What Does Avoidance Look Like?

Avoidance: One of the Biggest Pitfalls in Language Learning and How to Overcome It

Reading time: 2 minutes

Have you ever heard of the fight or flight response?

Chances are, you have. But we’ll explain it a little bit anyway: when faced with a threat, your natural instincts give you two options–fight or flight. Fight means you face it head-on, flight means you run away. It’s part of our inherent drive to survive. 

Example 1

If you’re in the forest and you come across a bear, what do you do? 

One, you could stand your ground and fight the bear.

Or two, you could run away as fast as you can.

Which option sounds more appealing?

Example 2

If you wake up feeling exhausted and you have a long day ahead of you, what do you do?

One, you can get up and face the day–or two, you can go back to sleep.

Which option sounds more appealing?

How does this relate to language learning? 

You can probably guess, but the reason we have to understand our fight or flight response is that it helps us understand why we avoid things that aren’t easy, especially in our study of another language.

At least to some degree, our natural fear of threats will often keep us from developing the mentally and socially taxing habits that will make our language skills sing. 

In fact, whether or not you feel like you are a professional second-language speaker, we are all professionals at one thing: avoidance. At almost all costs, we will avoid what is uncomfortable.

There is some good news, though: 

  1. Most of the things we think will hurt us, won’t actually be the death of us. We’ll be just fine.
  2. It’s never hard to find the things we’ve been avoiding. We generally feel guilty about them already.

For a while, here’s what I avoided in my language study at one time:

Avoidance behaviorReason
Talking to my friends more in ArabicI was worried I’d run into things I couldn’t say
Recording and listening to myselfI didn’t want to feel embarrassed
Asking natives for feedback on specific sentencesI was worried their comments would hurt my feelings
Practicing speaking out loud It was easier to just study silently at my desk 
Focused readingIt was easier to just “chill” read

If I had been a bit more mindful, I would have seen what was going on, and I would have been in a better place to choose a better response. 

Eventually I figured things out, but it took a while, and unfortunately, I lost a lot of good time stuck in avoidance behaviors rather than engaging in proactive behaviors.

Try it out!

Time required: 1-2 minutes

What’s one thing you are avoiding in your language study that you wish you were doing? What’s the obstacle keeping you from engaging with this habit? 

What are your fears of really engaging with this aspect of your study? How real are these fears? 

For no more than 60 seconds, engage with the habit you’ve been avoiding. Then stop. See? That wasn’t so bad! Congratulations on your victory.