One of my favourite truisms is as follows…
“The quality of your questions determine the quality of your answers.”
To put it another way, if you're looking for ways to become a better language learner, the solutions you find will depend on the questions you ask…
Or the stories you tell yourself.
So, what stories do you tell yourself?
In this great guest post, I invite Phillip, founder of LinguaLift, to discuss 6 of the worst language “stories” we tell ourselves, and how to turn them on their head, so you can become a more successful language learner!
Human nature isn't about cooperation, creativity and freedom – it's about our incredible ability to justify why we can’t do something—especially to ourselves.
As Don Wilder remarked, “Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure.”
It's important to deal with them early and resolutely.
We all know that.
But somehow, we never act upon the intuition.
When our friends give us their excuses, we get annoyed, and are tempted to reply with Nike's, “Just do it.”
When we end up on the receiving end of the simplistic slogan, we realise how unhelpful such advice actually is.
1. “I’m too old to learn a language.”
Theories that say a language is best learnt before puberty have largely been disproved – new research shows that it’s never too late to learn a foreign language.
Steve Kaufmann, a language-learning aficionado, started learning his 9th language, Russian, when he was 60, and Portuguese when he was 62. He’s now 70 and still learning.
“Us seniors might not have as good a memory as we once had, but language is not so much a matter of memory, it’s about noticing, about being keen and alert …. I feel like I’m a better learner today than when I was in high school.” —Steve Kaufmann
Of course, successfully learning a language as an adult requires letting go of methods used in schools and employing modern technology instead.
Tools like spaced-repetition work extremely well for older learners.
Adults also frequently have more access to real-world practice opportunities including radio and television programs, magazines and newspapers, and conversations with native speakers.
You're never too old to learn a language.
You’re just limited by inappropriate learning methods imposed by an educational system designed for children.
Think about how you’ve changed as you grew up, account for your new strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll be all set for language mastery.
2. “I’m no good at languages.”
Talent plays only a small role in learning.
Stay focused, put in the time, find a supportive learning community, and you will reach fluency!
Over 60% of the world's population speak multiple languages, and in some countries it is commonplace to use four or five languages over the course of a single day!
Unless you believe that humans are genetically disposed to only be able to master one language, talent can't be a reason to give up.
3. “I don’t have the time!”
Yes, you do.
You only need to study for 15 minutes a day with another 10 minutes for review.
What matters is focus and consistency, as these will help you throughout your learning.
In my experience, most learners who complain that they cannot find the time to study are in fact embarrassed to admit a different excuse, or are afraid that someone will expose the fallacy in the reasoning that's stopping them.
Being ‘busy' has become so fashionable in recent years that nobody will ever question this answer.
And if they do, it's really hard to prove you wrong with access to your schedule!
Indeed, sometimes we get so absorbed in pretending to be busy, that we forget to focus on making the best of the time when we're not.
John Howard, former Prime Minister of Australia and undoubtedly a busy man, would walk for one hour every day. To make the best use of this time, he would often conduct meetings while walking.
If you are the rare person who does not exaggerate when complaining about an overflowing calendar, try to find activities in your day that could be combined with your studies.
Could you review vocab on the bus to work?
Try listening to News in Slow Spanish instead of The New York Times?
Finally, if you can find a spare window every day, make sure that you're 100% focussed on the task.
According to a study from the University of California Irvine, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task after a distraction.
Simply putting your phone on mute could save you time to finish all your studies, and leave spare minutes for a sweet reward!
4. “I’m too shy to speak.”
It’s a mistake to believe that the proficiency in a language is defined by fluency in speaking.
Your study goal can be to be able to understand films, or read literature.
There are many people who learn French or German only to access academic papers.
If someone can understand a 10-page article on “Neue Nachweise von Cryptops-Arten in Nordtirol und anderen Bundesländern Österreichs,” would you really doubt their knowledge?
On the other hand, if your aim is to speak, it’s rare even among polyglots to find someone who is not self-conscious the first time they try to express themselves in the foreign language.
Native speakers are usually impressed that foreigners are attempting to speak their language and used to hearing mistakes.
One strategy to fight your speech fear is to stop it from developing in the first place, by starting to speak from the start!
5. “What if I fail?”
Everyone remembers Henry Ford’s Model T, but what preceded it was a very imperfect Model A.
Don’t look at mistakes as failures, but rather as immediate opportunities to improve your language abilities.
It’s not a failure to use the wrong grammar, or make a blatant spelling mistake.
The only true failure is when you don’t learn from the mess-up or use it as an excuse to give up.
Fear of failure, also called atychiphobia, can be devastating.
It makes you look for easy wins that do little to get you to fluency.
It lowers your self-confidence when an opportunity to practise with native arises, and can even cause social anxiety.
This makes it the most important excuse to overcome!
The best way to deal with the fear of failing is to learn to appreciate the process itself.
Rather than think of what you want to do with the language, or worry about a proficiency test you need to pass, try to derive value from the wider learning experience.
That way you can never fail because there is something to be learned in any situation, no matter the outcome.
6. “This isn’t the right time or place.”
Well, it never will be… unless you stop telling yourself why you can’t and start learning!
“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything, is ready, we shall never begin. ” —Ivan Turgenev
This excuse is often based on a perceived, or real lack of information and resources necessary to start learning.
So, the best way to deal with it is to ask yourself – what do I need to get started?
Usually, it takes 30 minutes and a few Google searches to dispel all of your imagined roadblocks.
Yes, there is a school nearby—you just never noticed.
And an online language school is just as good.
Amazon can deliver textbooks to your doorstep; mobile phones abound with learning apps, and you can achieve immersion within the confines of your home.
Go through each item, and you'll likely find that the right time is right now!
This was a guest post written by Philip Seifi, Co-Founder of LinguaLift, an online language school where learners enjoy the flexibility of a self-taught curriculum with the guidance of helpful study coaches. Read his complete language learning guide to get a head start.