Learning languages can be tricky, not just by the fact that in most cases self-motivation is vital for pursuing and succeeding at it, but also because of all the “bad” things that can happen in the process. 

Situations like not finding spaces for practicing, mental blocks and self-doubt are part of it; however, with the proper tools you can become the language master you’ve always wanted to be and breakthrough the walls.

1.- Your first mispronunciation. A problem while learning languages is the fact that we’re accustomed to our native language sounds; therefore, trying to figure out others can be tough (especially if you’re learning on your own).

For example, in English we have the Th (that is made up by placing the tip of your tongue against your upper teeth); the H has a sound like a spanish J; for the pronunciation of the letter L, your tongue should touch the back of your front teeth and the top of your mouth (just behind your teeth); and for the pronunciation of R, you must pull your tongue back to the middle of your mouth, near where it naturally rests if you weren’t saying anything.

Also there’s a physical component to sounds for which you have to practice by talking, mainly to get your speech muscles in shape. Remember that not all languages use the same groups, so they need training in order to succeed in phonetics.

Just like a workout, the more you use them (even if you’re beginning) the more they will grow or, in this case, adapt to new movements and thus, making you have a better pronunciation.

2.- When a conversation moves faster than your brain. Let’s face it: not even in our native language we’re able to keep up with a chat all the time, so as you may be learning a new language, conversations may seem to be hard.

One trick is to ask questions, truly communicate with your speaker and inquire. Rephrase what they said to make sure you understood. There’s a great chance that they will give you more details about the topic being discussed or they might even talk at a slower pace and better tone.

You can try to rephrase by saying “so what you tried to say is…”, “do you mean that…”, “if I understood correctly then…” or “alright, therefore it’s correct to say…” And if you need to tell them to change their velocity, you may say “Can you repeat, please?”, “Would you mind repeating?”, “Could you talk slower?” or “Didn’t get/catch that, come again?”.

3.- Motivation. Sometimes learning a language can seem impossible because we get stuck. A great part of this process doesn’t come from outside but from inside. Motivation moves us, sets the path for success and guarantees we accomplish our target.

For example, when you’ve conquered the mountain of grammar, you now must face other mountains: vocabulary, idioms, formal vs. informal language, regional variations and many more. When you see it all piled up in front of you, it might feel like a hard task to accomplish and this could make you want to step out of the game. So, how to improve your motivation?

First of all, remember no one is asking you to be fluent yet. And the main thing is to practice and keep moving. Take a breather if you need to, because time is the key for this task and we all have different ones: don’t rush in. If you feel overwhelm, look out for help or try doing new things to keep you focused on your goal.

The Centro para el Desarrollo de Lenguas Extranjeras (CDLE)  can help you with this venture, because it has many activities to keep you motivated. Amongst them you can find conversational clubs (that take place every two weeks with a group that has a similar level as yours), workshops to improve your skills and to practice English; cultural activities and events that guarantee a language immersion, and for those who seek out for formal studies, we have great allies like the CVA, Fyr Lois, CAEP, Kaplan or Coast2Coast. 

For more information about our offer or about or alliances, drop by our new space at the first floor of Cincuentenario building; follow us on @cdle_ucab (Instagram and Twitter) or send us an email to [email protected].

♦ Grace Lafontant/CDLE Intern

*This article is available in spanish. You can read it by clicking here: Barreras comunes al estudiar otro idioma (y cómo superarlas)