Language Is to Communicate


CONGRATULATIONS!   You have made theLanguage Is to Communicate decision to learn a new language.  Whether this is your second language, or your fifth, your goals are the same – you want to be able to communicate with others, and the stages of language acquisition will likely be the same as well.  You may run into roadblocks, we all do, but the important thing is to stay the course.  Don’t run the opposite direction when you feel overwhelmed by all the new “rules” or when confusion sets in with the different language nuances.  The secret is to keep at it and not give up!  The persistence to achieve your goals will result in SUCCESS!

So what are the phases you might expect to encounter along the way?

PHASE 1. Enthusiasm

You feel it – the excitement, the anticipation!  Every good plan starts like this no matter whether it’s because you have to or because you want to.  Learning something new, experiencing something new, always brings with it a sense of excitement and an enthusiastic attitude.  Hold that thought beyond the first day!

PHASE 2. ObsessionASL as a second language

We’ve all been there.  We get so focused on success or the “give me more” mindset that we obsess.  Am I right?  You may feel so drawn to your learning that it seems like your entire existence revolves around your learning efforts.  Maybe you look for more and more time pockets to listen, or you buy more and more learning tools to immerse yourself in.  Rather than be afraid of this phase, embrace it!  You can grow in leaps and bounds during this phase, but be careful not to burn out!

PHASE 3. Panic

Once you calm down and focus, the time for actual learning then begins.  You may have made great strides while obsessed, and as you slow into a more realistic pace you may find yourself hitting a wall, or feeling like you’re encountering a setback.  Nothing seems to stick.  The words you’re learning may seem different all of a sudden and you begin to doubt yourself.  This may lead to panic, but don’t fear!  It’s at this stage that you’ll feel the temptation to simply abandon all of your hard work and leave it all behind.  It’s at this phase that you must hold on for dear life because you are about to turn a corner.

PHASE 4. TimiditySpeaking Your Second Language

You’ve probably heard, “practice makes perfect”.  So is true with language learning.  As you progress and continue to speak out loud, repeating what you hear and practicing what you have learned, you may experience a “shyness” when you hear your own voice.  You may tend to be quiet.  It is at this moment you need to step out boldly.  Speak with confidence, not timidity.  You need to fight the urge to be timid, get past yourself and show your vulnerability.   Remember to ask yourself, “What is going to happen if I make a mistake?” The answer: nothing dreadful!

PHASE 5. Lack of Understanding

I’ll use an example here to demonstrate what I mean by this phase.  You’ve been learning by using different techniques and resources, you’ve practiced and have quite a bit of vocabulary under your belt.  You have spoken out with confidence, and now you are feeling empowered to speak to another individual, perhaps the cashier at the international food store, or a waitress at your local eatery. You may have even practiced in front of a mirror to make sure you have it right.  Then your moment comes, you say your well-rehearsed line, the native speaker smiles and then answers you.  You have no idea what they just said!  How can that happen?  Your lack of understanding has crippled you…for the moment.  Let it only be a momentary glitch because the native speaker likely said words you know, but just at the speed of sound.  If you look a little dazed, they will likely help you through this uncomfortable moment with graceful assistance.  After all, you have just made an attempt to communicate with them, and they are grateful!  Don’t give up (you’re moving to the next phase)!

PHASE 6. Disappointment

You’ve entered a critical phase and are asking yourself, “How can it be?” You’ve been learning the language for months, practicing over and over, and yet your lack of understanding is crippling you.  You may be ready to throw in the towel, try another language or better yet…take a deep breath and try again.

PHASE 7. RevelationWhat are they really saying?

Just when you didn’t know how you could go on, something magical happens. Unexpectedly, you suddenly understand!  The light bulb goes on and the correct answer just rolls off your tongue.  You start to hear and think in your new language.  I’m not quite sure how this happens, but when it does – be ready for a celebration!  You have reached a significant milestone.  It’s all downhill from here!

PHASE 8. Anticipation

Once you’ve reached the Revelation Phase, you can’t wait to see what’s next.  All of you shyness is gone.  Your fears and disappointments are a thing of the past, or at least few and far between.  Don’t get too confident with you newfound eagerness.  There may still be stumbling blocks in your future.

PHASE 9. Humiliation

It happens to all of us.  You have reached a level of proficiency and skill, and your confidence is tipping the scale.  Then it happens.  You are in conversation with someone and you let it slip, without knowing it.  You’ve used a word improperly, perhaps the wrong verb, noun or tense.  You’re embarrassed!  How could that happen?  It does, and depending on your context it could be a very funny moment.  Embrace it and learn from it!  Know for sure that you won’t be saying that again!

PHASE 10. Victory!Stages of Language Acquisition

You have reached your goal, or maybe even exceeded your goal!  Your new language in your grasp and you can understand and speak without difficulty.  CONGRATULATIONS!

The important things with language learning to (1) get started and (2) stick with it!  To learn more about programs and resources for language learning, check out the Best Online Language Courses.

You will encounter many phases in your learning process, and that’s okay!  As with learning anything new, it’s a process, and this process doesn’t happen over night.  Be realistic in your expectations!  Enjoy your journey of language discovery!


  1. Hi Dana,

    I just like your article a lot. You’ve described the different stages in learning a new language so correctly. I have just started picking up Thai as a new language and it is interesting and frustrating at the same time. We are not child any more and picking up a new language is definitely a big challenge. But I will keep putting my effort and hope I can reach the stage ten as you mentioned.

    Thanks for your sharing


    1. Congratulations at taking on this new challenge! Getting started is often the biggest step. Now keep it up one step at a time till you reach your goal.

  2. Hey thank you for this post! I thought I was the only one who was largely intimidated by learning a new language. I have always wanted to learn Italian but thought that at my age it would be way too complicated. This was encouraging 🙂 I will be coming back to these thoughts now when I start the journey to learning a second language.

  3. Hi, Dana!
    Thank you for your sharing! I am learning German for more than 8 months now and it is my third language (My first language is Chinese and second one is English).

    Your post is true to me. When I am learning German, I have experienced from PHASE 1. Enthusiasm (can’t wait to start learning German!) to PHASE 9. Humiliation and now back to PHASE 3. Panic. The reason why I am panic now is I am preparing my first German exam and I am not sure if I can pass it LOL. But still, learning a language is fun!

    1. I jump around in the stages too. Don’t panic! If you’ve gotten to phase 9 of your learning, you know more than you realize and should do great on your test! Keep up the good work. I’m thrilled you are enjoying the process, too!

  4. This is all so true, Dana.

    As a bilingual speaker (English and Mandarin), I hesitate to pick up a third language because other than all these 10 phases (I’m still bouncing from humilation to victory and back again for both languages) I feel that I’m not prepared to accept a third language.

    Often, behind a language, there is an entire culture from which the words stem from, and the culture is set within a worldview that is very different from the language(s) that you know. This is especially so if the language is from a different branch of family. It makes learning the language a lot more tougher and more effort is definitely required to be able to communicate effectively in it.

    Anyways, one thing that you say is right – with patience and effort, success can definitely be reached. When I feel ready, I’ll step on my path to learning another language!

    1. Congratulations on being bilingual, and thanks for your great comment. When you are motivated to acquire a third language, check back for resources to ease the learning curve.

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