Is your mindset holding you back from language learning success?

Updated: April 27, 2020
Fact-Check & Editorial Responsibility: Kris Broholm

Mindset is a huge factor in successfully learning languages. If you develop a bad mindset, then success is almost never going to happen. In this post today I'm explaining the difference between a good and a bad mindset and my experience with some of the common mindset pitfalls I have encountered. Enjoy!

Mindset related struggles for language learners

Let's start with the negative first. Here are some ways you can develop a suboptimal mindset towards learning languages.

Figuring out why you are learning the language in the first place

Motivation is of utmost importance in language learning, this is a given. But how good are your motivations for learning a language? Did you decide to learn a language just for the sake of it, to show off, pick up girls or any other shallow reason? Then you might find that it is incredibly tough to stay motivated and work hard on a language. I would call it to be motivated by nothing, because the reasons I listed above (and there are many more) are just not really that good.

I'll be the first to admit that my reasons for learning Russian were not incredibly mindblowingly strong, but I had very specific reasons. I wanted to be part of the large Russian-speaking community within a video game called Dota 2. There's daily video streams and every big tournament has streams in Russian. I also had a vision, that one day, when I was good enough, I would do something within the game. This could be translating or interpretation or something else entirely.  My interest in the game has since dropped, due to a lack of time, but I still watch the big games and tournaments.

But Chris, what if I don't have burning motivations to learn any language? What if I just want to +1 for the sake of speaking another language?

This is a very valid point, and I think you can definitely learn a language without any proper reasons why! The point is that it's a bad mindset to start out with, and it makes the learning require way more willpower and determination than if you could find a language you were attached to or had actual reasons to learn. You can also try to find the reasons after the fact, perhaps you stumbled upon Russian grammar and got really interested in how that works. That's great!

The point is just; Learn a language for the right reasons and you will never lack any motivation or willpower to put the hard work in that it takes to become fluent in a new language.

Improving the learning process to actually commit and not just “kinda learn”

You might be telling everyone that you are currently learning language Y, but are you really putting in the hours? If you are not capable of putting in the work that it takes to reach fluency, why are you telling people you are learning the language?

I've been feeling particularly guilty about this lately, as my Russian efforts have dwindled as other activities have taken up a lot of time for me. I also started the side project of Esperanto which made it even harder for me to mentally fit in Russian. Mind you I still have plenty of hours in the day, I think. But I realised that I can't tell you guys here on the blog I'm learning Russian and then casually flick through a book and do a few Memrise words. That's just not good enough.

It's like saying you are losing weight, but all you do is to take a 5 minute walk and eat one less chocolate bar. That's not commitment, that's barely doing anything outside of the ordinary. My solution was to simply remember my WHY, from the previous paragraph. I was also reminded of the accountability that this blog provides, who am I to share my experiences and tips for learning a language if I'm not doing it to the best of my ability myself?

My immediate mission:

WEEKLY tutoring sessions on iTalki

DAILY Memrise.com for vocabulary and a resource for pseudo-immersion, like a book or a podcast.

How to avoid the ultimate and only mistake you can make in language learning: Giving up

The ways to learn a language are almost infinite, and no methods carry inherent weaknesses or advantages. People often ask, what is the best course for learning language Y or similar questions, when in fact they could have been using the time learning the language, using any method.

Now I still recommend staying on top of current trends and research, but be sure that you are not deluding yourself into believing that research into methods equals study time. Because it definitely does not. It's like saying you are learning French if you are watching French television, and as helpful it might be to your studies it is not a replacement for doing actual work, for instance with a flashcard app or a tutor, or even a book!

My final point of this paragraph is that you can never learn a language if you give up. So please, never give up. There will be times when you feel like you are going nowhere, but trust me the success waits just around the corner. Success is about consistent perseverance and all beginnings are tough. Once you get into a language, it will get much easier from there.

Whenever I feel like quitting, anything really, I listen to this 6 minute YouTube video and I'm pumped to get back to work.


How do you feel about mindset and language learning, is your mind in the right place?

Kris Broholm

Kris is the founder of Actual Fluency, and has spent the last 8 years becoming an expert in language learning software, methods, and techniques.

Originally from Denmark, he now lives in Portugal and speaks 5+ languages at varying levels. His other interests are Wine, Online Marketing, and Travelling.