Finding Your Confidence When Learning A Foreign Language

Carlie: Hello there, it’s Carlie with another episode of the Expat Focus podcast. I’ve got the camera on for this one, so search for ‘Expat Focus’ on YouTube if you want to watch as well as listen. And don’t forget to subscribe. My guest today is Alex, a language coach with a YouTube channel called ‘French In Plain Sight’.

Now, as the name suggests, he coaches French learners, and I’m one of those, but a lot about his approach is relevant to learning pretty much any language. What I find unique about Alex is that he’s not native, and his coaching method is really derived from his own experiences of learning French.

We’re going to be talking about finding confidence when learning a foreign language, how important those grammar rules really are, and if he thinks you’re wasting your time on language apps like Duolingo.

Alex, I’ve been following you on YouTube and your ‘French In Plain Sight’ Instagram for a little while now. And I think I actually found out about you through a guest blog that you did on Diane’s ‘Oui in France’ website.

Now, I find your approach to language learning and your content really interesting. So, this episode is all about your approach to learning a foreign language, but I just wanted to start by asking about your own expat journey.

Alex: Yeah, sure. Well, first of all, thank you for having me. And I’m really flattered to know that you enjoy my content and find it useful. That’s always my aim. I live in Montpellier in the south of France, but I am originally from London in the UK, and sort of freakishly randomly, I ended up here after a year in Australia backpacking and trying to figure life out – and under the facade of just a one-year adventure.

And yeah, I sort of fell in love with the challenge of learning a language, and that drove me to trying out living in a non-English speaking country. And that happened to be France. My mum was happy, because it was closer to home than Australia, but at the same time was happy that I was having an adventure.

And I discovered a place with 300 days of sunshine, which makes my days a lot nicer and my mood better. So, yeah, it’s been five going on six years now, and I couldn’t be happier with the decision.

Carlie: And what I find really interesting about you, is that you are a language coach, but you’re not native French, which I think is a little bit unique. So, what was your motivation after learning French yourself to start helping other people?

Alex: Yeah, I mean, first of all, I should say that I’m still learning. I’m always learning, but at my level, you just sort of do it in a different way. It’s just when you’re exposed to the language so much, and you’ve got a certain level of competence, you can just learn by just doing. It’s a bit slower, perhaps, but yeah, I’m still learning.

I would say that I don’t understand why more people— Well, I kind of do, but I don’t see why more people don’t coach people to learn the language they have learned. And the reason I’m a coach not a teacher is because I deal a lot with the mindset side, the psychological side, of learning a language, and how confidence in ourselves and how we see ourselves affects our ability to improve in the language and actually speak it with confidence.

So, you can only really do that, in my opinion, if you have gone through the process. So, it never really interested me to teach English. I tried it for a while, just to have some money on the side, but there was no deep interest or passion for it, whereas I’ve gone through the process of learning French.

I know from myself, being originally a shy person with not much self-confidence … I know what sort of journey I’ve been on to go from where I was to now – someone who is able to communicate with people speaking a second language – and that opens up so many doors. And so, I just want to help people with that who maybe think that they’re not able to do it, or it’s not for them, or they don’t have it in their genes, or something like that.

That drives me to help people who are on the same path as me, rather than help people who are trying to learn my native language, which I don’t remember doing.

Carlie: And I think that’s what I find so relatable about you. I mean, I’ve lived in France now for five, going on six, years, and I never learned French in school. This is really my first time learning a foreign language. And it’s only probably been in the last 18 months that I’ve really felt a lot more confidence, and I’ve felt a lot more comfortable speaking French – attempting to have conversations in public, or even with my partner, which is absolutely ridiculous in some aspects.

He says to me all the time, ‘You should feel most comfortable making mistakes and speaking the language with me.’ And I know a lot of it is in your head. So, how did you overcome those confidence issues yourself? What was your magic key, I guess, for pushing through that?

Alex: I mean, I think I still apply it on a daily basis. It just becomes – I don’t want to say who you are, but … It’s more just the accumulation, over many years, of digesting certain information, and also developing a sense of character to know that the difficulties you go through in interactions will pass and it is worth it.

