How Do You Overcome Mind Block During Language Study?

How Do You Overcome Mind Block?

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Tips and suggestions needed…

Last week I received an email asking for help:

Question: I’m currently an exchange student living in Thailand. I’ve had an issue where I can’t seem to learn any more Thai, and when I try my minds strays and I get tired very quickly. I was just wondering, do you have tips to help overcome this mind block I’ve developed?

I took a stab at the answer, and then went one step further: I put the question to those interviewed in WLT’s Successful Thai Language Learners series, and more…

Tips and suggestions to overcome mind block…

Benjawan Poomsan Becker
Paiboon Publishing
Interview: Benjawan Poomsan Becker

He/she should find a girlfriend/boyfriend who can’t speak English. That will help expedite the learning and the mind won’t stray.

Hugh Leong
Retire 2 Thailand | Retire 2 Thailand: Blog | Thai Language Thai Culture
Successful Thai Language Learners: Hugh Leong

You don’t really have a mind block. What you are experiencing is what we call a “Plateau”. This is a very normal experience with all learning and especially with language learning. Basically, your mind is telling you that it has had enough input for a while and it needs time to process what it has taken in (which is one reason I hate language testing).

Plateaus can last for a considerable time, or they can be quite short. I once plateaued for more than a year. It all depends on how much and how quickly your mind processes all that stuff it is storing. But it is no reason to stop studying. You may want to focus your studies differently, such as using what you already know to develop a fluency at that level, or simply practice your tones, or if you have been speaking mostly then change to reading, or vice versa. That way you’ll be using a different part of your brain.

Here is the good thing about plateauing. There is always another, and higher, plateau up ahead that you will eventually get to if you don’t give up. There is another interesting experience in language learning that I call “quantum leaping” where one day everything just seems to click and you instantly know so much more than you did yesterday. It’s like a dark veil has been lifted. It comes from all that studying you did while you were sitting around on your plateau, and your mind telling you, “OK, processing complete. More input!” Those days are fun. Just have patience, don’t give up, and wait for those “quantum leap” days ahead.

David Long
AUA Language Centre | twitter: @auathai
Successful Thai Language Learners: David Long


In fact, most of us have low limits when it comes to benefit from study. We quickly reach that point where we’re forgetting old things as fast as we’re remembering new ones. We then patch up our feelings with a new course, or extra effort. So you’re not alone.

For me the important thing is to assess what you’re doing. Below is a list of areas to assess with some goals I find helpful for myself.

What do you consider learning to be? With language, we must gain exposure to its natural use. The problem for many of us is that it’s very difficult to find Thai used in understandable contexts. So when we don’t understand, we tend to tune out. We may also believe that if we don’t study, we won’t learn anything.

– Goal – realize that life is the classroom – soak up what’s happening around you every day without being too focused on what the language is. You’ll begin to see and hear much more.

What are your expectations for yourself? Often, we can be very cruel taskmasters to ourselves! 🙂 It’s important to set realistic expectations.

– Goal – children are the best language learners ever and they don’t even have expectations about how much they’re learning. Develop a child-likeness on the inside. You’ll be a lot happier and releasing yourself from these expectations will open the door for you to really learn.

Are the practical things you’re doing to learn the language fun? – Study can be very hard work – and language study is one of the hardest sorts of study there is for most of us.

– Goal – Quit the study, and learn to play. Have fun with the process by turning every situation you don’t understand into a guessing game. Through watching expressions, body language and with the understanding you already know, make guesses about what’s being talked about.

Do you have Thai friends you talk with? Usually, Thais want to learn English, and foreigners want to learn Thai. This can turn into very boring exchanges that are focused on language.

– Goal – Turn your conversation to things you enjoy, and let the language be there. Use what you know, and find other ways to communicate what you don’t. They need to develop their English skills so use English with them. Encourage them to use Thai with you. Because language acquisition is input based, you need to hear Thai and they need to hear English. This makes for the perfect combination for improvement.

Peter Montalbano
Successful Thai Language Learners: Peter Montalbano

It’s not clear what this person is studying, or at what level. But it sounds as though the formal studies are not in the Thai language, as she/he seems to be going the self-teaching route here. In that case, I would suggest that she/he take a real course in the language, with homework, the whole nine yards . . . having a teacher looking over your shoulder is a great incentive to get past the mind-straying stage, and also having other students to interact with and compete with. As I noted before, the Chula course is a great one, and you test into it and get put at the appropriate level from the beginning.

Chris Pirazzi
Slice of Thai | Thailand Fever | Word in the Hand Inc.
Successful Thai Language Learners: Chris Pirazzi

Certainly an abrupt change of environment, especially to one where there are even fewer people who can speak English (where the student will need to speak more Thai for everyday survival) would be effective for resetting the student’s enthusiasm/motivation, if possible.

Josh Sager
Let’s Talk Thai (formerly Learning Thai)

Go back to basics.

Every January in my martial arts class is “basics month.” We cover only the fundamentals and refine our foundations specifically to start over and work with a fresh perspective.

Try reading and speaking for fun for a few weeks. Don’t TRY to learn anything, just enjoy the language for the sake of communication. Absolutely do not force it. Plateaus can only be broken in their own time, not by force.

