Learning a foreign language is an arduous and occasionally odious task, as no one seems to appreciate your efforts. Particularly if you are a native English speaker, people have a habit of demeaning your passion and commitment to what they view as a "pointless" task; "everyone speaks English anyway", they claim. Despite this being obviously not true, as the1, 5000 million people who can speak English do not quite make up our world population of 7 billion, constantly hearing this, can have a damaging effort of our determination to study. As well as this, having the reoccurring experience of natives of a different tongue switching to English if they hear the slightest hesitation or breathe of an error in a conversation, it can be hard to find the motivation to continue learning a second language.
But please do not give in to this fatalistic nonsense; there is so much more to language learning than just being able to get by in a foreign country. It is about being able to connect to people on a deeper level, as well as yourself; you can learn and appreciate yourself so much more by battling through the struggles and getting that golden second tongue. You may not believe me right now, but continue reading and you should, hopefully see, that all your efforts, all your pain felt at conjugating that grammar, will truly be worth it in the end:
1. Learning another language actually makes you smarter.
Studies have shown that studying a foreign language actually raise your IQ by a fair few points. This is as you force the brain to recognise, negotiate meaning, and communicate in a different language system, thus causing it to develop in areas of the brain that could be otherwise unused. Due to this re-structure and development, you develop some serious brains skills; language learning as also been linked to improvements in verbal reasoning, mathematics, as well as an increase in vocabulary and excellent problem-solving skills. So just remember, the next time someone tries to tell you it's a "waste of time", how much these non-linguists are allowing a "waste" of their brain...
2. You will never get it perfect and that's okay.
Don't get me wrong: your language skills will improve hugely and soon you'll be conquering those verbs like a goddamn champ. However, particularly as you get to the higher end of the language learning spectrum, you may find yourself getting more frustrated as you're still making mistakes, sometimes even basic ones which you know you know to avoid...
Yet it is important not to let this phase you; you have adopted a completely different way of viewing and communicating about the world, the occasional mistake is bound to happen, particularly if you're ill or tired or you're just having an off day. Focus instead on how much you have improved from that sad-sack you once where you had barely mastered a timid "Bonjour...".
3. Just because you have stopped noticing your progress, doesn't mean you aren't improving; it just means you're mastering it.
When you start learning a language, it is so easy to note your progress, as you go from knowing the odd name for an animal, to suddenly being able to actually form rather complex sentences. However, once you get past the initial "wow" moment of being actually able to express a wish, an imperative, and so much more, you begin to feel rather stagnant. As you are still learning new words, and even forgetting some you did know, and mistakes still crop up occasionally when you speak, it can feel like you have reached your language wall which is to be never overpassed.
Just remember that, even if you can't notice it anymore, you are most definitely improving; it is just that your level is so high now it is hard for you to tell anymore. But trust me, those around you can definitely see it.
4. Sometimes it isn't you, it's them.
Sometimes, if someone switches to English or another language you both share, it is important to remember it isn't you. You will meet people who perhaps aren't used to foreigners so aren't great at understanding your accent, or who are just having a bad day and feel the need to take it out on someone, so insult your language abilities. Other times it is, quite simply, because they want to show off their language abilities themselves. The point is, don't take it too much to heart - just know you're doing fine and, with more practice, you can only get better.
5. Ignore the negativity, just keep on pushing through.
Some people honestly are just critical. Mostly those who can't speak another language themselves seem to be the ones who call you out on any miscommunication you make or any slight hesitation/fault in knowledge you have. Don't let them get you down; just keep working to prove them wrong - you are way better than they give you credit for.
6. Every mistake you make is a lesson. Don't be afraid to make them.
One of the biggest hindrances to language learning is a lack of confidence, which often comes from a fear of making mistakes. Sure making an error is never exactly ideal, and yes can, occasionally lead to an awkward situation, such as having to profusely deny you are pregnant rather than just embarrassed in Spain. However, it is through these memorable blunders that you can truly improve and excel; it is through realising these gaps in your knowledge that you can trying work on filling them. Let your fearless inner-child shine through and be unafraid to say what you're thinking; at least if you end up (metaphorically) falling on your arse, at least it is through this your language skills can transcend the highest heights and boundaries.
7. Although there may be "easier" languages to learn, it doesn't mean conquering any is a mean feat.
Whilst it is true that some languages are grammatically and lexically simpler, do not let this make you feel bad about any troubles you might have with an "easier language". Language acquisition is about completely adopting a new mind-set and being able to put aside the one that has been a part of your existence, daily for long periods of time. It is challenging, and we know it; don't let anyone convince you that you are dumber than you are because may you struggle at times.
8. Despite how it feels at times, it is very good for your mental health.
Not only has learning a second language been linked in reducing your chances of developing dementia as you get older, but it has been shown to improve your general happiness and well-being as well. This is due, in part, to the confindence being able to communicate with a tongue that hasn't encompassed your being since birth gives you, but it is also more than that. It is also due to the sense of purpose and direction learning a language gives you, and is just a satisfying experience overall really. So, in a way, it is kinda like exercising; even if it didn't have an objective use to society, much like your own perfect gym body and insane fitness might not seem societally useful, it has a great purpose within you, to keep you feeling spectacular in a world that tries hard to bring us down at times.
9. People appreciate your efforts so much more than you realise.
Speaking to people in landmasses away from the one that has cradled me since birth, they often say the same thing: how touched they are when a foreigner in their land at least tries to speak their language. They aren't expecting big things: just maybe a merci in France or a perdonna here or there in Spain would be greatly appreciated. If you can go truly above and beyond that then, well, that's just fantastic really. Even if it doesn't seem like it, people are grateful for your efforts. Even us native English speakers, including those who think "everyone should speak English anyway" are so thankful to you; we know how screwed we'd be without you (putting Brexit swiftly aside...)
10. It is worth it in the end
Because, at the end of the day, not only is being a happier and healthier person, whose confidence and intelligence is only out-shone by the joy in your eyes as you show-off your mad language skills, worth the effort, but so is actually being able to try talk to more of the globe than your own language will allow. For every adventure, every friendship, and every life-altering moment that knowing these words and phrases foreign to your culturally tainted gives you, it is worth every second of hard-work, self-doubt, and outside criticism. Because you know you have opened yourself up to the world and all its opportunities and you don't regret a single second of it.