And every time you run into an issue in a conversation, and you think, Oh, I sound stupid. Or, I don’t know that word. Or anything can happen that can make us feel uncomfortable as learners. That will pass. That step is necessary, and it just gets a little bit easier each time you do it. And sometimes, it’s the accumulation of hundreds or thousands of those interactions to get to a point where it really phases you very little.

So, it’s that, and also, I am naturally drawn to the sort of personal development side of things and – as cheesy as it is – being the best version of yourself. And I really resonate with that. So, naturally the content I go and watch on YouTube or read on the internet … You know how social media networks curate your feed to show you stuff it thinks should already like? So, that’s perhaps a positive, because then you see more, and then, just over time, it sort of percolates through.

And you improve just from the smallest thing, and maybe in the moment when you read or hear it, it doesn’t really trigger anything, but that information is going in. And that combined with a thousand other things forms who you are and how you think and therefore how you act.

And so, I think it’s just been an accumulation of that. And a lot of perseverance, I’d say. There are a lot of ‘P’s which are relevant to French language learning, which maybe will come up in this conversation. I don’t know, but that’s the first one: perseverance.

Carlie: And I did notice an Instagram post that you put up just recently, and actually, I’ve written this out and put it up on my wall, because it resonated so much. You said no one cares about the quality of your language as much as you do. And that really sang to me, because I do have such a complex about what people think of the way I speak. And I’m sure so many language learners are in that position and are blocked by that feeling.

Alex: Yeah. That really stuck with me. And it was something I saw where … Just to give a bit of context, on YouTube, a lot of my videos, the ones which have started to get some traction, have been when I talk about the French of English-speaking celebrities, or people in the public eye who were speaking French. And there is a video of John Malcovich speaking French.

The video is going to come out soon, but in the original clip of interview that he did, he was just telling this story with so much energy and charisma. And I decided – and I’d already done the video at this point – but I decided to go down to the comments and just see what the French people were saying. Because he made quite a lot of grammatical errors.

People say that the French are really hard on foreigners who can’t speak the language very well. And that gets into our heads. Even if we’ve never met someone who’s been rude to us, we start to think that’s true. I thought, Okay, well, if that’s going to be true, then the internet is going to reveal these people, because we know what the internet’s like.

Carlie: People say what they really think.

Alex: Exactly, but I was reading the comments, and they were focusing completely on the story and how funny it was and how much they like him. And that was the majority of them. And then one I found which illustrated what I wanted it to illustrate, where they did focus on the language. They were complimenting his efforts, and then the response said that his charisma meant that he didn’t need to be better at French.

I just thought that people need to read that, because we all, myself included, think way too much about the words coming out of our mouth, and the other person’s just thinking about the conversation. And they’re also thinking, Oh, I hope this person likes me. Like, in some way, they want to be in the interaction. So, the less we can be in our head, the better, a lot of the time.

Carlie: I know you’re really not focusing on the grammar side of language learning in how you coach.

Alex: I love grammar.

Carlie: I can’t say I’m with you there. I just finished an intensive few weeks’ course to try to get to a good level of lower intermediate. And it made me realise how much grammar I don’t understand and that I’m yet to learn. And that is really overwhelming to me. Do you think that’s where a lot of language learners get stuck, in just getting bogged down in the grammar side of things? Or how much of it is really necessary, Alex?

Alex: Well, I would say how much of it is necessary depends on your goal. And I think that, when you’re new to language learning, you don’t know how to answer that question, how to have a goal. So, you just go a bit blindly. I think you need to do that. You need to experiment and learn how you yourself react to different things.

And if you find that the grammar is becoming too overwhelming, you need to learn to recognise that feeling and go, ah, hang on, is that actually helping me get to where I want to be? And for a lot of people, for most people, they want to be able to communicate with confidence, and they usually think that comes from being fluent.

And then you need to think about, okay, what is fluent. To me, fluent is being able to communicate your point first and foremost in a not too roundabout fashion, but you also need to be able to describe what you want to say if you get stuck.

That’s hard on our egos, because in English, we can just choose another way to say something in a split second. So, I would say, grammar is important. I think we often give it too much of our attention when we should take a break and just go and focus on speaking and having connections with people.

