I am delighted to invite Jana Hofmann, certified coach, to share her experience and vision of learning French as an adult.
Jana evokes the many challenges learning French represents (fears, doubts, birth of a new identity) and also shares valuable tips to help you take control and make this new language your own.
She puts into words what goes on behind the scenes of learning a new language. Beyond the words, the grammar, the purely linguistic aspect.
The challenges of learning French
Written by Jana Hofmann
A language opens new doors – to new countries and cultures. But most of all, to yourself. A new language can come with a deep, personal transformation. Learning a new language as an adult can be also about becoming someone new. About getting to know a new part of yourself that you have not met before.
The challenges of learning French are multiple. Learning a new language is not only about learning new words, new grammar, new sounds. It can feel like discovering and bringing to life a new you. And this means change. And change can feel uncomfortable. It can be(come) a much more profound challenge and experience than you’ve expected.
It can be surprising: You signed up to learn French, instead, there is much more happening to and with you.
〰️You & the language
“Is this me?”.
Your voice might change, you create new sounds. You might feel stressed, strange, not familiar about what you sound like when speaking French, about how you feel when speaking French. You are new to yourself. This can lead to feeling insecure about yourself. You might begin to feel less confident. Less autonomous.
You are not used to this “new you”. And that’s normal.
It might feel like becoming a helpless child who is learning how to articulate himself for the first time, who is starting to learn how to express his needs, his wishes. It can be quite a “shock” experiencing all this when being an adult, when being in a new, foreign country. You are not used to this “new you”. And that’s normal. You were not aware that all that would come up. Not aware of this iceberg behind learning French.
Sometimes, you prefer to say nothing at all.
Thousands of thoughts and feelings are rushing through you before saying one word: hesitation, doubts, constant double checking, feeling scared, nervous, holding yourself back. It is a strange feeling being an adult and all of sudden, it takes time for you to create a sentence, feeling like not being able to say what you actually wanted to say. Sometimes, you prefer to say nothing at all. You might feel powerless. You might not feel like yourself. This can lead to the need of not wanting to socialise, not wanting to connect to the new life. Not wanting to continue with the language.
〰️You & the language plus the others
Additionally, there are “the others”.
You are wondering what other people think about that word that you are using, wondering if they understand you, if they judge you. If they see the effort you are doing. The fear of being laughed at. The fear of not being welcomed, not being accepted, not being taken seriously, not being heard when you speak their language.
During moments like these, certain beliefs might come up.
The belief needing to learn to speak the language perfectly.
Because, when speaking this language perfectly, you might think you will be able to get out of the way all the uncomfortable moments. You might think it will be easy to connect with people, to become a part of this new culture better and easier. You might think that you will feel more confident in approaching new people, you will feel more independent – if only you spoke this language perfectly. If only – it all would be easier.
Unfortunately, this belief of needing to speak the language perfectly will block you. It will become an enemy.
Yes, in order to communicate, you need a certain vocabulary, a certain knowledge. So you can get started, so you can start to play around, to experiment, to start doing little baby steps.
To slowly start exploring, to slowly start discovering this new language and this “new you”.
The key words are: step by step, slowly, experiment, discover – but most of all, make this language yours.
What you do not need is perfectionism.
Because, the tricky part: a goal based on perfectionism will not be achievable. Perfectionism does not have limits, no arrival point. It rather creates unrealistic, non-achievable expectations, a vicious circle. So you will want to go for always better, not noticing how far you’ve already come with your French. So, the challenge is how to get out from this vicious circle of perfectionism and instead head towards the road of speaking “your own French”.
〰️How can you make this language yours ?
💛➖What would you love to achieve by learning French?
Getting a job? Making friends? Simply feeling comfortable in the everyday life when buying a baguette and having some small talk while doing your daily groceries? Being able to read and understand French literature? What purpose do you want the language to have for you? Understanding the need behind can take off the weight and pressure of your shoulders and also the expectation to be able “to do it all”, or rather “to speak it all”. Focus on your main need. Prioritize. Start small.
💛➖What do you want to feel like when speaking French?
Calm? “Feeling French”? Confident? Natural? Trying to be a new you? Try to visualise yourself externally and internally. Knowing how you want to feel can help you to set your “inner compass”. You will subconsciously keep in mind your wished feeling, your comportment.
💛➖What are your fears when starting with French?
Fear of not being good enough, not serious enough? Fear that it might take time? Feeling impatient about certain results? Feeling the pressure and expectations from the people around you? Fear of not being able to belong to others? Maybe old beliefs like “I was never good in learning languages”? Associations to when you were in school?
Create clarity by being aware about what your fears are, write them down. Having clarity about your fears, about what is blocking you, frees the mind.
💛➖Who can be your support system?
Choose and look for people who believe in you! Interact with people who understand you, who truly motivate you. It is important to receive confidence from your external environment, too. Belief and support from others boost your motivation and serve as internal cheerleaders. And we do need cheerleaders. Team up and look for people who have gone through the same experience or who are currently going through the same shift. Exchanging with people who are or have been there is key.
💛➖ Remind yourself that language is a part of our identity and personality.
It is a big project learning a language. Also, keep in mind that it is difficult to get back to a “learning lifestyle” because as grownups, we might not experience “learning” as often as we did when we were children and young adults. We were used to this “activity” and routine of learning. If you have not been learning something for a long time, you might need some time to adapt to this new activity.
💛➖Do not be hard on yourself.
Make sure to pay attention to the smallest milestones and achievements that you have done. Share them with the people you trust. It is important to appreciate and to talk about every little small step forward.
Who is behind this post?
👋I am Jana, certified coach based in Paris.
I am coaching women, online, in English, German and French, I support women who want to dare, start over or want a change.
I empower you to do what truly matters to you, I support you to be(come) who you truly want to be.
Visit my website : https://www.janahofmann.com/ .
Does this article resonate with your personal experience? What personal challenges have you faced / are you facing when learning French?
Leave a comment below👇!
Thanks Jane and Inès!! I loved this blog article and can definitely relate to a lot in here!! Thank you for “normalising” the emotions accompanying adult learning French…. its a great reminder for anyone learning a new language to change your mindset to make it easier, more enjoyable and more efun
Hi Kate, thank you very much for your comment, I am very pleased to see that the post resonates with you. And yes, couldn’t agree more about the importance to make learning more pleasurable and fun!
Love it! 🖤 Expecially the statement that language is a part of our identity and personality.