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Dispiriting Things While Learning Another Language

Learning another language, in general, is not dispiriting at all. However, trying to learn and potentially speak another language isn't a walk in the park for most people.

When it comes to nearly everything, I'm a perfectionist. One of my greatest fears with language learning is that when I write or speak my target language (French) is that I would make a mistake(s). Honestly, that's a stupid mindset to bear since even people who only speak their native language can't even speak or write it perfectly. Even more, fluent speakers aren't even perfect.

Specifically, a fear of mine is that when I try to verbally speak French to a native, my performance would be so terrible that the native would alternate to speaking English (presumably if he knows it) to make the conversation easier for me. I don't want a native to pity me or believe I'm clearly unqualified to even attempt at speaking French, and with all of that comes a significant decrease in my self-confidence.

Sometimes, another persona in my head will ask me, "What were you thinking, trying to learn French?", making me question myself, "Can I ever become fluent...?"

So, what are the most dispiriting things that you come across when trying to learn another language? This could mean struggles, fears, disadvantages (which I can't think of any because there are too many advantages), etc.

August 23, 2017



Relax, most people are not going to judge you if you are trying. My grandmother spoke to us in French only and we used to respond in English, but that never worried her. She just assumed (having come to the US from Canada) that everyone would understand both languages. I would recommend traveling to Montréal before going to France as people are more likely to continue speaking French to you even if you started in English. How else could they keep their language in a country that in the past required French Canadians to learn English to get a job! Oh, and I refuse to let anything dispirit me! Here is something amusing. We used to say the prayer before dinner in French. We knew it by heart, but until I took French in high school I had no idea what we were saying and I was really surprised to see how many more words there were than I thought. We just said it rather quickly and merged many words together in our minds. I do have a brother that never wanted to speak in French for just the reason you describe. He did not want to say it wrong. He understood perfectly well, but never spoke. How silly! Our parents spoke French and they moved here after he learned to speak in French and yet he didn't continue??? My oldest brother took summer classes in high school to speak in French, because he did not practice either. He relearned and moved to Belgium for a year where he did use his French.


I would recommend traveling to Montréal before going to France as people are more likely to continue speaking French to you even if you started in English.

I'd have to disagree with this. Most Montrealers' English ability vastly exceeds that of most French people (and I'm not talking about the substantial minority of residents who are native English speaking Quebeckers), and in my experience they're even more likely to switch to English at the drop of a hat.


You could be correct, but all the products at the stores and the signs everywhere are written in two languages which can be very helpful. If you go outside of Montréal, the smaller towns are not as metropolitan and surprisingly you can find people who even do not know English. I did not have this problem, all my relatives and family friends were interested in helping me learn French.


I wish I had your confidence. Then again, I'm prone to odd outbursts of paranoia every now and then... ^ ^

I appreciate the advice you gave me. I was told that Canadian French doesn't differ too much from France French, so I think I would be fine if I ever traveled there.

So, since you were able to respond to your grandmother in English, did you learn French through her or did you have prior knowledge of the language to some extent?


We understood basic things like "sit here" or "Would you like cake?" but you will understand a lot before you can actually come up with the words to actually converse. I learned my French in high school, but I did have the advantage of French Canadian relatives to practice with. My parents made the mistake of speaking to us in English for the most part to facilitate school and keeping French for themselves to talk about us. Around our birthdays we would listen for key words like "cake" or "gateau" and "gift" or "cadeau". We could have grown up bilingual, but my third brother did not learn to speak until he was four and the doctor told my parents that it was too hard for him to learn two languages. He couldn't walk either until he was four and it turned out to be a coordination problem. He took French in high school too. I am about four years younger than him. I did not understand my grandmother as well as the two oldest boys did.


The "fear of making mistakes" you speak of is the #1 reason lots of adults find it difficult to learn languages. Children on the other hand do not have that fear and just roll with it when they make mistakes.

