The process of language learning can sometimes resemble the stages of grief and despair.
But battle on, soldiers! The final stages will make up for everything.
It’s all excitement; all you can see is the novelty of the language and the culture; all you can see is yourself travelling and mingling with locals like a pro.
The Power House
And so the momentum builds. Maybe you’ve bought a book in your new language; maybe you’ve planned new tandems or voyages to practise the language. You make extravagant promises to yourself about how much you will study, convincing yourself that with X amount of work, you’ll be fluent in X amount of months.
You’ve learnt a few phrases, and you can get the gist of snippets of conversations. But if someone asks, you can practically translate anything, as long as the other person cannot speak a word of the language in question. ‘This language is sooooo much easier than everyone thinks.’
Bah, as long as I memorise how to say this phrase, it won’t matter how it functions grammatically. (Famous last words).
Then suddenly you hit it. The wall. After the months of riding on a steep learning curve, it is as though someone has put a cork in the bottle. This is the stage when your language level is actually, for the first time, advanced enough to recognise how badly you are speaking. Your illusions of multilingual grandeur come crashing down.
Motivation is low, and many give up at this point.
The more you try and retain your previous convictions about your language level, the deeper you sink into desperate confusion, throwing out grammar and vocabulary at random. You don’t even notice how well your aural skills have become in the struggle to string a sentence together.
Don’t forget; these are the symptoms of someone who is determined to get it right, but for a while, it renders you semi-mute.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Out of the blue, one day, your speech returns. You don’t notice it at first, but you look back and realise that you’ve just had an entire conversation without incident. You are hesitant, but you find the flow is slowly returning, and this time, it is truer and more exciting.
The Top of the Mountain
This. This is the place you want to arrive at. You recognise that the native speakers who comment, ‘wow your [language] is so good!’, are being completely sincere for once. It is only through other people that you realise you have climbed the mountain when you weren’t paying attention. All those tiny things that you though weren’t important have finally come together. And it’s the best feeling in the world.
You made it! And although you will never again enjoy the reckless confidence of the ‘Peacock’ stage, you know that you no longer need it; your language skills (literally) speak for themselves.
After this process, all polyglots know one thing for sure: anything is possible with a little (or a lot of) work, and it’s always always always worth it ?