Who Might Not Be Able to Use My Method?

March 1, 2016

Olga is an experienced language learner and teacher who has fled the dim sunlight of northwest Russia for warmer climes. She has an intimate understanding of the psychological barriers some language learners face and is able to help her students gradually overcome their complexes and start speaking a foreign language.

Some of the most common sources of anxiety Olga encounters are:
  1. an overblown fear of saying something wrong, often instilled by Soviet-style language education where far too much focus is placed on always knowing the right answer (a terrible approach to language instruction!)
  2. shutting down mentally when faced with the prospect of speaking with a native in their language

I devote a long chapter of my book to psychosocial barriers to language learning. It has become increasingly clear to me over the years that psychosocial factors — you might even say "emotional intelligence," or EQ — are just as, if not more important, to successful language learning than the specific method you employ.

Someone with high psychosocial competence can use whatever vocabulary they have to the fullest. Someone with lower psychosocial competence — some combination of fear, apathy, difficulty engaging with others, or cultural insensitivity — will not be able to bring their language skills fully to bear. But you can raise your psychosocial competence just as you can improve your linguistic skills.

However, there is a fear threshold beyond which my method will be hard to apply.

The truth is, if you struggle very much with one or more of these areas — particularly boldness or drive — you will have difficulty applying my language learning recommendations.

Take, for instance, my directive to have your first conversation in a foreign language within the first 20 hours of study. This is to prevent you from developing unproductive language learning habits like studying textbooks or grammar instead of speaking.

If you are terrified of making mistakes or opening your mouth around natives and advanced speakers, you will be unable to follow my advice, at least in the beginning. In fact, if you put yourself in a stressful, challenging situation and fail to cope, you actually risk strengthening your phobia. We don't want that.

Slowly desensitize yourself to the strains of speaking a foreign language


If the need to speak a foreign language makes you panic, the best thing to do is probably to work with an intermediary like Olga who can help you take the many small steps towards becoming comfortable speaking a foreign language — first with a sympathetic teacher, then in more challenging and unpredictable situations, and ultimately with native speakers.

The ideal intermediary has a high degree of empathy and is able to speak slowly, clearly, and at your current level of difficulty. Not all language teachers possess these traits! Look for one who makes you feel more comfortable and confident than usual.

Hopefully, after a period of gradual desensitization, you will overcome your fear of making mistakes or looking like a fool and will be able to start using the Frictionless Mastery method or some variation of it. Yes, you will have spent a lot more time getting there than someone who took the direct route, but at least you will have gotten there. Many fear-prone language students never do.

As soon as you are able to have any sort of conversation in a your foreign language without freezing up, you are ready to apply the Frictionless Mastery method. 

What I teach in my book is not just a specific method, but an entire mindset of language learning. I try to bring home that there is nothing to worry about if you don't understand, if you make a mistake, or if you speak worse than everyone else. This isn't what you should be thinking about.

Learning a language is like scraping bits of ice off an iceberg using a cup. You can let yourself be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task and your own inadequacy, or you can just get to work collecting ice shavings, taking pleasure in the fact that your cup is filling up.

My method can help you fill up the cup as fast as possible. To do this you'll need to stop thinking about the size of the iceberg or how far behind the others you are.

My hope is that I can instill the right attitude in readers from the very beginning so that they don't have to take a roundabout path to linguistic competence. But the fact is, some people will need a lot more time to get themselves into a state where they can just start speaking.

In this case, my full-length book could still be a useful purchase. It has a lot of good information about how to overcome barriers to language learning such as fear and apathy. But the Frictionless Mastery method itself might initially be too far out of your comfort zone to apply.

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(c) 2016-2017 Richard DeLong.