Because when you can have a connection with someone, as I’m sure you have encountered, even if it was brief, you realise, hang on, I did that. Someone didn’t want to walk away from me when I was speaking broken French. And yet, I know I’ve still got a lot to work on. So, that gives you pause for thought. And I think that is where we can start to think, Okay. So, I can find a better balance. I think that’s the key – finding a balance between studying the language and actually using the language.

So, we don’t agree about liking grammar. I kind of have a love/hate relationship with it, because I really enjoy it. I’m super logical, and I love the details. But one of the things that makes me a good coach is because I’ve gone through this painstaking process with myself and the language. So, I know the grammar sometimes in a better way than a native, but they’re a better speaker than me. So, what does that say? How well do we know English grammar?

Carlie: Oh, you know what, the biggest lesson I’ve learned in learning French is that I don’t know my English grammar. There’s so much I take for granted, and a few people have said to me, maybe you need to go back and learn your English grammar in order to understand your French grammar. And that is the most humbling thing to think about.

Alex: Who are those people? Were they French people?

Carlie: One of them was my partner, which is more humbling, I guess, because he’s not a native English speaker, but he speaks very well.

And I do relate to what you said before, because I was in a car park roller skating the other day … I’m a brand new roller skater. It’s hilarious. So, I had some cones out, and I’m trying to practice how I can move around the cones very badly. And a woman walking her dog just wandered up and wanted to chat to me about roller skating and how she used to roller skate.

And I wasn’t getting all of the conversation, but I could pick up the key words enough to know that she was talking about ice skating. And as a kid, she used to have roller skates. And I desperately wanted to be able to just have that solid conversation back with her and, you know, explain more than just a few little phrases – why I chose roller skating and how much I’m enjoying it and all that kind of thing.

And it made me realise that it’s that casual banter, those casual encounters, that I really value the most. And that motivates me to keep trying to learn the language.

Alex: It’s so easy to sort of lose that feeling. So, I mean, in the aftermath of that, and then maybe for a few hours, and even now you’re recalling it … But the days in between, you can easily go back into your other routine and sort of forget what matters most.

And it’s really important to recall those things. And one of the things I ask my students to do is keep a journal. This has many benefits, but one of them is to help you hold onto those positives that you’re perhaps overlooking or not thinking about enough. Because it helps you develop that better mindset. But yeah, I’m really happy that you had that connection, and I know it’s frustrating when you can’t express yourself fully.

Definitely. But this process is actually part of your story, and this is just part of it where you can’t express yourself as well as you’d want. And if you accumulate enough of them, they will show you how to do it in a different way, but still be yourself.

Carlie: And I think more to your point about the other people not caring so much about the quality of your language. It was very evident to this woman pretty quickly that I wasn’t a French speaker, but she persisted and still wanted to chat to me, even though what I could say back to her was pretty basic. She stayed there for quite a few minutes, happily chatting away, not really caring that I couldn’t really banter back and meet her equally in the conversation.

Alex: But you did enough, and she wanted to talk about roller skating. She wanted to reminisce. She wanted to tell you a bit about herself. And, you know, she’s more thinking about that and not about—

Carlie: Yeah, not about the fact that I didn’t conjugate that verb properly. Alex, before this conversation, we did actually post in the Expat Focus Facebook groups, asking members what their challenges have been with learning a foreign language. Al says, ‘Where to start?’ There were so many challenges. But Sharon actually commented, ‘I’m fine in my class setting, but I find it very hard to take this learning out and make it real in everyday conversations.’

I think I can really relate to that. When I first started learning a foreign language … How much of what I was learning in class could I take to the supermarket, and would it help me when I’m buying a bus ticket?

Alex: Yeah, if you’re in the classroom, you’re learning stuff for those specific life situations. I think that that can only help, because it’s vocabulary. And if you do the work to retain that, then you’ll be more likely to be able to use it. That’s for sure. I think that’s very good, in terms of something to do in the classroom.

But what classroom situations can’t do – they can try, but they can never replicate completely – is that stress, that tension, that comes with that real situation. And I call the two main environments in which we speak French, we practice French … I call it ‘environment risqué’ – the ‘risky environment’ – or the more dangerous environment, as you like, and the ‘environment sûr’, which is the ‘safe environment’.

And so, you can imagine which one’s which. The environment sûr is more actually any environment which you feel is a safe space for you to practice. And I think, in order for us to become confident French speakers, we need a balance of both.

