DON'T IMAGINE THAT YOUR AUDIENCE ARE NAKED - IMAGINE THE OPPOSITE
May 4, 2016
WHY YOU THINK YOU'RE BAD AT LANGUAGES
April 26, 2016
If you live in England, some of the things you tend to hear are:
“How is it possible for foreigners to learn English?!”
“I’m not good at languages.”
“I have an O Level in French but then I stopped because I didn’t like it.”
First of all, I don’t blame you for not liking French. I didn’t like it either (apologies to my French readers – it’s nothing personal). Second of all, you are good at languages. If you are reading this and understand it, you can speak a language. Well done!
There is a common misconception that learning a foreign language requires some sort of extraordinary talent, when in fact learning a language is our innate ability. We can all do it. We simply don’t always want to.
There is an agreement in the psycholinguistic community that aptitude doesn’t predict the learner’s ability to learn a language because it's a given. It only predicts the rate of progress the learner is likely to make under optimal conditions. The conditions under which you are learning a language could be the decisive factors. If the level of instruction wasn’t good enough or the techniques used didn’t suit your learning style, you naturally would have struggled. If you didn’t like your teacher, you might have hated the subject. If the teacher didn't like you, well… google the "Pygmalion" or "teacher-expectancy effect" and it w
ill all come out. There is also the question of your own motivation – if, like me, you didn’t like French, your brain was resistant to learning it (mine still is).
Take some time to think why exactly you found learning a language difficult, whether it was English, French, Russian or Mandarin. Was it the teacher, the strategies used, or maybe you were learning a language that you didn’t like or you weren’t interested in the culture of the country whose language you were learning… The possibilities are endless. The point is that you might realise that there is nothing wrong with you after all.
Applied linguists say that it is very hard to achieve a native-like level if you start learning a foreign language later in life – something I personally disagree with but I’ve yet to prove them wrong. Still, it’s not impossible to reach a relatively high level within a short space of time, so if one day you want to be able to add a foreign language to your LinkedIn profile and say that you have the “full professional proficiency” of it, the road is not as long as you might think.