Difficulties learning languages

I have attempted to study languages in the past. I studied Italian in high school and attempted German and Modern Arabic while in the military. I was not able to pick-up those languages. I am bilingual (English and Spanish) even though my English is much more proficient. I learned Spanish at home (being Hispanic) and English living in the United States most of my life.

Due to my disabilities, I have taken up studying languages (French, Italian and Portuguese). I prioritize French and reinforce my Spanish through Duolingo. I occasionally study Italian but placed Portuguese on hold.

Even though I do well reading French, I have difficulty hearing and much more difficulty speaking. I believe this is due to my disabilities. I have tried to find a local group to conduct some form of immersion training but have yet to find one that fits my schedule.

I have attempted to listen to new casts, song, and films in French but as mentioned, I have difficulty understand what is being said.

Any recommendation or observations would be appreciated.

Thank you.

January 20, 2019


Listening comprehension is the most difficult part of learning a language. There is no shortcut, you need to start with simple sentences, memorizing vocabulary with the right pronunciation and trying to practice it. Listening to music, movies or watching TV in topics you like is very useful, but you have to try to understand, for me it is better to have subtitles in the language I am learning and try to follow the dialog. It takes time to understand a language and you have to keep trying, it is difficult for everybody.

January 20, 2019

I prioritize French and reinforce my Spanish through Duolingo.

I'd say that I'm in the same station. I have been able to speak Spanish, more or less proficiently, for at least 35 years, but French is newer for me so that is my priority. (But I don't want to totally ignore Spanish because we visit Mexico about once every year.) I started learning French because my son started taking it in school and I wanted him to have someone to practice with.

Even though I do well reading French, I have difficulty hearing and much more difficulty speaking.

Same here. In fact, everyone makes this comment. My wife also says the same thing about English. Her native language is not English. She has lived in the USA for 20 years and still sometimes puts the captions on the television so she can read the words because she can't always understand the fast-paced American slang.

I can read French newspaper articles, and have even read a few novels--although they took a long time because I have to look up many words--but listening is tough. I have just arrived at a point where I can understand the news. I watch France24 regularly. TV and movies are still difficult. They use lots of slang. I can't watch them without English subtitles.

For a long time, I was watching the Nathalie FLE blog. It was tremendously helpful. You can google her website, or find her videos on YouTube. It's sort of intermediate, a bridge between the really easy stuff like ExtraFrench and the more challenging newscasts. She speaks correctly, without slang (unless she's doing a lesson about slang), and slowly, but not too slowly. I recommend it.

When we visited France for a couple of weeks last summer, I usually asked people to speak slowly. I found that they were generally accommodating and friendly. That a Yankee would deign to try to learn their language seemed a to be a genuine pleasure for most of the French people with whom I interacted. A few times I had to resort to gestures and handwaving, but for the most part I was able to order food at restaurants, order drinks at bars, inquire about transit schedules, ask for directions, and get information from the landlady of our condo.

It just takes time. I started learning French at the age of 50. I'm 52 now and I can get around okay in France, so long as people speak clearly and slowly. I try to listen to at least 20 minutes of French news or, when I'm feeling it, television shows. I find that little by little it gets easier to understand. Hang in there. And practice every day.

Bon courage.

January 20, 2019

I think for most people understanding spoken language and speaking is hard. DL does not help in that it has very little spoken language (the stories are god though).

I spend 3-4 hours a week with a Hungarian who is trying to improve his English. We are both past the learn grammar stage so take turns talking about stuff. If either of us is stuck sometimes the other can help and sometimes the dictionary comes out, and sometimes it is just repeating a word that we've seen in print but never used in real life. Basically, like the rest it is repetition - ideally with someone who wants to communicate (immersion in the normal flow can be very frustrating).

The other thing I have recently started is "shadowing" - trying to match speech for a short dialog or text. Initially I only get bits and then more then the whole thing.

January 20, 2019

I've done lots of work in languages, but one of the most challenging for me was Japanese -- the normal rate of speech is rrrreally fast, syllables get left out and/or blurred etc. I imagine it must be like that for you listening to French.

What helped me learn Japanese (colloquial, not bookish) fastest was watching the original Star Trek in Japanese (no subtitles at that time) while I was living in Japan.

