When you start learning a language you think that the whole process will be like it was in the beginning, when you saw progress every single week. Then you hit the immediate phase and suddenly you see what looks like no progress at all. You are putting in hours of work and feel like you are getting nowhere – and this goes on for months and months. It is demotivating, disheartening and you feel like giving up.
In fact on my language learning journey, I have given up, several times in fact. Sure, I never stop going to my twice a week classes, but then I do nothing else for long periods of time. Then I get a kick of motivation and I get back into it, only to give up again a couple of months later when I see no sign of all the work I’m putting into my German.
The thing is, all the work I’m putting into my German is paying off, but it is only in hindsight that I can see it. For example, around this time last year I started going to my local library and borrowing German language picture books. I found it extremely difficult to read them. I remember putting some back on the shelf as they were too difficult for me at the time. Flash forward to a year later, and I’m now tackling Harry Potter and other books aimed at 12 year olds. I find them challenging and reading them isn’t easy and relaxing, but I’ve taken my reading level from that of a 5 year old to that of a 12 year old in 12 months and all I did was read for about 20 minutes a night, most nights a week.
Also almost 12 months ago, I went to DrachenFest, a week long LARP which is conducted almost exclusively in German. For me to speak German then was a real struggle. I was terrified to open up my mouth and speak. I did it on a few occasions and was proud of myself, however, I really didn’t understand much of what was said to me and what was going on around me and I felt at times very isolated. 12 months later, I’m able to speak German without getting all anxious about it. I don’t get all worried that I’m going to make mistakes, I know I’m going to make them but that most of the time people will still be understand me. I’m able to talk to doctors about my medical issues and understand the majority of their responses except when they use medical terms I’ve never heard of. I’m also able to watch movies and whilst I find it a struggle without German subtitles, I can still follow the story. I’m headed back to DrachenFest at the end of July and am interested to see how much more I’m able to understand and participate.
Taking a look at where I have come from and where I am now and seeing just how far I have come is giving me new motivation to keep on chipping away at German. I now know not to get demotivated when I don’t see immediate progress because now I know that I will see it. It might just take some time.
Therefore, for all of you learning a new language who have reached this horrible immediate stage, my advice to you is to document your current ability, what you are able to do and what you find challenging. Then keep chipping away at your language and try to avoid getting demotivated (it will happen, but fight against it). Three or six months down the line, look at what you had written when you started and compare your current skills to what they were back then. You will be surprised at how far you have come even though it felt like you were making no progress at all.
Of course, you should look forward to all the skills you still have to master, but don’t forget to look back now and again to remind yourself of how far you have come and what an awesome job you are doing.