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Mar 24, 2011

Language Learning Myths

One of the greatest obstacles to learning a new language is all of the built up crap that we've been hearing over the years. These ridiculous myths about language learning both make people think it's impossible to learn and gives people expectations that simply cannot be met. Realizing the truth behind these myths will make it more clear just what language learning entails and that it is definitely possible.

One of the biggest myths I hear about is, “You have to be a kid to learn a language. Once you're my age it's just not possible.” This myth likes to place some sort of mystical power into the hands of children that allows them to master languages, but only while they're still young. Once you become a teenager or adult, suddenly this power disappears and you're stuck with whatever languages you've acquired thus far. What complete crap. Children have no special power – they have ultimate immersion.

Children are surrounded by “foreign” languages all day and receive guidance from practically anyone and everyone about what words mean or how to properly speak. Parents especially provide a lot of help by correcting mistakes, teaching new words and grammar, and setting up the perfect immersion environment for their child. Thus, it isn't because children are in possession of some mystical power, but because they spend years immersed in their language(s) and gradually build up a knowledge. That is why building your own immersion environment is so importantyou're setting yourself to learn a new language the same way you learned the first.

Another myth of sorts is the belief that you can never learn a second language to native level or sound like native. The root of this myth should be obvious – laziness. It's so much easier to say that you can't reach native level and never try than to put in the effort and get there. The key is just to practice speaking the way others do, something akin to doing an impersonation. Watching TV shows in the target language and impersonating the actors will quickly progress you towards sounding like a native.

On the other side of these myths, there are the beliefs in “wonder methods” that will allow you to learn a second language “in three months guaranteed!” and other such nonsense. These methods are a scam, because you'll most definitely not be learning any real language in such a short amount of time. As I said in my post about language taking time, you're going to have to put in a time investment in order to really achieve fluency. There are methods that can make the learning process faster, but it'll still be a while before you can truly claim fluency.

Once you've realized the truth about language learning – that there are no magical methods and that you've got the ability to learn – you can really get started. Unlike children who have no real methods for retaining what they learn and working to gain more knowledge faster, those of us who are older can use all kinds of tools and systems to speed through. Thus, a child spends so many developing years working on their first language, but we adults (and teenagers) can become so much better in so much less time. It's no miracle method – it's just using the right tools to learn more effectively.

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1 comment:

  1. I didn't know about some of these myths, thanks for the information!