Why Most People Never Learn A Language

Matt Lillywhite

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash


While wandering around Quebec City a few years ago, I noticed that my lack of ability to speak French was preventing me from interacting with the locals and enjoying my time in the Canadian province.

So after several attempts of failing to speak French, I asked myself: “Why is it so difficult for me to learn languages?”

It’s an interesting question that got me thinking. Perhaps it’s because I only speak English, and so I naturally only liked to visit countries that speak the language. Or maybe it’s because I was lazy, and that I never put in sufficient amounts of time to see fruitful results when attempting to learn a language.

No matter the reason for learning a language, many people across the world will know that language learning isn’t easy. Quoting an article from the Daily Texan:

“Only about 15–20 percent of Americans consider themselves bilingual, compared to 56 percent of Europeans surveyed in 2006 by the European Commission”.

So over the past few months, I began studying new language learning techniques and how to increase my fluency in preparation for upcoming trips to Montreal & Buenos Aires.

Although I found it to be incredibly challenging, I was able to overcome negative self-beliefs and achieve conversational fluency in both French & Spanish.

Below are a collection of common reasons that prevent people from learning new languages, accompanied by a technique for overcoming each one.

As a result of using these solutions, I’m a lot more confident while speaking a foreign language abroad.

So use these techniques wisely, and I am convinced that they will do the same for you, too.

You’re Not Making Learning Fun.

Most of us view language learning as a challenging experience filled with complicated vocabulary & tenses.

Right? It’s just not very exciting to get motivated for something that’s just going to drain your mental energy. But instead of hating the experience, I’ve come to perceive language learning as one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

For example, I’ll watch Mexican Netflix shows (with subtitles), and listen to Latin artists on Spotify to improve my listening ability.

Similarly, I’ll find some Spanish YouTubers to watch during my commute, and read some incredible books in a foreign language to understand sentence structure.

When done correctly, learning can be an enjoyable experience that can be adapted to fit your daily schedule.

You’re Not Personalizing Your Learning Method.

Throughout High School, language learning is something that I found to be impossible. Instead of learning to be conversationally fluent, we were being taught in a way that graded us solely on an analytical ability to convert words into different tenses.

But after graduating with a decent grade, I found myself trying to understand French in preparation for a family vacation to the south of France.

During this period, I realized that French wasn’t difficult; I had merely been learning the wrong way. So I began writing down the most commonly used 100 words and wrote sentences that included several from the list.

Then, it was a simple case of memorizing the translations of my formulated sentences, and I could understand written French pretty well.

There are hundreds of different learning techniques. But the only way to discover what works for you is experimenting, and continuing with methods that you find useful.

You’re Not Putting In Enough Time.

Unfortunately for most people, spending 5 minutes per day on Duolingo won’t make you instantaneously fluent in your desired language. Instead, it’s a combination of time, effort, and dedication to learning something new each day. In the words of Will Durant:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

That means to achieve fluency or even maintain the ability to speak a language, you need to be continually practicing. Because if you’re not improving, you’re either stagnant or getting worse.

Start by listening to an educational podcast during your commute, reading a book in a foreign language each evening, or whatever works for you.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Albert Einstein, who perfectly speaks about the importance of having a positive mindset when learning new languages:

“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.”

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