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Positivity is Key to Language Learning

It may sound cliché and you would think it is very obvious but sometimes when you are running low on motivation for learning a language, staying positive gets harder and harder.

Story time! When I took Japanese for four years in high school, I did really well until my senior year. During my senior year I was taking a grand total of 3 art classes, one of which was an AP class, and I loved it until I started having severe issues with my wrist. When I say severe I mean I couldn't pick up a pencil without massive spikes of pain rolling up my arm. So as you can imagine those three art classes became a nightmare. I started having serious anxiety issues and I would come home stressed beyond belief. I was having panic attacks at least once a week. That was the first time I actually completely flunked a test in Japanese. I was devastated. I was never a straight A student in high school I was usually an A, B student with the occasional C. But Japanese had been my favorite class and I flunked the midterm. The entire rest of the year I had a very negative mindset so I learned close to nothing because of it. I passed the class with a C and I was disappointed with myself. So much so I couldn't convince myself to keep learning it and I had to leave it for almost 3 years. I made sure to keep the writing systems up as much as I could but that was about it. I would learn a few words here and there but nothing ever substantial.

However, there are some very valuable things I learned after that experience:

1) When you started getting frustrated, annoyed or sad while trying to learn a language you NEED to take a break for as long as you think you need. If you continue to get annoyed enough times your brain starts to associated negative thoughts with what you are trying to do and in the process you learn nothing.

2) In order to get back to positive thinking, take a step back and look at the reasons WHY you are trying to learn the language you are. For me it has always been to be able to communicate with more people, to be able to understand how others see the world around them and to make friends / be able to communicate with the friends I already had. So I challenge you to really dig. Sometimes even just finding funny words or phrases can reinvigorate me.

3) Try to associate positive thinking with language learning. This can be tricky. This is where candy can be handy (hey that rhymes!). Eating a piece of candy when you start working on your language evokes pleasure. However, if you wish to keep all your teeth in place and/or you don't have any candy around, find something that makes you laugh or smile then start working on your language. (You can also use number 2 if that works for you.)

4) Don't study for hours at a time without taking breaks. Study for 30 minutes and take a break for 30 minutes. You'd be surprised how much this can help.

5) Don't bring yourself down when you listen to ANYONE speak the language you are learning and you don't understand however many words they say. Instead count the words you do understand! Maybe you don't understand an entire couple of sentences but you could pick out a few words you did understand. Give yourself credit for those few words. Or maybe you understand an entire paragraph but there are a few words you didn't understand, be proud of yourself for that whole paragraph don't focus on those words you didn't catch.

6) Believe that you can learn the language. This is probably the most important thing. If you don't believe you can learn the language you block your brain from learning. You have to believe you can do it because otherwise nothing will help you and that is a fact.

All in all, don't try to rush through the language as fast as possible. Go at your own pace and be sure to enjoy every second of it.

January 11, 2018



It's very sweet of you to share your inspiring story. And, I'm sorry you had so many issues while in high school. But, I'm glad you were able to overcome those adversities.

I can't relate in terms of language learning because I started French in high school and it came relatively easy to me. Therefore, I never really struggled. I was an honor student and even when I was going through tribulations, it never affected my French studies. However, I was a straight A student, and when I became a sophomore, I realized I was overwhelming myself with work. Throughout the years, I was into too many academic organization, I was in a Symphony, a creative writing organization, etc... I can't count how many times I vomited during school, or simply passed out from working myself sick. People saw me falter, questioned my perfectionism, and I saw myself as a failure. Although, I always begged my nurse to let me stay in school. Of course, she would deny this XD. So, I can relate to the stress issue, but it never conflicted with my French studies. I assume it was because French was one of the only classes where I could de-stress, and that consequently kept my grades managed. Positivity, like you said, is the key, and it certainly kept me sane in my French classes.

I have started to learn Korean on my own, and to be honest, I have felt as if I would never advance. Granted, I'm teaching myself, but I still doubt my future progress. Reading your post was like a heaven-sent gift, knowing that with positivity, there is always a way. The self-doubt in anything I do always remains, but I will always remember your words through the tough times.

We have to look beyond ourselves when we are struggling; towards the future. ^ ^

Edit: I cannot agree with you enough with #4. I have a terrible habit of just vigorously studying for hours until my brain just gives up. Even in college, I still don't know how to do study efficiently, especially with Japanese and Korean.


Thanks for sharing :D


Thanks for the advice. :)


Thank you for sharing your story! #4 I tend to not do but I need to get better at it! :)


Such great advice. Admittedly, I struggle with being hard on myself, especially when I'm trying to rack through my brain for a specific phrase/word I learned but can't remember in the moment.

What brings my spirits up is reminding myself that I have aspirations of becoming a polyglot. Not only for my benefit but because I want to be able to communicate with many, many people. Also, it boosts my confidence a little when my family looks to me for understanding scenes in films that have Spanish. I'm able to decipher the gist of conversations but there are words that I haven't learned yet.

I took Spanish all four years of high school and the most I learned was how to write/read it, but barely speak it. Even my IB Spanish 3-4 classes didn't do me or anyone justice in holding a conversation. Plus, I wasn't passionate about it then. I just wanted to learn the basics and pass. I took an intermediate course in college and flunked it, which was discouraging. I don't know where my passion emerged from or what inspired it exactly, but just one day, I pondered why I didn't further my studies in Spanish since I took 4 years of it. And I only needed to take year one and two in a language to graduate.

Dunno what came over me last summer, but I wanted to do something productive, since I was jobless and in a slump. And then I stumbled across Duolingo and Memrise shortly after. I started randomly going through lessons and when inquired why I was doing what I was doing by friends/family, I just said I wanted to learn more. Then, I learned that being bilingual in Spanish/English is beneficial for those in my desired occupation: medicine/healthcare. Especially since Spanish is a largely spoken language in the USA with more and more immigrants coming and I know some Spanish speakers know very little English, which is a barrier for them to get sufficient and adequate healthcare. I want to help combat that barrier, even if it's a little.

Along the way, I decided to explore other languages (American Sign Language, Korean, Japanese) and it can be overwhelming, but it's enriching nevertheless.

Staying positive is a huge factor in accomplishing language learning goals (and any goals in general).


Very good advice!

I am the worst at #5. My reading comprehension so outpaces my speaking ability that it’s hard to stay buoyed up and focus on the gains.


im glad that you are inspiring people to believe


Great advice, however at point three I would like to say that there is no need to put a time limit at how long you should be studying. With me it just works fine to force myself to start and afterwards I can just quit when i don´t enjoy it anymore. That can be half an hour but also 2 hours and then I just try to repeat this procedure everyday. I guess everybody has a different concentrationspan so does not really make sense to force yourself to do sessions of 30mins if normally you can only focus for 20minutes.


Wonderful and inspiring!


Thank you for sharing your inspiring story and helpful tips! I relate to much of what you wrote and am really glad you found your passion for language again!


Great post! I'll add something that keeps my spirits up: Music! The nice thing about music is you don't need to understand the lyrics to like a song. Try LyricsTraining.com, youtube videos of your favorite Disney songs dubbed in the language you're learning with lyrics, using songs you like in your target language as background music while doing things, etc.


Good advice.Thanks for sharing it


Thanks for sharing this! All of these are really helpful.

I've found that donuts work for number three. :)

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