Is Frustration a “Normal” Part of the Language Learning Process?

Learning a new language is an awesome goal! Remember how at the beginning you were extremely motivated to learn a new language and you believed that you were capable of doing so? Measuring progress was relatively easy at first. It involved counting how many words you knew after you started your learning as compared to when you first started your learning journey. When you listened to simple conversations, did you “generally” understand what was being said? Could you use your deductive reasoning skills to understand what you read even if you didn’t recognize all of the words? Could you communicate in your new language for specific situations? If so, those accomplishments helped you stay motivated and made you feel good about your progress.

Unfortunately, the ability to learn slows down over time. It’s not because you are dumb, or not capable of learning. It is just a fact of life that learning happens in stages. When you first started learning your new language, you probably knew almost nothing of the language. Most of your learning time was spent learning NEW things. Gradually, the learning changed so that you had to use some of the things you ALREADY KNEW to learn more NEW stuff. This meant that less time was spent on learning new things and more time was spent on learning new ways to use what you already knew.

The frustration stage actually occurs when you reach an intermediate level of knowledge about your new language (you are comfortable communicating, but still struggle with some vocabulary and/or grammar). The better you get at a language, the harder it is to make noticeable progress. To fix it, you will need to change up your routine. Here are some ideas that may help you push through your plateau:

  • Set mini-goals to help you stay focused and motivated.
  • Measure your progress – track and test your vocabulary using phone applications like Anki, Volt or Quizlet, or Duolingo. You could also test your English skills on sites like Dialang or
  • Track the time and topics you have focused on. A simple journal or spreadsheet will do.
  • Re-read texts or short stories that you have read in the past. Wait a few weeks and re-read them again. Did you find them easier to read?
  • Listen to music or watch TV shows or movies in your new language. Let some time pass then try listening or watching them again. Did you pick up more understanding than before?
  • Be OK with making mistakes, that is how we learn.
  • Stop focusing just on textbooks to learn. Learning does not have to be unpleasant.
  • Think of different ways to say the same thing in your new language.
  • Learn by chunking. Do not translate every word, memorize phrases instead.
  • Start acting like you are a native speaker – (look up recipes, play games, read the news, etc. in your target language).
  • If you are reading, look up words you are not familiar with, do not just skip over them.
  • Find a study partner and practice your language skills with them.
  • Change up your learning routines. Find new ways to challenge yourself because that is when you will learn.
  • Put in effort EVERY SINGLE DAY – use dead time (to listen to a podcast while commuting, to listen to music while cooking meals or cleaning around your home).
The list could go on and on, but you get the idea. Learning is a process. Changing up routine helps keep learning interesting. Measuring results will help keep you motivated. Seeking the help of a trained language instructor can also be beneficial because they can help access your strengths and weaknesses and help you build your knowledge. The most important take away from all this advice is, DO NOT GIVE UP. Keep persevering and you will achieve your goal to become proficient with your new language.
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