For some reason, humans at rest aren’t very good at staying at rest. When you tell us we can’t leave the house for three months until a deadly pandemic passes, the gears start turning, and we start wondering how we can make productive use of all this free time. For most, this took the form of enrolling in online classes, learning a new language, or impulse-buying a Peloton to make up for skipping the last 3,000 leg days. Whether you spontaneously got the urge — along with the rest of the country — to learn to bake sourdough, or finally committed to learning a language, there has been an unprecedented amount of pressure to improve ourselves during this lockdown.
My way of doing this has been attempting to learn French. And for someone who has taken a collective 12 years of language classes and still can’t converse at above a first-grade level, it’s going exactly how you’d expect.
When I embarked upon my ill-fated language learning mission, I was under the illusion that, in the absence of my usual distractions, it would be relatively easy. If I dedicated an hour a day to studying French, the language would magically fit in my brain after a few months. Soon enough, a harsh reality presented itself: Learning a new language is hard. My struggles with French are pretty accurately exemplified by this video, created by mexemluv on YouTube.
The guy in that video is basically me doing my Duolingo lessons every day. And yes, it feels pretty ridiculous. Without any real immersion to test my skills, and a fairly monotonous household routine, it’s easy to get discouraged. And because you won’t master the language by the end of lockdown, you might start feeling like you’re wasting your time.
There are a lot of reasons to be demoralized during a pandemic, but failing to immediately learn a new language, or master a new skill, isn’t one of them. Whether you’re juggling two jobs and a full schedule of classes, or locked down in your house with nothing to do, it takes months to become proficient at something new, and years to actually master it.
As lockdowns slowly ease, we may feel pressured to have something to show for ourselves after these months of isolation. But don’t measure your progress against impossible standards. Don’t worry if you aren’t trilingual, or bilingual, or — who are we kidding? — have even fully mastered the English language. Lockdown learning doesn’t encapsulate an entire educational experience — it’s just the beginning. So even when life is back to normal, stay motivated. You’ll still probably sound like the French guy in the video when speaking your new language, but if you’re lucky, you won’t feel quite as silly.