A Language Learner's Guide to Mindset, Mantras & Emotions

mindset in language learning

When was the last time you felt discouraged by a language learning setback?

Discouragement and insecurity get the best of everyone from time to time, but the worst part is that we’re afraid to admit it. Even in a community of language learners, we have a bad habit of hiding in fear during our setbacks and comparing ourselves to those who are experiencing success.

Think back to a time you doubted yourself. Did you ever wonder:

  • Am I learning the right way?

  • Why am I not making more progress?

  • Why does it seem like everyone else is having an easier time progressing?

  • How can I stop making so many mistakes?

  • Will I ever be able to learn this language?

If so, you’re not the only one to feel trapped in this sort of negative mindset. It’s a part of life.

What really matters is the steps you take to keep moving forward.

On The Podcast

Listen to this podcast with me and Lindsay Williams to explore more about creating a mindset that will help you learn another language:

What is a Mindset?

Maybe you’ve heard about mindsets before, but what does it all mean?

Like a narrative, a mindset is the mental filter you add to everything that happens in your life. It colours the way you look at the world. For example, when you’re in love, people say you have rose-tinted glasses. You’re so happy and full of endorphins that it doesn’t even matter if someone cuts you off in traffic.

But when you’re having a bad experience in the morning, it can also make you more aware of the next sub-ideal thing. Then, before you know it, you’re having a bad day.

This is a form of priming, which happens when your response to something is shaped by a previous influence. It can affect multiple aspects of our lives including our language learning efforts.

That means, when you find yourself in a negative mindset, it can change the way you view your language learning progress.

Having Negative or Limiting Thoughts?

Now that you’re aware of those pesky negative mindsets, it’s time to change them.

Of course, that’s easier said than done.

One of the first questions you might want to ask yourself is whether you’re being held back by a fixed mindset.

What does that mean?

In learning and education, there is a theory that the presence of either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset can change the way children process difficult tasks and deal with failure. The Growth Mindset theory has been researched by psychologists Carol Dweck and her team.

In short, a fixed mindset is one that believes you cannot change. It’s the idea that insists that you aren’t capable or intelligent enough to conquer the difficulties you face.

Meanwhile, a growth mindset is the idea that you can develop your intelligence to improve and that your continued efforts will lead to success.

Now, think about your own doubts. Are they a part of a fixed mindset that’s keeping you from feeling like you have the ability to succeed?

Do You Believe Language Learning is Difficult?

If you’ve ever thought...

  • "__ is a hard language. I don’t think I can do it."

  • "Am I studying enough? Is my method effective? What is my learning style and what is everyone else doing?"

  • "I’m just not at the level I should be. I’m just not doing well enough and I keep trying but I cannot get the concepts right. Everyone else is progressing more quickly."

  • "I’m too old and forgetful now, my brain isn’t what it used to be."

  • "I’m never going to get to the point where I can effortlessly understand. It’s never going to be easy."

..what you might really be saying to yourself is this:

"I’m not smart enough."

"Can I trust myself?"

"I can’t get there."

"I’m not allowed to have fun. Learning this is suffering."

Obstacles can be very real. Depending on your access, opportunity, disability, education, etc., you might not be progressing as quickly as someone else. You might not know about a different method that would suit you a bit better or have the ability to use other resources.

However, the theory behind adopting a growth mindset is not an assumption that your thoughts can magically make everything better. Instead, it’s a way to improve your own self-image and begin recognising your worth and celebrating the skills, talents, resourcefulness, and grit that you do have.

By consciously changing these negative thought patterns, you acknowledge that you are always capable of becoming the best version of yourself and that you’re not the only one.

How to Challenge Your Negative Ideas

Working against a negative mindset, is its own challenge. So, where should you start?

Remember that if you find yourself stuck in a negative, fixed mindset, the only way to start making progress again is to create a new perspective for yourself. Your first step is to promote a growth mindset within yourself by remembering that intelligence is not a fixed, limited capacity that cannot be changed.

In other words, it’s impossible to not be smart enough because you can always learn and improve.

For example, in a school setting, educators and parents are encouraged to use open language that highlights effort and removes the idea of natural talent. This way, children are less likely to adopt a fixed mindset about their abilities and intelligence.

You can use a similar strategy for our own language learning efforts with the help of mantras.

Let’s Make Some Mantras!

If you’ve ever tried meditating, you might already know about mantras. Whether in the form of a word, a phrase, or simply a sound, mantras help us focus our thoughts. They can help change our perception.

This makes them valuable for turning our negative, fixed thoughts into ones that can help us progress.

Mantras can promote overall self-esteem to boost confidence:

  • I approve of myself and feel great about myself.

  • My high self-esteem enables me to respect others and beget respect in turn.

  • I accept others as they are and they in turn accept me as I am.

  • It matters little what others say. What matters is how I react and what I believe.

  • I have high self-esteem as I respect myself.

  • I am solution-minded. Any problem that comes up in life is solvable.

They can also speak directly to your language learning difficulties:

  • I am a smart and capable language learner.

  • I grow with every word I say in my new language.

  • I am soaking up new knowledge like a sponge.

  • If you believe you’re going to fail, you are probably going to fail.

  • If you believe you’re going to succeed, you can.

These are just a few examples of mantras you can begin to use. You can also create more personalized mantras by:

  • Adding the word "yet" to a negative sentence. I’m not prepared to speak yet.

  • Thinking of what you are worried about or afraid of and imagining yourself overcoming that.

    • What is that situation like? How do you feel? How do you move and sound when you’re getting there? Put that feeling into a sentence that you can say to yourself again and again.

Remember that there are no rules for what your mantra has to sound like. Some people like a long mantra while others prefer a single line. You can even search online to find something that speaks to you.

Affirm Your Progress

There will always be setbacks and challenges. Just as making mistakes helps you learn a language, these difficulties and mental blocks can help you grow.

No matter what you face during your language learning journey, tell yourself that:

  • Yes, you do get to decide that you are good at this. It’s not an outrage. No one will check.

  • You are working hard enough for the results you are getting. Give yourself some credit and allow yourself to play with and enjoy your new language.

Then, the next time you hit a roadblock, you can ask yourself, "What can I do to get around this?"

Because you will get around it.

Need a bit of help?

Keep some positive affirmation cards handy for those days when you don’t feel very motivated. You can get a free set of language learning specific affirmations here.