Dealing with frustration/anger when learning

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Dealing with frustration/anger when learning

Postby Raconteur » Thu Mar 25, 2021 1:47 pm

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit this openly, but at times I can get very agitated when learning.

Usually this happens when I just can't get something, and it's annoying to constantly get it wrong or forget. Let's say a word comes up for review on Speakly or SRS... an easy word I already knew. And I just can't get it. Why not? Ok, so I look up the answer, only to not remember it again, or get it wrong, five minutes later. And then again in 5 mins, and again. Ugh.......

Or there is some grammar pattern I'm practicing with an audio course, and I'm constantly messing up. For what seems like the millionth time, it's siamo andati NOT siamo andato! $#@!* :evil:

On a rational level, I'm aware that language learning is about making mistakes - and to add to that, I always struggled with remembering things, especially short-term memory (names, numbers, appointments, etc.) ... in other words, there's nothing to be angry about. It is what it is. Just keep going.

But feelings are feelings. You can rationalize it al you want, but if you're pissed, you're pissed.

My main concern is that "negative feelings" (to use an umbrella term) are generally associated with bad learning outcomes. Various studies show we learn better when we feel positive about the experience. This worries me.

When I have a "bad" day, I tend to force myself to continue, but maybe it would be better to just drop it and try again later (or next day). On the other hand, if I'm losing my grasp and struggling... I'm worried that quitting (every time I get agitated) is only going to make the problem worse next time I try to tackle it.

Anyone else experiencing this, or am I the only nutcase in town? How do you approach such situations?
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Re: Dealing with frustration/anger when learning

Postby mokibao » Thu Mar 25, 2021 2:20 pm

If a word gives you trouble you can just remove it from your deck. If it's that important you'll remember it naturally as you encounter it.

Few people do this and it's a shame. Life is too short to focus on a handful of leeches 10+ times when there's another 5-10k normal words to learn
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Re: Dealing with frustration/anger when learning

Postby iguanamon » Thu Mar 25, 2021 2:34 pm

In short, my response to this issue is acceptance. Despite the hype of courses, despite the fact that I believe any adult with a reasonable amount of intelligence can learn a language. Learning a second language on one's own isn't easy. There are good days, bad days, and going half mad days for all of us here. When I start out on a next language, I know that this is true. I accept that this will be the case. I don't let any individual setback lead to despair. Perhaps because my routine does not include srs is a factor that aides me in this because I am not doing a daily test.

I've been around the forum long enough, over a decade here and on HTLAL, to see the value many learners gain from srs. It's just not for me. My observation is that those who use srs most effectively tend not to use it as a punishment device. They delete when a word just doesn't stick- again, acceptance.

While I advocate for my own way of learning a language, which works for me, I know that mine is not the only way, nor the best way, nor THE ANSWER. There is more than one way to learn a language. Regardless of which approach one takes in learning a language, one must keep in mind that it won't always go smoothly, roadblocks and frustration will appear. The thing is not to let the frustration and roadblocks win. There are ways around them. As long as a learner continues following the road, they will find their way around the roadblocks and the frustration will fade over time. Perfection is the biggest enemy to momentum and momentum is one of the keys to successful learning.
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Re: Dealing with frustration/anger when learning

Postby jmar257 » Thu Mar 25, 2021 2:42 pm

I find, for me at least, this comes from putting too much pressure on myself. I haven't had it much lately but have dealt with it more in the past, ironically at times when I was less intensive about studying. I would be mad I didn't remember something simple that I should know, and although in hindsight it makes sense because I was not studying much, at the time it just frustrated me and made me want to stick with it less. A big thing that has helped me has been making language studying more about process than result, and if you've seen my posts in any of the goal-setting threads/challenges, you'll see that come through. The goal becomes, instead of something like "learn the subjunctive", "spend 30 minutes going through this lesson about the subjunctive". As a bonus, I find that while actually studying the lesson I spend less time evaluating my goal, instead of wondering "am I learning this? is it sticking?" I can just enjoy those 30 minutes because as time passes I know I'm hitting my goal. And when revisiting something, instead of once again pressuring myself, "oh this should be easy, I studied this before!", the goal is yet again to just spend 30 minutes going through something. This makes it easier to keep going every day because every day isn't a struggle to learn, it's just do I have 30 minutes (or however long) where I can focus? It relies less on motivation and more on discipline (although, I don't hit every day, but I'm much more consistent than in the past).

This is probably made easier because of the fact that I'm using FSI to review and train production vs. starting a language from scratch, but I find this thinking has really cut down on how much I get frustrated. We'll see how it goes when I start German, but since I'm planning on going through two beginner Assimil courses and staggering them, I imagine it'll be easy to leave something that's not clicking because I know I'll come back to it later.

