How to Reduce Frustration in Language Learning

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Language learning can be extremely rewarding, but that doesn’t mean the process is free from hardship. Almost every language learner feels frustrated at some point in the process. In this blog, I’ll share why language learning feels frustrating and what you can do to reduce frustration in language learning.

Want to listen to my tips instead? Check out my YouTube video on this topic.

Language Learning Might Not Be the Problem

Sometimes frustration in language learning doesn’t actually have anything to do with language learning. Often, outside stress exacerbates irritation and anxiety in language learning, leading to full-blown frustration.

Determining the root cause of your frustration is key to figuring out how to move past it. Just as a doctor needs to prescribe an illness to know what medication to prescribe to treat its symptoms, a language learner needs to understand why they’re feeling frustrated learning a new language to know how to work through it.

Take a Break

When your outside life is causing frustration within your language learning, a total revamp of the methods or resources you’re using won’t help. Though it may seem counterproductive, the best thing you can do for your language learning in these cases is often to take a step back. Taking a break from language learning will give you time and energy to work through stressors in your day-to-day life without burning yourself out. When you’re ready, you’ll be able to come back to language learning with the motivation and energy needed to continue making progress.

Feeling Stagnant

It’s frustrating to put tons of time and energy into something without seeing results. Naturally, people feel frustrated learning a new language when they aren’t seeing much progress despite their best efforts. Feeling like you’re not making enough progress usually stems from one of two things:

  1. You’re not taking time to reflect on the progress you are making
  2. You’re not using the right methods or resources

While the way through both these issues is taking time to reflect on your learning, let’s start with the first possibility.

Often, it’s hard to see how much we’ve accomplished, and even compare ourselves to others or focus on what we haven’t been able to do (more on this in a minute).

In reality, you’re probably making a lot more progress than you think.

Celebrating your accomplishments as they happen will help you see your progress as it happens.

Other times, the time and energy you’re putting into language learning isn’t correlating to progress because you’re using the wrong resources. Regularly assessing how well your resources are working for you will help you make progress and reduce frustration.

That said, it’s easy to get so caught up in searching for the perfect method or resource that you don’t study your target language. Don’t dwell on trying to find the perfect resource–it doesn’t exist. Instead, focus on where you’re at right now and what you can do to get closer to where you want to be, and then trust the process. If things aren’t working in the future, you can always change your approach again, and it’s highly unlikely that you won’t have gained anything from the resources you tried.

Don’t be too hard on yourself for using a resource that wasn’t working. You learned more about your process by trying it and can only continue to find things that work better for you in the future and celebrate the things that you did accomplish in that time.

You’re Not Meeting Expectations

Another reason language learning may feel frustrating is that you feel like you’re not meeting expectations.

The easiest way to avoid this? Set realistic goals and expectations for yourself.

However, as I mentioned in my video on sticking to your goals, having realistic expectations does not mean having low expectations. Set goals that will challenge you, but keep your current lifestyle, commitments, and responsibilities in mind so you can determine what is and isn’t realistic to expect of yourself right now.

When it comes to others’ expectations for your language learning, the biggest thing to remember is that you are the person learning the language and they are not. While it can be really easy to be impacted by what other people expect of you and your language learning, you must remember that no one knows your language-learning journey like you do.

While your cousin’s friend may have reached a B2 speaking level in a language in a year, that doesn’t mean that that is a realistic expectation for you. Or that it’s something that you even want.

You are the only one on your language learning journey, so you’re the only one whose expectations matter in your language learning journey. While you can feel frustrated that your family, friends, or random people online are trying to project their expectations onto you, you don’t need to feel frustrated for not meeting them.

Obviously, it’s harder to ignore outside expectations when outside expectations are what your teacher expects from you in a language class. But this is, again, a time where you can take a step back and think about what is and isn’t working best for you and the ways you can better meet those expectations while also meeting your own.

It’s important not to lose sight of why you want to learn the language and the things that you care about in language learning, and overall, whether the expectations are coming from your teachers, your family, your friends, random people, or yourself, the biggest thing is to be kind to yourself. Sometimes, even if you set extremely realistic expectations for yourself, you don’t meet them or you end up progressing in different ways. But dwelling on what didn’t happen only holds you back from making progress.

So instead of dwelling on your shortcomings or feeling mad at yourself for not meeting whatever expectations, celebrate the progress you have made, the goals you’ve achieved or gotten close to achieving, and reflect on the ways that you can reach future goals.

This reflection will keep you motivated and excited to learn your target language instead of creating frustration and anxiety.

Struggling to Understand or Express Yourself in the Language

Just as a young child might feel frustrated when they can’t express their wants or feelings, language learners often find themselves frustrated when they can’t express themselves, understand a piece of media, or grasp a difficult concept.

The best way to reduce this frustration in language learning is to actually take a step back.

Though it may seem like taking a break from language learning would hinder your progress, sometimes it’s exactly what you need to break through a wall.

In my experience, I’m a lot more likely to get frustrated by a show I don’t fully understand or a difficult concept in my textbook if I’m already feeling irritated, stressed, or anxious outside of language learning. In these instances, I lack the patience I need to view language learning as a fun puzzle and a chance to make progress and start seeing it as frustrating. Recognizing that my mood is impacting my experience and coming back to whatever I’m working on when I feel better ultimately ends up being the most productive approach.

However, taking a step back doesn’t always have to mean stepping away from language learning entirely. You could try switching to something that is a little bit more comprehensible for the time being.

If you just stick with the same materials, find something to love about them to distract from their difficulty.

Finding comprehensible resources has been a struggle throughout my Bulgarian journey. As a result, I don’t have much to pivot to when I start to get frustrated with whatever I’m using. Instead, when these moments arrive, I focus on what originally drew me to Bulgarian: the sound of the language. Now, I turn potentially frustrating moments where I am no longer following what I’m watching into a chance to build up my motivation by remembering why I started. That way, frustration is turned into a positive moment for my learning.

The Bottom Line

In the end, overcoming frustration in language learning comes down to embracing the process.

Doing what you like and what works for you, having realistic expectations for yourself, dropping your all-or-nothing mindset, and finding enjoyment in your current abilities will reduce your frustration and make your language-learning experience a better one.

If you’re currently feeling frustrated, know that you’re not alone but that there are also ways to overcome it. Hopefully, now that you know why language learning feels frustrating, you can take steps to move past it and continue working towards meeting your goals.

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