Jo Franco is a travel blogger and youtuber who studied abroad with ISA in Paris, France in 2012. This post originally appeared on Shut Up and Go.
One of the most commonly asked questions we get as travel and language bloggers/vloggers aside from “Are you married?” Yes, people have always questioned that… is “Damon and Jo, how do you guys learn languages so quickly?” or “How are you so good at speaking different languages?” We need you to hold up a hot second because it is never “easy,” nor are we good at it right away!
Every language learning process comes with struggles, embarrassment, and eventually, just maybe, fluency. Recently I’ve been determined to take on Italian. I threw myself in a situation where I had no choice but to speak Italian all day, for ten days. I felt weird at first, unlike myself. As the days went on, I noticed changes in my way of thinking, and in my energy levels, it was all pretty bizarre. When it was all said and done I noticed these 8 symptoms of learning a new langauge.
1. You feel like sleeping all the time
Just like any other muscle in your body, your brain gets a workout while trying to pull out verb conjugations and intricate vocab in a different language. The result, mad sleepiness all the time. It also comes from the frustration of not being able to express yourself; when saying something as simple as “I can’t eat pine nuts because I’m allergic” takes around 30 minutes, you realize that going to sleep seems more enticing because you won’t have to work hard. Don’t get lazy, slap yourself out of the z’s and go learn something new!
2. You feel like a kid
My theory is that one of the best ways to learn a new language is to be taught by a kid. Why? Because you’ll be working towards their level of language as a beginner, and they’ll be enthusiastic to teach you because no one ever asks kids to teach anything (which is dumb because kids are so much wiser than adults at times). What this also means is that your skills only allow you to speak on a basic level and you generally feel more dependent, and can only express yourself with kid vocab. Just find a 10 year old teacher and after a few weeks you’ll be speaking at teen level.
3. You might feel like a victim if everyone else is laughing and you don’t know why
One night, I went out to a night club in Italy with a group of 20-somethings, pretending to follow along with their intricate conversations with smiles and nods. As we’re walking through the crowd, some rando yells out “que bella figa,” which one person told me was a compliment, another group of people started laughing, and others were horrified. I, of course, felt like crawling into a little hole because I didn’t even have enough vocab to get a detailed meaning of the word. Thanks to Word Reference, I was able to get this bit of insight when I returned home. I still didn’t know how to feel.
4. You catch yourself being antisocial and learn how to tune things out
Your brain has to work at a level that it’s not used to, and when things get too complicated, you realize that you build a safety mechanism that allows you to have selective hearing. You also start avoiding conversations because of the fatigue that it causes you, but don’t feed into this! It’ll be harder at first to get your points across or understand intricate dialogues, but don’t frame yourself as that big loser who has no personality because you have one, and there are ways to show it even without language. Bringing me to my next point.
5. You smile and laugh because it can’t be misunderstood
Most people smile and laugh a lot when out of their comfort zones. It’s not because you’re funny, don’t get ahead of yaself. There’s a strategic reason behind the smile-laugh. I know my grandma does it when she meets my American friends, like Damon (here’s her laughwhile trying to say nice to meet you). Aside from her, I’ve seen French people do it to me when I speak in English slang that catches them off guard. Come to find out, I smile unnecessarily too because no one can misinterpret a smile… Unless you smile for a terrible reason without knowing it and the inappropriate gesture makes everyone laugh around you … and you’ll have no clue what BS you just pulled until you Google it. Doesn’t this all sound so fun?
6. You want to give up, but know it won’t help your case
Don’t you dare give up and surround yourself with English speakers or whatever language you feel comfy speaking; it’s tempting to binge on Netflix, lucky for you Netflx isn’t global yet so you can’t even use that as English relief. By giving in to your desire to just give up learning all together, you’ll realize that all the work you just put in wasn’t worth it. Don’t delete those language apps, don’t stop making foreign friends, and definitely don’t hibernate until your flight hope. You’ll just make the process harder for yourself.
7. You feel so proud when you see progress
Halfway through my language trip to Italy, a good feeling crept up on me. It was about damn time too, by then, all of the crappy ones I listed above had already found their dark, negative nooks in my mind. I was proud. I was excited at the fact I was randomly spitting out verb conjugations I had never learned with a book, or expressions with swear words in them like “cazzo,” cause that’s basically rule number one about speaking Italian; know how to use cazzo. It’s not so cause and affect either, this process will be painful, then great, then painful again, but over time you’ll realize that the communication opportunities you’ve opened to yourself by learning a new language are limitless.
8. You start seeing the culture and people in a completely different way
Traveling is a layered experience, like an onion. You can visit a country and see it as tourists see it, or you can make a commitment to try and understand their people by learning their language and you might get so deep that you’ll even cry (oohhh there goes the crappy onion pun). We learn to speak not just to be heard, but more importantly, to understand. When you build fluency in a new language, you have the tools to ask the right questions that will give you a new appreciation for the people of the country.
So to answer the question that people always ask us; the way to learn a foreign language is to be able to take all of good, bad, and ugly symptoms along the journey, and translate it to something worth translating. If you feel one or more of these symptoms, know that you’re not alone and that you are most definitely on the right path to lockin’ up a new language.
The world awaits… discover it.