Free Yourself from These 3 Worries When Learning a Language
Focus your mental energy on what really helps you learn
It’s hard to learn a language if you’re in a state of worry.
When I was learning English, I used to worry about my Italian accent. I didn’t want to sound like chef Tony in Lady and the Tramp.
Then I became a teacher of English and noticed that learners unnecessarily worry about several things.
I’ll talk about 3 of these unproductive anxieties and how to get rid of them.
I hope this will help you free your mind and devote your mental energy to what really helps you move forward in your language learning journey.
1. The “best method”
Never worry about finding the “best method”. It doesn’t exist.
Wanting to find a universal method for learning a language is like wanting to find a universal method for traveling the world.
What is the best method for traveling the world?
If you asked me, I would answer, “Backpacking and camping! Put the most essential things in your backpack and go sleep in the forest. No fancy hotels. No organized trips. No tourist attractions!”
But another person may say, “Stay in hotels in the cities! You’ll have a private bathroom and room service, and you’ll get to discover the real culture of a country by visiting squares and museums. That’s the way to travel the world!”
The idea of “best method” is subjective. We all learn in different ways and have different learning preferences and needs.
I know you might have seen those ads that say:
- “Best method to learn English!”
- “Try our new and revolutionary method to learn Portuguese!”
- “Get fluent in Spanish fast with this method!”
But think: how do these marketers know how you like learning if they don’t even know you? These are just persuasive marketing tricks.
So instead of wasting time (and money!) looking for the best method, spend time discovering how you like learning.
When I was learning English, I noticed that I learned best by listening.
I might look up a new word in a dictionary and write it in my vocabulary notebook but, to really internalize that word, nothing was better for me than hearing it spoken by a real person.
Explore, experiment, and pay attention to what works for you. You’ll naturally develop the best method that suits your learning preferences.
2. Past failures
Last year I interviewed a US Army veteran on my podcast — Chris.
Chris is a man who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a guy who saw his friends die on the battlefield in front of his very eyes. He used to blame himself for this.
While he was telling me his stories, he said:
“When you’re hard on yourself, you can’t live in the present. You can’t take things in real time. You’re stuck in the past, and the past can hurt. I had to give myself some grace, and a lot of that comes down to “Did you do the best you could?” You’re not superhuman. There’s no way of you doing things that can’t be done.
So much truth in his words.
Forget about what you didn’t achieve in the past. Past failure doesn’t automatically bring new failure.
I failed in learning English for about 10 years. I studied it in school but I was hopeless when I needed it to flirt with foreign girls.
I then found my own way of learning it and even made a living out of teaching it. Had I thought, I’m a loser. I’m just not good at learning languages, I wouldn’t be writing this article today.
So if you failed in the past or you’re still not where you think you should be today, it’s simply because you haven’t yet found what works for you.
Don’t beat yourself up for this. Instead, ask yourself, “Did I really do the best I could?” If you did, stop worrying.
But take new action.
- Ask for help: hire a language coach or a private teacher — not to learn grammar, but to guide and mentor you.
- Explore: do something you’ve never done before and see if it works. Get creative.
- Get inspired: look at what other successful language learners and polyglots do and do the same. Test their tips.
But if you didn’t do the best you could, then don’t worry about it either.
You can start doing your best now. What’s the easiest and smallest step you could take today in order to make progress?
Go do that thing — free of worries. And give yourself some grace.
3. Lack of time
I’ve had so many students complaining about not having enough time to learn as often as they would like to. I often see frustration in their eyes.
If you don’t have enough time, it’s because of one of these 3 reasons:
- You waste your time.
- You’re too busy doing more important stuff.
- You say you want to learn a language, but you don’t really want to do it.
You have nothing to worry about in any of these situations.
Let’s talk about it.
1. You waste your time
Don’t worry if you waste time. Learn how not to waste it instead.
I never had enough time to read books. Then learned that when you’re busy, you must schedule activities and do them no matter what.
That’s what I did. I started scheduling my reading sessions and now I read books for 30–45 minutes in the morning. Job done.
This is just one strategy. If you want more, Medium is a great place to find productivity tips and there are so many books out there on the topic of focus and time management. Read them and implement the advice.
Here are 3 books I’ve read that might help:
- Someday is Today by Matthew Dicks
- Hell Yeah or No by Derek Sivers
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
2. You’re too busy doing more important stuff
Too busy? Not even 10 minutes for a podcast? Is that really true? OK, then accept this is not the best moment in your life to improve your language skills.
Let go of your language goals for now and don’t try to change what you can’t change. You’ll get frustrated if you do.
Come back when things get quiet.
3. You say you want to learn, but you don’t really want to do it
For months I said I didn’t have time to learn Spanish because I had more urgent things to do. The reality was that deep down I didn’t want to learn Spanish.
“I want to learn Spanish” sounded great in theory. But in practice? Meh. So I proudly gave up the idea of learning this language.
1 goal less. 1 less thing to worry about.
Is it really true that you want to learn a language? Then start doing it. But if it’s a false story, then stop lying to yourself.
Either way, don’t worry about anything.
“Your actions show what you actually want.” — Derek Sivers
There’s a concept in second language acquisition theory called “The Affective Filter Hypothesis”.
This states that the more anxious and stressed you are, the more you put up a barrier (i.e. a filter) between you and learning.
I hope this article will help you lower this filter.