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

Psychology and mindset are a big success factor for learning another language, so in this article I will look deep into the eye of the success storm and share the best ways that you can find a growth mindset for language learning success.

This article is great for language teachers and students and features lots of practical tips and a podcast episode.

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How to Get The Perfect Accent

Learning a language is a long journey, and even after many years of dedication it can still feel like you're far from arriving.

One of the milestones we hope to hit along the way is to start creating a 'perfect accent' in another language, so we can fit in well. But how is that done? Read more to find out my tips for improving your accent in any language, step by step.

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Seven Questions Any Language Learner Needs To Answer

My friend Daniela wants to learn German, so she got in touch to ask me:

  • How to find resources that will be right for her

  • Which goals she should set to make sure she makes progress and stays motivated

  • How to ensure she stays motivated

Click “Learn More” to discover my 7 coaching questions that you can use to boost your language success, too!

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The Book That Will Change How You See Language Learning (+ Clever Notes & Action Plan FREE)

One of the most common things I hear from language learners is

becoming fluent book

"what is the best way to do this?" You want to know how to learn a language, in as much detail as possible.

And it's hard to answer that question once and for all, for everyone. People are different, and no one's going to teach you good habits overnight. I know there are plenty of players out there telling you that their way of doing flash cards or listening to native content is the real answer.

But seriously, guys. What it really takes is that you learn to understand your own smart and capable self. That's where a book like Becoming Fluent comes in.

By the way, I've gone ahead and done a little bit of hard work for you guys. You can now click the button below and download my book notes for Becoming Fluent along with a fab little action plan template so you know what to do next.

What Is Becoming Fluent?

Becoming Fluent is an impressive book in the field of language acquisition. It's written with the scientific background expected from academics. But that doesn't mean that language learners cannot apply it to their lives: Throughout the book, the authors mix explanations and practical tips. The book is written for adult learners who want to conquer another language, and goes into the following topics:

  • What do you have to do to make sure you become a successful language learner?
  • How can you choose the right target language to study?
  • What are the best
  • How important is it to know the culture and norms of people who speak your target language every day?
  • How can you get better at memorising and remembering more?

Why It's Awesome

There are many language learning books out in the market that tell you all about how wonderful the author's methods are. Most successful polyglot-style books follow this system. The logic is that if following certain steps made the author fluent in another language, then you can do the same by copying the steps.

In Becoming Fluent, I detected none of this. The authors do work from their own experience in languages but never claim to know all the answers. Each chapter is based on a new aspect of language learning and gives a neutral summary of what the science says, followed by practical advice.

I've never used or endorsed the "copy a winner" approach, and I don't think it's quite how things work for language learners. Success in language learning is about more than just playing the game right. The more you learn and discover about yourself, your habits, your preferences and strengths in language learning, the more you will approach a real ability to learn any language quickly.

So for me, Becoming Fluent was an outstanding book about language learning because it doesn't tell you what exactly to do. This one is about empowering yourself to find your own perfect method.

What Wasn't So Great

Becoming Fluent is smart and thorough and scientific, which is a big rarity in language learning. It's great to read such a sensible voice in our field. The book comes at language learning from so many different angles that some great aspects get a little lost.

I would have liked the book's action-focused tips to be highlighted or separated from the main text, making it easier to find exactly how to put new insights into action. As it is, Becoming Fluent does require you to put in a few hours for reading, but this is time well spent.

My Favourite Parts

  • All of chapter 2, which addresses the many lies and misleading beliefs that we hold in our heads before we even start learning. If you can only listen to/read one part of the book, this chapter is going to make a massive difference. It's a small window into how your brain trips you up.
  • This sentence in Chapter 3:

"The REAL test of how well you speak a language is how easily you communicate when you are using that language, and the pleasure you derive from speaking it."

