When To Give Up Learning A Language

When To Give Up Learning A Language

Giving up on anything can be tough. We’re often told that giving up is a sign of weakness or failure. But there are times when letting go of something, in this case a language, is necessary; and not doing so could be detrimental.

Knowing when to give up on a language is important for a number of reasons:

  • The longer you spend doing something that isn’t working, means the longer you spend not learning another language that’s more suitable for you
  • If you force yourself to keep learning a language that doesn’t stick, that could result in you thinking you’re incapable of learning any language, and thus you abandon the practice altogether
  • You’ll only waste your time and not learn anything if you’re not enjoying it
  • You will grow frustrated with yourself for not being able to pick things up, and this can damage your motivation to do anything else

I know the story all too well, of buoyantly starting a new language, spending just a few weeks with it, only to see the enthusiasm wane. All serial language learners have been there, and will go there again. It happens to the best of us.

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I’ve had to drop several languages for many reasons. I can tell you that it never feels good. You’ll convince yourself that you’ll go back to them eventually, but you almost never do. It feels like a loss.

The good news is, letting go does get easier (okay, so this is turning into an article about dealing with grief!). Especially when you can identify why you’re moving on. This is the crucial part: are you dropping a language because it genuinely doesn’t click, or because it’s becoming too challenging for you?

Dropping a language that’s getting hard

If you give up on a language because you hit a point in it that suddenly seems more complicated than what you’ve learned thus far, I have bad news for you: this happens in every single language.

No matter which one you choose, you’re going to come across concepts that will confuse and frustrate you to the point of making you want to scream! There’s no escaping this.

At the beginning of your journey, your target language will feel all shiny, new and easy, because all teaching materials start off with the easy stuff in order to entice you into the language. But this won’t last, and you’ll soon find yourself face to face with grammar and vocabulary that will make your head spin. This is not, I repeat not, the time to give up.

So when is the right time to give up on a language?

Here are 8 signs that you should be looking out for:

1) You’re not enjoying any of the process

This is vital, and perhaps the clearest sign that you need to rethink the language you chose. If learning it suddenly feels like a chore, then one of two things needs to happen: a) you need to alter the way you’re learning it – spruce it up a bit, have some fun with it; or b) you need to think about abandoning it.

You should give yourself enough time with it to decide, but sometimes it’s just a feeling you have. I’m a firm believer that certain languages fit certain people, and there’s no rhyme or reason to this science. When a language fits you, you enjoy all of its little quirks.

2) You don’t want to spend time doing fun stuff in the language

There are plenty of non-studying activities that you could be doing in the language, if you’re so inclined. Watching movies/shows, playing video games, reading, writing, speaking to natives… If you have no interest in doing any of these things, then it might be time to drop the language.

A part of gaining fluency will involve surrounding yourself with the language in all its forms. If you find yourself skipping this crucial step right from the start, a step that should be fun, it likely means the language isn’t for you.

3) You run into confusing concepts, and have no desire to attempt to understand them

When you find a language that “speaks to you”, the things that make it hard for others only make it more intriguing to you. When the reverse happens, and you simply grow frustrated with the oddities and irregularities, and don’t find them charming or appealing, it could be a sign that you need to move on.

Understanding difficult language concepts is a part of the learning process. Without understanding some of them, it will be impossible to use the language properly. If you can’t be bothered to strengthen your knowledge, you might need to abandon ship.

4) You’re disinterested in the culture, country or people

I often say that to truly learn a language, one has to learn about the culture, country and people involved with the language. You should naturally want to do this if the language is one that you feel a connection to.

If none of these things are of interest to you, this is yet another sign that the language itself is of little interest.

5) You have no use for the language (and you keep thinking about this)

While you don’t have to have a direct, immediate use for a language in order to learn it, it does help if there’s a bigger reason and incentive than merely liking the sound of it.

If, however, you have zero use for it, and you keep focusing on how little use learning it will be, you probably need to reevaluate your decision in choosing it.

6) You go long periods of time not working on it

Language learning is about regularity and consistency. In order to gain fluency in the quickest way possible, you’ll need to actively work on the language, and not abandon it for days, weeks or even months on end. If you don’t keep to a schedule, you’ll keep forgetting what you learned, and have to relearn everything, thereby setting yourself back.

This goes back to the language’s desirability. If you find yourself spending long periods of time away from it, not even thinking about it, and you’re completely content knowing you’re not progressing in it, then it’s probably time to drop it.

7) You don’t try to use it in your spare time

A language that you like, that you simply can’t get out of your head, will constantly force itself into your thoughts, no matter what you’re doing. You’ll use it whenever and wherever you can, even when you’re not actively studying it.

If you’re not doing this, there might be cause for concern. Now, on its own this doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It could merely signify that you have a busy, hectic life. But together with some of the other signs, this could be very telling.

8) No matter what you do, the language just doesn’t stick

The sad reality is that, despite your best efforts or how intrigued you are by it, the language might not stick. I mentioned my belief that different languages fit different people; you don’t choose the language, the language chooses you. This is where the notion of non-sticky languages comes into play.

You may have every reason under the sun to learn a language, but if it wasn’t meant to be, then you’ll struggle with it. I’m not saying you won’t ever learn it, just that it will feel impossible for a long time.

If you find yourself forgetting everything, understanding nothing, no matter how many times you revisit the information, and you don’t have this problem with anything else, you might be looking at a language that’s unsuitable for you.

It could, however, be a sign that you’re not yet ready for the language at that particular time. Which brings us to the next point.

Revisiting a language

Sometimes you might need to take a break from a language, go away and learn another one, before revisiting the language you abandoned. You might find, as I did with Russian, that the language will click the second time around, and you’ll enjoy it much more now that you have some more language learning experience under your belt.


Before you choose a language, you need to decide if it’s the right one for you so you can avoid most of the pitfalls listed above. You do this by spending a short time getting to know the language, its culture, and all the things you’ll be surrounded by once you set off on this journey. Will this be a language you’ll want to spend hundreds of hours with?

It is also important to not mistake a lack of overall perseverance for language unsuitability. Don’t simply give up on a language that requires you to think or work harder. That’s not the right approach, or the right attitude to have. Only move on when you’re absolutely certain your time would be better spent on a different language.

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