Edit: More specifically, as far as SRS, I don't use it too intensively because I know if I was staring down the barrel of a 30+ minute SRS session, I would skip it most days. I use it simply as a sentence recognition/comprehension exercise, and I don't sweat it if I keep missing the same word. I've had several times where a word in a sentence I'm SRSing (from a book I've read) won't stick, but then I see it in the wild somewhere and it clicks because I've seen it many times before. So I basically just see my SRS as priming, although if you're using it in a more active manner this won't be the case I imagine. I would rather have this be something I do every day, even if not as intensive, than something more intensive (effective?) yet something I dread and skip. That's not to say language learning should be effortless, but I put the effort elsewhere (FSI) rather than having multiple things to stress about each day in terms of language learning.
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Re: Dealing with frustration/anger when learning

Postby Steve » Thu Mar 25, 2021 3:59 pm

Stress destroys our ability to learn. If the methods we choose elevate our stress and force us to rely on will-power and discipline to continue, we'll eventually crash and burn and learn far less than we are capable of. A lot of studies clearly show stress changes our body chemistry and affects us in many negative ways including messing with our ability to learn. About the only good thing about stress is when we are in mortal peril and the fight or flight reaction increases ours odds of survival. Otherwise, it's basically a long-term negative on our health and well-being.

It's not so much a matter of learning how to fight through stress. It's a matter of figuring out how best to avoid it or eliminate it.

One of the things I constantly monitor when working on languages (actually one of the few things) is how relaxed I am. Signs that stress are rising are physical tightness (jaw tightening, squinting my eyes, holding my breath, physical posture) and not being able to focus. When that happens, I first try to relax. I take a deep breath, sigh, laugh at myself for making something fun into something not fun. Usually that short break works and I feel re-energized. This has become a habit so I usually stay relaxed. What used to take me walking away to calm down now usually just requires a deep breath and a wry reminder to myself that this is supposed to be fun.

Then there is the second stage where my brain says "enough is enough, I'm done for the day". This analogy is not perfect, but learning is causing real physical and chemical changes in our brain and that can only be sustained for so long. Just like physical labor eventually tires our muscles which then need a rest period, my understanding is that something similar happens in our brains. (At least the analogy seems to explain what I experience). When my mind starts to wander and I cannot focus (not just distractions like our dog barking or worrying about something serious in life), it's time to change activities. That's why I have a handful of variations of methods for things such as reading. I'll switch between audio and printed text using combinations in different ways such as listening-reading, reading out loud, chorusing/shadowing audio, extensive reading, intensive reading, etc. Often, the change of activity causes my brain to actively re-engage and be happy again.

The third stage is the stress caused by materials and methods that are simply not working for me at that stage of progress. This might be trying something before I'm ready, sticking with something long after it's not doing any good, or doing something that does not work for me very well. In this case, I need to adapt by changing methods and materials in some way. I think one of the things that distinguishes polyglots from polynots is the polyglots' experience in knowing the difference between having to stick with something awhile before it works and when it's time to drop a method and start adopting another one.

I remember many years ago an epiphany moment when Alexander Arguelles did some posts on his daily routine on HTLAL. I had honestly expected to hear about marathon daily sessions. Indeed, the picture in my mind was a polyglot sitting at a desk surrounded by open books and running audio diligently toiling away with superhuman efforts. Instead, he showed a picture of spending limited amounts of time (e.g. 15 minutes) doing one activity and then on to the next. In other words, it wasn't so much about toil and discipline and forcing himself to keep focusing but rather having figured out a system that kept his brain active and focused for several hours and enjoying it.

Years ago, my wife and one of our daughters hiked about 900 miles of the 2200 mile Appalachian Trail. The most common piece of advice constantly passed from veterans to newbies was this. Hike your own hike. In order to make 2200 miles, you need to do what works for you. You need to figure out a good pace that works for you, meals and food that works for you, taking a break when you need to, stopping when your body needs to stop, stopping at scenic places you want to see, waking and sleeping when you want to, etc. They had to stop at 900 miles because my daughter had very bad tendonitis. She thought her severe pain was just the normal aches everyone had so she kept pushing herself and causing worse injury. A doctor basically told her to quit. It took her a few years to get back to normal. If you force yourself to try to do what works for someone else, you're more likely to get hurt, discouraged, and give up. I think language learning is a similar type of marathon. We each need to learn how to hike our own hike. Sometimes pain and frustration is due to pushing ourselves too hard, and sometimes it's from doing things that don't work for us.
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Re: Dealing with frustration/anger when learning

Postby Sayonaroo » Thu Mar 25, 2021 5:10 pm

for anki i recommend changing steps from 0 10 or whatever it is to something less irritating. I prefer 6000 for my steps. also you can change the leech threshold to a lower number so it can suspend/tag the cards that are wasting your time. you dont' have to learn every word through anki since you can do other activities like reading.
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Re: Dealing with frustration/anger when learning

Postby Lisa » Thu Mar 25, 2021 5:23 pm

On a bad day, when it just doesn't come... I think it's a bad idea to try to keep going when it's just not flowing. I skip it, or work on something easy for the day. I have my anki words sorted into easier and harder bins and try to keep only some of the problematic words un-suspended, to let me still do some work with different levels of available brain resources.