Therefore we need to be more like children when we learn new things: don't be afraid to make mistakes or look foolish. It's not the end of the world. Instead we must be curious and take in all we can. And laugh it off and correct ourselves when we do make mistakes.:)

(There is some science to back up these claims, btw.)


Mistakes and experience are one of the best ways of learning, so I agree. It will be a little hard for me to be "more like a child" since I was never really like a child, even at a young age (not to say that I acted primarily like an adult. I was and still am very imaginative and creative, which I suppose came from my childhood). Also, I don't take failure lightly, though, I know if I'm ever going to function in the world I need to learn how to grow from my mistakes.

Thanks for your advice! It's greatly appreciated. ^ ^


Having fear of mistakes is a mistake in itself. The more mistakes you make, the more will you learn... you need to make thousands in order to become fluent! Those who make no mistakes in life make nothing. That said, your problem is very common. Quite often the answer is not your actual surroundings, but it's how we perceive and imagine them. I watched a video that addresses almost this exact problem for French, I would suggest watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vi_OmybUa3Q

My most dispiriting part of learning? I will tell my story. I started learning French 4.5 months ago largely for experience. I'd never learnt any languages before, but I realized I wasn't too satisfied to have only English... so I decided to challenge myself, and attempt to learn French. I chose French because I have some relatives there who visit us very occasionally. My biggest dispirition has been the lack of French surroundings here in UK. I feel like I'm fighting against English all the time, I'm struggling to find opportunities to put French into use and to see my efforts rewarded with anything better than mere pride, both now and in the future. Having got so far, I don't want to waste my efforts by giving up, there's a massive achievement ahead that I will continue pursuing... but the unhelpful surroundings have dispirited me to the point that I've decided for certain I don't want to repeat the process for a 3rd language. It could happen, but I've decided I will only learn if I have better environments (more people around me to help)... otherwise, English and French will be sufficient. I'm satisfied enough with 2 languages though.


a dispiriting thing for me is that i was born a spanish speaker and spoke spanish for the early years of my life. But all that changed when i had to learn english to be able to go to pre-k. For a while I spoke spanish at home and english at school. Everything seemed to be going fine until i was 6 or 7. I was finding it harder and harder to remember words and how to pronounce them in spanish. This change was gradual and took place over a span of a few years....but it got really bad after a while. Whenever i was speaking spanish to my grandmother or another relative who only speaks Spanish I always had to ask for help because i couldn't remember the language i was born speaking. I was really starting to wonder am i losing couch with my heritage? So i started taking classes and my spanish improved. But the fact the i couldn't remember almost anything for spanish still haunts me to this day. p.s i speak spanish (almost) fine now :)


That must have been hard, losing grasp of the knowledge of your first native language. But, I'm glad you speak it fine now! Were you born in a predominantly Spanish-speaking country and moved to a different country when you were young? I was just wondering why you basically had to learn English to advance into pre-k (my assumption being you could be from the US). Still, that's very interesting!

Good luck in your studies!


i live on the border of the us and mexico. both my parents came from mexico so thats why i only spoke spanish for like two years of my life. So, no i didn't move to another country. Good luck in your studies as well! :D


You really write like a deep think ( which you mentioned in your profile). Being a deep think is good. Elon Musk was a deep thinker


Ah, thank you... ^ ^


You've got this! The trick to becoming perfect is making lots of mistakes. Most people switch as a courtesy, but will switch back if you ask.


Speaking a new language is a humbling experience. You're guaranteed to make mistakes, sometimes embarrassing ones. Squash that ego and start speaking.

I learned English over 20 years ago. It is now my primary language. But to this day I still sometimes forget the perfect word that fits the situation. And I still have a bit of an accent.

From my experience, if a native speaker gives you a hard time over your mistakes, chances are it's going to be an ignorant and uneducated person.


