Think You’re Terrible at Languages? Here Are 6 Things to Remember
1. Age Really Is Just a Number
We’ve all heard the common misconception that children are more naturally gifted at learning a second language than adults, and that after adolescence, it becomes virtually impossible to pick up a completely new language. The “critical period” hypothesis supposes that children are superior to adults when learning another language, as their brains are more flexible.
Studies have shown, however, that this is nothing more than an urban myth. It’s true that children tend to have better pronunciation, due to their enhanced capability to mimic sounds. While this is helpful for learning a second language, adults are still shown to be superior in overall language acquisition. Adults find it easier to form complex grammatical structures, learn advanced vocabulary, understand semantic relations, and make linguistic associations and generalizations.
No longer being a child does not put you at any disadvantage, so pick your language and get going!
2. You Do Have Enough Time
A lot of people perceive language learning as a laborious affair; one that consumes entire evenings writing translations and copying from a sturdy grammar book. This would be highly impractical for the average stressed-out expat, but luckily it isn’t the only way to go. If you find yourself with a constantly busy schedule, remember that there are always ways to fit in some language learning each day.
Keep a language learning app like Babbel on your smartphone and make the most of the time you usually spend daydreaming while waiting for the train or your morning coffee. Babbel helps adults of all abilities wanting to learn a foreign language by making the process as convenient as possible: with average lessons of around 15 minutes, the language app is perfect for a quick brush-up on tricky vocabulary during your lunch break or the evening commute.
3. It’s Okay to Make Mistakes
Becoming fluent in a new language is not an overnight process, no matter how much we wish it were. Practicing your language skills in real life can turn even the most confident of us into a bag of nerves, especially when we are talking to a native speaker.
It can be incredibly frustrating to think you’ve made lots of progress, only to completely muddle up words when you are having a conversation in the language you are learning. Try not to feel too defeated by making mistakes — even native speakers mess up their grammar from time to time.
It’s important to try to persevere and break out of your comfort zone, even if your grammar or vocabulary is not 100% correct. See where your weaknesses lie when speaking and focus on them in your language learning. Remember that making mistakes is vital to improving your language ability!
4. You’re Not the Only One
While learning more than one language is undoubtedly a great challenge, it has countless benefits, such as good employment prospects and even increased brain health. It’s no surprise, then, that many adults wish they were bilingual, even if they have not tried to learn a new language yet. If you’re starting to feel like the only person who is struggling with learning a language, you simply aren’t.
In your expat circles there are bound to be others either learning the same language or interested in learning a language that may be your mother tongue. Tandem partnerships are a brilliant way to practice your spoken language skills either in a pair or group, with foreign languages functioning as a pseudo currency. A language tandem can even be as relaxed as a Spanish-speaking lunch date once a week with someone from work.
You can also check out the many language and culture groups on InterNations. It’s a great way to connect to both native speakers and those who are on the same language learning journey as you.
5. There Is No “Correct” Way to Learn
When you’re starting out learning a new language, it can be tempting to think you need to a buy lots of big and expensive textbooks, or else you will never become fluent. It’s important to remember that every person’s brain is different; therefore, we are all suited to different methods of language learning. While some may respond best to learning long vocabulary lists, others may need to binge-watch their favorite TV show with foreign subtitles (or foreign shows with English subtitles) to get in their daily vocab.
Even if you’re pushed to find time in your busy schedule, there are still many options to improve your language skills — one of which will no doubt suit you. Change your phone’s language to your target language and encounter important words every time you look at your phone. You might also try reading the news online in a foreign language or swap your daily newspaper for one from the foreign language section.
Some of us, though, aren’t fans of reading lots of text and are more able to learn from visual stimuli. If this sounds like you, try downloading a language learning game or app and play on your phone or computer for a more interactive learning experience — before you know it, you’ll be making progress!
6. The Basics Should Come First
It’s worth aiming for conversational foreign language abilities rather than full fluency straight away — you’ll achieve your goal much more quickly! Also, this will give you a strong foundation upon which to build your skills. You can start learning more complex verbs and add more exciting vocabulary into the phrases you’ve already mastered.
You can often get by in another language simply by knowing the basics: the ten most common verbs, the core pronouns or frequently used nouns. By using language learning websites, such as Babbel, you can take short courses of key vocabulary in your chosen language. They typically also offer trial courses in basic everyday conversation, so why not try one when you have a free minute and take it from there!