We’ve all been there. We find ourselves standing in the language section of Barnes and Noble staring lustfully at the colorful rows of shiny new books, thinking naïvely to ourselves, “This is the missing resource. If I just buy this book, I can finally make some real progress!” It’s a perfectly naturally instinct and I admit that I have succumbed to it an embarrassing number of times. I’ve excitedly purchased language learning books that ended up sitting on my shelf unopened. I’ve joined online membership sites, bought apps, or made in-app purchases, only to rarely if ever open the sites or apps. It saddens me to think of how many trips I could now take using the money I have wasted on language learning tools and resources I never ended up using. You would think I would have learned my lesson by now, but the frustrating truth is that I will likely do the same thing again. Why do so many of us fall into this trap again and again?
I believe the main issue is fear of discomfort.
Learning any new skill, especially one that involves interpersonal interaction like foreign languages, can be extremely uncomfortable for adult learners. Having full command of our first language, we get very used to quickly and efficiently communicating exactly what we think, feel, want, or need through the amazing tools of spoken, written, and non-verbal communication. When learning a new language and culture, however, we are suddenly thrust into a world of ambiguity, uncertainty, miscommunication, and slow, laborious exchanges for the most basic of needs. Even a 30-minute conversation with a tutor on Skype can leave you exhausted and depressed about all the things you don’t yet understand or know how to say. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for such discomfort. It is an essential side effect of doing the necessary tasks to reach fluency in your target language. But the human brain will do everything it can to convince you to avoid pain. So it tricks you into thinking that buying a new language learning resource is the same as actually practicing the language.
To help prevent this psychological hijacking, ask yourself the following questions the next time you find yourself tempted to buy a new language learning resource:
- Did I actually use the last resource I bought?
- Will this resource really help me make progress in the target language?
- Am I buying this product to avoid higher yield activities like speaking with a tutor?
Having the right resources can make a big difference in language learning and I do think it is worth investing in a few high-yield tools. But only if you actually make full use of them and only if you buy them for the right reasons. You can’t buy your way out of discomfort of growth.