No, you’re not bad at languages. No, the YouTube polyglots don’t have better brains than you. No, your parents didn’t make a mistake not exposing you to a 2nd language as a child. No, you’re not too old. Internalization is a manifestation of lack of self worth. It has very little to do with your ability to learn a new language. Language learning is a very logistically simple endeavor that requires a huge time investment. Similar to going to the gym, the more time you spend with the language, the better it will work for you.
Be critical of your own effort and process, but never be critical of your own ability.
Your obligatory self vs your idealized self
Imagine your idealized self speaking the language you want to learn. What does this future image look like? Are you living in your target language country? Do you have community ties with native speakers? This fantasy is your idealized self. Now shift back to present day and imagine all the work it’s going to take to get there. You’ll have to study hours per day for months to years just to get barely conversational. Welcome to your obligatory self. The gap between your obligatory self and your idealized self is why people quit languages.
Instead of having this great separation between two versions of myself, I like to bring my idealized self as close to the present as possible. First of all, the materials I consume have to be fun and engaging. If you’re trapped in the world of apps, grammar books, and theoretical approaches, it’s going to get dry very quickly. Maybe your initial enthusiasm can carry you part way, but if it feels like work, you’re not going to show up day after day, year after year. Worse, you’ll probably space out a lot, robbing yourself of learning efficiency. When I’m fully engaged in my learning materials, whether it be comedy shows, podcasts, or audiobooks, I break through plateaus much more frequently.
The second most important factor is I need to connect with native speakers as soon as possible. My version of “soon” is 3 to 6 months. I find that with 2–3 hours per day of effort, I can get up to survival conversational level between 3 to 6 months. I will still be very awkward and…