Motivation (Or Lack Thereof): a Rant of Sorts

OK guys, let me just say it:

I’m seriously struggling with motivation right now.

Not with Spanish. My love affair with Spanish continues unabated. If I could do nothing but watch TV in Spanish, read books in Spanish, twirl in flower-filled meadows with Spanish, then I’d have no major complaints.

But Tagalog? Tagalog and I are going through A Rough Patch.


Please…tell me more.
(source: ambro on

I’m not sure what it is…

  • The fact that I still babble like a toddler after nearly six months of daily study?
  • The fact that native material is so far beyond my grasp that the only texts that I can sort-of-kind-of-mostly understand are in my textbook?
  • The fact that I still find myself falling into the trap of translating word for word every time I try to express myself?
  • The fact that I can understand every single word in a sentence, and yet have no stinking clue what the sentence actually means?

I’m going to go with all of the above.

This isn’t a post about ways to keep up motivation when it’s lagging. It isn’t a post about pulling the positive from the negative. I’m not looking for encouragement, or tips, or suggestions.

No, this post is about complaining! Whining! Grumbling and groaning! 

Oh come on, don’t tell me that you don’t enjoy a good whine every now and then.

Here’s the thing: I don’t really like doing packaged language courses.

When I was learning Spanish, I had so many resources to pick and choose from. I could play games, read interesting articles with full audio, watch TV made for learners, listen to great podcasts, even read simple books within a few months.

(And yes, I do realize how annoying that last paragraph is if you’re currently feeling about Spanish the way that I’m feeling about Tagalog. Sorry. Please feel free to tell me off in the comments.)

Only a bit of what I did in Spanish felt like work: anki, grammar exercises, audio drills. But it was ok to do the boring stuff, because it helped me have more fun with the fun stuff.

Well, in Tagalog right now, everything is the boring stuff.

I want the fun stuff! Where is the fun stuff?


It’s OK. I’m OK.

This is just that predictable 5.26 month itch.

I’ll keep doing my daily study for the month of October: anki, memrise, reviewing what I’ve already learned, working a bit in Elementary Tagalog, clawing my way through every painfully tiny bit of progress.

This too shall pass.



Graeme Weatherston

In the meantime, please grab some cheese and a glass of whine, and share your language-learning woes in the comments. Come on guys…tell me I’m not alone in this.

(Please note: this is a positivity-free zone. I reserve the right to delete any inappropriately upbeat or helpful comments. Remember what no one’s mom used to say: if you can’t say something grumpy, then don’t say anything at all.)

17 thoughts on “Motivation (Or Lack Thereof): a Rant of Sorts

  1. Katherine

    Yes, I think it will pass… but per your request, on to the more fun stuff ; )

    1) My ANKI deck is eating me alive! Seriously, review, review, review, learn 1 new word, stumble into a dark alley with 45 toughies that I don’t recognize at all.
    2) Somehow every single day passes and I think “okay, tomorrow I’ll get down to it” and really start focusing… and then the following night shows up and it’s the same story. It’s like an unbreakable cycle.
    3) I’m job hunting right now and there’s that dreaded interview question: How good is your [language X]? And I never, ever know what to say. I kick myself for not having studied harder in the past, hard enough that the answer could have been something easy like “pretty fluent”. At this point I don’t even know what fluent means anymore, it’s just an eternal better-than-I-am-capable-of-now benchmark. And it’s embarassing to admit that I’ve spent years working on these languages. There may even have been an incident or two in which, by the sin of omission, I allowed people to think that I was a newbie just to look better.

    *phew!* How did I do? Was it whiny enough?

    1. Stephanie Post author

      Fantastic job Katherine! That was exactly the right amount of whine! Oooh…point number three is REALLY tricky. I’ve never *needed* a non-native language for a job, so I don’t even know how I’d approach that one. And I feel your pain with anki! I’m now at the point where I can get a lot of the words in my anki deck, but when I hear or see them anywhere else, I know that I know them, but I can’t remember what they mean. Argh! May today be a better language day for both of us!