  • The ideas behind common ground and the zone of proximal development, which are all about how you think of how good you are, how good other people are in comparison, and how you can get better step-by-step.
  • The focus on learning and speaking a language like an adult, not a kid or teenager. This focus builds great insights, for example the understanding that it's more important to be yourself in another language than to sound "exactly like all the native speakers".
  • The image of tutors and helpers as a Sherpa, i.e. Someone who's climbing the mountain with you, showing you the way, teaching you about the process as you're doing it.
  • The concept of cognitive overload, which explains exactly why and how and when you get tired.

Overall, I am very happy that I read Becoming Fluent and recommend you check it out too. I ordered my copy from the local library and am very glad that it's in their catalogue now. You can get your own printed copy in the same way, or order it from Amazon (here's the US link and the UK link).

Don’t forget, you can grab my full book notes (9 pages!) by clicking the button below. They include your own action plan template and a checklist of books to check out, so next you can be prepared on your next visit to the library or to Amazon.

If you want to try a faster read gives instructions on what to do, try Fluency Made Achievable (which is written by me, so you will definitely enjoy it if you like this blog).

Five Tips For Beating Embarrassment When Speaking Another Language

We've all been there: You're up for half an hour of speaking practice in your target language, and right after you say hello, you notice the first mistake tumble out. Not good. Now they think you're an idiot, and you've forgotten the word for "bread" and while you're racking your brain that pause becomes longer and your cheeks are glowing red. Time for the ground to open up!

If all that sounds familiar to you, you are not alone. Millions of language learners experience embarrassment when it comes to speaking practice. Especially when you're trying out your language in another country, it's almost impossible to feel prepared.

My personal threshold for embarrassment seems to be pretty high in most social situations, I have also experienced that crippling sense of looking truly foolish.

I won't get into that one time on a Russian airplane where the air hostess shouted incomprehensible things at me, I smiled throughout with lots of "da, da"...and later found out that they had been debating whether I could safely fly considering they thought I was pregnant. The shame!

But fear not, I've got some good advice to share with you today.

If you're ready to start saying no to embarrassment when speaking another language, here are four tips to help you feel better:

1) Prepare Your Speaking Partner

Chances are you are already pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone by speaking in another language. There is no need to add further discomfort to your challenge by talking to someone who is unlikely to support you. Strangers at the ticket counter, crazy air hostesses and even strict teachers are not the right people to choose for conversation practice when you are suffering from social anxiety or embarrassment.

Instead, try and hold on to what makes you feel comfortable right now. It helps to share your worries with your speaking partner before you start having to speak your target language. If it's a tutor, this will prompt them to be more patient and hold back on the corrections. If it's a friend, it can remind them to slow down and let you build your sentences slowly.

This technique of preparing your partner will help both of you feel more at ease, and ready to tackle this challenge together.

2) Focus On Your Breath

When anxious sensations take hold, your body responds by tensing up, raising your heartbeat and even causing you to sweat and blush. That's the last thing you need when you are already worried about the many ways in which you're about to lose face.

Instead of freaking out about all the words you remember or forget, the best course of action is a simple calming exercise.

Focus on something that is real and constant, for example your own breath. Breathe in slowly for 4 seconds, retain your breath for 2 seconds if you can, and enjoy a long and restorative out breath for 8 seconds. Breathing exercises may not feel like the right tool for a foreign language panic, but you'll be surprised at how much language skill returns once that mental stormcloud is allowed to pass.

For more tips and techniques that help with overcoming stress and anxiety, try the SAM app on your smartphone. It's a little toolkit of instant self-help.

3) Build Up Your Filler Vocabulary

Filler sentences are a wonderful tool when you are getting ready for speaking practice. They're usually uncomplicated, short, easy to remember and very effective. Think of filler sentences as the extra cushioning that is built into conversations so each speaker gets some time to relax. In English, these are lines like "hold on", "let me think for a second" or "let me think".

As a little treat for the German learners among you, I've collected a bunch of fillers and stock sentences in the "Make Your German Sound Amazing" booklet, which you can download for free.

But what should you do if you haven't understood half of what your speaking partner just said?

