Let me ask you this.
Is acquiring a second language more difficult than understanding maths?
If you’re like most other people, you probably said ‘yes‘. The majority of us think that learning a new language is very difficult, if not impossible.
I think this has a lot to do with the myths about learning languages. Assumptions about languages in general, about the learning process and the cognitive abilities of different age groups. I think that such assumptions are often misleading.
So, I’ll take a look at the most popular language learning myths. Is maths really easier than languages? Or do we base our judgement on weird notions that we call facts? Let’s find out together.
Myth #1. You must be gifted or have a language gene to learn well.
That’s just an attempt to rationalise failure in language learning. There’s no ‘language gene’. True, some people are better at language learning. Others are better at maths in the same way. However, this has to do with interest more than with our DNA. We can all understand complex algebra if we focus our attention and effort on it. (Don’t say no if you haven’t tried.) It’s the same with languages.
Maybe the learning strategy you used wasn’t efficient. Maybe you weren’t motivated enough. Language learning is something that we have to learn as well. Just don’t give up after your first try, because anyone can learn a language. And the first one is always the hardest.
Myth #2. Everyone speaks English. Why learn Tamil, then?
If you call one-fourth of the population ‘everyone’, you miss the big picture. True, it’s easy to avoid people who don’t know English. All you have to do is never travel and work in a company that only employs local people. Oh, and never go to places where people from different cultures hang out. Both in real life and on the internet.
It’s easy to make a social bubble of English. However, other languages are necessary if:
- You want to get to know new and different people.
- You want to get better and more exciting job opportunities.
- You want to learn about other cultures.
Is one or more of these statements true to you? Then English won’t suffice. As for Tamil, a language doesn’t need to have 200 million speakers to be worthwhile. A unique language will help you stand out from the crowd when looking for job opportunities. You will always find a place to use it in our global world. Of all language learning myths, this one might’ve been true 100 years ago. Not today.
Myth #3. Modern translation technology makes language learning obsolete.
Translation technology isn’t that good. It completely misses the social context, cultural references and situational nuances that language brings with it. So, you won’t build a real connection with other people if you can only speak to them via Google translate.
I mean, have you ever used Google translate? It may seem OK to an English speaker. Erin Meyer says that U.S. English is the lowest context language in the world. You need minimal cultural context to understand it. However, I’m a Lithuanian speaker. And when Google tries to translate Lithuanian into English or vice versa it completely misses the point. Not always, yet more often than not.
Myth #4. If you’re an adult, you’re too late.
Languages come naturally to children. However, as we grow, we constantly lose this natural ability. Our brain gets used to our current languages more and more. This leaves less and less space for other languages to get in. As a result, people start thinking that it’s impossible.
However, we base our struggling upon language learning myths such as this one. While kids are better at acquiring a language naturally, adults are actually better at learning it deliberately. Adults understand the way language works. Children don’t. They just adopt it without really realising how the system works.
So, the difference between adults and children is simple. Adults are better at understanding new languages. It’s just that they have to put more effort to it. On the bright side, it’s totally not too late.
Myth #5. The best way to learn a language is to speak it.
Some language learning myths are on repeat everywhere. This one is no exception. You may even find it in this blog. On a few occasions. So, did we change our minds? No! The best way to learn a language is, indeed, to speak it.
However, speaking it isn’t enough. You need to learn new things alongside it. Because if you don’t, there’s no real progress. You need to learn pronunciation, new words, idioms, structures. You need something that would show you your mistakes. This doesn’t have to be a teacher. All you need is some content as an example.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t focus your attention on grammar and rules. These are tedious and yield no results without practice. Instead, you should find the sweet spot between reading, listening, writing and speaking. With the focus on the latter. Luckily, there’s an easy, fun and effective tool that can help you with the reading and the listening part.
So, we busted the most common language learning myths. Can you still say that it’s more difficult than maths? Try again and you’ll see that you were wrong. Just don’t give up easily, because nobody was born speaking ten languages. The beginning is the most difficult, however, it will get easier and easier as you move on.