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February 2018

Dispelling Language Learning Myths

Undoing the myths associated with language learning

We live in a frenetic era in which everyone hopes to achieve their goals as quickly as possible. Search online and you’ll find numerous articles on “language hacking” and becoming fluent in months. The dawn of Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur, alternatives to traditional textbook learning, seem like ages ago now when once some dubbed them revolutionary. There are many ways to learn, which means there are also many ways to fail. Today we’ll take a look at some myths associated with language learning and how we can dispel them.

Myth: Traditional learning methods are the best (or worst) methods

Many language learners rally against traditional textbook learning, calling it a boring and tedious practice that yields less practical results in the real world. Others claim that traditional methods, those that heavily emphasize grammar, lay the necessary foundations for any well-versed linguist. 

It’s understandable that, in today’s busy world, we struggle to find the quickest and most efficient way of learning our target languages. The truth is, however, that there is no one best method for learning. There are methods that may work best for your learning style, and that is something worth discovering, however it’s often a mixture of styles that proves most useful. 

If you find that you learn best via mobile apps or audio, by all means head in that direction. This does not, however, preclude you from also utilising the traditional textbook to reinforce and add context to all that you are learning. Using a variety of learning methods in your study sessions can make things more interesting, while also increasing your breadth of linguistic knowledge.

Myth: Native speakers are always right

It is true that speaking with native speakers is a great way to learn a new language. The whole point of learning a language is to become fluent enough to converse with native speakers, after all. However, this doesn’t mean that all native speakers have an academic mastery of their own language. Just as not every speaker of your native language in your country has a good grasp of said language, this holds true for every other country in the world.

This is an important fact to remember when conversing with a language partner. There are often times when native speakers give completely incorrect language advice to the learner. The problem is that the bad habits of the native speaker then transfer over to the learner, especially because most learners may not recognise that the native speaker was in error. This is why it’s a good idea to learn from accredited language teachers at the beginning of your language learning journey; you’ll form a good base on which to build.

Myth: You have to travel to really get good at a language

Travelling to better learn a language is never a bad thing. The problem with this myth is that it may discourage many to believing they’ll never be good enough without travelling, so they don’t even bother learning. It’s true that complete immersion is the best way to learn a new language, however it’s not true that immersion can’t also take place at home. 

If you’re learning a language and can’t travel to the country of your target language, you can build a network of native speakers in your home via language groups, hanging out in the neighbourhoods/restaurants/bars/cafés where your target language is spoken, or chatting with native speakers online. Sure, it may take more work to become immersed without travelling, but with all the tools we have available for us today, it’s easier than ever before.

Myth: You can never become “good enough”

Language seems like a long uphill climb. It’s true that you can never be perfect, but that does not mean you can never become “good enough”. Language goals are relative and life itself is an endless learning process. Don’t let the idea of becoming the perfect speaker get in the way of enjoying the journey. 

Celebrate your victories, however small, and keep learning wherever and whenever you can. A good exercise is to create mental milestones every now and again. Use these milestones to recall a time when you weren’t as fluent as you are now. It will give you a chance to see how far you’ve truly come. Maybe you’ll discover that “good enough” was a point you’ve already passed.

Myth: Fluency means perfection

Look up “fluency” in Merriam-Webster’s English Dictionary and you’ll get this definition: “capable of using a language easily and accurately”. Note that the definition of fluency does not include any mention of perfection. Fluency is the ability to converse without worry and with as few errors as possible. Even native speakers commit errors or have mental blocks, so it’s important to understand that perfection in language is a myth, an unattainable goal.

This is why so many language hackers can claim to become fluent in several months; it’s not perfection but practical language learning. The idea of fluency can also mean many things to different people; it’s all relative. There are some who claim to be fluent if they can order in a restaurant and chat casually with friends, while others set higher bars for themselves.

To reiterate, fluency does not mean perfection. Perfection is not a goal but an uncatchable phantom. Fluency is what it means to speak comfortably and accurately to your requirements. In the end, satisfying your own linguistic needs is what truly matters.

What are some of the language learning myths you’ve encountered? Let us know your experiences and tips on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on language and culture from around the world!

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