July 12

5 stages of language learning

Learning a new language is very exciting and incredibly frustrating at the same time. With every language I feel like I’m going through the same stages of excitement and frustration. These stages are remarkably similar with all the languages I have studied.


1. Stage

The first stage is always utter confusion. How can anyone make any sense of the gibberish in front of me. Even worse if you happen to study a language with a different script. It looks like something I’ll never be able to grasp and many despair and give up right then and there. Do I really want this and stick with it and actually put in the hours to study?

2. Stage

If you persevere you, pretty soon you can see a pattern. Simple sentences are suddenly possible. ‘I am Daniela’, ‘How are you?’ suddenly become the most accomplished sentences ever. You start to think that you will get this and look, you even know how to say ‘I am fine’. This is an exciting stage. The grammar is simple, the vocabulary is easy and anyone can manage a few greetings. Yay, I am totally going to get this.

3. Stage

What was a thinking. The grammar gets more complicated, the rules and irregularities are plentiful, the vocabulary is confusing and you simply cannot remember half of it. You struggle through a skype conversation with a native speaker and you are sure out of the hour long call, 45 minutes were spent uhming and ahing and trying to remember something. But like golf, here and there is a glimpse of hope. You manage to say a real sentence, you understood a long explanation in a foreign language or start to use that indirect object pronoun correctly. It’s just enough to keep you going, enough to keep you from despairing and sticking with it.

4. Stage

This one is a kind of a weird stage, because it often sneaks up on you and you don’t realise until later. Suddenly you manage to have actual flow to your conversation. You can tell a story, you can ask an opinion and you start to truly interact with people. It suddenly becomes less of a struggle, it just sort of flows. This is the most incredible stage and like I said, you often don’t realise when it actually happens. You also manage to understand most of what is said to you, you can listen to the TV and read a book and you don’t have to look up every other word.


After a while in the 4. Stage you become frustrated again. Because yes, you can hold a conversation and yes you do understand, but it still takes effort and it still is a far cry from your native tongue. Feelings especially tend to be nearly impossible to accurately express. The nuances are hard to grasp. You can say what you want, but you may not always hit the right tone. And after so much practice, why can’t you just speak like you do in your own language? At this point there are only two more things to do, full, real life immersion and practice, practice and more practice.

I firmly believe that you can teach yourself a language at home by taking full advantage of the technologies available to us, but to truly master a language you need to use it every day, all day and even then it won’t happen over night. Effort won’t pay off overnight as it does in the earlier stages, but it will pay off and it will be all the more worth it.

And even though I talk about 5 stages, the last one is open ended, because you will never be perfect and there is always more to learn, even in your own language.