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3 Common Myths about Learning a Foreign Language

3 Common Myths about Learning a Foreign Language

Summer is almost over, Christmas is almost upon us and before you know it, we’ll be starting a brand new year! New Years: a time for celebrations, fresh ambition and New Year’s Resolutions. Did you know that one of the things more and more English-speakers are resolving to do is to learn a foreign language? And yet, so many potential polyglots (that’s someone who speaks a lot of languages) are holding back, scared to fail and preferring to make excuses.

I’ve taught languages for over a decade, and on three different continents, and here are some of the most common reasons that I’ve come across that stop people trying a new language on for size, and why they are all absolutely not true.

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I’m not good at languages!

Anybody who is able to say this sentence is flat-out lying. Why? Because anybody with the ability to communicate in their mother tongue is already a successful language learner. Within the first few years of your life, you managed an incredible feat- making sense of, replicating and mastering the sound and melody of what you heard from your caregivers and the world around you, with hardly any structure at all. You learned to say “I went,” and not “I goed,”; “he is” and not “he are”; to make your voice go up at the end of a question and down at the end of the statement. Nobody taught you these things.

You and your incredibly complex brain did it all by yourself. The trouble is that we usually try to learn (and teach) language as if it were any other subject- by presenting it as information to be remembered rather than a habit and skill to be acquired. So you are good at languages- you’ve already excelled at the language learning once before. And guess what: your brain is more than capable of repeating the process.

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I’m too old…

So, nobody is going to argue with the science of brain plasticity. Basically the brain is more malleable and ready to absorb new information when you are a child than when you are an adult. But the brain is a muscle, so-to-speak, and needs regular exercise in order to function at its best. So the more you use it for certain types of activities, the better it will perform. If you look at language learning as a test of memory- how many words or grammatical structures will you remember and be able to recite- then you will invariably “fail” at language learning.

But if you consider learning a language the same as any other skill-using it until it becomes second nature, you will find that age isn’t an obstacle. In fact, in my experience teaching adults of all ages, I have found that the biggest obstacle in older learners is letting go of the learning habits they formed at school (e.g. repeating, drilling, writing out long lists etc.) that can, at times, be counter-productive to language learning. If the older generation can work out Facebook, smart phones and automatic cars, there is no reason why an older brain can’t learn a new language.

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I don’t have time…

You may not have time to go to classes four times a week. You may not have time to translate pieces of writing back and forth. You may not even have the time to work your way through a language activity book. But here’s some good news: language learning is not as time consuming as you may think! I like to think of language as something to be absorbed, rather than studied. Language classes, and by that I mean good, quality, communicative, language classes, are a great investment of both your time and your money, but if they are beyond your reach for the time being, there is plenty you can do to simulate immersion into the foreign language (immersion really is the best way to learn a language- this is why children and people living in foreign countries pick up the local lingo so quickly).

Everybody can set their technology to the language they are learning- TV, phone, laptop and anything else that you regularly use. Anybody can listen to music, the radio and watch films in a foreign language- with subtitles in the target language if your level of understanding permits. Everybody has “in-between time” in which they can peruse magazines or read storybooks in the target language, or even practice writing foreign letters in a notebook or on their phone. There are plenty more ways to absorb language without taking up too much time in your day.

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Language is primarily a means of communication, so anybody who is able to communicate has the capacity to learn to do so in a foreign language. That being said, our brains are all wired in different ways so some people may be more adept at some aspects of language than others. For example some people have great pronunciation, but very poor grammar; some have wonderful fluency, but struggle with spelling. But with the right resources and, above all, the right attitude, anybody can become fluent in a foreign language!

Featured photo credit: www.brainscape.com via brainscape.com

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

How often have you said something simple, only to have the person who you said this to misunderstand it or twist the meaning completely around? Nodding your head in affirmative? Then this means that you are being unclear in your communication.

Communication should be simple, right? It’s all about two people or more talking and explaining something to the other. The problem lies in the talking itself, somehow we end up being unclear, and our words, attitude or even the way of talking becomes a barrier in communication, most of the times unknowingly. We give you six common barriers to communication, and how to get past them; for you to actually say what you mean, and or the other person to understand it as well…

The 6 Walls You Need to Break Down to Make Communication Effective

Think about it this way, a simple phrase like “what do you mean” can be said in many different ways and each different way would end up “communicating” something else entirely. Scream it at the other person, and the perception would be anger. Whisper this is someone’s ear and others may take it as if you were plotting something. Say it in another language, and no one gets what you mean at all, if they don’t speak it… This is what we mean when we say that talking or saying something that’s clear in your head, many not mean that you have successfully communicated it across to your intended audience – thus what you say and how, where and why you said it – at times become barriers to communication.[1]

Perceptual Barrier

The moment you say something in a confrontational, sarcastic, angry or emotional tone, you have set up perceptual barriers to communication. The other person or people to whom you are trying to communicate your point get the message that you are disinterested in what you are saying and sort of turn a deaf ear. In effect, you are yelling your point across to person who might as well be deaf![2]

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The problem: When you have a tone that’s not particularly positive, a body language that denotes your own disinterest in the situation and let your own stereotypes and misgivings enter the conversation via the way you talk and gesture, the other person perceives what you saying an entirely different manner than say if you said the same while smiling and catching their gaze.

