It doesn’t matter how many languages you’ve learned before. Sometimes, that next one is surprisingly difficult to start.
Before you got started, you were thinking: This next language should be easy!
So why are you finding it so hard?
Why You’re Struggling to Start That Next Language
So tell me, what’s holding you back from learning this new language?
Go on, give me four reasons.
Let’s see if I can guess them:
1. You think you just got lazy since you learned the last one.
2. You have less time than you had before.
3. Your brain can’t fit any more new languages. Sure, other people can learn lots. But, you’re not one of those people.
4. You’re not good enough at your previous languages yet. When you’re 100% fluent you’ll be able to learn a new language.
Did I get any of them right?
Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t.
But whatever you reasons you gave, these are all just glorified excuses. Believe me, I tell myself these types of excuses when I’m starting a new language. But they’re not true.
The real hurdles to learning that next language are much simpler.
5 Major Hurdles to Polyglot Language Learning and How to Jump Them
The biggest hurdle to learning anything is often right at the start.
When you’ve already learned a language, starting the next one can sometimes seem so surprisingly difficult you might consider just giving up. After all, you’ve proven you can learn a language, maybe you should just quit while you’re ahead.
Thankfully, learning a second foreign language really is easier than the first one. The hurdles, too, are easy to jump when you know how.
Hurdle 1: You’ve gotten too used to feeling like an advanced learner
When I was 12 years old I moved from “little school” to “big school.”
In one day everything changed. I went from feeling like the biggest, oldest, most grown-up kid in the whole school to feeling like a baby in a crowd of giants.
That’s what learning a new language feels like when you’ve already learned one.
You’re used to knowing exactly what to say in a foreign language. Now your brain goes blank. You’re used to making up for lost vocabulary with your great grasp of the basics. Now you can’t string a sentence together.
I know. It sucks to feel like a beginner again. The good news is that you’ve been here before. You just need stop thinking like an advanced learner.
Learning a new language means switching your brain back into beginner mode.
Go on! Put your hand behind your ear and switch that imaginary “language learning knob” from Advanced Language Wizard to Bumbling Beginner.
Now go and make tons of rookie mistakes in your new language. Enjoy it, it won’t last for long.
Hurdle 2: You’ve forgotten how you learned last time
We often forget how we went about learning the first time. You’d think that we’d be even better at learning this time around since we already went through the learning journey once. However, the truth is that we usually only remember what we learned and not exactly how we learned it.
Buried deep in your memory is priceless knowledge about what worked best for you last time you learned a language.
Use these five questions to unlock the knowledge from your previous learning experiences. Think deeply and list at least five answers for each.
1. When were your “Aha!!” moments?
Aha!! moments are those moments in your language learning experience where suddenly something clicked. Suddenly something in this new language seemed to make perfect sense.
2. What hasn’t worked for you?
There are hundreds of language learning techniques, but not all of them work for everyone. Perhaps you’ve tried flashcard apps and they just don’t work as well for you as they do for other people.
3. What has worked great for you?
So maybe flashcard apps didn’t work for you. But, maybe you found learning with podcasts worked really well.
4. What have been the most scary moments?
Yeah, we’ve all had them. Those moments of learning a new language which have made us want to run and hide. As uncomfortable as they are, those scary moments are great for language learning. Take that fear and leverage it.
5. When have you been “flying high” on great fluency?
Remember those moments when you felt “Yes!! Now I’m Fluent!” in your previous language. You want to maximize this type of situation in your new language. What were you talking about at the time? What were you doing? Who were you talking to?
Now, use those answers to maximize your learning in the new language.
Try and recreate the “Aha!!” moments in the new language and see what clicks this time.
Avoid the learning methods that didn’t work last time. Choose the methods that worked really well.
Expose yourself to as many scary moments as possible, but this time be prepared for them.
Get yourself into situations where you’re “flying high” on fluency. Talk about the same sorts of things or do the same activities.
Hurdle 3: You’ve got different motives from last time
Think back to your previous new language. Why did you choose to learn it?
You can probably remember quite this clearly. If it was your first foreign language then you likely had quite strong motives for learning it.
This time things are different. You’ve decided to learn this new language for different reasons, and maybe they aren’t as clear as last time.
It’s important to clarify why you’re learning this language. You can ask yourself:
1. What do I want to get out of this new language?
2. Why this language in particular, and not any other language?
3. Is it only because I think it’ll be easy? (it will be easier, but not effortless)
4. Am I only learning it to “become a polyglot,” and is this enough motive for me?
Without clear motivation, you won’t maintain your drive to learn.
Hurdle 4: You’re not sure which level to start at
It’s sometimes hard to tell at what level to start learning.
This is particularly true when your next foreign language is related to one of your previous ones.
When I started learning Portuguese, I could already speak Spanish. I could hold a fairly basic conversation with a local talking Portuguese and me talking Spanish. So, when I started learning, I didn’t feel like a total beginner.
But actually, because of pronunciation differences, I was a total beginner.
The important thing with learning a new language is to just start. It doesn’t matter at what level.
Choose some topics you want to talk about and learn some vocabulary.
One great, simple way to find a good starting level is to use FluentU.
It groups the videos into six different learning levels: Newbie, Elementary, Intermediate, Upper Intermediate, Advanced and Native.
Watch a few videos at different levels and see what feels comfortable, then just keep learning from there.
Hurdle 5: Your goals are unclear
Once you’ve started learning your next language, the biggest hurdles to jump are fuzzy goals.
Lack of clear, achievable and sensible goals can lead to very ineffective learning.
The problem is, if you’ve reached fluency in your previous language, your goal setting has probably gotten a bit lazy. You no longer need to set learning goals because most of your learning happens without you even noticing.
Our previous post on goal setting gives a great, in-depth look at this valuable skill. But, in short, your goals need to be:
1. SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.
2. Clearly defined. Create a distinct milestone for each goal with a definitive end date. For example, “By the next time I go to Portugal I want be able to talk to the builder about construction supplies.”
3. Challenging. Don’t just stop at “achievable,” keep pushing! You’ll learn even faster this way. Your new language should be challenge. Otherwise, why do it?
4. Be broken down into clear, SMART, subgoals.
Now that you know how to overcome the five major hurdles of polyglot language learning, you’re ready to start that next language.
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