Don’t compare yourself to others when you’re learning a foreign language

german confused

When you arrive in a new country, ready to learn a new language, there’s advice aplenty, and of course, as you meet other foreigners who have been in the country 2 years, 5 years or 20, it’s easy to compare your progress to theirs. My advice: don’t.

Everyone’s language-learning journey is different. And while there are certainly recommendations on the best and quickest ways to learn a language, I think there’s only one way for each person – and that’s… their way.

Some people go to foreign countries with a life-long dream of learning the language. So that is what they do. They knuckle down and they learn the language. And it can be super fast. I didn’t come to Austria to learn German. I mean, I did, as an aside. But I came to Austria to see if I could make a life with someone. That was my focus. That was more important than learning a language.

Some people go to foreign countries with other languages already under the belt, having learnt it as a kid from a relative, or when they were in school. And it might not seem like much, but every little bit gives an advantage. I didn’t learn German at school. I literally knew the word ‘nein’ when I came to Austria.

Over Christmas I joined an online German class to brush up on my skills. I was together with some people from Slovenia and a Vietnamese girl. In some cases the teacher would translate a German word into all three of our languages. One word came up: Fischer. The English translation, ‘Fisherman’, is simple, especially when you compare it to Slovenian and Vietnamese! And it made me feel a bit crappy. If English is such an easy base to learn German from, then why aren’t I better at it?

And that’s when I told myself to stop. Because it’s not about if it’s easier than another language, or if another person picks it up quicker than me, be it because they have former experience, they work harder or they’re just better at learning languages. There’s so many variables, so comparing yourself to others can really backfire. So don’t. Accept that you’ll learn on your terms.

My journey may not have been perfect. I am still learning. I could be better. But I’m doing ok. And you know what, that’s ok, too.

4 thoughts on “Don’t compare yourself to others when you’re learning a foreign language

  1. Lingo in Transit January 17, 2022 / 5:30 am

    I am guilty of this too and even comparing how someone else can study so much more focused than me. Something for me to work on this year. I do the beauty of learning another language in that there’s always something to learn!

    • debbiekaye1980 January 22, 2022 / 6:23 am

      Yeah it’s so hard not to compare yourself especially if you see others who appear to be doing better in a shorter time!

  2. rescuedogdexter January 18, 2022 / 5:20 pm

    One of my parents is learning Spanish. I will not name names, but sometimes he struggles with some of the sentence construction, use of tenses and verbs and nouns etc. Whilst struggling internally he (oops I said I would name names) muttered to himself to slow down, think and learn at your own pace. It’s not a competition after all. It is better to learn and understand than plough on regardless. As for why he is learning Spanish, apparently because he wants to.

    • debbiekaye1980 January 22, 2022 / 6:26 am

      It’s definitely not a competition, especially when you’re doing something that you enjoy (at least we must get some enjoyment from it!) – pushing yourself can help but it can also push you too far the other way! And try your best not to cringe/howl/bark when you hear him make a mistake 😉

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