You can buy yourself a little time by repeating the last words of their sentence, stretched out with some "Hm" sounds. This may tide you over until you can remember how to proceed, for example by asking them to repeat what they just said. It's perfectly acceptable for you to control some aspects of the conversation even if you don't know your target language very well yet.

4) Practice

Even if you follow every single one of the tips above, that feeling of embarrassment is unlikely to just dissolve into thin air. You may still feel discomfort in new situations, and it's still embarrassing to make mistakes. There's no way around this one: At some point, your only way is forward and right through the bad feelings.

Luckily, there is plenty of reward waiting for you on the other side, as you realize that your mistakes and awkward pauses did not cause the ground to open up and swallow you whole.

If you want to push your boundaries and go for speaking practice in a brand new situation, why not take advantage of your next trip abroad? We've got plenty of travel language tips on Episode 41 of the podcast.

Even better, put yourself into an immersion experience with other learners, for example in the Fluent German Retreat led by yours truly. These retreats aim to create a speaking environment that pushes your boundaries without embarrassment, helping you to realize how good you actually are.

It's Not Easy, But It's Worth It

These tips are just a few examples of the many small steps you can take to keep yourself from suffering crippling embarrassment in speaking practice. Keep yourself reminded that this is not easy, and the fact that you are even trying is a testament to your bravery.

And I promise you: The rewards of speaking a foreign language are just as great as you've imagined.

Have You Dealt With Embarrassment and Anxiety About Speaking?

If you've got a story you would like to share, go ahead and share it in the comments section for this post. I'd love to hear your own tips and experiences.

How to enjoy Language Learning more by being lousy at it

If you are a long-term follower of the Fluent blog, you might already be familiar with my love of Pinterest. I spend the odd free minute over on that website, admiring pictures, getting inspiration and using it to learn about education and teaching..

The Growth Mindset

Today I came across a really great graphic illustrating the growth mindset (previously discussed in episode 9 of the podcast), which is such a helpful way for language learners and strivers of any kind to treat perfectionism and become ongoing learners. Adopting a growth mindset has been proven to contribute to both learning success and happiness in scientific studies. In fact, it is absolutely invaluable for adult learners because it does away with this nonsensical myth of talent.

Here's the amazing core message:

Learn to enjoy being lousy.

That is all. Mind blown? Let's move on to this graphic showing how you can do it.

Thank you,  Ryan Thomas

Thank you, Ryan Thomas

Online Perfection

When you admire people's well-prepared Youtube videos and considered posts that outline their study routines, it is all too easy to feel inferior. A fixed mindset keeps you trapped in those situations, it forces you to feel that the situation is unfair and you are lagging way behind. But the growth mindset would look at another person's success, then look at what you are accomplishing and say "I don't need approval, I want to gain more knowledge!". In fact, I cannot say this any better than Edudemic already has, so please head over and read the following article on the Growth Mindset. Inspiring, fantastic stuff.

Use Growth for Everything

If you are struggling with adopting this mindset for your language learning, think of other learning situations you have been in during your life. Driving, cooking, sewing, musical instruments. We all started out pretty terrible at those, and the more you do it, the better you get. Yes, that's all of us. German and Arabic and Tagalog are no different.

If you want to read more about using Pinterest in your language learning routine, you can read my step-by-step guide on this blog.

The Most Important Sentence I Learnt in 2 Years of Language Teaching

The biggest, baddest language learning technique that you can ever learn is to realize what's irrelevant and what really needs to be done. Did you ever feel guilty about a distraction, and then try to make it into something "productive"? I sometimes catch myself watching Season 6 of Gossip Girl (If it's in French, is that still procrastination? Answer: Yes. Especially when you're meant to write something for Compass.). But there are also the times where I just read a lot of irrelevant things and start wondering about font sizes or blog article length or other nonsense. So here's my theory: Distraction comes in many different guises, hides in the back of your mind and drives you to the internet or to YouTube to spend more time and money standing in your own way. 

high standards

There are 1000 questions that pop up when you start learning a language, and even though the answer to each one brings you a little further, today I just want to write about the rabbithole risk of them.