Like you I also am very afraid of making mistakes. I've been studying German for years now with varying degrees of motivation, but I still feel like I could only have a fluent conversation in which I introduce myself. There's a German meet-up group not far from where I live that have regular outings, but my fear has held me back from going. One method I've found helps me feel less nervous about talking to native speakers is making scripts for myself, on all kinds of topics. For instance, ordering food or meeting new people. Sometimes I write them down and other times I just make mental ones during down time, like when I'm falling asleep. I figure out what I will say (for example, "I want schnitzel with potatoes and a coke please") and thing about how the other person might respond. I try to prepare myself for the most common response, like "Okay, very good." and sometimes even for the worse possible scenario ("Get out of my restaurant, you pathetic fool!")

When I first went to Germany in 2013, I very quickly learned that I didn't know as much German as I felt I needed, and one script I figured out and memorized was a simple sentence that I'd start all my conversations with, "I'm sorry, my German is not so good.". I figured that way, whoever I'm speaking with would know from the start that I may make mistakes, or they may need to tolerate me making visual cues. There was only one time when one of these conversations resulted in a person getting frustrated with me, and even then there was another German speaker who spoke up for me and helped me.

On another note too, sometimes even just knowing a few words of a language can really impress people. I went to St. Augustine with my family, and while touring the fort there, I overheard a German family talking. I quietly asked them, in German, if they were from Germany and you should have seen how surprised they were! I could only ask them a few questions before I had to switch to English. When I rejoined my family, my parents were so impressed with me and they didn't stop talking about it all day, it was like I had won the Nobel Prize or something. My level of fluency didn't matter to my family or the German tourists, they were just impressed I knew enough to talk to them for a little bit.

So remember that even if you only know a few words in French, or any language, you know more than the average person, and the fact that you continue learning makes you impressive. :)


I overcame this fear and I must say it's now a very great pleasure and fun to speak the rudiments of a foreign language with the natives.

Let me explain how.

I like to travel to eastern Europe, especially to those countries ignored by the tourists like Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia, etc. Another country, another language.

Before departing, I learn some basic phrases from the Loecsen website.

Once there I buy one of those "conversation guides". My favorites are from Lingea (its easier to find a Latvisk/French ou Hungarian/English book there than here)

Each day I try only one or two phrases with the natives (who generally also speak english).

The trick is, when you speak make it clear to them that you are trying to speak their language don't even try to be perfect but apologize with a simple - "Did I say it right ?" - and ask them to repeat your phrase and correct it. You would be surprised by the reaction. They will be delighted ! It always end with laughs and congratulations.

The thing is, doing that, I associate speaking the foreign language with a agreable and positive experience. And it helps me to overcome the fear of making errors..

It works best with the employees at the tourist office, the receptionist at the hotel or the waiter / waitress at the end of the service when they are not stressed anymore. Of course, I don't expect a full course. Just one or two phrases or a small point of grammar. (It even became kind of a game with the receptionist at one hotel in Budapest). And then I give them a nice tip when leaving.

At the end of the week, I am able to command a beer, ask for my key at the hotel or my way to some place. Now I know more words and phrases, but when I try a new one I still always add "Did I say it right ?" with a smile.

I hope this story can help you.


Honestly, I never really worry about learning Spanish for some reason. Of course, there is the occasional ''Will I ever finish the tree?'' But apart from that, I just don't have any fears about learning it. Just try to ignore the things that are bothering you, and also, don't go to France/Canada right after finishing the tree.


Oh no, I will certainly wait to travel. I had outside experience with the language before seriously using Duolingo, so going through the French tree wasn't very difficult. I'm currently doing the reverse tree, which will make me more confident but I don't plan on traveling until I finish college (undergrad).


In fact, struggling and stressing prevent you from learning more efficiently. By the way, If you need some help with your French, I can help you.


Thank you for the offer!

I know stressing makes things worse, but I can't just "not stress out". It's a habit that I can't get out of. Hopefully, I'll learn to trust myself.

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