Overcoming fear to end a slump

Overcome fear by action (Image by Stuart Miles, FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Overcome fear by action (Image by Stuart Miles, FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

I’m living a language slump—since the summer, my Farsi has not advanced much. Learning a language, I explain to people, is like filling a bucket with holes. At this point, more is coming out of my Farsi “bucket” than is going in. I know less on December 1 than I did on August 1. This lack of progress makes me feel defeated—and ultimately fear blocks me and keeps me from moving forward.

The surface sources of my slow progress are clear. First, my schedule changed drastically as I moved to a new state and to a new job with a radically different daily schedule and set of expectations. So I spend little time going through my words during the day or looking for new ones. Second, the foreign language I run into most often is Somali, not Farsi, so that language draws more of my attention. Moreover, beginning a new language (like Somali) keeps my attention much more than the intermediate doldrums of Farsi. Third, I’m working on building a Somali/immigrant language movement in my city, and that takes time for communication and organization, which takes time away from potential Farsi study.

Sometimes I long for a teacher. One reason is I want the accountability of a regular language meeting. Another reason is that I need controlled, intermediate input. The input from podcasts and newspapers can be overwhelming; it takes a lot of chewing to digest it. When I spend focused time on them, though, I get something valuable out of it. I want someone else to help me overcome my slump.

In fact, teachers are waiting for me. Through Livemocha—where I haven’t checked in for months—I have tens of friend requests, many from Iran. Iran is ten hours later than me, which means that at 8 or 9 pm my time, I could have an early morning session with someone in Iran, or at 6-7 am my time, I could meet with someone in Iran at the end of the work day. These folks want to learn English, too, so we could do a language exchange.

To be honest, I’m afraid to make the time commitment. My old job used to have a flexible schedule, and I spent 80% of my time by myself. Now I have to be places at particular times and work with people the entire time. Flexible, alone time—especially if it can be at home—has become a terribly valuable commodity.

I have a fear of shortage; this is the real obstacle to my Farsi progress. I’m afraid that I don’t have enough time.  Fear has stopped me, and fear has become my normal state. I need to confront fear and overcome my static inertia, thus moving my self forward again.The next step is to assume the opposite: I have enough time.  By making that initial investment, I will overcome the inertia and get moving.  Investing in a teacher would work; a 30- to 60-minute per week commitment would improve my Farsi by a lot.  These lessons would lead to visible progress—and enjoyment and connection—on a regular basis, so I would feel encouraged to work here and there (e.g., vocabulary cards and podcasts) and to visit my elderly neighbors more often.

What does fear keep you from doing? How do you confront it to overcome the inertia it causes?


14 thoughts on “Overcoming fear to end a slump

  1. This is such a relevant post because we’ve all been there, in that slump. Commiting to a teacher- even for just a month or two- might give you a huge boost of motivation. I’d been putting Spanish on hold for years and recently dragged myself to 2 months of local classes and found them to be really inspiring, enough to keep me going independently at home for several more months. Once you stoke the internal fires of your motivation, it will be easier to find those little blocks of time for flashcards, podcasts, and visiting your neighbors. There’s also that old trick of using your waiting time, especially if you’re on a fixed work schedule: can you review flashcards while waiting for people to answer to phone or put a list of 10 new words by your work computer every day?

    I’ve been following your blog for a while and have to say- even if you doubt yourself right now, I think you still work harder and get more language learning in than most of us! : ) You seem to always find ways to make it work.

    Have you tried italki for a language exchange? I haven’t used it myelf yet but I’ve heard that with the 50/50 language exchange, they’ll match you up with a native speaker who is online at that moment. Then you won’t have to arrange something ahead of time, you can just get online and start practicing when you’re ready.


  2. I feel your pain! Change the word ‘Farsi’ to ‘Bulgarian’ or ‘Chinese’ in this post, and it would be a spot-on description of where I am at the moment. Intermediate doldrums – it’s so true. I think it really is the hardest place to be. There are peaks and troughs throughout the learning process, but that intermediate trough is a tough one, especially if you have no one to help you get out of it. How about writing off December, and making Farsi a new year goal. (new year, new you! 😉 )That’s what I’m planning to do, but it’s easier said than done isn’t it!


  3. Aw, you’ve analysed this fear thing so well… anyone who’s ever embarked on language learning has crashed into this block. I think more important than making a commitment is making a commitment that you can keep. You can probably find 30 minutes twice a week. Or one exchange session. Part of the problem seems to be that you haven’t quite adjusted to your new work routine yet. Maybe give it another week or two, instead of overloading yourself…?


    1. I think you’ve nailed it. I want to make a commitment I can keep, but am still adjusting to a new rhythm. I think I’m just not clear in my own head what I can expect of myself. Thanks for the insight.


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  9. You nailed it! That inertia and fear that the clock is always racing against me is a language learning killer. I deal with it by moving to the country where my target language is spoken. It forces me to engage in the language in my daily life, so even if I don’t make time for lessons or flashcards or tutors, I’m still making some progress. And then I have to keep reminding myself that I came here for the language. I have to keep putting it on the top of the priority pile, because it can easily get buried under life’s other responsibilities and pleasures!


    1. You’re right! Language and people first. All the other stuff you’re doing right now you can do anywhere for the rest of your life. Living in Taiwan is a unique opportunity. Suck the language marrow out of the bones of all the people you meet! 🙂


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