A slower approach to language learning [Guest post]

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the “get fluent in no time” language learning approach?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. And there are other ways, I promise.
Today I have a guest who agrees with us, too. Danae, who shares lessons for people who love learning Greek at Alpha Beta Greek, tells us about a slower approach to language learning and how to get the most out of it.

slower approach to language learning

Do you ever feel so focused on your language study that you forget the world around you?
Pretty much like reading an intriguing novel – except the imagination part.

Maybe more like… knitting?

A stitch is replaced by words, a knitting pattern by grammar patterns. And as you put together this puzzle of initially nonsensical bits, you feel the happiness and satisfaction of completing a project.

You feel focused and present.

You slow down the time.

Yep. Sounds like knitting.

Here’s the fun fact. I don’t even knit, my daughter does. But, I learn languages.

When Elena and I were talking about language learning and anxiety, I remembered the calming effects learning a language had in various periods of my life; moving places, even different countries; starting a new job; dealing with work-related stress.

The vocabulary was there to explore, new sounds to pronounce, grammar activities to fill out.

I was able to slow down and focus on my learning, shutting for a bit the noise out.

Because here’s the truth.

Our culture wants us constantly busy. Buzzing. Exhilarated.

Language learning is often seen in similar ways. Fast. Exciting. Easy.

I get it. People are different, with different goals and different learning styles.

But what about us souls out there who believe in a slower, calmer, centred approach to language learning – if not life in general. What about us who actually need this kind of approach?

This summer I started learning Dutch. It was a project I postponed for years. Like, 10 years! “Not having time” was my excuse and being the perfectionist I am (recovering, gradually) I was aiming for “the” perfect time or “the” high energy to study.

Without really realizing it, I was buying into all the “fast, smart and easy” hype, thinking that if I don’t even have the time or the abilities (!) to learn this way, then, well, that’s it. I’m doomed.

Until I realized that what I needed was a different approach. Gentler.

In the middle of the chaos that is life, I started, one word at a time, knitting my way through Dutch.

I ignored all “streaks” my app was giving me, all points and rewards. I found the time to learn the language by slowing the process down.

Seems counterproductive? Well. Before August I didn’t speak or understand a word of Dutch. Now I can understand short sentences, grasp some tricky grammar concepts and understand part of the Netherlands culture through its language.

Doesn’t seem too bad!

Had I pressured myself to the “right here, right now” approach, filling my phone and my email with daily lessons and making learning a race, I‘d still be left hoping to learn Dutch someday.

Hey, I’m not saying a slower approach is for everyone or for any situation.

Sometimes you got an exam to pass. A deadline. Or you simply are your most productive when you decide that for the next 10 days you’ll be studying your target language 8 hours per day.

Sometimes – I do get it – you need to be fast.

But if you don’t have a deadline and you feel intimidated by speed and fast fluency, ask yourself what is it that you need? Realize you have a choice and this choice is enough for you and your needs.

At the end of the day, no one will know your needs better than yourself. Once you put the work and motivation you have, you become your own learning’s secret ingredient. And “fast” doesn’t have to be on your list.

Here are a few more ideas to get the most out of a slower learning:

  1. Learn the language mindfully, meaning focus on the present moment, while being aware of your choices and actions to learn effectively. Mindfulness might be getting a lot of attention lately, but even this sceptical lady thinks that this is not a bad thing; being aware of the moment and easing our judgmental voice only benefits our learning.
  1. Notice your mistakes and take the time to correct them. Of course, keep it balanced. You don’t want to get stuck on mistakes or pronunciation difficulties and never utter a word.
  1. Enjoy your grammar activities, conjugations, “fill out the blank” kind of practice. The repetition of patterns is soothing and can help you focus best. It’s also creative and you have proof that you have accomplished a part of your study. Handwriting is best and helps you boost your memory.
  1. Choose to focus on a certain area at a time. This way you avoid multitasking, which only adds to the busyness. If it’s songs you’re interested in, or speaking practice or maybe more grammar activities, then go for it.
  1. Enjoy the process. There are two times in my life that I fully enjoyed language learning: learning French with a clear plan, goal setting and the help of an amazing tutor who helped me meet my exam deadline (and ace it!) and now studying Dutch at my own pace. In both very different scenarios enjoying the process and what I’ve learned so far while respecting my needs is I think what made the experience truly rewarding.

How about you? Does a slower language learning pace resonate with you? Let me know in the comments.

About Danae

A sun loving Greek and a philoglot, I teach Greek to people who love learning it, particularly supporting Beginners and Intermediate learners to confidently speak Greek.


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. 14th January 2018 / 7:36 pm

    I love this approach to language learning! I tend to be quite (unintentionally) slow with a lot of things in life and the pressure to move fast always makes me stressed. I am going to keep this approach in mind because sometimes I feel like I am not learning Italian fast enough, but it’s more important to enjoy the process. Thank you for sharing Danae & Elena!

    • Elena
      15th January 2018 / 9:44 am

      Ciao Kelly! 🙂
      Today many act like the fast approach was the only good way to go, but I truly believe that slow and steady wins the race. Especially if you have a natural tendency to do things at a calmer pace, forcing yourself to rush won’t do you any good. I hope this helps you enjoy your Italian studies as much as you can!