? I would love to hear what you think in the comments!