At the beginning of 2016, I decided to meet with other professional language teachers in order to discuss how our students did the previous year. As we reviewed and compared our students and their progress, we noticed some similarities, specifically that many of them did not finish the language programs that they had started.
Concerned, we decided to contact the students directly and ask them their thoughts as to why this had occurred. While we received many different answers, there were some common themes throughout the responses. After discussing these similarities, my colleagues and I came up with a list of the most common problems student face when learning a foreign language.
This article will specifically look at the five most common ones that we encountered. I hope that by discussing these issues openly, students can learn to overcome these problems in their language learning process.
Problem #1: “I don’t feel very motivated”
A language course can normally last for about two years. However, students often begin losing motivation long before those two years are over. Much of this stems from the fact that when students first start learning a foreign language, their motivation is extremely high because everything is so new and exciting. At this point, the lessons are easy and fun. However, as the course continues and the topics get harder, some classes can start to feel routine or even boring. This causes students to lose interest, and many decide to quit going to their classes as a result.
The best way to overcome this problem is to think back and remember why you started studying a new language in the first place. Was it to get a better job? To travel? To communicate your ideas more effectively with native speakers?
There are plenty of reasons that motivate students, but take a moment to think about why you personally want to learn a language and what you could obtain from speaking fluently. You can also try using motivational phrases like “I want to study because…” and “the most important reason for me to study is…” right before each lesson in order to start your class in a state of high motivation.
Problem #2: “I feel like I haven’t advanced at all in the program”
As a professional language teacher, I have found that many students get frustrated at the progress of their learning. Even though most of them are at an intermediate level, they keep on telling themselves “I am not that good” or “I only know a little bit.”
What these students should remember is that even though they may feel frustrated, they have in fact already learned a great deal of information and have practically become experts on certain grammar rules. You should, therefore, avoid being preoccupied by the idea that you are not advancing in your learning program. Otherwise, that is exactly what you will end up believing and you’ll start thinking that you haven’t achieved anything.
A good way to combat this is to keep track of how much you’ve learned by celebrating every little step. Each time you finish a chapter in your book or achieve a goal, reward yourself with an ice cream or something you have wanted for some time. You can also keep a record of your lessons and topics. That way, you will be more aware of how well you are doing and be able to check off each goal that you have achieved.
Problem #3: “I don’t have anyone to practice with”
Another issue that many students have trouble with is that they can’t find anyone to practice with. Online learning is a great tool for addressing this problem. italki, in particular, offers a great opportunity to students by providing a platform through which they can contact other students who are learning the same language or native speakers who are willing to help.
Furthermore, you should try to create as many language learning opportunities for yourself as possible. If you have the chance to travel to a country where the language you are learning is spoken, do it! Being surrounded by native speakers will develop your conversational, listening, and cultural skills at a very high rate.
Finally, if you cannot travel to another country, go out and find a group of students on your own and organize a meeting to practice. You can meet in person or schedule a group video call where you can share your experiences, debate about random topics or even play some speaking games.
Problem #4: “I already know enough”
Many students never complete their language course because they start thinking that some topics are unnecessary. As a course advances, students begin to learn some very high level topics specifically focused on pronunciation, conversation, idioms and expressions that build on previous topics and strengthen knowledge.
However, before reaching this point, students may feel that they already have very good knowledge of the language because they are able to easily handle basic conversation. Therefore, they may begin to believe that they do not need to study any further. Despite this, there often remains many useful expressions, synonyms, adjectives, idioms and nouns that student are completely unaware of. Even though they may feel like they can speak fluently, they will get stuck at some point and will not achieve full fluency. At least not until they begin their studies once again.
Problem #5: “I got a very bad grade on my last test”
Getting a bad grade on a test is reason enough for any student to become disappointed. This feeling can be made even worse when the student believes that the course is advancing so fast that they are being left behind. In the student’s mind, the exam has showed that they have not understood many topics at all, and now they may have to start again from scratch.
A situation such as this could definitely be overwhelming and disheartening for a student. If you find yourself in such a predicament, it would be a good idea to schedule some private tutoring sessions. italki is an ideal place to do this, as they have many professional teachers who can help you to understand what you are having problems with. Furthermore, italki also offers instant tutoring sessions, so you can have your concerns addressed by a teacher immediately, if necessary.
In conclusion, there are various obstacles that can impede students from completing their language courses. Be sure to stay motivated by thinking about what you’ll be able to accomplish once you speak fluently. As mentioned before, learning a new language is at least a two year process. During this time, you may encounter factors that will cause you to become demotivated, but there are also many ways to overcome these. Do not give up and keep doing your best to achieve your language learning goals!