5 Big Obstacles to Learning a New Language

Global Communication Blog, Language

Learning a new language can be a fun challenge. Whether you find yourself with extra time or you’re dreaming of traveling to an exotic non-English speaking place, there are a lot of good reasons to take the plunge.

While every new language learner struggles at some point in their journey to fluency, today’s technology does make learning a language easier than ever. As the Internet and digitization makes the world smaller, the opportunities to communicate with anyone around the world are expanding. Why not take advantage of this chance to learn something new?

If learning a new language is on your list, there are some obstacles to consider.

1. Doubt about your abilities.

Have you ever said, “I’m not good at learning new languages?” This is your brain making a prediction about your skill set. If you really explore the truth of this statement, you’ll likely have to admit that you haven’t given language learning much of a chance.

Perhaps your only experience trying to learn a language was in your high school Spanish class or your college Chinese class. Maybe a one-on-one tutor could customize your learning experience and help you reach your goal. 

Also, many language-learning apps employ features that align with the latest research about how our brains best learn new languages. It’s possible that techniques such as asking you to write, read, and listen during the same lesson will help you learn vocabulary more quickly, for example.

Keep in mind, though, while all the apps and virtual language tutorials available to us now remove one big barrier to learning a new language, if you doubt your own abilities, technology cannot help you. So find a way to shut down those negative thoughts and get prepared mentally.

2. Lack of practice opportunities.

Another challenge to learning a new language is a lack of opportunity to practice what you’re learning. You probably have heard that the easiest way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in it. For example, living abroad for a few months in a place where you can’t speak the language well, will likely force you to pick it up rather quickly.

Hearing the language all day and having to communicate in the language to do everyday activities trains your brain more quickly. However, unless you have the chance to immerse yourself among fluent speakers, you may find yourself without many opportunities to practice having conversations with others. 

Fortunately, the Internet is helpful here too. You can find virtual meetings and forums of people getting together to practice speaking a particular language with or without a tutor who speaks the language fluently. Nothing can replace practicing your new language in real time. 

3. Fear of speaking with strangers.

Since nothing can replace practicing your new language with someone else in conversation, it’s pretty hard to avoid speaking with strangers when you’re practicing. We’re assuming, of course, that you aren’t surrounded by friends and family also learning the language alongside you (as wonderful as this sounds). So, a fear of speaking with strangers can be a huge obstacle for new language-learners.

Yes, it’s awkward to stumble through a conversation with a stranger in a language you’re not entirely comfortable speaking. Our advice here is: embrace the awkwardness. 

It turns out that there are several benefits to finding a group of strangers to practice with online:

  • You won’t be talking to strangers for long, since they’ll quickly become friends.
  • Everyone in the group knows you’re there to practice speaking the language.
  • You can all stumble along and embrace the awkwardness together.

Still, at some point, you’ll likely need to overcome your fear of speaking with strangers. If you’re learning the language because you want to communicate with locals when you travel, for instance, fear is not compatible with this goal. Also, if you’re learning the language for business purposes, speaking with strangers is most likely unavoidable. 

If the fear of speaking to strangers is standing in the way of you picking up this new skill, though, it can help to find a friend to learn along with you. You can both download the same app and set weekly meetings to practice together. Then, when you’re both ready, venture out together to speak with strangers.

4. Loss of Motivation.

As with learning any new skill, often the biggest obstacle to learning a new language can be as simple as a loss of motivation. No matter how excited you are at the beginning, you will encounter the inevitable slump. Every long-term project that takes some effort requires staying motivated to get through the most difficult parts. The key here is to figure out what will motivate you enough to push through.

When you feel your motivation sliding, it’s always a good idea to go back to the purpose of undertaking this project. Maybe you’ve promised yourself once you’re fluent in German, you’re going to book that trip to Germany to meet your distant relatives. This may be good motivation for you.

Again, if you’re learning a new language because you believe it will help you scale your business, that may be the purpose (or your “why”) behind the effort. In this case, reminding yourself of all the ways the effort could pay off (literally) may be enough to bring your motivation back.

What if you don’t have such a lucrative goal in mind? Even if you’ve decided to learn a new language simply because you think it will be a fun way to exercise your mind, this could be good motivation to keep marching forward toward your goal. 

For some people, it’s enough to develop a consistent habit. If seeing your “streak” of practice days on the app or seeing a physical calendar full of “x’s” fills you with joy, this can be a great motivational tool. For others, it’s the ritual of doing your language homework at your favorite coffee shop. Whatever motivates you, make sure you have a plan. 

5. Expecting it to be easy.

The final obstacle to mention here is the expectation that learning a new language will be easy. It’s possible that it has been years since you’ve learned a new skill. If you go into this learning experience expecting to pick it up quickly and get frustrated when it doesn’t happen this way, it’s a recipe for failure. Instead, realize language learning is messy. 

Do keep in mind there are different approaches and techniques that may work better than others for you. So if you’re not having much success with one approach—even if it is the approach that all your friends recommend and love—try a different approach, rather than simply giving up. 

Remember, you’re learning a new skill, not memorizing a list of facts. The sooner you make peace with the fact that your accent isn’t perfect and you don’t know everything, the better off you’ll be.

Final Thoughts

Learning a new language is a fun challenge and like any fun challenge, obstacles will arise. As you encounter these obstacles, remember, nothing is impossible. Getting fluent in German, Korean, Spanish, or Cantonese takes time and effort, even if you’re “good at learning languages.” 

You already know that the pros of learning this new language outweigh the cons or you wouldn’t be reading this article. You can already see the opportunities this new skill will open up for you. As long as you keep your mind focused on those opportunities, you will find your way.

The translators and interpreters at DTS Language Services, Inc. know exactly how you feel. Every one of our experts has learned at least one language in addition to their own native language. So, if it helps to know there are others who can empathize with you, know that we’re all rooting for you! 

Finally, if you have a language project that needs expert attention, contact us for a quote. We’ll talk through your project to get the details and show you how we estimate the costs. At DTS, our language translation services are crafted by humans, powered by technology, and efficiently delivered.