Topic: How important are expectations when starting to learn Portuguese?
1. Why I decided to talk about expectations
Every day I open my email, and I have many emails in my inbox from learners, such as yourself, struggling with some aspect of the learning process and asking for help.
Unfortunately, it's not possible for me to answer every one of you, so I hope I can answer many of your frequently asked questions here.
Also, what I've realized, is that in most circumstances what makes a student ask for help is not the wrong choice of method, book, or app (although, that can also be the case, don't get me wrong), but it's because they have the wrong expectations, the wrong mindset, the struggle to find the time, the struggle to not quit.
If Portuguese is not your first foreign language, you can already have the necessary experience to be successful in learning Portuguese by yourself. Even so, I hope you, if that's your case, I hope you can also benefit from this article.
2. What are expectations
The expectation is the assumption you have about how things will play out.
You start to learn Portuguese, and you have a belief, an idea, that it will be easy or hard, that it will be fast or slow, etc.
The expectation you have at the beginning of your journey is critical because this is what determines how you judge your progress and yourself.
Imagine you set the wrong expectations, that you have an idea that's not based on reality. Once you start comparing your expectations with the reality of what's happening, you see they don't match, and you get frustrated.
You get frustrated because you assume there's something wrong with what you're doing, or with yourself (you're not good at languages, you're memory is not good, Portuguese is too hard, etc.).
Because you continue to want to progress with the wrong expectations, and you continue not to see the results you want, you start procrastinating, and then... you quit.
I'm not saying this is definitely the only cause for your frustration or your supposed lack of progress. My goal here is to get you to to look at your situation and consider this because expectations have a profound effect on your ability to succeed.
3. The consequences
What I see happening a lot with learning Portuguese, any other language, or any other thing, really, is that students set the wrong expectations, by assuming it's going to take less time, less effort, less emotional stress, than it does in average.
If you largely underestimate this from the get-go, you're in for a rude awakening.
And I understand why this happens. We live in a time where everyone wants to sell you magic pills, where people want fast results at no cost. Like losing 5 kilos in a day, or losing weight eating chocolate.
There's this hacking mentality.
There must be a faster way to do this; there must be an easier way to achieve that. And social media, where everyone seems to be stuck these days, also gives you immediate rewards. Just scroll down another second for something that gives you pleasure, post something to receive a like in two seconds.
And I'm not immune to this! Well, I'm a little immune to social media, but I also fall in this trap of wanting great things fast sometimes. And the result is naturally, disappointment.
4. The cost
If you expect to achieve amazing results with your Portuguese, trust me, they're going to come at a high cost.
Before you start learning Portuguese, inform yourself of what that cost is.
But worry not, I'll tell you what the cost is! :)
It's going to cost you a lot of time, and a lot of mental and emotional energy.
I can tell you that, from the learners following the Portuguese Lab, 80% are beginners, 15% are intermediate learners, and 5% are advanced learners. You can argue that advanced learners are not wasting their time with the Portuguese Lab, and you're right, most of them would be working directly with materials for native speakers. But still, only a small percentage is in the intermediate level.
So if you see that reaching a higher level in Portuguese (or in anything else!) is something not widespread, you can believe that it's because it comes at a cost.
Not everyone is willing to pay that cost! And that's fine! Not everyone learning Portuguese wants to be fluent in the language. But if you do, then you should know what it takes to get there.
5. The right expectations
So, let's see what could be a realistic expectation to reach a high level of Portuguese.
It's said that you need 10.000 hours to reach a proficient level in whatever it is you're learning. Let's say you want to do this in 4 years. That's 7 hours a day. If you study for 15 minutes a day, you can imagine how long it will take.
Naturally, how fast this happens depends on other things, like the proximity of Portuguese to your own language, your experience in learning languages, etc. But we only need the average here.
On the other hand, don't let the average limit you! If you can do it faster, then do it. Believe in yourself! But don't underestimate the effort it will take.
6. Ask yourself
If you have already started learning Portuguese and you think you're not progressing fast enough. Ask yourself. Do I have the wrong expectations?
Inform yourself of what it takes to reach your goal. Talk to someone who has achieved it before you. See how they have done it, and the work that went into it.
>> Understand that there was no miracle.
>> Understand the process and that it takes time to see results, that they don't happen overnight.
>> Understand that you need to sit down and focus and put your brain to work. Reaching your goal will not come from switching your brain off and playing games.
>> Understand that the progress is not linear, you'll feel like you're going backward at times, to have, later, a tiny jump forwards.
Are you willing to work hard?
Having the right expectations will prepare you mentally, and you'll feel better about your work and your results.
If you don't prepare yourself for this, if you have the wrong expectation that it will be easy, you'll not put in the necessary effort, and your results will reflect that.
7. Your questions
Now you might say:
But Susana, my native speaker friend told me I should be further ahead by now!
Don't trust what native speakers tell you; they didn't go through what you're going through. And don't compare yourself to others that are not at the same level as you are. Don't assume they just started learning two days ago or that they found a magical method that you're not aware of.
And you also might say:
But, I heard from someone who became fluent in three months! Why do you make this seem so hard, Susana?
Because no one wants to hear, it's going to take years. If you're selling a product and you tell your clients that results will come in a few years, they won't buy your product! They convince you that the results are quick and painless; they are feeding off your false expectations.
And you also might say:
Well, great, now no one will start learning Portuguese. You're killing everyone's dream here!
I think it's better to know what the cost is and decide beforehand if you're willing to pay for it, then to start with the wrong expectation, feel frustrated with the lack of results and quit believing you're not good enough.
But learning Portuguese is not impossible; it depends on your mindset! You start with the right expectations, you work hard, you persevere (because now you know what you're doing) and you'll be amazed at what you can achieve! :)