In the case of the person who asked that question, she wants to know how to replicate what she’s able to do in the classroom in real life. And I’d say it’s perseverance, as we mentioned before, but you need to bridge this gap between the environment that you have in the classroom with what you have in real life. Perhaps more than is happening in the classroom right now.

And I think one of the ways to do that is to go to language exchanges in the real world. Now, we’re hopefully going to be able to be doing that more, at least in France, with Covid-19 restrictions being reduced. You can go out and you can actually meet people. It’s still a safe environment, but they’re strangers. They’re not teachers. Anything could happen. But it’s also within the boundaries of a certain set of vocabulary.

You know what’s likely to come up. You know the small talk. It’s like the middle ground. And yes, you do have to then make the step into the supermarket stuff, the bus stuff – you’ve got to do that for your life. But thankfully, your life obligations will present you with opportunities that you can’t ignore, and you just have to keep accepting them basically.

And it gets easier. Keep a balance of both those environments for sure. Because they’re both helping. But one thing we can do is we can often use the safe space too much, because we’re intimidated by the other one. And other people can be in the environment risqué too much. And maybe they don’t study as much, because they just learn on the street.

I don’t know what those people like, how they think. That’s not me, but they exist. So, you need to have a balance between the two.

Carlie: And Heather said something very similar to Sharon in our Facebook group. She said learning phrases and responses that are useful to practice straight away, while shopping and that sort of thing. Is that the sort of thing that you can learn in a language exchange? Or should you be … I’m trying to think of the first few times I went to the shops.

I very much had a list on my phone. I Google translated some phrases and hoped I could pull them off when I needed them, or hoped that they would be relevant in the situation I was going into.

Alex: Oh yeah. When you have something on the notes app of your phone, and it hasn’t synced offline. And you don’t have signal in the supermarket, and the notes won’t load.

Carlie: Yeah, how do I ask for peanut butter?

Alex: That has happened to me. And then your mind goes blank. Yeah, I’m very pragmatic with this stuff. I try and take a breath and think, Okay, what makes sense? If you’re going to write a script or you’re going to prepare with some notes, it can only help you. If only because before you’re going into the interaction, you’re mentally preparing for what’s going to come up that you might need to say and what others might say to you.

That actually counts as time that your brain is spent working on that foreign language rather than sticking with your English bubble. French is almost treated like an extra thing that we have to do. If you prepare in advance for stuff, it can only be beneficial. Yeah.

Carlie: Now, Reg in the Facebook group said, ‘My wife won’t teach me.’ And that’s a really interesting one, too, because I’ve had a few friends say to me that I live with a French native, so why isn’t my language better? They’ve been quite direct about it. They say I have French on tap at home, so I should be fluent by now. And I find that a really difficult one, because for me personally, I started the relationship in English, and it’s been quite difficult to try to make the switch to French.

And we’ve tried a few times. I remember we were like, ‘Okay, we’re in the kitchen; we’re cooking dinner; let’s cook dinner in French.’ And we very quickly ran into a roadblock, when my partner asked me to turn on the oven, but I didn’t know the word for oven.

And so, he was trying in a roundabout way to get me to understand. So, he’s pointing to the stove, asking, ‘What’s this called?’ Then to the fridge, asking, ‘What’s this called? Do we cook in the fridge? No. Where are we going to cook the chicken?’ And it just turned into a big stress and emotional mess.

I had a teacher that said to me that you should not be learning this language from your partner. Do you agree that they’re not your best teacher sometimes? Or are they an untapped resource for a lot of people?

Alex: For a lot of people, they are an untapped resource, for sure. But I think it’s delicate. Because you’ve got people who are learning … Especially because we live in the country where it’s spoken, we have this extra pressure that’s following us around all the time. And I think it gives us a bit of a shorter fuse. Even if we do it with a smile, everyone’s different. I think, generally, it keeps us a bit on edge.

And so, if you put the pressure on the relationship, if you expect your partner to teach you, I think, unless they know what they’re getting themselves into and they’re a natural teacher, it can be very tricky. So, I like to avoid that altogether. I think that if they are a supplementary help, and you ask them questions, like, ‘How do I say this?’ Or, ‘What is this?’ ‘Why does this make sense?’