  2. Kass

    Oh. My. Gahd! YES! YES! YES! I have a Farsi lesson today and I am seconds away from cancelling it because IDONWANNA!!!

    I’m three months into my Farsi learning and I can’t even read all the letters in the alphabet. Can’t even begin to recognize words other than the ones for hello and how are you. Three months into Dutch and every lesson is a new beginning because we never review anything so I just forget it all. And Irish, for which I’d give up both the others, is so intermittent because my Irish teacher moved to China that I’m lucky if I get one hour of practice every two or three weeks. And the Irish language TV station is not helping because they’re showing nothing but reruns of the programmes I’ve already watched so many times I’ve memorized them.

    And it’s hot and I don’t want to do anything while my friends are posting photos of leaves changing colour and them wearing wool sweaters by the wood burner. :/

    Rant Ranty McRant!

    (How was that?)

    1. Stephanie Post author

      That was perfect. I knew I could count on you! And the last bit made me laugh…don’t worry, they’ll wish they were you when they’re buried in snow. Ha! I don’t know how you’re managing with THREE languages. That’s seriously intense. (And also, I secretly want to cancel almost every Tagalog tutoring session I have, up until about five minutes after it’s started, when I realize that it’s not that bad.) Good luck to both of us!

  3. Siskia

    I think the rough patch may also have something to something to do with the fact that you picked a tough bone to gnaw on for a second language. For me, non-native fluent Tagalog speakers are the Supermans of the language learning world. 😛

    You’re not alone, though. Nahuatl and I have decided to take a month-long break (conveniently timed to let me focus 100% on Italian for the lenght of the Italki language challenge) because I wasn’t getting anywhere splitting my time between it, Italian and my dayjob. After four months studying Nahuatl I still wasn’t able to make sentences on my own or make much sense of what I read on Facebook, and was MOST DEFINITELY starting to get frustrated with my lack of progress. Also, if you think you have it tough with the lack of resources for learning Tagalog, that’s because you’ve never tried learning Nahuatl.

    The reason why I’m able to put it aside with (some) peace of mind is because I’ve done it before, and I know I’ll go back to it in a few weeks, when the challenge is over and I have more energy and time to devote to it. The first two times I decided I needed a break (concretely, when I was studying beginners Japanese and Italian respectively), I was afraid I’d come back and wouldn’t remember a damn thing, but it was the complete opposite–it was as though the break had allowed the first intensive months of study to settle down in my brain, and when I picked up where I’d left, my rhythm of comprehension was naturally quicker.

    I know you said you didn’t want advice or tips, but what I mean to say is, don’t feel discouraged or forced to trudge along. The walls we hit as language learners are there to be climbed past or walked around, or even thrown down with tools, but not broken with your head. :p Take a short break, collect your thoughts, and pwn that language when you’re ready. 🙂

    1. Stephanie Post author

      Yes, you *definitely* win with Nahuatl. That’s just beyond me! At least it’s relatively easy for me to find Tagalog-speakers to practice with, and there are several learning resources for purchase. Interesting that a break made it easier for you when you started back up again. And thanks for the encouragement. I have no intention of quitting, and I’m definitely taking a bit of a break in October. My rant may have been exaggerated because I was having fun writing it. Ha!

  4. Debbie M

    “The fact that I can understand every single word in a sentence, and yet have no stinking clue what the sentence actually means?” Yes, this happened to me with Latin. Except that for each root, it could be certain kinds of verbs, certain kinds of nouns, or certain kinds of adjectives. So I’d move on to the next word and figure out those possibilities. And then I never could put the puzzle together (word order in Latin sentences is rather random). Yes, I hate that!

    And in my current language, I just found out I can’t do oral questions because I can’t keep all the words in my head long enough to formulate my answer, let alone say my answer! Even one that was only four words! Woah! I’ll need much more practice actually conversing. Which we never get in class. The instructor just stands there telling us how important and easy it is to learn X, Y, and Z. And my roommate/classmate is way behind me, so I can help him, but not vice versa.

