Learning a second language is often considered one of the hardest things to accomplish. This is due to various factors including time and the need to function in society with your native tongue. These factors, and their problematic influence, are exponentially increased when living in a place that predominately speaks your mother tongue. But perhaps the biggest barrier of all is a lack of perseverance when faced with frustration and adversity. It is not a measure or sign of one’s character. The frustration that will almost always accompany second language acquisition, is often rooted in misguided and pointless comparisons. I know because I do it all the time. I think about how quickly others were able to achieve some arbitrary benchmark in their language abilities. It doesn’t make any sense, and it certainly doesn’t help improve my language skills. But never the less, I do it time and time again. The fact that I am aware of it does a great deal to alleviate the frustration. It is very much attuned with the Buddhism teachings of being present in the moment. Through this awareness I’m able to recognize and enjoy the small victories along the road to fluency.
One of these victories occurred when I was at work. I sit next to an older gentlemen who sits next to his business partner, a Chinese woman. The woman speaks fluent mandarin, which I get to hear when she is on the phone with certain clients. A few weeks ago I overheard the man ask if what he was looking at was Mandarin. Before the woman answered I looked over and said “No that’s Japanese.” I then proceeded to read and translate the few lines. He said, somewhat surprised, “Oh you know Japanese.” The lines were very basic but it felt good. Sure there was a little bit of self-satisfaction and a James-Bond-like-feeling I couldn’t help but enjoy. But the real value in the experience was that I felt proud of my accomplishments and reinvigorated about the process of learning.
Much of this type of thinking is discussed in research from the fields of neuroscience and psychology. This link provides an interesting and valuable read.
Another major problem that I think hides beneath the surface of various other terms and labels, is burnout from a lack of variety. A lot of times you just feel like your plane old sick-and-tired of learning. This happens with any significantly difficult subject matter; instruments, language, physics, etc… The best way to fight burnout is to have an endless supply of material that is constantly changing. I think it’s great to have favorites you can watch over and over again. (This is similar to how children often watch a particular Disney Movie hundreds of times in a row. Perhaps that’s why, what is really unintentional spaced repetition studying, is taken as an inherent ability for children to learn languages. When’s the last time you watched your favorite Japanese movie 50 plus times in one week?) However, I think this can easily lead to boredom and that’s the last thing you want. Therefore, I recommend combining this with what I call a “Channel Surfing” strategy. Use the Internet as though it’s a TV. Flip around any time something begins to lose your interest. See what else is on. There are programs and coding that can be utilized to create your own list of sights that you can shuffle through as though you have your own customized cable network. For simplicity I use the site below to switch around from show to show. It’s in mandarin but if you have an understanding of Kanji you can figure out some of the category names. Or you can always rely on serendipity.