Bombard them with questions. Know your partner and know what the limits are. If not, you’re going to find them. So, that’s a good thing. I’ve certainly done that. I think they are an untapped resource because you do live with them. You should make sure that you’re speaking to them more in French. For you, because it helps you expand your bubble.

I have to generalise a bit, but a lot of us English speakers who live in a country where the native language isn’t English … Like I mentioned before, we end up sort of having the foreign language as an extra thing we have to do. But actually, the more we integrate it into our daily lives, the less effort it becomes to have French as part of our daily lives.

And that actually has long-term benefits, rather than if you’re just thinking about studying it. So, for example, cooking a meal … Your partner said to you, ‘Turn on the oven.’ To him, it might seem obvious, because even if you didn’t understand the word, you could piece it together, because we don’t cook in the fridge.

And yeah, sure, it’s logical at the end, but for whatever reason, your brain didn’t click. And so, I think, if the person is not your partner, it’s better, because then you can leave them after that hour or at the end of the day. And it doesn’t do any harm. It doesn’t simmer. Otherwise, you can have silly little resentments. Because you have a stronger emotional connection to the person, you tend to overthink things that they say and do.

I’m not an expert, but I think that you should definitely use them, but be smart about it. And don’t have them as your primary source. I don’t think I’d want my dad to teach me to drive. He didn’t, but I don’t think that would have been a good idea.

Carlie: It wasn’t a good idea for me, I have to say. And Sandy actually says that her biggest challenge with language learning has been persistence, after gaining high fluency and feeling ease in communication. It’s sometimes difficult to continue the motivation to study further. I think, even with me, I’m not highly fluent, but I can get by.

When I had just finished this course and was smacked in the face with all this new grammar that I hadn’t gotten to yet, I wasn’t sure if I could handle it. So, how do you keep up your motivation to keep digging deeper into a language? You said that you don’t consider yourself at the end of your learning journey.

Alex: No. I think that on one hand, it’s an easy answer. On the other hand, it’s tricky. I’d say it’s easy, because it has to just come from within. I moved to France because I was looking for a sense of purpose, and I’d found a passion for learning this language. And I realised what it brought to me on a personal level.

And I wanted more of that. I wanted to accomplish it, and it never went away. So that’s how I know it was just something that will be with me forever. So, I mean, that’s hard to just give to yourself if you don’t have it innately. But the closest you can get, I think, is to really understand why you’re learning it. And the more personal you can make it … If you have to write a three- or four-page essay, go deep with yourself and figure out whether you really want it, and if so, why.

Try to create that emotional attachment to the language. And that will keep you going. That’s good to do at any stage, because again, I think it can help you see things from a better perspective, rather than having it as something to study. But don’t get me wrong, we have to study a lot, especially in the earliest stages.

It doesn’t have to be going through a grammar book. It has to be disciplined and intentional. When you’re at the higher level, and you’ve got the motivation from before, then it stays, but you do go through many slow periods.

I haven’t really studied in like three years, but because I naturally want to do it, I just pick stuff up, but it’s not very fast. It’s very slow. So, what was her name? Sandy? She’s accomplished this high level and wants to keep going. Well, that’s already remarkable, because she wants to do more than just get by. So, I think you have to start increasing the amount that the language is in your daily routine.

If you read books, read almost exclusively in French, and enjoy it. Listen and watch as much as possible, and enjoy it. And over time, you pick up way more native level stuff. And that is what helps you improve, because you start to intuitively know how to say something in a native way, even though you’ve never studied it. And I know advocates of that for all levels, right from the beginning, but I only cottoned onto it at a late stage. So, I know that it’s beneficial.

Carlie: I really enjoy your YouTube videos, where you break down the phrases used in popular French television shows, because I watch those with subtitles on – sometimes it has to be French with French subtitles, which is incredibly frustrating, because you do miss the nuances. So, it’s really useful to watch your videos and understand those little phrases that you don’t learn in the classroom.

Alex: First of all, I know it’s frustrating, but if you’re even anywhere in the intermediate level, stop watching with English subtitles. You’ve got to be at one with that frustration. I feel it. I’m just watching a series called Mortel, which is on Netflix. And it’s a series for teens. Well, it has teens in it, but I think it deals with some very adult themes.

