misconceptions about language learning

Misconceptions about Language Learning #1 – The Magic Age

misconceptions about language learning

Hello language lovers, thank you for welcoming me to Fair Languages as a new writer. I welcome the opportunity to get right onto my soapbox and tell you all about the many reasons why you’re denying yourselves a life as fluent polyglots.

Let’s say we all agree that language learning is fab. Whether you are keen to revive a dormant GCSE Language or dream of opening up a new world by learning a new one, have you ever stopped daydreaming and asked yourself “What’s stopping me?”. Well tell you what, I’m going to go ahead and try to guess your excuses and help you get over them as well. Language learning really is a little bit like dieting or taking up exercise: there’s never a reason not to do it.

Never too old

I’ll start off with one of the most common misconceptions about language learning I have come across, and that is the “magic age“. Seems like most would-be multilinguals out there look at being bilingual as something that you could never achieve unless you were born into it. It’s like a golden garden of multilingual children, all of which magically and effortlessly picked up two or more languages before they were even six. How could you ever live up to such standards! The trick is this: don’t try to. Being bilingual is all good and well, but is always the result of extraordinary circumstances and exposure. Instead of talking yourself out of language learning because you think you’re past a magic age, just pick up what you can.

It’s so easy to get started with a new language if only you can work out where to start. I spent my first ever Spanish lesson on the alphabet and pronunciation and it made me a lot less wary of the foreign sounds. The first ever Latin lesson started with a native language grammar re-cap – get your toolkit sparkling before you pick up the tools. But when I first learned English at a much younger age, it was more about songs and words for everyday things. Fact is, kids learn differently to adults and will be able to make a lot more out of being encouraged to copy phrases. If you forget something and you’re 5, that’s normal. If you forget something and you’re 35, that’s still normal but a lot of us will make it into a small failure.

Your attitude can be young again!

Confidence and fear of failure are two real factors that affect adults so much more than children when it comes to language learning. So realise this and take back those skills from the magic age. Look at your language adventure as a bit of fun, sound out all the words that really seem strange, get a song or two in your target language, perhaps a comic and make it about what interests you.

I encourage you to approach your learning like a child approaches a new toy, but be as wise as your adult self. You know by now what works for you. You’ve learnt a lot of stuff, be it ironing or driving or long division. Get the learning methods right and mix them with a positive attitude, then cut the fear of failure, and we have ourselves a learner at the NEW magic age!

Picture by wintersixfour via Morguefile

  • Hallo Kerstin,

    ich habe seit zweieinhalbe Jahren Deutsch gelernt! Ich lerne ein bisschen jeden Tag und genieße alles über die deutsche Sprache! Ich bin 55 Jahre alt und denke es gibt Wahrheit im Ausdruck, “Man wird niemals zu alt zu lernen!”
    Thanks for sharing your views with us. I support what you say completely. For me, one of the most important aspects in learning a new language… especially for we ‘oldies’… is to have fun!
    Now… to work on the ‘fear of failure’ bit! 😉

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