5 situations when slow language learning is OK

This modern world is all about getting results and getting them fastand 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 try to keep out of other areas 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 all of your free time to practising, 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, no matter how slow it may be.

Let’s have a look together at 5 situations when slow language learning is the way to go.

Speaking is not your top priority

Let’s say this straight away and get done with it. Some of us might want to learn a language for a purpose other than communicating with native speakers. Everything depends on what your long-term 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 a move 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.

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 cheesecake 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. Expandin 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 people claim that there isn’t such a thing as being too busy to learn a language 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 you who decide how much time you can dedicate to studying. Daily contact, however small, can bring bigger results than you expect. 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 don’t know any. 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 of knowing a language if you ignore the culture it is tied to?

I strongly believe that you can fully understand a language only 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 in 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!

Looking for ways to keep language learning in your life even on those days when anxiety won’t let go of you? Join this free 4-day email course and let’s discover together how to do just that.


I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I’m on a journey to help introverts and other quiet learners make language learning into a tool for self-care (and keep anxiety out of it).


  1. 12th May 2017 / 6:47 pm

    Potrebbe essere un buon modo per riprendere in mano il giapponese.
    Ora che vado in Cina ho voglia di imparare anche almeno qualche espressione in cinese (ma quelle in fretta).
    E poi ho il sogno di provare il russo, ma piano piano, perché sono sempre impegnatissima.

    • Elena
      13th May 2017 / 6:56 pm

      Imparare qualche frase nella lingua dei paesi in cui si va in viaggio è una pratica molto rispettosa, brava e in bocca al lupo! Se riprendi in mano il giapponese o inizi col russo mi piacerebbe leggere dei post a riguardo 🙂