Personally I cannot leave alone those words (or concepts) that I just can't get; I've tried, but they keep niggling. And powering through doesn't work for me either. When I double down, that seems to help... I add various idiomatic phrases with the word, make sure I have audio, write it out by hand, separate it into another deck and drill on a small set of words a couple of times a day. With grammar I usually try putting it into anki in various ways, I don't enjoy grammar in anki and will start skipping reviews very soon, but the process of adding it and the few drills I actually do generally help.

I deal with frustration better by taking action than retreat...
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Re: Dealing with frustration/anger when learning

Postby Le Baron » Thu Mar 25, 2021 5:41 pm

I like Steve's talk about 'hiking your own hike'. It's the view I take more-or-less. It can be applied to the OP discussion about being frustrated by not achieving expected outcomes. The problem is that we build a picture of where we're supposed to be by this point and any deviations can feel like terrible failure. These expectations are so often not our own assessments of our actual progress or requirements, but comparisons to outside assessments.

It makes me think of those people who ask 'how can I get to sound like a native' rather than 'how can I improve my pronunciation' and I want to say: you'll more than likely never sound like a native, so stop punishing yourself for not achieving it. That it's also absolutely not necessary to sound like a native to be adept and proficient in the language you're pursuing. So it's the framing of the goal that is causing the problem.

With smaller things like forgetting words and providing iffy responses to question prompts when using that type of audio... It's just part of the effort of learning a skill. I also get frustrated at times and now and again scold myself for not getting things. It's probably not conducive to learning. Later on I'll usually go back and have a good look at why I'm not getting something and very often it's because I've been listening to the same audio and I'm getting lazy and falling into the same listening rut and therefore making the same mistakes over and over. Usually not looking at a corresponding text to fix a word (its spelling/meaning in context) in my mind. Sometimes I've listened to dialogues over and over and it's only after I've then looked at transcripts a few times that things spring out on further listening. Then I recognise them again when listening to other stuff. The usual.

So it's normal to get frustrated, but like others say it's not worth getting stressed over. You stop, you reassure yourself that you've still made other progress. That you can take a break, come back later and have a look at what's tripping you up.
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Re: Dealing with frustration/anger when learning

Postby gsbod » Thu Mar 25, 2021 5:43 pm

It's probably not so much of an issue for beginners, and I expect most advanced learners are still in the game for reasons that will make it less of an issue for them too, but the one thing guaranteed to drive me into a rage is translation. For the last German course I took one of the assignments was a translation. The process made me so angry I was ready to punch the computer screen in frustration, although in the end I got a pretty decent grade for the assignment.

The tension comes from trying to balance the need for precision, the need to do justice to the L2 text, and the need to compile an L1 text that also makes sense on its own terms as an L1 text. Trying to figure out how to translate something well feels like trying to explain a joke without ruining the punchline.

I think the solution is either to do some formal training in translation to learn to deal with these difficulties like a level headed professional, or just accept that a career in translation is probably not for me. As I'm not currently contemplating a career change, the second option seems like the best one for now!

In terms of beginner frustrations, I think a lot of this gets ironed out over time through trial and error as you figure out what works for you, and what doesn't. It's good to be reflective and try to develop an intuition for whether something just needs a bit more time and practice, whether you just need to put it down and pick it up again later (sometimes you just need to fill in a few more pieces of the puzzle before something makes sense), or whether the methods you are using are just not working for you.

To a certain extent, it can be helpful holding on to that sense of frustration. Because if you stick at it, you will reach a point where it gets easier. If you can remember how frustrating it was to start with, you will really appreciate the progress you've made.
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Re: Dealing with frustration/anger when learning

Postby einzelne » Thu Mar 25, 2021 7:19 pm

If I got it right, you started your language journey pretty recently. If it is your first language, and you study it completely by yourself, I would suggest to concentrate on passive skills first. Usually beginners pay too much attention to productive skills and it's not that effective (and, not surprisingly, the major source of frustration). Once you get hold of the core vocabulary and start to read extensively (adapted books first), all those grammar patterns will eventually become familiar. It is way easier to develop active skills with strong passive skills.

That doesn't mean that you should abandon practicing active skills completely. Shadowing, 'read and repeat out loud', reverse translation of simple sentences should be a part of your everyday routine, but not the central one. You should push yourself there in order to progress but you shouldn't strive for perfection.

Also, since ANKI causes you a lot of trouble, I would simply ditch it. A lot of people swear by it, but it never worked for me and it looks like it's not that effective for you, at least on the emotional level (there are other techniques for reviewing which might be more enjoyable and effective). And, honestly, if you just started to learn a language it's all about high frequency words, so, if you spend enough time with your language every day, you'll get this vocabulary almost automatically. (It's when you start reading unadapted texts when things get complicated.)

Frustration will always be with you so it is important to balance it with something positive (for me, it is reading, since it is the easiest skill to master). Perfectionism is definitely not an answer.
Last edited by einzelne on Fri Mar 26, 2021 1:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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