Progress and perseverance in learning languages

Persevere! Don’t stop progressing!

I try to work on my languages every day, which can be a challenge.  Frankly, I’m getting frustrated with myself that I’m not spending more time on them than I am.  I feel like I don’t do enough, that my progress is too slow.  People, though, have an easier time beating themselves up about what they’re not doing than seeing what they are doing, which is not entirely honest.  This point of view focuses on only one part, the negative, rather than look at the big picture, usually positive and negative.  I want to take an honest assessment of where I am and what I am doing with my languages.

For several weeks I have not been studying vocabulary cards or creating new ones as much as I used to.  Part of the reason is change of work (at my previous job I had a lot more control over the workflow), and part is change in dedication.  So recently I decided to dedicate 10-15 minutes of vocab study per night before bed if I haven’t had a chance to look at them during the day.  I’m looking for places in my day where I could be studying my vocabulary cards but am not.


The language I’ve decided to focus on for this year, 2012, is Farsi, but that is becoming more difficult because I have to be more deliberate in speaking it.  The only native speakers I know are our elderly neighbors down the street.  When I see them outside, I say hello, but I don’t “pop by” as often as I probably could.  Farsi podcasts have not occupied as much of my time recently as they have in past, either.  I haven’t read Farsi articles or created new flashcards for a month.  Progress in Farsi has clearly slowed.


Somali is taking up a much larger percentage of my language time.  I share a cube at work with a Somali, so I always use my phrases (eg, “We’re very busy today,” “Let’s go for a walk,” “How do you say . . . ?,” “See you tomorrow,” “Say hello to your family”).  To be honest, I speak Somali nearly every day, if but for a few minutes of stock phrases.  I learn new phrases once a week or so.  For some reason it’s been easier to focus on phrases than words.  I’m pleased that a new temp will come on Monday who is Somali.  I’ll be able to speak more!


This week I also needed to dust off my Spanish for a quest.  I had to find a place close by where I can buy yerba mate tea (a tea consumed in central South America).  So I had to start calling around.  The woman answered the phone in Spanish, and did not slow down once she heard my strongly-accented, gringo Spanish.  They didn’t have it (“only Mexican groceries”), so I went to go drive around.  I found a market that had some yerba mate, and when I brought it to the counter, the check-out lady asked me how much it cost.  I proudly told her it cost $3.49, but I couldn’t explain that there was a price tag underneath, stuck to the shelf.  Through pantomime, she understood “underneath” (abajo).  When I tried to get her to tell me the word for “shelf” she couldn’t understand my pantomime.  Fortunately, her friend worked it out for me (estante).  Amazingly, the entire conversation happened in Spanish–no English.  (This encounter makes me want my kids to learn Spanish, as it made me think the Twin Cities have more monolingual Spanish-speakers than I thought.)


I speak my other, better languages somewhat regularly.  We have a French table that we started up at work.  I also met a couple Russians this week, so I had some conversations.  I learned less than with the above languages, but these encounters help me maintain my level.

Clearer vantage point

From this more honest vantage point, I see that I’m still working on and using my languages.  When I think of “progress” I’m thinking narrowly about Farsi and Somali, and less about my more established languages.  I see that learning a language where I have regular contact with native speakers makes a big difference, which is why learning Somali goes more smoothly than Farsi.  It also makes me think that on-line resources where I could meet Farsi speakers to Skype with would be a good idea–if I could set aside the time.  More visits to the neighbors would also be a good idea.  In the end, I’m reminded that I can be a perfectionist, and that progress often goes more slowly than I want it to.  Progress is progress in language study as long as there is perseverance–I really want to remember this.

How is your language going?  Are you making some sort of daily progress?  Are you honest about how much progress you’re making, or do you over- or underestimate?  How about you other learning/writing/etc projects?

8 thoughts on “Progress and perseverance in learning languages

  1. Glad to see it’s not just me! Work has been getting in the way lately, so I’ve been way off my targets. On days when I can’t do anything, I try to at least listen to the radio (French at the moment) as I work. Passive input is better than nothing I suppose!


  2. Pingback: To be American is to be multilingual « Loving Language

  3. Pingback: Overcoming fear to end a slump « Loving Language

  4. Pingback: Re-motivation: Sharpening the axe « Loving Language

  5. Pingback: Just make progress! « Loving Language

  6. Pingback: Don’t just practice–engage! « Loving Language

  7. Pingback: What I learned about language-learning: 2012 « Loving Language

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.