I’ve been blogging about foreign languages for four years, teaching languages for over 12, and learning languages myself for 15.
This article will help you discover the top 5 reasons why most people fail to learn a language, causes for language learning failure, and some suggestions and solutions to the problems!
Who wouldn’t want to learn a foreign language?
It is no longer news that knowledge in one or two foreign languages is an extraordinary way of boosting one’s career.
The better part is that it enables people to view the world from a different perspective and relate with people and businesses in more advanced terms.
There are various incentives for learning a language.
While which foreign language should you learn depends on many factors and very subjective.
Whatever you choose, you can boost your paycheck as a language expert.
Everyone wants to keep up with the accelerating trend of globalization. Learning a foreign language is one way to achieve that.
However, it is one thing to dream about speaking another language, but entirely different to discover how to talk in that language.
A few people start taking classes at any learning center or self-studying. Unfortunately, most of those who set out give up before reaching their goals.
I am sure you have met some of these people.
To be candid, you just might have been one of them.
Table of Contents
- 5 Reasons for Failure to Learn a Foreign Language
- 1. A Flawed Curriculum in the Schools and Universities
- 2. You have very little or no time to learn the language
- 3. You lack motivation, interest & passion for studying language
- 4. Procrastination and inability to define your language goals
- 5. Wasting time looking for the perfect method or technique
- A final thought on Language Learning Failure
5 Reasons for Failure to Learn a Foreign Language
So what could be some of the reasons for language learning failure?
Well, let’s go down the ‘why’ lane; shall we?
1. A Flawed Curriculum in the Schools and Universities
Foreign languages are taught to college or school students, who take classes because they have to.
They take up a foreign language course in school or Colleges for six months to several years.
After all those years of intense studying, tests, and endless assignments, these students discover they cannot communicate in the language they have been learning for so long a time. Why?
There is a strong reason, and many people don’t even know or realize it yet.
The fact is, most public or private schools or universities, continuing education institutions, etc., operate a flawed, wrong, outdated curriculum.
How well do these classes work?
In a word, “Terribly.”
Did you or any of your friends learn a foreign language at school or college?
Now, can you hold a reasonable conversation in that language?
Can you watch a tv series or movie without subtitles, write an essay, or read a book or novel or newspaper in the corresponding language?
Do they remember anything beyond a few words or beginners’ phrases?
Why do language learners fail so badly?
Before now, you might have thought the problem was you.
But it was the flawed and pointless curriculum that was continually being fed to your brain that constitutes the problem.
Languages are treated as a subject to study, not a skill to acquire.
Foreign tongues are not like other subjects, which can mainly be studied or memorized from books. To know a language is to have developed a skill.
You don’t need information or facts but develop a more natural ability on how to express yourself.
Unfortunately, this is not followed by the school or university curricula, not only in India but worldwide.
Today, most curriculums used in most schools and language institutions lack three essential components of studying a language — the M.A.C.
They lack the vital ‘M’ (mental comprehension), ‘A’ (auditory comprehension), and the ‘C’ (conversational understanding), which entails one’s ability to input and output information in a foreign language.
Any language curriculum lacking these three essential components is just as needless as a bald man buying a shampoo for himself.
In India, Foreign languages are treated as subjects to study and get decent or just passing marks, not a skill to acquire.
The four fundamental and essential language skills are speaking, writing, listening, and reading.
However, you might have noticed that they often don’t speak their target language enough. This happens across all schools or universities or even in some language learning centers.
While reading and writing are essential, listening and speaking are the two most vital components.
It doesn’t matter how important or unimportant; you think learning a language is.
The current methods obviously don’t work. And everyone knows they don’t work.
Why waste so much time and money on something that everyone knows won’t work?
2. You have very little or no time to learn the language
Most of us fail to comprehend that learning a whole new language will never be like walking in the park.
The earlier you realize this, the better your chances of success. Learning a language takes time, and enough of it must be dedicated to it.
It is one area in which most people fail to measure up adequately.
Few things in language learning take time, and unfortunately, there is no shortcut, at least not in my knowledge.
Remember: A language quickly learned is a language soon lost.
If you follow “slow and steady wins the race” and pursue a language journey at a steadier pace for a more extended time.
You will learn the language, but also retention will be staggering high.
How Long Does It Take to Learn a Language?
Mastering any foreign language is never easy.
It is a complex system that takes a lot of time, focus, dedication, effort, persistence, patience, and discipline.
One would be surprised to know that a significant majority give up after the beginners or lower-intermediate levels.
Don’t start studying if you cannot be devout for the next few years.
You can read more at How long does it take to learn a language?
How many people will get up early in the morning or at night to study for at least an hour?
“Oh, my schedule is very tight. I can’t find enough time to study.”
If this is one of your numerous excuses, know you have already plan to fail. Eventually, you will throw in the towel.
Regular practice, not talent, is the key to success
When you are free or well relaxed and empty, try to study.
Not will it be great for your brain, but make sure you are making use of your wasted time to study.
Even if it is just 30 minutes, you can squeeze it out of your schedule and make judicious use of it in studying.
It is incredibly crucial that you practice it regularly and not once a week or when you have the time.
Repetition strategy and consistent practice are essential ingredients in acquiring a new language skill. Pursuing language courses for a few months has no real-life advantage or any job possibilities anywhere.
There is no shortcut to success.
3. You lack motivation, interest & passion for studying language
One of the primary reasons most people fail to learn a language is because they lack the right or proper motivation.
