Language Learning Barriers

Learning a second language isn’t easy. There is a lot that can get in the way.  It isn’t as automatic or sure as we’d suppose.  Depending on the person, there can be some high barriers to learning another language.

I’m teaching a unit on this in a graduate course and thought I’d make my own list. (yes, could have flipped open my Gass and Selinker but then I wouldn’t be learning anything, would I!?) I’d love it if you could read and add something I missed or tell us which you think is the most important to spend time diminishing. I put them into 5 categories. Got any to add? Please leave us a comment.

Barriers to Language Acquisition and Learning


– peer group

– socio-economic status

– L1 education and literacy

– parental/family support

– access and support

Psycho / Emotional

– affective factors (anxiety, social bias)

– self belief

– motivation (low intrinsic and extrinsic forces)

– attitude towards language and learning

– social disposition / character


– psycho motor skills

– cognitive functioning

– L1 development / childhood developmental factors

– physical impairments (deaf, blind etc…)

– psychological fitness

– age and health


– type and method of instruction

– improper materials and curriculum

– little access to input (native speakers / audio material)

– school and classroom culture

– lack of learning skills, strategies

– teacher/student relationship

– planning and use of time


– language transfer and interference (L1-L2 closeness)

– cultural values regarding risk taking, openess

– government policy and investment

– dislocation, movement, war


  • M.E.

    I suspect that the textbook you referred to has others in addition to the ones you’ve listed, and could give you a better idea of more of the barriers. After all, its two authors have done extensive research in SLA, so they probably have a pretty good idea of some of the challenges inherent with learning a second (or additional) language.

    • ELT Buzz

      I think Gaas and Selinker might address some of the barriers listed under pedagogy – yes. However, the others they don’t address (for the most part) at all.

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