My thanks for their tips and suggestions go to: Benjawan Poomsan Becker, Hugh Leong, David Long, Peter Montalbano, Chris Pirazzi, and Josh Sager.

As an insomniac, I fight similar battles studying Thai. When I got bogged down last year, my 30 Day Thai Language Trial in January eventually injected what was missing. You see, I had to keep studying no matter what, or fail. Potential embarrassment. Yeah. Along the way, I found the needed reserves and a few new tricks too. A language challenge might not work for everyone, but it worked for me.

Note: If you too have questions, just drop me a line via my contact form, and I’ll see what I can do about getting someone in the know to share some tips. And while I’m at it… if you are a successful Thai language learner and would like to answer a few questions, please let me know (and I’ll make it so).

20 thoughts on “How Do You Overcome Mind Block During Language Study?”

  1. ‘I think a learning style that “suits” you can simply be defined as one that motivates you and which you enjoy.’

    I’m with you 100%. I started out with SRS (Spaced Repetition Systems) but that only works for me if I have sentences to go with the vocabulary. I need that carrot of being entertained. Also, out of the SRS’s out there, only BYKI would hold my interest. And that’s because it has activities, and was not mere acres of dreary vocab.

    ‘I think this is where some of Bangkok’s Thai-language schools fall down; their material is mind-numbingly dull and irrelevant to the real world.’

    I haven’t been to any of the schools (yet), but I do enjoy Tod’s colourful reviews on what’s available. Last year I was convinced that I needed to attend classes somewhere, but I’m still undecided as to where.

  2. Rick, I’ve been doing the same and it’s fantastic for getting tones and spelling down.

    I started with Pimsleurs (lots of repetition so it’s good for beginners). There was too much repetition for me (I got bored), so I moved over to Assimil Thai. They are similar, but Assimil is more advanced. Also, it only has Thai in the audio (the book is in French with Thai transliteration), and less repetition. Luca’s method uses this too. He explains how you can own a language doing it this way, and I believe he’s right.

    For those wanting to try out the FSI materials: has audio and Thai script to read and listen to online

  3. When I was learning French in school, we used to do plenty of dictation (i.e. teacher reads each sentence twice or three times, and we would write down what we thought we had heard.)

    The FSI Basic Reader is good for this — load the MP3 into Audacity, select a 10-second or 15-second chunk, and set Audacity to repeat-play it, and write down what you think you hear.

    Then go onto the next chunk (lessons start from 3 minutes, go up to 10 or so). Then compare what you wrote with the accompanying PDF. This is really good, hard work on listening, comprehending and spelling. The woman speaker is much clearer than the man, I find.

  4. “Wisconsin” refers to the newly created Wisconsin University Thai Reader –

    I think a learning style that “suits” you can simply be defined as one that motivates you and which you enjoy.

    For example, I could never sit with a dictionary, learning words off the page — but give me a newspaper article which looks interesting, or a creative and stimulating flash-card game (an adventure-style game, for example) and I can learn for hours. Not only do I study for longer, but the material sticks better.

    I think this is where some of Bangkok’s Thai-language schools fall down; their material is mind-numbingly dull and irrelevant to the real world.

  5. Rick, many plateaus is an excellent way to put it.

    I would love to hear about your learning streams and different methods. What is Wisconsin?

    I tend to switch back and forth between materials, but what I really need to do is pay attention to the different learning styles that suit me. Maybe I am, and just don’t realise it as such.

  6. Another way to look at this is not as having a single plateau, but several — i.e. a vocabulary plateau, a listening plateau, a pronunciation plateau, etc, which you don’t necessarily reach at the same time.

    If you’re stuck in one area, go and work on a different area, where you may be able to experience that crucial feeling of making progress.

    For example: I have currently hit a plateau in listening — I can understand the first three and last three words of any Thai sentence I hear on TV, but I get overwhelmed in the middle of long sentences.

    So, although I still watch TV, I decided to place my focus again on my flashcard vocabulary learning, and have made good progress.

    By having a variety of different streams and methods of learning (I have 18 different “methods”, plus may add Wisconsin soon), you avoid that awful feeling of being completely blocked.

    And by improving my vocabulary, I have improved my listening — demonstrating that progress in one area can loosen the block in another area.

  7. Hi Martyn, my Belkin modem is dying so I’ve been fighting to answer your comment all day. My first reply went into goodness knows where… so let’s see if I’m more successful with a second.

    I’ve never been to a Working Men’s Club so I had to ask the man. And now I know why as it really is for men. All men, correct?

    You are not old. What you need is another super dose of Thailand. so… just come on down 🙂

    Drat… there goes my connection again…

  8. Catherine sadly your reference to clubbing unfortunately means Working Mens Clubs and not the night ones full of loud music, dancing girls and flowing ale…sigh…I feel quite old and sad now.

  9. Martyn, When you are here more often, you’ll find a plethora of subjects to write about because there is always something weird and wonderful happening around the corner. As they come to me, I draft an overview, and then throw the ideas into a folder called ‘future posts’. I’ve been dreading going through it to sort out what I’ve written already, and what needs to be done asap or sooner.

