Language Journeys and How to Keep Going

Croagh Patrick in County Mayo

Let's walk up Cruach Phádraig - Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo, Ireland.

When we embark on the journey of learning a new language, we soon find ourselves going through four distinct stages.  Understanding that these stages will happen and that they are normal can go a long way to helping us enjoy the ride.

Stage 1: The Honeymoon

Croagh Patrick journey - getting ready

Eoin's happy and excited to start on the journey up the mountain.

This is the exciting, first, stage of learning just about anything.  You’re going to learn a new language!  You sign up for lessons (live or on-line), buy books, DVDs, and instructional programs, and resolve to study diligently every day.

Anticipation is what makes this phase particularly fun.  Those shiny new books are enticing and encouraging.  The first few lessons are easy. You can do this! You dream of the day (just around the corner, surely!) when you’ll be able to converse with confidence.

Stage 2: Reality Trip

Croagh Patrick reality trip

Reality trip: "Wait, we have to walk up this mountain?"

After a few weeks  (six weeks on average, though it can vary from person to person) you suddenly realize: This is hard work. And you begin to wonder if this whole language-learning thing was such a good idea.

Perhaps the lessons have gotten more complicated. Perhaps you’ve found that it isn’t as easy to sit down for that regular practice you resolved to do when you started, or that other things suddenly seem more important or attractive than studying or attending classes.

Suddenly the shine is off the apple, and you’re not so sure you want to do this anymore. It’s more work than you’d expected, and you’re busy with other things.  And — let’s face it — some aspects of language learning can be (gasp!) boring!

Sadly, this is the stage at which many people give up.

It’s a little like a road trip

If you’ve ever planned a family road trip, you know this phenomenon well.  Poring over maps and brochures, planning routes, anticipating what you’ll do at each stop, buying clothes for the trip…all of that is great fun.

Then, when you’re several hours into driving — the kids are bored, your partner is hungry, you realize it’s going to take longer to reach the hotel than you’d thought, and you think you may have missed your turn-off  — suddenly that road trip doesn’t seem so fun after all.

Of course, if you’ve ever done this kind of trip, you also know it will get better.  If you just keep going, things will start to be fun and interesting again. You’ll get your second wind, food and routes will get sorted, and you will reach your destination eventually.

The secret is to keep going

Knowing that this is a natural part of the learning process makes it a little easier to keep going.  And, if you can do that, I promise, it will get to be fun again.

Just as a driver may stop at a roadside attraction to recharge, you may decide to focus on  a less stressful aspect of the language for a while. Read children’s books, sing songs, watch subtitled soap operas. Then, when you’re ready, hit the road again.

Stage 3: Riding the roller coaster

Once you’ve got past the “reality trip” phase, you will likely find that your language journey more closely resembles a roller coaster than a road trip.  There will be plenty of ups and downs and unexpected twists, but for the most part the ride will be worth it!

Journey was worth it

Wow, the journey was worth it for this view of Co. Mayo.

The highs will be great! You’ll never forget the first time you were able to follow a news broadcast, or read an article without picking up a dictionary. The first time you really carry on a conversation will make your confidence soar!

Journey lows

The sandwiches at the top taste good, but it's still a bit cold, and we're a bit tired.

The lows are part of the ride too, though, and sometimes they can be jarring.  The important thing to remember is that we all go through them.  When you find yourself using the wrong word or forgetting something you once knew, you’ll have lots of company!

The sudden twists are the best part! As you continue your studies, you’ll find yourself meeting new people and learning things that you never thought you’d care about: history, songs, stories, poetry, folklore…even jokes!

Stage #4: Realizing it’s a life-long journey

Learning a language is life-long

Our friends, Colman and Lena, realize this is a life-long journey ;)

One thing you will never hear a real language learner say is “”Now I know everything I need to know about this language.” No matter how fluent you get…no matter how perfect your grammar…there’s always something yet to be discovered.

The ups and downs will still be there as well, but it will come to seem less like a roller coaster and more like a road through hills and valleys.  And because language is, by it’s very nature, a social activity, you’ll have lots of friends on that road with you!

The most important thing is to keep going and enjoy the trip.

Did you find this post helpful?

Have you ever come to a point in learning a language where you wanted to give up or where you thought you were alone in struggling with learning? Did this post help? Let us know your thoughts below.

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Comments

  1. Joanna says:

    I’ve hit Stage 2 already. Thanks for the post! I think it’ll help me move on to Stage 3. It’s encouraging to know that this happens to a lot of people when learning a language.

  2. This article definitely describes my Irish language-learning journey. Twenty-five years now, and I still sound like a two-year old when I talk, but I understand much of what I hear and read. Now we’ve started a conversation group that meets every Monday at our local Irish pub, the second that I know of in the Indiana heartland. We’re all helping each other up the mountain, and your site provides needed hand and footholds on the trip.

  3. Audrey Nickel says:

    I’d say it happens to everybody, Joanna. And it’s not just with languages…you’ll see it in people learning other skills as well (how to play a musical instrument, for example). All part of the learning process. Hang in there!

  4. Audrey Nickel says:

    Brenda…that’s very common with people who are largely self-taught. I’m in the same boat, really…I read and understand on an advanced level, and I have a very good grasp of grammar, but speaking is still often a struggle. One of the best things to do, if you can manage it someday, is attend an immersion course in Ireland. Short of that, a local conversation group, such as what you’re setting up, is also a good way to get practice.

    Another thing that helps, believe it or not, is reading aloud. It seems to help bridge the gap between understanding the words on the page and making them a part of your spoken repertoire. You might suggest to your discussion group that those of you who are able take turns reading an article or story aloud (that will also give the others comprehension practice, and will give you all something to discuss!)

  5. Jody says:

    It is so easy to become discouraged… but if you keep pushing it actually becomes easier. Though I am still struggling on I find that I am able to recognize how (more) words should be pronounced and even remembering how to string together short sentences. :)

    • Eoin says:

      Hey, sounds like great progress, Jody. glad to hear you’re pushing ahead with it, maith thú.

  6. Yes it can be a tough experience, but I find having a program that is active and interactive helps a lot. Being able to connect the words with their spelling and sound helps to imprint the information more completely. There are days that I feel overwhelmed with input, but the biresize lessons and careful explanations keep me from becoming mired in overload. A little bit at a time!

  7. Dennise Brown says:

    I’m much calmer about Irish now that I know it will take several lifetimes to learn it!
    I also calmed down when I realized that my personal goal is not conversation, but
    Irish poetry: poetry has few words, simple words (more nouns, fewer verbs!), and deep meaning–and, of course, it’s meant to be read out loud!

    My greatest thrill in Irish study (apart from the first time I woke up and realized that I’d spoken Irish in my dream!) was the day we started actually reading. Our teacher, Mary McLaughlin, started us out with “Balor” from Bairbre McCarthy’s book, “Favourite Irish Legends in Irish and English.” It was terrifically exciting to read a real story in Irish, and legends are great because they use the same phrase over and over again: for example, once you know “Balor Drochshuile,” it shows up often. I love anything that begins: “Fado, fado…”

    • Eoin says:

      Fadó, fadó… That’s a good one to have.

      Realizing that it may well take several lifetimes – at least it’s the journey that counts!

  8. Eoin says:

    I agree! It can feel like your taking a whole few steps backwards. But I think sticking to regular learning (like you do with the class) is the best thing you can do longterm. Thanks for the comment!