trying to learn a language
➡  How to learn 📆 17 October 2023 ✍️  Konrad Jerzak vel Dobosz

Have you ever felt like whichever language you’re learning is not progressing? You’re stuck or you’re putting a lot of effort, but nothing gives?

I deal with these kinds of issues practically every day. I receive numerous emails in which people write things like:

“I’m trying to start learning a new language, but I don’t know where to begin.”

Some of them attend my workshops to learn specific methods and techniques. But in reality, they should start with something completely different.

A story about “Trying vs. Doing”

Have you watched ‘Star Wars’? Maybe you remember the training that Luke Skywalker underwent with Master Yoda to become a Jedi knight. One of the tasks he was given turned out to be quite challenging.

Yoda asked Luke to use the power of his mind to lift a spaceship that was stuck in a swamp. Although Luke had previously succeeded in moving stones, this time he struggled immensely and couldn’t achieve the desired result. 

You probably know how he felt. Often, after a few foreign language lessons, we dive into the deep end and try to watch a movie in its original language. It turns out to be beyond our capabilities.

Luke began to get frustrated with his helplessness and turned to Yoda for assistance. The master explained to him that the lack of results was due to a mental block: Luke believed that moving the ship was more challenging than moving stones. 

Luke felt somewhat more confident and responded: “All right. Then I’ll try.”

Yoda then said something very important to him:

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

Are you in a similar situation to Luke’s? You say you’ll try to study today. But, by the end of the day, you didn’t have time for it.

When you say, “I’ll try,” you’re actually looking for excuses. You’re postponing something. Trying to find justification – trying to convince yourself that something is so difficult that you have to “try” instead of just doing it.

So, how can you deal with this situation?

First, think about why you want to start something. Do you really want it, or do you feel like you have to do it? 

During my workshop, I asked participants an interesting question: “Is there something you should be doing when learning languages, but you’re not doing it?” 

Then I asked them, “Who told you that you should do it?” 

Silence fell. 

For many of them, it was an eye-opening moment.

Indeed, it often concerned activities that didn’t yield any results, like rote memorization of vocabulary. We have the impression that we must memorize words because it was required in school. However, this doesn’t happen because it helps us learn English or another language. Remembering memorized words is just easier to grade on a test. 

Some teachers even claim that their students lack talent or “language intelligence.” Why? Because they struggle on quizzes where they are asked to list memorized words. Of course, their grades are poor. No one teaches them the way they should. 

Are you learning a language to get good grades or to actually speak it? 

Here, it’s also a good idea to take to heart another piece of advice from Yoda that he gave to Luke:

 “You have to forget what you have learned earlier.”

You should, therefore, discover which techniques or exercises yield results for you. Then everything will go smoothly. Don’t force yourself to do something you don’t like. Look for an alternative. You won’t have to say, “I’ll try to do something.” Instead, you’ll say, “I’ll do it.”

The answer to one important question

Think about why you’re avoiding learning as well. What obstacles are in your way? What are your barriers to learning?

There’s always some problem behind our procrastination that we need to address first. Maybe you don’t know exactly what to do? Which method to use? Perhaps you have so many books or apps that you can’t decide what to use? Or maybe you can’t find the time to study? Are you afraid of failure? Do you believe you can’t do it?

There could be a thousand reasons, but if you ask the right questions, you’ll discover the true cause within yourself.

Always remember that when Luke stopped “trying” and started taking action, he lifted the ship out of the swamp. You can do it too. If you’re unsure where to start, recall the inspiring words of Walt Disney:

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

So what’s holding you back from learning? What’s your swamp that’s keeping you in your current place?

Article originally published at in Polish. You can find it here.

Konrad Jerzak vel Dobosz

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