So, I’m enjoying how gritty it is. But because they’re teens, they speak really fast. They abbreviate a lot. I’ve never been around that language. I live in France, but I’ve never been around that language. So, why should I give myself a hard time about not understanding this? I’m going to put the subtitles on. And I have to even pause at some point to go back and just read it. Because it was too quick, and maybe the point was too important, so I didn’t want to miss it.

So, you really do have to have a shift in your head of, I cannot watch this as I would watch an English-speaking thing. I just have to do it in different way. The experience is different. And that’s tough for a lot of us, but you just have to; that’s just how it is.

Carlie: I really like the idea of getting comfortable in that uncomfortable situation. I remember the very first couple of times my partner and I tried to watch a movie in French with French subtitles, because there was no English option. And he’s like, ‘Oh, well, it’ll be a good challenge for you.’ And the first time I think we got 10 or 15 minutes in and I just cracked it.

I’m like, ‘I can’t enjoy this. This is miserable for me. I feel upset. I don’t want to watch it.’ And that was maybe two years ago. And now I’m at the point where I just accept that I will sit there and watch. I won’t get everything. And sometimes I’ll need to tap him on the shoulder and be like, ‘What just happened?’

Alex: Yeah. And that’s good. You’re in a different place now. And I think that means that you shouldn’t ignore that feeling of … It sounds like you felt like you could have got more from that experience than you did. That’s how I would feel, anyway. Now, I mentioned the need to persevere earlier, but you should be pragmatic. You can say, ‘Look, this is for natives. I’m not ready yet for this.’ So, that makes sense. Yeah.

Carlie: I have to ask, Alex … Duolingo is so popular, and for so many people, it’s an entry point and an easy way to feel like you’re doing your homework with a language and putting in the work. I did notice your video, where you suggest that you shouldn’t use Duolingo for language learning. So, let’s get it out there. What’s your beef with Duolingo, Alex?

Alex: So, I should mention that I started learning French with Duolingo, and it was one of the things which got me hooked, and it made the experience like a game – really, really fun. And so, I’ll always be grateful for that and happy about that. So, the point of that video was not to say, ‘Never use it.’ When you’re on YouTube, you have to play around with titles and thumbnails that grab people.

Carlie: So it was just clickbait?

Alex: Was it? The meaning of that word sort of fluctuates. It’s a tough game and sometimes you have to play a bit with the rules. But no, I mean, what I’m saying is, I think that a lot of us who want to learn language and have never done it before … We want that one app or those one or two apps or those books that are going to get us where we want to go.

And, like I said earlier, when you haven’t done it before, you need to sort of stumble around in the dark, and that’s just the way it’s got to be for you to get that experience. But I think it’s a dangerous point in the journey, where you can be giving it too much of your time. Beyond the beginner stage, where it’s all new, and you’re learning everything you’re reading…

Once you get to that intermediate point, I think you need to be speaking and confronting that discomfort of real conversations in some way. So, if you have Duolingo, it can be sort of a crutch, and this can be with any app, because apps can’t recreate speaking environments. My main beef with Duolingo is that it doesn’t like you to speak, at least not in a natural way.

It teaches you stuff that just isn’t relevant. It can be helpful in the beginning for sentence structure, but it’s been the subject of a lot of memes on the internet about how ridiculous the sentences are. Like, ‘The duck plays golf’, or something like that. It’s good for basic sentence structure.

But as you progress, you need be able to create your own material, or at least find stuff which is more relevant to day-to-day life, whilst also being exposed to the next steps of the grammar for the structure of sentences. So, you learn through doing, and you learn through context, and Duolingo isn’t good at that, basically.

So, the video is to say that beyond the beginning stage, it could very well be harming your French, because you’re using it as a crutch. And you need to be switching it up now and putting more focus on production and actually putting yourself out there.

Carlie: So, what would your advice be to a newbie language learner. It’s okay to start with Duolingo, but think a bit further ahead as well?

Alex: I think the fact that someone’s listening to this, and they’re listening to it all the way through, means they’re interested enough in language learning. They’ve probably tried it at least for five minutes. And so, I would say that you can use it, but know going into it that it’s definitely not going to be forever.