    Good luck on you alphabet studies. Maybe take them with you clubbing? Who knows… they might be good company.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Thai 101 Learners Series: A Trusted Native Speaker is Essential =-.

  10. Catherine my mental block is with my blog BTMJ, my mind is numb at the moment towards new posts. I’m sure the plateau will rise to a steep mountain soon.

    Your Learning the Thai Alphabet is a great link and yet another one I’ve bookmarked. It looks a pure and simple way to learn the Thai alphabet and if I can stay off the beer a bit on my time off I’m sure I’ll master it pretty quick.

  11. Martyn, what sort of mental block? At work?

    Excellent. David Smyth’s book gets high ratings from a lot of people. Luca especially likes the Teach Yourself series. I even have it here. I do have a reading Thai page, but not one dedicated to the alphabet. Glad you reminded me as I have a growing list of excellent resources to share.

    Hindsight – What I wished I’d done more of when learning the Thai alphabet was listen while drawing each one out. I did a bit of it, but it should have been more. Being able to hear the sound at the same time can be useful as it links the two into your brain.

    A good Thai alphabet resource for seeing and listening is e-Learning at Sriwittayapoknam. When having a brain-dead day, I’d sit there and click. Click, click, click. And the combos are a jewel.

    e-Learning at Sriwittayapoknam
    Learning the Thai Alphabet: Thai Alphabet (a), Thai Alphabet (b), Thai Alphabet Test.
    Pronunciation: Lesson One, Lesson Two, Lesson Three, Lesson Four.

  12. Catherine I like Lani’s comment about applying the advice to overcoming most things as blog wise I’m currently suffering a mental block myself. I’m walking a plateau on which its end is nowhere in sight.

    On the learning Thai front I’ve followed Rick and gone back to learning the alphabet and writing a few words a hundred times over. My Thai language book Teach yourself Thai by David Smyth has an interesting way of teaching you to write each letter or draw would be a better word.

    Using English and not Thai as my example it goes something like this.

    To write the letter X it shows you the start point for your pen and shows you draw the line from the top left diagonally to the right bottom corner. The second start point is in the top right corner and you draw your pen diagonally downwards to the bottom left hand corner.

    For the Thai letters it illustrates each changing point for the letters enabling you to write them in one continuous stroke. Amazing. I hope you understood all of that.

    I thought you might like to know about the method if you already haven’t seen it before. If not, you might like to work it into a post sometime in the future.

  13. Talen, So true. And how we approach the situation also changes during our learning push. But they all call for doing something different: Ramp it up, ramp it down, get amongst Thais more, sign up for class, review previous materials… and always, always have fun 🙂

    One of the fun parts of learning Thai is discovering the culture. I don’t think you can separate the two, actually. To do this, sometimes I’m driven to track down a mystery. Sometimes not.

    Next week won’t be a mystery as such, but a Post Office box shipped from the UK around 1911. One that uses old fashioned Thai.

    Last week frogs, this week red boxes. And why not?

  14. Some good advice here. I think though everyone has their own way of overcoming and that’s what usually works best for them. I know in my case if I am hitting a block I need to walk away from it for a while or focus on another aspect of what I am doing.

  15. Hi Rick – this is what I do when I know I’m going to be too busy to study… I have audio just for falling asleep. It’s my normal lessons (so I’m not having to record anything special), only with soft music mixed over it. That way, I’m still getting an injection of Thai.

    So for this time of your studies, it would be the Thai alphabet. If you are interested, I have audio around here somewhere… and I could quickly mix the music for you (I bought music with the copyrights).

    How does the man of the house feel? I haven’t asked, as I seriously don’t believe there will ever be a right time 😀

    On a visit to Thailand (before I moved here), a Thai student from Borneo misunderstood when I joked about getting a lovely Thai to teach me the language.

    Right there in the restaurant, Joe brought over one of the most luscious Thai males I’ve ever seen (even since). It was one of ‘those’ moments… sigh…

    A good thing it was dark, because my face was burning red.

  16. Those are all good suggestions to unblock the mind, and some very thoughtful advice.

    I’ve been fighting my own blockages, namely three brutal work weeks (February’s always busiest time of year in my job). I consequently missed four straight days of Thai study. The end of that period was a Friday night so I ran from work and plunked myself down in front of a pint of you-know-what and proceeded to polish off three in a row. Studying had to wait until I sobered up.

    I’m back at it as of tonight and in a more formal way. I’m learning the alphabet, as suggested by your “expert panel.” I think that the method of learning to read, write and pronounce — accent on pronounce — will be the most beneficial, as your panel pointed out. I’ve got five months to prove it.

    BTW, Cat, how does the Man of the House feel? You know, about your non-English speaking houseboy, er, tutor?
    .-= SiamRick´s last blog ..Royal Thai Embassy to Canada needs new website =-.

  17. Agreed, there is a wonderful range of advice there. I haven’t asked the man of the house about Benjawan’s suggestion, but I’m thinking about it.

    Edit: For me, not him 😉

  18. nice montage of advice! the advice can be used for overcoming any thing you are stuck with really. thanks.


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