Still not fluent in your second language? Find out why

For many of us trying to learn a second language, there comes a point in time where we feel unable to advance from one level to the next. In fact, we might begin to leave our intense studying habits behind and relax when it comes to those tricky grammar rules. This bump in the road to becoming fluent in a second language can be known as fossilization.

The first step in understanding fossilization is knowing the difference between our first and second language. The first language, or L1, is often referred to as the “mother tongue” because it is the language that we learn from birth. We learn to acquire our L1 by hearing the unique intonation and eventually repeating the sounds that make our native languages distinct from others. When it comes to learning a second language, or an L2, the acquisition process is completely different. Instead, we have to make a conscious effort to learn the mechanics of that language. Looks like we’ll have to put in a little more effort than we did when we were a few months old.

Okay, so the differences between an L1 and an L2 are pretty obvious. Now it’s time to understand what exactly fossilization is. Fossilization tends to happen when an individual feels stuck at a certain level of a foreign language. We might encounter this after we have achieved a noticeably high level of L2, which leads us to stop making a conscious effort when it comes to studying. Fossilization also includes the tendency to make errors without correcting them or even avoid using difficult parts of an L2 altogether. For example, someone who might be learning Spanish as their second language could have difficulties using the subjunctive form. Therefore, they might avoid using it when speaking or writing in Spanish. Although fossilization might not take away from what you already know, it could prevent you from reaching the ultimate goal of becoming totally fluent in a second language.

If you find yourself realizing that fossilization might be the reason you aren’t exactly fluent yet, try and discover new (and maybe re-use some old) methods to help you study. Dust off those already written-in workbooks and previous exams and review some of the concepts that you remember learning, but have yet to master. With this being said, you might have to put aside some extra time to study. But remember, this doesn’t have to be your 300 level advanced grammar course.

And if memorizing every single grammar rule is not your thing, try to completely immerse yourself. Watch your favorite TV series in a second language, listen to music, find a friend who is fluent, or if you can, pack your bags and head to a new destination where you will have no choice but to be surrounded by the language and culture.

Overall, the most important thing to remember is that practice really does make perfect, especially when it comes to learning another language. Make those mistakes, but also make a conscious effort to catch those errors and correct them. And if you are ever feeling discouraged, remind yourself why you fell in love with that language in the first place.

Vera Abreu

Vera is a Psychology and Spanish student from Elmhurst, IL who has always been a big-city girl at heart. Don’t be surprised if you find her aimlessly wandering around the Spanish capital with a camera in her hands.


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