The solution: Start the conversation on a positive note, and don’t let what you think color your tone, gestures of body language. Maintain eye contact with your audience, and smile openly and wholeheartedly…

Attitudinal Barrier

Some people, if you would excuse the language, are simply badass and in general are unable to form relationships or even a common point of communication with others, due to their habit of thinking to highly or too lowly of them. They basically have an attitude problem – since they hold themselves in high esteem, they are unable to form genuine lines of communication with anyone. The same is true if they think too little of themselves as well.[3]

The problem: If anyone at work, or even in your family, tends to roam around with a superior air – anything they say is likely to be taken by you and the others with a pinch, or even a bag of salt. Simply because whenever they talk, the first thing to come out of it is their condescending attitude. And in case there’s someone with an inferiority complex, their incessant self-pity forms barriers to communication.

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The solution: Use simple words and an encouraging smile to communicate effectively – and stick to constructive criticism, and not criticism because you are a perfectionist. If you see someone doing a good job, let them know, and disregard the thought that you could have done it better. It’s their job so measure them by industry standards and not your own.

Language Barrier

This is perhaps the commonest and the most inadvertent of barriers to communication. Using big words, too much of technical jargon or even using just the wrong language at the incorrect or inopportune time can lead to a loss or misinterpretation of communication. It may have sounded right in your head and to your ears as well, but if sounded gobbledygook to the others, the purpose is lost.

The problem: Say you are trying to explain a process to the newbies and end up using every technical word and industry jargon that you knew – your communication has failed if the newbie understood zilch. You have to, without sounding patronizing, explain things to someone in the simplest language they understand instead of the most complex that you do.

The solution: Simplify things for the other person to understand you, and understand it well. Think about it this way: if you are trying to explain something scientific to a child, you tone it down to their thinking capacity, without “dumbing” anything down in the process.[4]

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Emotional Barrier

Sometimes, we hesitate in opening our mouths, for fear of putting our foot in it! Other times, our emotional state is so fragile that we keep it and our lips zipped tightly together lest we explode. This is the time that our emotions become barriers to communication.[5]

The problem: Say you had a fight at home and are on a slow boil, muttering, in your head, about the injustice of it all. At this time, you have to give someone a dressing down over their work performance. You are likely to transfer at least part of your angst to the conversation then, and talk about unfairness in general, leaving the other person stymied about what you actually meant!

The solution: Remove your emotions and feelings to a personal space, and talk to the other person as you normally would. Treat any phobias or fears that you have and nip them in the bud so that they don’t become a problem. And remember, no one is perfect.

Cultural Barrier

Sometimes, being in an ever-shrinking world means that inadvertently, rules can make cultures clash and cultural clashes can turn into barriers to communication. The idea is to make your point across without hurting anyone’s cultural or religious sentiments.

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The problem: There are so many ways culture clashes can happen during communication and with cultural clashes; it’s not always about ethnicity. A non-smoker may have problems with smokers taking breaks; an older boss may have issues with younger staff using the Internet too much.

The solution: Communicate only what is necessary to get the point across – and eave your personal sentiments or feelings out of it. Try to be accommodative of the other’s viewpoint, and in case you still need to work it out, do it one to one, to avoid making a spectacle of the other person’s beliefs.[6]

Gender Barrier

Finally, it’s about Men from Mars and Women from Venus. Sometimes, men don’t understand women and women don’t get men – and this gender gap throws barriers in communication. Women tend to take conflict to their graves, literally, while men can move on instantly. Women rely on intuition, men on logic – so inherently, gender becomes a big block in successful communication.[7]

The problem: A male boss may inadvertently rub his female subordinates the wrong way with anti-feminism innuendoes, or even have problems with women taking too many family leaves. Similarly, women sometimes let their emotions get the better of them, something a male audience can’t relate to.

The solution: Talk to people like people – don’t think or classify them into genders and then talk accordingly. Don’t make comments or innuendos that are gender biased – you don’t have to come across as an MCP or as a bra-burning feminist either. Keep gender out of it.

And remember, the key to successful communication is simply being open, making eye contact and smiling intermittently. The battle is usually half won when you say what you mean in simple, straightforward words and keep your emotions out of it.

Reference

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