I'd suggest looking for a favourite movie or TV series (something you're already quite familiar with) and finding a version dubbed into French. Because you kinda know what's going on already, you have a better chance of figuring out what's going on. A lot of DVD/Blu-ray discs have optional language tracks now.

Because this was Trek imported into Japan for Japanese, it was just dubbed (no subtitles). Those old shows did more for my Japanese than any other single tactic. Even in my other languages, I find subtitles helpful if I don't know the language, but distracting if I do. I'm too busy comparing what I hear with what I read (and having two languages going on in your head at the same time can drive you bonkers), and I forget / miss the visual details that would otherwise give me clues. And besides, mostly the subtitles go by too fast for me to follow . . . even in English, my home language!

There are now also "News in slow [French, German, etc" options on the web. Here's one (if you just google "news in slow French" a bunch will show up).

While your disabilities .m.a.y. affect what you hear, remember that even in English you don't actually "hear" every word in a movie or news program. Your experience with the language gives you clues and you "insert" the (mostly correct) guesses to figure it out. So when you don't have that experience to fall back on (like in French) it can be super challenging. As others have said in this thread, patience grasshopper.

Could you actually take dictation from an English movie and write down every word accurately? Native speakers of all languages do things that drive learners a bit crazy. A couple of examples from French-Canadian French: in casual conversation, you mostly won't hear "je suis" -- it becomes "chu" or "choui". A famous French Canadian singer, Robert Charlebois, capitalized on this in his song, Lindberg. "Je ne sais pas" becomes "sh-sepa" (you didn't miss the "ne"-- it's gone completely).

Nobody. speaks. with. spaces. between. the. words. the way. we. see. them. on. the. page. either.

Patience, grasshopper. Give it time (and some old movies, dubbed). The older the better, for learners, because old-school actors were actually trained to enunciate.

You WILL find a way that works for you.

January 20, 2019

This is an excellent discussion, and not just limited to French. I think it would be worth editing the original post and changing the topic to "Duolingo" so learners of all languages could weigh in and/or benefit from it.

You might want to look for a language exchange partner. I've had good luck with Conversation Exchange, but there are many places that can help you find one. - you create an account and then search for practice partners. You can search by various criteria such as gender, age, nationality, hobbies. You can search for pen pals, audio chat partners, or video chat partners. You can use their internal messaging service if you don't want to give out your email address.

Also check out iTalki, weSpeke, Busuu, HelloTalk, Tandem, and goSpeaky.

January 20, 2019

Lrtward MOD, hello!

"This is an excellent discussion, and not just limited to French. I think it would be worth editing the original post and changing the topic to "Duolingo" so learners of all languages could weigh in and/or benefit from it."

I am agreeing with you. I have studied English and was start French about half years ago, but I like to have benefited from this site.

Thank you

January 22, 2019

If I were you, watch a TV show or movie in French with English subtitles for a couple of times and then ditch them on the 3-4th time on watching the movie. It can be boring after a but I would give it a go if you are trying to improve your French

January 20, 2019

Yes, repetition is the key. Also consider French with French subtitles to link the French speaking and writing (and to make it less likely to switching into translating-into-English mode.

January 20, 2019

Difficulties learning languages

FranciscoA987246, hello!

Thanks for sharing your experience. It is very similar to my experience in learning languages. I speak two languages ​well, Russian and Hebrew. Hebrew learned in courses and lectures in the University. And now I am learning English and French with Duolingo, as I have been living in Quebec province in Canada for about a year. I did not see success in my studies until I made a dictionary of 3,000 most commonly used words, gathered words that I don’t know and search for them from films, audiobooks, etc. For example, I watch a film in English with English captions with stops, until I understand almost everything aurally about what they are talking about. The same with the audiobook. And I am learning the words that I have already written in my dictionary. Of course, I have used other pieces of advice and have learned many hours.

I wish you success.

January 21, 2019

I completely agree with you - Despite having reached level 25 in French, I am still really struggling to understand sentences with more than one clause - I was thinking about listening to something intended for french pre-school age children and working my way up - going to try German next and see if I can understand that any better - good luck though

January 23, 2019

You've finished step one - probably about A2. There are quite a few more levels to conquer - but it is beyond DL. That said, DL is a comfortable way to tick over what you have learnt. (Also try doing a English tree from French)

January 23, 2019
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