I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on behavioral tendencies I have that affect me as a language learner. I began my Podcast one month ago, and while I’ve always planned to talk about a range of language learning topics (and I will), the perfectionism piece of my language life has been the natural course of the show this season. Apparently I have more to say on the topic of being a perfectionist language learner than I thought. Surprisingly, the response to this focus has been nothing but positive and supportive. I’ve been amazed and humbled by the number of people who’ve reached out to me to tell me that they relate to my story – that they, too, find themselves struggling with the same or similar tendencies. It feels good to know that I’m not alone, and that’s the exact reason I started this blog and my Podcast. For years I struggled to find my foothold as a language learner, and once I found solid ground, I still battled things that I didn’t hear a lot of other people talking about. So my desire has always been to create the platform that I wish I’d had when I struggled most.

The thing about sharing my trials, though, is that I’m still figuring them out. I’m not an expert, psychology professional, life or language coach. I’m just a person who’s working to identify and confront all the things I allow myself to do that hold me back in language learning and other areas of my life. After all, no part of us exists in a vacuum. All my behavioral tendencies, especially those stemming from deep-rooted perfectionism, exist in every facet of my life. After years of work on myself (including sobriety and counseling), I’m finally seeing a gradual shift in my mindset from fear of failure to hopeful potential. I feel less crushed under pressure to perform according to others’ judgment and more free to just be me and do what’s best for my life. But I still struggle. I won’t deny or sugar-coat that.

One of the things I’m having the hardest time with is avoidance. I’ve always been a procrastinator, and I believe most (all?) of us are to some level. But I’ve noticed more and more over the years that with some things, my procrastination turns into straight up avoidance. I put something on my to-do list, and it carries over onto next week’s to-do list, and the next week’s…and the next. Eventually I realize I’m not just putting this off. I’m just avoiding getting started. For me, procrastination without a deadline is avoidance. Because if I’m accountable to anyone else or to a due date, I eventually get the thing done.

There are so many reasons why we avoid things. As language learners, we often avoid speaking because we don’t like making mistakes or don’t want to look stupid, especially in front of native speakers. So we put off speaking until we have a better grasp of the language. But what happens then? We still aren’t as good at speaking (and listening) as we’d like to be because we haven’t practiced, and we still make mistakes. Yet, knowing I’m going to make mistakes anyway isn’t always motivation enough to get me to seek out speaking opportunities.

Another language learning thing I avoid is reading books. I love to read. It is absolutely one of my favorite past times. I read a book for at least an hour every day in my native language. I have many level-appropriate books in both Italian and German, but opening them up and getting started is something I continue to avoid. I even go so far as to get a book off the shelf, match it to a bookmark, put it on my desk where I do most of my reading…but taking steps to start working through the book simply never happens.

For me, there are so many things at play here. First, of course, is still a fear of making mistakes. Or, rather, a desire to avoid that which makes me feel less-than or unaccomplished. I know I won’t understand 100% of what I read in these languages, and even though I choose books that are very comprehensible according to my level of understanding, not completely getting everything is still a vulnerable place to be. Another reason I avoid getting started is because of the time commitment. Now, I can make time excuses all day – I have so many things I need to do and want to do; I don’t have time to read a whole book; I need to get other things off my plate first; I stay busy all day as it is. In reality, if I take an honest look at my time, though, I could fit in 15 minutes a day to read in an Italian or German book. I definitely spend that much time scrolling Instagram, and I could exchange 15 minutes of my hour reading time in the morning for switching from English to Italian. It’s possible and wouldn’t require more of my time. No, if I’m being completely honest with myself, I’m avoiding it.

There’s one more thing I think is really holding me back here, and it’s something in my psychology that’ll take a lot more introspection and intentional work. Deep down somewhere in my core, I think I haven’t completely severed ties with the myths that I can’t learn a language because I’m too old, don’t have the right kind of brain, or I’m just not the kind of person who learns languages. These lies are things I told myself for years…decades. No matter how much I wanted to learn another language as a kid, I didn’t think I could because I didn’t come from a bilingual home. Even though I took high school Spanish seriously and made excellent grades, I didn’t understand the importance of speaking, listening, reading, and writing input and output. I believed I couldn’t learn a language because the classroom curriculum didn’t lead me to proficiency. Even as I was given an immersion opportunity by moving to Italy, I still struggled to learn the language, having no idea what I was doing, and it led me to keep believing that I’m just not the kind of person who can do this.

Though I’ve proven to myself that I can, indeed, learn a language and that all the progress I make is just part of the process, this history of seeing “proof” of these language learning myths is deeply imbedded. Without really addressing these lies that became core beliefs in my life, I think avoidance happens as a way to confirm the lies. If I truly believe, at my core – no matter how much I consciously fight the belief – that I can’t learn a language, then my actions are more likely to align with not learning than they are with fighting against the belief and performing the activities that will help me learn. My tendencies are working toward self-fulfilling this prophecy of the core beliefs I’ve held since childhood.

Here’s the thing, though, I really want to read books in my target languages. This is more than just thinking I should or wishing I could. I love reading books, and I enjoy reading other things in my target languages. I want to explore the worlds Italian and German books would open up for me. I want to experience the stories, memoirs, and history left to be discovered by reading books in other languages. But first, I have to confront this avoidance. And that is exactly what I intend to do, and I want to invite you to come along with me. Let’s face the language things we tend to avoid and move past the stress, anxiety, and guilt for not doing them.

This is why I’ve created the Face the Avoidance challenge, happening 9 & 10 April 2022. This challenge is completely free. You can simply pick an activity, plan how you want to make sure you get it done, and then DO IT! I’ve dedicated these two days for this challenge, but if that doesn’t fit into your schedule, no problem. Just pick another day and do it at your leisure. If you want, you can register for the challenge at the links throughout this post. Registration is free and optional (I promise I won’t send you any promotional or otherwise annoying emails). Registration just provides you access to a mini-workbook I designed to guide you through from planning to success. There is a printable and a digital version of the mini-workbook available in the online classroom once you register.

Once you choose the language learning thing you’re going to face, and you make a plan for how you’re going to do it, what next? This challenge is uniquely personal to everyone who joins, but no one is alone. Use the hashtag #FaceTheAvoidance on Instagram or Twitter to share the activity of you want to face, your plan for getting it done, and your celebration for doing it. Tag me (IG: @love.joyandlanguages Twitter: @LoveJoy_Lang), and I will share, encourage, and celebrate your willingness to face the things you’re avoiding. Get a language friend to commit to this challenge with you, and lift each other up as you get it done. This is all about doing the hard things and showing up as a community to help each other along.

Again, this is challenge is completely free, but you can register here for access to the mini-workbook that will help guide your planning and execution, as well as give you a foundation for working toward making your chosen thing to face something you can sustainably add to your language learning routine. I really hope you join me on 9 or 10 April (or both days!) at #FaceTheAvoidance. I can’t wait to see all the progress you make, the pride you have in yourself for facing this thing, and how we all inch slowly forward…together…as a language community.

So tell me, what are you avoiding? Will you face the avoidance with me? I know you can do this!

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