There’s a phase in language learning that I call the headache phase. You’re understanding more and more, but you can’t yet express yourself as you would like to. It means you’re working really hard, get very tired and frustrated and maybe start to wonder if it’s all worth it. In this blog you’ll learn some really useful tactics for navigating the frustration phase.

How do you know you are in the headache phase?

It’s actually quite simple. Because speaking and writing English for any length of time gives you a headache. Or at the very least makes you feel very tired.

Find out more about phases of English learning here

Motivation is a tough issue

Motivation can be tough. Especially for a skill which you need to practise regularly like learning English. Imagine you wanted to get much better at tennis or playing the clarinet, you know you’d need to practise regularly right? The same is true of learning English.

Motivating yourself with extrinsic factors

Motivation can come from lots of different factors and works differently for everyone.

There are extrinsic factors (things from outside you) such as:

  • Money
  • Reputation
  • Status
  • Praise
  • Belonging to a group
  • Success (depending on your definition of success)

These can be things or psychological rewards. So, if you want to improve your English because you’ve got a big presentation or seminar coming up, that’s extrinsic.

Find out more about extrinsic motivation

Motivation can be intrinsic too

Intrinsic factors come from inside you. They are an inner need or desire.

  • Curiosity
  • Wanting to communicate better
  • Wanting to use English for a specific purpose
  • Loving languages, reading etc  
  • Success (depending on your definition of success)

And, of course, you likely have a mix of these motivators. Some of them are connected too. You might want to communicate better because you want to belong to a group. Or want to speak better English so you can connect better with your customers.

Positive and negative motivators

There are also positive motivators – I want that!

These work well for long term aims. Imagine you want to buy a house. you’d be happy to work for a while to achieve that.

positive motivation in language learning

And negative motivators – I don’t want that anymore!

These are great for getting started on something, because they make use of a problem that you have been experiencing. Remember those trousers that wouldn’t do up any more, which started your diet?

negative motivators in language learning

Why do you want to improve your English?

It doesn’t matter how you define your motivators, but it is essential to know what they are. If you know why you are learning English and what you want to achieve with it, you are more likely to be able to keep going.

Add a comment below about your motivators to learn English.

What kind of support do you need?

People need different levels of support to keep going with something. Some people make up their minds and just go for something. Others need to understand for themselves first. Others need support from others to make sure things get done. And others find it difficult to really commit and may keep changing their minds.

Putting the support network in place, if you need it, can be a big help in this phase.

Techniques which help you in the Headache phase

We’ve been talking about motivation a lot, which is really important, but there are also some tactics you can use to make your life easier too. Let’s face it, in this phase, you need to take the short cuts you can to get where you want to go.

Here are some of my favourites:

  • Prepare for phone calls, presentations, lives or meetings in advance.
  • Ditch the tricky words
  • Upgrade your description skills
  • Use translation apps

Prepare in advance  

Improvisation isn’t your best friend in this phase. Make sure you work out what you want to say before that phone call or presentation. Look up some words you need, maybe get something checked or translated in advance. And, if needs be, do a rehearsal.

frustrated with English

Ditch the tricky words

It’s wonderful to have a large vocabulary, but it’s ok to be learning them too. In this phase, your confidence will rise the more you keep talking, so don’t make it too hard on yourself. Choose some simple words and maybe throw in something more difficult, but don’t get paralysed by something difficult. This is true for spelling when you’re writing and pronunciation when you’re speaking. It’s more important to be doing something than doing nothing perfectly.

Upgrade your description skills

This is a trick I was taught at university and it has proved itself very useful. If you’re learning a language and you don’t know a word, then you can ask the other person how you say something. Or, you can describe it. Obviously you won’t want to do this for every situation, but this can be a handy way of making yourself understood. Usually the person you are talking to, will then fill in the right word.

It doesn’t always work, but then you’ll have some fun with it

Use translation apps

It’s ok to use these apps, as long as you use them to find words and not for whole sentences. Also, make sure you check that the word you find, really works. You do this by translating it back into your language and seeing what comes out then. The best way to use an app is to see how a word is used in a sentence and then to decide which one to use. Please, please, please, don’t just GT a phase and then use it. Check out this link to see what can happen with Google Translate.

Keep going

Really, the most important thing of all is to keep going. Try not to beat yourself up about making mistakes, as you can’t learn a language without making them. See each mistake as a way to improve your English.

quote to increase motivation

Native speakers make mistakes too

Have you ever noticed that you make mistakes in your own language? That’s especially when you’re speaking and everyone does it. In your own language, you probably correct yourself automatically.  

The thing is, we all make mistakes when speaking, so nobody expects you to speak perfect English. And you shouldn’t either.

In fact, the only thing that will happen if you expect perfection, is that your frustration will increase and your confidence will go down.

Want more self-confidence in English?

Why not join the free 5-day Kick Ass confidence in English challenge starting on June 3? Learn techniques to help you feel more confident and practise them in a group.