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The Parts of Language Learning No One Talks About

It’s so great to be bilingual! 

Think of all the friends you’ll make, the travelling you’ll do, and the jobs you’ll be qualified for!

Knowing more than one language is like a superpower.

There are so many fantastic reasons to learn a new language—do a Google search, and you’ll find all kinds of encouragement to help you start.

But you don’t always hear about the challenges you’ll face as a learner, even when you’re nearly fluent! Although they’re very common, these obstacles might make you wonder, “Am I doing this right?”

Today, we’re going to talk about some of the . . . less fun . . . parts of learning a language. No, we’re not doing this to discourage you. We want to let you know it’s completely normal and that you’re not alone!

1. You probably won’t sound like a native speaker

Very few adults pick up a native-sounding accent in their target language, no matter how fluent they are. While it’s technically possible, it’s a lot of work. You’ve been speaking your first language for your entire life; it isn’t realistic to expect the same level of accuracy in your new language.

But that’s okay! Your goal should be to communicate clearly, not to imitate a native speaker. Accents are beautiful, and they’re a part of who we are. Don’t get stuck on trying to lose yours. 

2. Everyday tasks will take more effort

This one is especially true if you’re learning while living in a foreign country. You’ll probably find that, at first, things that should be simple, like going to a store or ordering at a restaurant, will take more effort than you’d like.

You might get nervous whenever you leave the house because you won’t be able to control what happens in real-life situations. You may develop a habit of trying to practice conversations in your head or predict what others will say so you can think about how to respond.

Practice is important, but don’t stress about making mistakes in the “real world.” Most native speakers you meet will be impressed that you’re learning their language and they’ll help you however they can.

3. You might not be yourself 

When you’re speaking your target language, it can feel like people don’t really know you—it’s harder to make your personality shine through. Maybe you don’t have enough vocabulary or it takes you longer to understand and respond to others. You might not know the culture very well. Whatever the reason, it can definitely be frustrating when people don’t know how funny you are or how much you know about world history.

Keep working at it, engage in real-life communication as much as possible, and you’ll eventually be able to express yourself in a way that feels much more like you!

4. You’ll get tired

Nothing comes naturally when you’re learning a new language—you have to think about everything: Twisting your lips and tongue into weird positions for correct pronunciation; listening carefully at all times so you know what’s going on around you; thinking of the right word and how to use it in a sentence. It’s exhausting!

The good news is that your target language won’t always feel like it’s sucking all your energy. The longer you practice and the more you learn, the less effort it will take! 

Don’t let it get you down

If you’re trying to learn a new language (or even if you’re just considering it), that’s fantastic! When you come up against these challenges, just remind yourself that it’s all a part of the process.

Andrea is a Gabby Academy coach and education technolgy writer based in Vancouver, Canada.