Here are a few:

  • Should I be learning German or Spanish or French or Italian?
  • Or Russian or Japanese?
  • How difficult is Welsh?
  • Do I need a language exchange partner?
  • How many words should I learn every day?
  • When should I improve my accent?
  • What are the business benefits of learning another language?
  • Is it enough that I'm only spending two hours a week learning my language?
  • Can I really do this?

It's not that these questions aren't productive things to spend our time thinking about. I'm a language blogger. Of course I want you to wonder about this stuff and share your views and experiences with other language learners.

But here's where I see the issue:

You Set Yourself Really High Standards

The sentence “You set yourself really high standards” is actually one of the most important points of what I have learnt in two years of working with adults. If you are picking up another language after childhood, things are different. Most of the world out there will actually work on telling you that it’s a lot more difficult to learn this other language. To be honest, I don't really buy that thing about kids being the naturally gifted language learners. The problem isn't in how tired your poor brain has become in 20 years of doing things that aren't language learning. The problem is your expectation.

Adults are used to being able to do most things without having to learn them first – we’ve all gone through growing up and being guided and then becoming independent, and it’s difficult to give that independence up once you’ve got it. In language learning, that means that someone who is really great at their native language is now putting themselves back into that position of being a complete starter. You are used to expressing yourself comfortably and knowing what everything around you is called. You restrict 99% of what you say about yourself to the world, and it ends up making you feel like an idiot. No wonder you'd need a break, even if you've only just learn how to say How are you? in German. This is not about how many words you already know, it's about the psychological adjustment to being a learner. No matter how limited or advanced you are, you deserve a break. But as you might not feel that you "deserve" that break yet, you end up questioning the whole undertaking and chasing online rabbits.

The Cult of Language Genius

When you encounter someone who can speak more than one language, you will not see how CRAP they were at the beginning. The world skips straight to the end of the success story and you zoom in on how eloquent and confident they are.

But it is not about becoming a super-person and I want you to make sure that you check where your standards are before moving on. Being kind to yourself and setting realistic expectations is the only way that you can build a commitment to achieving the level of fluency and expertise that you dream of.

Here are a few things that are totally normal:

  • Even when you've read a word five times already, you'll still forget it. You'll need to hear it like 100 times.
  • When someone corrects you, you feel like you just want to throw the towel.
  • Even after five years of learning your language, you still don't get the jokes.

There's lots of this. Don't lose heart. Here is a quick cheat sheet to being amazing and stopping the worries:

Adjust your standards, put your head down and do the work.

Does it sound a little dull? Yes, maybe. It's less exciting than following an internet rabbit hole or watching the polyglot videos or hoping to be fluent in a very short amount of time. But these three steps are what keeps you succeeding over and over again. I'll have to write an article one day about how I ran my first 10k, and what I was like the first time I ever tried to go for a jog. Kids were laughing at me as I puffed around the 1/2 mile park. I was awful, and now I'm less awful. And I promise you just one thing: If you're awful at your language now, you will be less awful soon.

The War of Art

Here is an excellent book recommendation for those of you who feel that today's article spoke to you and want to find out a little bit more about beating those distractions. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a tough little book, calling out every excuse and hurdle that we put into our own way. It is written from the point of view of a novelist, and I was reading it around the time I wrote the Vocab Cookbook, catching myself out as I slacked off "my work". Pressfield is a powerful author and really talks about the power of just getting on and doing the work. His spiritual view of the muse coming to give you some kind of divine kiss of inspiration isn't really my bag, but no matter if you're learning a language or starting a business or writing a book: You gotta do the work.

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent, the Language Learning Blog. If you are feeling stuck right now, why not subscribe to Fluent and check out our language book shop. Image copyright: Alaska Library Association on Flickr