Language Learning 101: Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable. (Tip #4)

In my experience, I’ve found that one of the most character-building elements of foreign language study is this:

Language learning exposes your weaknesses.

Maybe your child struggles with memorization—well, learning new vocabulary might be difficult. Or maybe she's naturally reserved, so practicing a second language takes even more courage than speaking in her mother tongue. For homeschool students—and any other language learner—mastering a foreign language is easier if they can keep this mantra in mind:

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

At no time in my life have I felt more socially awkward than when I moved to Spain to study abroad for a semester. Although I had a fairly good command of the language, those first few weeks were extremely humbling, as I had to communicate with those around me through halted, sometimes incorrect speech.

It was a great lesson in recognizing my own limits and learning to apply myself to overcome them. It was also a profound lesson in accepting the kindness and patience of those around me, and appreciating the grace that they showed to me as I struggled to express myself.

Students who are just beginning to study a foreign language will likely feel the same awkwardness that I did. The sheer differentness of the new language can be overwhelming. But I find that this kind of reaction can be a great learning opportunity for our children to learn about themselves and who they are as learners.

So if your child is struggling with learning a new language*, remind them of two things:

  1. This experience is totally normal. 
  2. This experience is potentially fruitful

Then, ask these questions to help determine if the challenges that your child is experiencing could, in fact, be an opportunity for growth:

  1. Is your child struggling to learn a new language because of a lack of study skills? Perhaps he/she could use this opportunity to institute regular, self-directed practice
  2. Is your child struggling to learn a new language because of a lack of confidence? Could you find ways to offer extra encouragement to him/her, even if you’re not learning the language yourself? 
  3. Is your child struggling to learn a new language because sometimes, it’s just hard to learn new things? Great! This is a valuable lesson to grasp early in life. Sometimes time and practice are all that a student needs to get over that initial discomfort. 

To be sure, more questions may emerge in this conversation, but these are all good starting points if your child is feeling that deep discomfort. Try to remember that instant proficiency is not the goal in language learning—as if that were even possible! The journey to mastery is as important as the ability to use the language itself.

*There are students with special needs (such as dyslexia or dysgraphia) who will face significant struggles to learn a new language—their experience is not the same as the discomfort that I describe here. I do have a post planned about the relationship between special learning needs and language acquisition, however—so stay tuned! 

How has your child handled the experience of being uncomfortable with a new language? How has he/she grown from working through that?

[Image provided by Flickr user anaxolotl and used under a Creative Commons license]