And it shouldn’t be your main tool. But I’d say, if you’re starting out, you need to find one or two tools that you give your all to and you enjoy using. But always be aware that if something isn’t working, don’t let the first thing that comes into your head be, Oh, it’s me. I’m not good at this for XYZ reason. Maybe I just need to change it up. Maybe, today, I’m not feeling it. Maybe I need to just listen to some music, but I’m going to do it with intention. I’m going to try and keep that discipline going.

Because motivation comes and goes in waves, and the sooner we can just be prepared for that, the better. Motivation doesn’t stay forever. You need to sometimes create it by keeping that consistency. So, apps like Duolingo are really good at that. Because you have that streak that builds, and on Memorise you grow a little plant, and that’s really good.

So, use them for what they’re good at. Just recognise when perhaps you’re over-relying on them, and when you’re at a point where you could be doing something better for where you want to go.

Carlie: And what about those more intermediate learners, who are hitting that wall and feeling a little bit stuck and having that confidence crisis?

Alex: I’m a huge advocate of self-study. I think that if you want something enough, you can achieve it yourself, because you’ll put the time in. That doesn’t mean you don’t get help. No, but it does mean that you make sure that your learning is personalised, and you get the help you need to help fulfil your goals.

So, if you’re stuck at the infamous intermediate plateau, then maybe don’t sign up to another class that is going to teach you the next stage of the language and teach you poetry or the next level of grammar or whatever. Start to write your own little stories. Go on websites like italki and get your writing checked. Improve your writing based on their feedback. Repeat these things. Create your own sentences, and put them into tools like Memorise or Anki, which are for memorisation in a smart way.

What they do, for people who don’t know … They’re called space repetition systems. They show you each of your entries. So, you can call them flashcards on steroids, as I like to call them. Put your entries in, and based on your responses to how well you think you know them … Well, that’s what Anki does. You’re really honest with it. You say, ‘I know this; show it to me in six months.’

Memorise tests you with questions and different ways of asking, ‘How do you say this?’ Or, ‘What does this mean?’ And then, based on your answers, they will decide when to show you it again. And so, if you can be the one writing the sentences, and you can be the one putting the time into it, you’re going to retain a lot of stuff, and that keeps you progressing.

But if you’re at this sort of intermediate stage where you’re stuck, I would suggest you start personalising stuff more. You’re learning more. Don’t be afraid to take control of things yourself, and also change things up, because if you’re stuck and you don’t feel like you’re moving forward, one thing is for sure: what you’re doing right now, either part of it or all of it, isn’t working. So, just change it up.

Find someone who knows more than you do. That’s a general rule in life. Find someone who’s done what you want to achieve and ask them for help. That’s what I did recently for my business. I had a lot of questions. So, I went to the guy who had achieved something that I want to achieve in business, and that made everything better.

The last few weeks have just been really smooth. So, the same applies to French. So, yeah. That’s a bit of a roundabout answer. There are probably so many things to do, but the more you take control of your own learning and personalise what you’re doing, the more you’re going to progress, because everything you’re putting in and everything you’re producing is relevant to you. You’re naturally going to be interested in it. So, that’s going to keep you motivated.

Carlie: And I know, Alex, that you’ve curated a lot of good links to useful resources specifically for learning French on your website. So, where can people go if they want to check those out? I especially liked the fiction books for adults that you pointed to, because I found, starting with children’s books, that I was getting pretty bored pretty quickly. So, where can people find out more about you and that information?

Alex: Yeah. Well, you can go to my website, ‘French In Plain Sight’. And I post, currently, two videos a week on YouTube. One is in English each week. I’m experimenting with trying to do a video in French each week. And I also post from time to time on Instagram, again @FrenchInPlainSight. And yeah, please just get in touch if you have any questions.

If you’re learning French or another language, a lot of my tips apply to any language, based on the mindset stuff and practical learning. If you’re stuck on your language learning journey, it will pass. It’s listening to conversations like this that can free things up in your mind and give you a boost to keep going and try something new and make a breakthrough.

Carlie: That’s it for today. You can share your language learning tips in the comments in our Facebook groups, or hit us up on Instagram or Twitter. We are Expat Focus. For more interviews, free guides, and resources covering all aspects of life abroad, be sure to check out our website. It’s expatfocus.com. And I’ll catch you next time.