Some myths of language learning

Along with the false friends of language learning, there are myths. These also hold people back. Here I will mention just a few.

“You have to have a talent for languages in order to learn.”

Is it likely that this talent for languages exists only with certain nations? Is it likely that the Dutch and Swedes are all born with this talent for languages whereas the English are not? Is it likely that Singaporeans are all talented while the Chinese are not? I do not think so. Instead it is a matter of attitude and exposure to the language.

“I have to go to the country to learn the language.”

This is not so. I grew up in Montreal surrounded by French, but I was not interested in learning French until I reached the age of 17. When I became motivated, I learned. There are many immigrants in Canada who never learn to speak well. Yet I have met people in places like China who were absolutely fluent in English. I learned to become fluent in Mandarin in a city where the language was not spoken, Hong Kong.

Exposure alone will not do it. If you are motivated and know how to create your own interesting language world to learn from, you can learn anywhere. This is the key to effective language learning. I know. I have done it many times.

“You have to have an ear for music to learn languages.”

I lived in Japan for nine years. I often went to karaoke. Most Japanese men at karaoke bars are good singers, and have a good ear for music. Very few of them are good at languages. They either are not motivated or do not have an effective system for learning.

” My teacher is no good.”

It is not the school or teacher that will determine language learning success. It is the learner. The greatest role of the teacher is to stimulate the learner, to help the learner become a truly motivated independent learner. It is still up to the learner to learn.

” Only children can learn languages well.”

Children are uninhibited, encouraged and not corrected, spend a lot of time using a new language with their peers, and do not hide in their own language and culture while resisting a new language as adults do. On the other hand adults know more, have a wider vocabulary and can learn faster. If they can imitate the attitude of the child and take advantage of their own greater knowledge and experience, they will learn faster than any child. They may not be able to achieve accent free pronunciation but that is the only area where they are at a disadvantage. Even there, it is a matter of attitude.

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