Dark days, or more about self-care for language learners

Remember what I said the other day about taking care of yourself and your mental state during language learning? I used the example of me mostly avoiding explicit/detailed things about the treatment of animals, and instead mostly focusing on vegan recipe blogs, reviews of vegan shops, etc.

In that same post I mentioned receiving daily news emails in my target languages. It can feel relentless: how many stories, in two different languages, can I bear to read about Ferguson, Gaza, Ebola?

I have a slight background in activist work, and much of my social circle consists of people who are similarly social justice-minded. We have a tendency to feel that pulling back — because we’re tired, or burned out, or our hearts are breaking from the things we see around us — is a failure. If we were only dedicated to the cause, we’d push on! Wrong, wrong, wrong. Movements can only be stronger when we take time for self-care.

Brave words, but I do struggle with this activist guilt (I should stay informed, I should bear witness), as well as feeling like I should make myself go through these news stories for language practice. I say this here to myself as much as to you: it’s okay not to push through the news. Even if it’s useful practice. Even if you want to keep up with current events (as I do, and if I can accomplish that while learning languages, even better). It’s all right to take a break, to skim, to just glance at the headlines, to choose something else instead. Needing time to rest and recenter and recharge is natural!

I’m still going through the news emails, but consciously telling myself I can skip anything I want or just read lighter fluffier stories when they appear. For example, I enjoyed reading about herb gardening when it popped up in SĂĽddeutsche Zeitung this week. I also get emails from Brigitte, a German women’s magazine. A lot of their stories don’t interest me, but I like their travel series (48 hours in different cities) and occasionally I flick through their recipes.

If you’re stressed out by what you’re reading — whether it’s the news or something else — be gentle with yourself and find other things to dive into. Fashion, celebrity gossip, sports, gardening — whatever your chosen substitute is, don’t feel bad for abandoning something because it’s distressing you! This is doubly true for those of us with mental illness. Our brains do a good job making us feel bad on their own. Let’s not make it easier for them if possible.

On the subject of things that are easy in terms of reading level as well as a pleasure in terms of content, this post is very persuasive! I really like the book bin idea — if I had a front porch or a balcony, I’m sure it would be super for my mental health to read out there; it sounds idyllic! (Saying that, I suppose I could go to my local park with a book bin & a travel mug of tea…)

I wish you all joyful reading, as well as the strength to read the more difficult things, when you want to, and the strength to step back when you need to.



  1. I appreciate this post, and can relate! In the week or two after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan, especially after I realized that the English news coverage was not merely slow but badly non-factual (like getting reported radiation amounts wrong by a factor of 1000!), I really got a little compulsive about checking the Japanese news…

    I guess that it was a way of making myself feel useful, and a way of distracting myself from more personal problems, and it certainly made me feel smart to realize that at some point I acquired enough relevant vocabulary to be able to follow a news announcer talking about conditions at the nuclear power plants, but it was really bad for me when I got to feeling like I couldn’t step back.

    There’s nothing about that particular case that was specific to language learning, except that at some point it hooked into my sense of “This is for your self-improvement! This is for your language-learning progress!” and that made it harder to detach.

    I heard a Stephen Krashen quote a little while ago where he says that for pleasure reading in another language, he never reads anything that he thinks will improve him. Which is good advice about not trying to force yourself through Madame Bovary or Les Miserables, but also when it comes to letting yourself take a break from stuff that’s activist-y but potentially depressing!


    1. Very belatedly — yikes, I can imagine reading about the earthquake/tsunami was something really taxing!

      It’s also v. important to me to be able to read news not from a US/UK/Anglophone perspective (and even from my lower language level I can see differences — remember when lots of people were wondering why the mainstream [English-language] media wasn’t covering #bringbackourgirls? I remember thinking, but wait, I just read about that in German this morning… ?). So then that adds to the self-imposed pressure to carry on with it.

      That Stephen Krashen quote is pretty good advice!


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