Someone might have told you that taking classes in French will boost your career, and so you’re out to learn la Langue Francaise.
There is nothing wrong with studying a language to further our profession. Still, it is not as motivating as having a passion for the language you want to learn.
By sitting around with a career in mind, learning Hanzi characters will never be that fulfilling as when you emotionally entrenched yourself in the language.
The key is to link up emotionally with the language.
You have to fall in love with everything that has to do with that language.
Its culture and its people. It is the best way you can become motivated to learn a foreign tongue.
Being emotional about the language will allow you to persevere and scale through whatever hurdles it contains. In short, learn the language you love!
Why Passion and Motivation are everything in language learning?
I certainly get a sense of pleasure and joy when I think about all the languages I could learn.
There is certainly a feel-good factor, at least for me.
I personally have never learned any language only because I wanted it for a job or enhanced my career prospects. But I can understand why so many people do.
Even though I’ve made my career in foreign languages, it was merely an accidental instead of planned.
I did it out of interest and to retain & enhance my existing language skills.
However, the truth is, most people don’t have a great passion or profound interest in learning languages like some of us do.
It may be because our education system is all about getting a job, employability & career success instead of identifying and pursue passion, interest, and hobbies.
Unfortunately, our education system promotes the rat race. It has become widespread on almost all college campuses that every student is excited about getting a high-paying language job.
Why I’m talking about passion when this topic is all about why people fail in language learning?
Because no matter how hard you tried, the key factors that define these people are that their passion for language learning is low or negligible.
Passion is the energy that keeps us going. Motivation and passion are everything as far as language learning is concerned.
Plus, there is little correlation between people’s salaries and job satisfaction.
Doing what you love and feeling passionate about your work what matters at the end of the day.
If you don’t want to work hard to learn any foreign language, it’s most likely not for you. If you don’t work hard, you won’t get right.
However, if you genuinely enjoy what you do, you won’t feel like you’re working hard even when you have to work hard.
Do you feel like you work hard?
4. Procrastination and inability to define your language goals
Procrastination is the thief of time. If you are the type, who believes someone else has found the solution to all your language learning challenges.
You will never be inspired to search, find, and get started with suitable materials.
Many people try to find the perfect method and locate the right source, book, blog, youtube videos, and podcasts.
After amassing these materials, they never sit down to get started, not to mention getting beyond the first page.
When you keep procrastinating, you will never reach your goals, even as you keep rotating in the language ‘failure’ corridor.
Another reason why you fail to learn a foreign language is your inability to define your goals.
If you don’t know or can’t tell where you are heading, how will you ever get there?
There are many things to learn in a language, but not all of it you need.
You have to determine the quickest part to success by employing SMART goal-setting — whatever that means to you.
But when you define your goals, always remember that speed, not haste, is the child of timeliness.
5. Wasting time looking for the perfect method or technique
Have you tried to find, “What is the best language teaching method?”
Or “what is a great language learning app?”
Or “any magical book to help you learn a new language?”
People look for quick, easy fixes to problems that they have to face. It isn’t something that can be rushed.
The last thing you should be wasting your time on is endlessly searching and researching.
And to see which one of us has that one perfect language learning approach or method.
There is no ideal technique for you.
Successful language enthusiasts know that there’s no silver bullet to language learning, so they don’t waste time searching for it.
Stop wasting time, get busy using your language, and adapt your learning approach to the challenges you face!
A final thought on Language Learning Failure
Learning a foreign language is not rocket science.
But the approach and mindset that you employ will go a long way in determining how successful the outcome will be for you.
Put the above tips or suggestions to use and enjoy your new language learning.
Avoid the mistake made by others, and you will soon find out how relatively easy it is to learn a new language.
My views are not based on hearsay or anecdotal evidence. But on my own experience and interaction with thousands of students over the past 14 years.
As an ex-teacher I feel disappointed that It should be regarded as a definite”flop” because It Is a lifetime engagement if you don’t practice everyday it goes lost.
Great article! Everything is there about language learning failure. We could add, in some cases, the distance between the learner and the country you are learning the language. If you live at a border of a linguistic area or a country, you can get a lot of opportunities and motivations that could help. Finding the right tools and teacher is important too!
You have a point. Thank you for adding your perspective!
Spot on! After all, language is a tool that we use to communicate with a language community. The more we use it in a meaningful context, the better it becomes.
Thank you very much for an excellent and accurate article. Teaching English as a subject i.e. knowledge is a Victorian idea. Until this fundamentally false idea is changed the appalling failure rate for learning English, or indeed other languages based on the same thinking will continue to be a huge embarrassing stain that somehow the teaching profession ignores.
Best wishes, Ajarn Lucky.
Language Institute, MCU, Ayutthaya, Thailand.
Thanks for your view.
Amazing Article! Your Article is very informative and I felt quite interesting reading it. Thanks for posting such post.
Sir kindly guide me about the PLIDA and CELI exam options in India. Also is certificate provided by Indo Italian chamber of commerce is a valid one or not?
IICCI certification is valid but not internationally recognized. Italian Cultural Centre in Delhi and Mumbai conducts Italian proficiency exam like CILS, CELI, IT, PLIDA, and AIL.
This is definitely helpful Prof.
The one thing i had in my mind is : Please guide or write something about after learning Language, how one can apply for becoming a translator for for foreign delegation representing the nation. Awaiting for your suggestions and help. Do let me know.
Thanks. Soon i will write on that 🙂 You can read – Career as Translator and Interpreter.