My name is Chad and I love languages.
Throughout my life I’ve always been fascinated by other languages and cultures, but perfectionism, self-doubt, and insecurity always stopped me from truly embracing the world we live in.
Here’s how it went:
I decided to start learning a language and ordered grammar books, paid for language learning software, downloaded a bunch of apps on my phone, and watched countless language tutorials online.
I spent hours memorizing obscure grammar rules and cycling through endless lists of vocabulary words I would probably never use, and I made sure I had every possible tool at my disposal to learn my target language.
I wanted to speak fluently from day one.
I studied a language for months before I even tried to speak a word to another person. I completed countless grammar worksheets because I wanted to be prepared for every situation I may find myself in when speaking this new language.
I would tell my friends and family I was learning a new language, and after a few months they would ask how it was going.
You must be pretty fluent by now, right?
“I’m getting there,” I would say.
To be fair, I had usually gained a pretty high level of comprehension, but I had never practiced speaking.
When I finally encountered a native speaker of my target language, self-doubt took over.
What if I didn’t understand what they said to me, or if I mispronounced a word, or I couldn’t remember which verb tense to use? I would get discouraged before I even tried.
I never actually gave it my all. I stayed in a safe, predictable bubble, scouring through my grammar books and practicing scripted conversations with a computer.
Since I didn’t give it my all, it doesn’t matter if I quit, I thought.
I would rinse and repeat this process until I changed my approach.
And then it worked. I finally learned a language.
Here’s what I changed about my learning process:
- I reflected and figured out what the problem was
- I started speaking to others without worrying about perfection
- I practiced speaking every chance I got
Most people online who write or talk about learning languages focus on how awesome they are (“I speak 47 languages!”) and give generic (or worse, unrealistic) advice about how to effectively learn a language (“Follow my language learning formula and you’ll be fluent in 7 days!”).
Don’t get me wrong – I like a success story.
But even more than a success story, I like a person who is open and honest about the process of learning a new language and isn’t afraid to share their struggles.
So here’s my story. I hope it gives you an idea of who I really am.
I was born on May 29, 1990 in Normal, Illinois. Yes, Normal. It’s a typical American Midwestern town just like you see in the movies.
People from my hometown usually stay in my hometown for their whole lives. They get a job right out of school and usually keep that same job until it’s time to retire.
When they want to travel, they usually go to Florida.
And you can’t go to the grocery store without seeing a familiar face.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it wasn’t the life I wanted.
My first experience with the world outside Normal was in 7th grade when we could choose to study a foreign language at school. I chose German, and I instantly fell in love.
I ended up studying German through junior high, high school, and even college (I was one class away from getting a degree in it!).
I was even lucky enough to visit Germany a couple times throughout school, but there was just one problem.
Even after years of studying, I still couldn’t speak it fluently.
While you could maybe blame this on the education system in the US, that’s just an easy cop-out.
The real reason I couldn’t speak German after all those years of studying was simple: I focused on the wrong things.
I aced every test in my classes, I always finished my homework, and I even got the highest possible score on the German AP test.
But that’s all I focused on – acing every test.
I loved German and put all of my efforts into getting the highest test scores because that’s what I thought was most important.
Being able to communicate effectively in German never topped my list of priorities.
Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
During this time, I had also started teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). I loved this job (and still do!) because it allowed me to meet people from all over the world.
My students came from all walks of life, and no matter what our differences and backgrounds were, we all shared one common thing: language.
I was always surprised at how quickly students could start speaking English after just a few classes each week, and they inspired me to continue my own language learning journey.
After years of studying German and still not being able to communicate fluently, I had started to feel defeated, self-conscious, and even somewhat worthless, but now I had a renewed ambition.
I can do this.
If I could focus all of my attention on German for so long and still not speak it fluently, maybe German just wasn’t my thing. Maybe I just needed to find the “right” language.
Over the next few years, I lived in different parts of the world for school and work.
During this time, I ended up learning some Portuguese, French, and Dutch.
But there was one problem: Without realizing it, I was still focusing on the wrong things.
I rinsed and repeated the same process of buying grammar books, completing worksheets, and practicing scripted conversations with videos or software programs.
Whenever I knew I had to speak to someone though, I would always feel a growing anxiety.
And over time, that anxiety became more and more crippling.
It was a vicious cycle, and eventually, I just gave up.
“Learning a language isn’t for me,” I thought. Maybe my skills are only in teaching my language to others.
Until something changed.
The more students I taught, the more I came to understand the language learning process. We all learn differently, and we all have different ways of reaching our goals.
I just needed to find out how I learn best.
This realization changed my whole perspective. It seemed like the doubts and fears I had about speaking a language had disappeared overnight.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t learn a language, it was that I was learning languages in a way that wasn’t effective for me.
Fast forward to now, and my passion for learning and teaching languages has never been stronger.
That’s why I created this website: to help fellow language teachers and learners discover more about the learning process, and to find opportunities to practice their skills in a productive way.
Nobody ever told me there are different ways to learn. It’s my mission to change that for others.
There’s a lot more work for me to do. With this site, I want to write more content, contribute more ideas, and help others learn about themselves and the world around them.
That’s my blueprint – I’m a teacher at heart.
I appreciate the time you took to read my story and I deeply value every relationship I make from this blog.
I’m here for you as both a learning guide and as a friend.
I want to provide a safe community where language learners and teachers can collaborate, provide encouragement, and learn and teach smarter.
We’re all in this together, and we need to band together, build each other up, and stick together to win.
Thank you for reading.