Learning a new language is a huge and difficult task. Too many people think that learning a new language is as easy as it appears in TV and movies, where people go from knowing a single word to being fluent in the course of a single inspirational montage. The reality of language learning is a long, arduous and often incredibly frustrating process that is filled with obstacles and roadblocks.
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What are these roadblocks to language learning? People do gain fluency in languages so there must be a way to overcome them, no? Well, yes, as a matter of fact, there are many good ways to overcome these obstacles, and we’ll describe them in more detail below. Be under no illusions, however, because while these methods exist, none of them are exactly “easy” without a truck load of hard work to go with it.
Roadblock 1: Pronunciation
Solution: Practice with a Native-Speaker Teacher
The first stumbling block many encounter on their language-learning journey is with strange and alien pronunciation patterns. Some languages are so different from our mother tongue, that the very sounds that come out of the mouths of its native speakers are just bizarre. For a native French speaker, for instance, the sounds of Korean are totally bamboozling both in their vowel and consonant sounds.
The best solution to this roadblock is working with a native speaker and letting them help you get to grips with it. A teacher who shares your own mother tongue can work, but very often even their pronunciation isn’t near the perfection of a native speaker. Even just a single session each week with a native speaker to focus on different pronunciation points can see you make quick progress. Obviously, more progress can typically offer more progress, but work at your own pace.
Roadblock 2: The Intermediate “Wall”
Solution: Raising the Bar on Practice Materials
Next, there is a very common phenomenon that occurs when learners get past the elementary stages of their target language, sailing with ease toward intermediate learning before suddenly hitting a wall, or what some might describe as a plateau. From there, students start to feel that their progress has stalled and they’re no longer climbing towards the advanced-level content as they expected they would be.
To feel as though you are running out of steam in your language learning is indeed a very common phenomenon, and it’s not easy to overcome…not at first, anyway. One of the reasons you’ve hit this intermediate wall is that you are not offering yourself enough of a challenge. In the early stages, everything was new and challenging, and you rose to meet that challenge, thinking it was easy and that you could just use the same amount of “challenge fuel” to rocket up your path all the way to the linguistic stratosphere. The trouble is, if you want to get into advanced-level language orbit, then you need more of that “fuel.”
To drive your progress to the advanced level, you have to significantly raise the challenge level by putting much more difficult material in front of yourself --- longer, more in-depth articles; native-speaking podcasts where they talk at a natural speed; real-world news bulletins; challenging poetic and scientific language --- to force yourself to work harder and fuel your progress.
Roadblock 3: Meandering, Aimless Learning
Solution: Work Towards an Exam Goal
A third roadblock people encounter is getting to the stage where they have learned a lot already, and now are just feeling a bit directionless in their instruction. They’re attending classes, reading practice materials, adding vocabulary to their knowledge base each day, but there’s no clear sense of any end goal. They’re asking themselves, “what’s the point?”
If your learning is starting to feel aimless and you’re not sure in which direction to take it, then the best solution is to explore an official examination or accreditation and start working towards it. For those learning English, there are the IELTS, TOEFL and similar tests. For Chinese learners, there’s the HSK examination. These are officially recognized certificates that prove your current level.
Such exams require dedication, preparation, and structured learning and practice. They will help provide you with a framework on which to base your learning.
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