    1. Stephanie Post author

      Four can be a lot of words, depending on the words! 😉 Don’t you love it when people tell you how easy something is, but they don’t actually help you learn to DO it? Good luck with Latin…that sounds like a big challenge. Learning in a classroom can have both advantages and disadvantages. Hopefully in the end the good outweighs the bad!

  5. Kent Roper

    You might as well just give up. I’ve gone the past 15 years knowing only 5 words in Tagalog: Magandang umaga and Hindi ko maintindihan. That’s it. I’ve impressed every Filipino I know with those 5 words. Learning languages is stupid anyway. Who would want to do that?

    I know I’m ready to give up learning Lao with it’s stupid tone rules and it’s stupid multiple ways of saying “I” depending on your and their social status and it’s stupid small particle words that don’t translate directly into English and mean different things depending on where they appear in a sentence.

    (Hope that was negative enough for you.)

    1. Stephanie Post author

      Ha! Your comment made me laugh out loud. Thanks for the encouragement…you’re right, I really *should* quit. Good luck to both of us! (Although I suspect that your Lao is MUCH tougher than my Tagalog!)

  6. Mina

    ¡Hola, Stephanie! How comforting to hear (well, read) you whining. I am a beginning Spanish learner and found your blog today; which, by the way, made me VERY happy! ( Don’t delete me for the little positivity that I could not resist.) Anyway, I have a feeling you will do just fine. In Spanish, for me constructing sentences is a bit of a bear although I do have a love for the differences between English and Spanish grammar. It is very interesting.
    Oh, my… this did not come out like a whine at all. Oh well, así somos.

    1. Stephanie Post author

      Mina, your comment is dangerously close to positive! Luckily, I’m out of my funk and in a good mood today, so I’ve decided not ban you. Ha! No, really, I’m so happy to read your comment. Spanish is such a beautiful language, and it is interesting to compare it to English – so many similarities, and yet so many differences. Good luck with your study! Please keep in touch and let me know how things are going.

  7. Bill Price

    Hey Stephanie!

    I’m gonna rant a bit myself… For the last 8 months, I’ve been in and out of the hospital due to a chronic lung disease. I’ve gained 50 pounds being on Prednisone for 5 months straight. I haven’t been able to update my blog in 3 months due to a new job and a new diagnosis of Narcolepsy which comes with it’s own awesome medication and side effects. (BTW, thanks for mentioning my Blog in one of your previous posts!)

    Now for my language complaints. I’m losing my German due to lack of use. Chinese has become REALLY hard lately. My Spanish stinks and I keep wanting to substitute French words every time I speak it! ANKI is boring me to tears lately and it used to be my favorite. I’ve tried to start Indonesian about 50 times and for some reason it just does not interest me WHEN I’m studying it! Now, I love it when I’m just thinking about it. I’ve never run into that before… Basically, my language life is going through a rough patch.

    Thanks for this post and thanks for everything you do here. I love reading your blog. Keep it up and good luck!

    1. Stephanie Post author

      Oh, you win the rant war. A thousand times over, you win. I’m sending you good thoughts – I hope that things to back to normal soon. I had to laugh at this: “I love it when I’m just thinking about it”. Isn’t thinking about it half the battle, or something like that? Good luck!

  8. Emma

    I love this post. You made my day. So, nice to feel like I’m not alone! I could have written all this…

    The fact that I still babble like a toddler after nearly six months of daily study?
    The fact that native material is so far beyond my grasp that the only texts that I can sort-of-kind-of-mostly understand are in my textbook?
    The fact that I still find myself falling into the trap of translating word for word every time I try to express myself?
    The fact that I can understand every single word in a sentence, and yet have no stinking clue what the sentence actually means?

    Let’s not forget that we are voluntarily doing this to ourselves! lol…does that make it worse?!


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