on August 05 2012 06:02 pm 0

Are You Trapped in a Language Bubble?

Trapped in a Language BubbleIf you’re not already fluent in English and you’re reading this, then congratulations–you’re not stuck! But if you’re already fluent, well, you might just be stuck.


How often do you take the time to use your target language outside actual lessons? Daily? Now and then? Never? (Hint: the correct answer is “daily.” :) )


My English students often complained of having trouble understanding spoken English. But you know what? Few of them bothered to listen to English regularly. Well, you can’t improve your listening skills by reading about connected speech and elisions. (Okay, you can a little, but not that much.)

How You Get Trapped by Your Native Language


Part of this is a psychological hurdle. If you think of using a foreign language as “studying,” the language becomes unappealing. If it’s just part of life–which it should be–it becomes natural and comfortable. So the goal is to make the language you’re learning a natural part of your life as much as you can even if you’re still at beginner level.


Another common complaint is that it’s slower and harder to do things in a foreign language. Of course it’s harder! It’s harder because you don’t have enough experience with the language. But you won’t get that experience unless you use the language. Sometimes you just have to push through. When you realize how much you’re learning, though, the effort is well worth it.


Temperament is yet another issue. Some people find it frustrating or boring to listen to something when they can’t understand the vast majority of it. If boredom is your problem, stick with material that’s close to your level. The more you understand, the more you’ll stay interested.


If it’s frustration you struggle with, work on letting go of your need to be perfect. Develop your tolerance for ambiguity. It’s a huge asset to have when it comes to learning a foreign language. Easier said than done, I know, but perfectionism isn’t helping you if it’s keeping you from getting listening practice. (Need ideas? I’ve got a whole post on dealing with frustration when learning a foreign language.)


Even if you understand only 10 percent, you’re still getting valuable practice. Try listening every day for just two weeks and I bet you’ll notice improvements. That’s not to say you should always listen to material you can barely understand–just don’t avoid it completely.


I know some languages don’t lend themselves to learning by “just listening” and I know for the rarer languages it can be hard to find material. Chances are, though, you’ll find some material out there in your target language and gain something by listening to it.


For the more common languages, the internet makes finding listening material ridiculously easy.


Get More Listening Practice


If you’ve been struggling to understand natural-speed speech in your target language, but haven’t been doing much listening, make a commitment to listen daily.

  • Watch a 10-minute video on YouTube every day.
  • Listen to 5 or 10 minutes of a radio broadcast.
  • Rent or download a movie once a week.
  • Make use of listening material with transcripts. These help you learn to hear word boundaries and make out tricky sounds.
  • Talk with someone at least once week, in person or online. There’s no real replacement for this.
  • Songs are great, too, although they don’t replace hearing the spoken word.

But Not Just Listening


I’ve focused on listening because it’s one of the most common areas of difficulty. Beyond listening, though, the more you can work your target language into your life the better. It’s often just a matter of noticing what you’re doing and thinking, “Could I do this in (French, Japanese, whatever)?”

  • Need a recipe for dinner tonight? Look one up in your target language on Google.
  • Wondering how often to water your African violet? Google it in your target language
  • Need to make a grocery list or a to-do list? Use your target language! (Simple, huh?)
  • Have a hobby? Learn more about it in your target language.
  • Need some light reading material? Pick up some magazines in your target language, even if you have to order them online.


The main thing is not to treat the language you’re learning like a school subject, but as part of your normal life.


Have ideas on how to get more daily foreign language practice? Share them in the comments section below!

Related posts:

  1. How to Deal with Frustration When You’re Learning a Language
  2. How to Fix ā€œI’m Not Good with Languages.ā€
  3. 10 Ways to Get Started Learning a Foreign Language Today
  4. Learning a Foreign Language Online: Cheap and Convenient or a Waste of Time?
  5. How to Learn Second Language Without Stress

Filed under Mindset,Strategy Planning

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