What’s your excuse?

“Success is a journey not a destination. ”
by ~Ben Sweetland~

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It would seem that the vast majority of people who attempt to learn another language give up on that endeavour well before they get to an “acceptable” level of proficiency. Arriving at the decision to “give up” takes some time and usually involves the creation of an “excuse” which provides the justification for the decision. I believe there is some benefit to be derived at looking at excuses and the role they play so, if you ever get to that stage where you are considering giving it up,  you can be clearer about the tricks that the mind can play and hence not be easily put off from reaching your goal.

Whilst there may be life circumstances that may intervene in your plan to learn another languages, or other priorities may have emerged, which prevent sufficient time or energy being available, I suspect for the most part the predominant reason most people give away learning another language is because of a perception that:

Excuses in learning languages1. It is too hard.

2. They have little or no skills in language learning.

3. Their memory is not up to it.

4. There are not enough opportunities or resources available.

These 4 reasons, which can at times live in the subconscious, can cause us to look for excuses that help us to justify abandoning what we initially thought was  good idea.

It is not that surprising that these 4 reasons come up for many people. The reality is that if we have been given the wrong information, been taught in ways that only the few could ever utilise , or have developed disempowering beliefs about ourselves. So it is no wonder that so many people give up. If you look at what is available in bookshops and language courses, it is difficult to find places or people that could help set you straight.

So what I would like to do here is to explore some of the common excuses that are given. This way, if you are thinking of giving it away, reflect a little upon the excuses that may come up. They may not apply to you but if they do, you may decide, after reading this article, to consider them a little more carefully than you might have done otherwise.

Here are some of these excuses:

The grammar is too hard

It may appear so, but there can be many reasons for that. You may be going about it in the wrong way, using materials that are not well designed, and so on. Here are some ideas on learning grammar and what you could do to reverse this belief.

I am just too busy

You may well be but it surprising how one can fine time to do the things one enjoys. Is the problem that you are not enjoying the process, is it going too slow or life has thrown you a curve ball?

It’s too expensive

With the advent of the internet, this reason has less and less validity. Sure some programs and classes can be expensive but there are many other ways to learn a language that don’t require you to spend much at all. You can read, use movies, hop on Skype, and talk to people who speak the language you are are learning. This is just for starters.

My pronunciation is just unintelligible

When things get tough, this reason can surface as we start to question ourselves and why we embarked on such a “foolhardy” venture. By having a clearly enunciated goal, about why you will embark on learning a language, this kind of excuse is far less likely to get traction. It may be that what you have been doing was not really helping you. There are effective ways to improve you pronunciation

I have no ear for languages

Learning to listen AND understand native like speech can take time. We all possess what it takes and are all capable of improving, if we do what is necessary. An essential aspect of that is improving our listening skills.

My memory is too bad

This is of course disheartening and why wouldn’t we give it away if this kept happening. The thing to realize here is that by changing what you do, your results can improve. The problem is that many people persist doing the same thing and expect different results.  As Albert Einstein once said, this is a definition of insanity.

I have no opportunities for practice

I have heard this excuse given by many people, whether the language is spoken in the country they are in or not. There are always ways, especially in this technologically connected world, to talk to people. The important thing here is to want to talk to people not regard the “exercise” as something I have to do. That attitude alters the the experience and gives it a possibility of something that can be enjoyed, not just endured.

By making decisions based on better understandings of ourselves and the language learning process, we stand a better chance of achieving the goals we have set ourselves.

  • Lost in Translation

    One of biggest reasons for me is that the content is usually really poor! The things that you learn are usually examples to prove a point of grammar or some inane comment that I will never use in a daily context!

    My learning needs to be immediately usable in public with common people! I need ‘language success’ in communication for me to be able to utilise the materials properly and continue learning with them. If they are dry, and have no ‘actionable use’ I will quickly discard them and also discard the concept of learning the language…I convince myself I am ‘unteachable’!

    I need ‘fast proof’ that what I am learning is useful – that there are indeed learning activities within the text… Preferably it needs to be scenario-based so I can study one scenario and be able to have a success with it! I need to be able to ‘complete an action’ in the language to get a win.

    For example – buying fruit….I need to say…

    Do you have apples/bananas/orange?
    They look fresh/old/over-ripe/bruised.
    They smell nice!
    These are a little soft/very juicy/taste sweet
    How much per kilogram?
    Do you have a plastic bag please?
    Etc

    I need a conversation to win! When a lesson can follow me around and get into my head and help me ask/answer all the logical questions I have…then it’s good content

    • Great observation.
      You put your finger on why so many materials and classes are so hard for most people. They are just not engaging! Especially in these times where everyone can see how engaging technology can be! It has always been the case but in previous times people would blame themselves more. The issue is not that we can’t learn languages. We all can, we just need to fully engaged by the activity.
      Certainly “functional” language can be a great stimulus for some people. Whatever it takes!
      How to stay engaged so that our new language starts to approximate the production of a native speaker in all aspects will however take a different kind of involvement.

      • Halina

        Very interesting discussion.

        As a non-native English teacher, I can make excellent example for my
        students who may not have faith in their ability to learn the target language
        (” If I made it and speak this language thus you also can!”).

        I am against methods that emphasize learning about the language but
        for learning by using the language / expressions, collocations, models,
        patterns, language chunks……./.

        I don’t approve grammar classes explaining rules and language
        terminology. Speaking is the main reason for learning a language and the main
        motivational driver that keeps you trying and improving.

        My experience tells that I ought to practice active learning
        principles to progress activities for my students that best mirror particular
        communication style and the topics, forms of thinking, and solving problems
        strategies which are needed to comprehend and relate to the topics.

        In my view, the most important skill to master is speaking the
        language. This is difficult assignment especially if you don’t live or work in
        native speaking country. We can look for reliable supports to talk to. It is
        essential to find someone whom we’re comfortable speaking with.

        Generally speaking in high schools worldwide, attention is still
        focused on the language in its written form and the objective is for the
        student to understand the structure and rules of the language, whose parts are
        dissected and analyzed. The body is of greater importance than communication.
        Teaching and learning are based on the syllabus.

        Moreover, students should not be forced to learn the theory in the
        absence of the practice. Constant error corrections block students and offer
        very little room for spontaneity. The student is taught how to form
        interrogative and negative sentences, memorize irregular verbs, study modal
        verbs, etc., but hardly ever masters the use of these structures in
        conversation.

        I strongly believe that efficient teaching is personalized, takes
        place in a bicultural environment and is based on the personal skills of the
        language instructor in building interactions and creating situations of real communication
        with understandable input focusing on the learner’s interests.

        • Thanks for commenting! You make some great points Halina.

          Your observation about the primacy of speaking in learning a language is key. There are many reasons why that is ignored. Writing/reading/grammar appear “easier” to teach, course books and texts emphsiase that as well (easier to write books targeted at these skills) and many teacher trainers fall into the trap as well, as they themselves were never taught or developed the understanding or skills necessary for developing speaking skills.

          Once we started to focus on what it takes for speaking to happen, so many changes would unfold. Clearly will take more that, but that would be already a huge step! 🙂