Breaking the Myths of Language Learning

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Let us face it: nearly everyone has an item like “learn Spanish” or “do Rosetta Stone class” on their bucket list once in a while. When it comes to learning a foreign language, thousands of people around the world start procrastinating and quite often, they stubbornly stick to a popular myth in order to justify their inaction. I am sure you have heard each of the below statements before. Today we will see if they are credible or not.

Myth 1: “It’s a hard work, I can’t do it.”

When I was a high school graduate, I decided it was time for me to learn some adult life skills, so I took a 6-week contract as a farmer’s apprentice during my summer break (it was in 1982, in the USSR). I remember weeding onions from dawn to sunset along with a dozen of women-farmers, who could do the same job five times faster than me and were a way better adapted to doing it in the mid-summer heat. By the end of the very first day my back was aching like crazy and my hands were cut all over by the taut and elastic stems of weeds. That was a kind of job which I call a hard work.

Learning a foreign language is quite opposite to that. In fact, I wouldn’t call it a work at all. You only need to listen, read, watch and react to the obtained information. Because you don’t know many foreign words, your first reactions are simple: whenever you can understand a phrase, you try to respond with the help of hand movements, mimics, exclamations, gesturing, a bit of acting, etc. This simple activity is already the language learning, because when we communicate, this is exactly what we do: we send and receive portions of meaning to each other. This does not sound like a very hard work… and it isn’t.

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Myth 2: “Learning is boring, it always is.”

The process of learning a foreign language can be boring only to those who-

a) like being bored; or

b) are not motivated for learning,

but if you are well-motivated, you will love it!

To make it easy and captivating, start by setting a very simple goal: to exchange any meaningful units of information with other people. Take a dozen of simple words (for example, take the words: I, you, like, need, work, have, this, room, book, class) and practice putting them together into various combinations. Again, be sure to help yourself with mimics, gestures and any other internationally recognized patterns of non-verbal communication. Then, take another dozen of words, and another. After an hour of such practice you will see that you have learned nearly a hundred of words and – most importantly – you can put them together into simple sentences, which means that you can communicate! Was this boring? I don’t think so!

Every learning process stops being boring when you start doing it right, because it begins sending you signals that you are on the right way. Nothing can motivate a learner better than these little signs of success.

Myth 3: “One must have a talent for languages, I don’t have any”

You will have to believe me on this: you are already talented enough. As a language teacher with 25+ years of experience, I can certify: you do NOT need to have any special gift to learn a  foreign language.

You have somehow mastered your native language, haven’t you? This means that your brain is completely developed and prepared to learn more of the language material, no matter if this is your native language or a foreign one.

All people living on our planet have similar anatomy: one head, two hemispheres of the brain to process information, a tongue to be able to speak, a pair of ears for listening and a pair of eyes for watching your partner in dialogue. This fact makes us equal when it comes to learning anything new. In the beginning, you won’t even need to think or torture your brain by remembering stuff: just listen to others, repeat what they say, and copy their intonation… like all toddlers do when they try to communicate.

Learning a foreign language has very much in common with learning your first, native language: if you were smart enough to master that first one, then you are good enough to master another language.

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Myth 4: “To master a foreign language, I need a classroom.”

There are hundreds of life examples, which can break this myth within minutes. Quite often, people learn a new language without any classroom or coursebooks, simply by immersion in the so-called “language environment”. Our brain is a very flexible organ: it remains adaptable for study from early childhood to very old age; it can learn pretty well without coursebooks or grammar exercises. As soon as your brain receives an “imprint” of a new piece of information (for example, a new phrase which you hear someone say in a street), it imediately “sticks” the imprint to its meaning and puts this new element into a certain “memory cell”. No effort on your part is needed for this. Some classroom study can be helpful to those who need to be organized. Every language learning classroom aims to imitate real life situations to those who are separated from the language environment, but if you are lucky to have this environment around you every day, you can start speaking the new language much sooner than any classroom student.

In fact, our brain never stops to learn: you only need to open your mind, welcome the new knowledge and let it in, within the classroom or out of it.

Myth 5: “It is necessary to live in the country of the language.”

No, this isn’t a necessity at all. As we just mentioned above, your learning process can go  much faster if you live in the country of the language for a while, this is true, but living within the language environment is not a necessary condition for the language study.

Today, we are all lucky to live in the informational society. We have instant access to a whole virtual universe, called the Internet, at a single click of a finger. Why not use it as a medium for learning a foreign language?

You can use the Internet resources for reading, social networks for communication practice, video files for better memorizing, and occasional online sessions with a teacher to get your knowledge organized. Learning foreign languages becomes easier and easier every day now, so don’t waste your time deciding, just start it right away!

Myth 6: “Language learning requires lots of time, I don’t have it.”

The good news is: you don’t have to do hundreds of exercises or drill the rules of the new language for hours; it is enough to give it a few minutes a day, but regularly. Try to fill some gaps in your day-plan with listening practice, simple reading, or doing fun language exercises (a lot of which you can find on numerous Internet sites designed specifically for the language learners like you). Why not take a look into a mobile application while you are waiting for your car to be filled at the station? Or listen a passage or two of a simple story while jogging? Or find a random language lesson on Youtube when doing some housework? If you start with 10-15 minutes a day and turn it into a habit, you will soon enjoy the first results.

In the end, we always learn by ourselves, which means that no one but you are the master of your time and knowledge. If you can organize your time well enough, you will always find a few minutes for the language study. Those who feel that they need someone’s organizing hand, can find a teacher and take a few online classes to get the  general idea of the most effective ways to organize your learning process.

Myth 7: “I am too old for this; I will never learn.”

Growing older does not mean becoming incapable of learning new things. While there are some studies suggesting that children have an easier time learning a second language, no studies suggest there’s an age at which learning abilities disappear for good. So, let us put this myth to rest, too, and hink about another incentive instead: your age gives you some certain advantage in the form of life experience. You have been speaking your native language for quite some time, so your innate knowledge of its grammar and sounds will be helpful when trying to learn a new language from scratch.

Finally, let me tell you that I have been learning English for nearly half a century now, and of course, my English will never be perfect, because I have lived my life in the environment of anoher language, but this does not bother me much, because noone’s language is perfect! It really does not matter, how good, or fluent, or literate you are in a foreign language. The most important thing is to learn how to express your thoughts in it: the task which cannot be boring.

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