6 Truths about Languages


Language learning is a subject of many myths and misbeliefs. In the past couple of months, I've been trying to debunk the main offenders that I've come across. They're common beliefs, perpetuated as universal truths, but actually not much more than a catalogue of handy reasons for some to avoid getting going on a new language learning adventure. We've gone and uncovered the many "no carbs after 6pm" nonsenses of language learning, so for your convenience here are the findings: the Six Truths about Languages.

Your age is irrelevant

Stop believing that you should have started learning a language at age 6, stop believing that it's too late to get started now, and stop believing that kids are better learners than adults. It's all rubbish. What matters are your passion, your interest and your memory. You've got those, right?

You don't need a native speaker around you

Native speakers are the best to practice on and tell you lots of interesting stuff about language use and customs where the language is spoken, but they're not all natural teachers who can beam a perfect linguistic skill into your head. There are plenty of things to be said for learning from non-natives too. You're good as long as you keep the spark alive by surrounding yourself with your target language, whether it's with films or music or websites or friends.

There is no language gene

If you never managed to remember even the numbers from 1 to 10 in French at school, that does not make you a language loser. Sometimes I find that students will pick up words and remember them extremely well, yet they have this belief that they are no good at languages. Give over! It's just not true. Brains all work in the same way, and language learning is about what you make of it - the logical folks among us can get into grammar, the outgoing ones can speak to new people and the shy ones can practice safe rules before getting going. Go along with progress at your own pace - there are no norms and no rules, meaning there's not even a concept of failure. How liberating is THAT!

Even English speakers get something out of learning new languages

Here are just seven things, off the top of my head: You get to show off, you get to talk to people you couldn't normally talk to, you protect yourself from strokes, you make yourself more employable, you learn about how different people do things, you become more open-minded and tolerant, you practice patience and dedication. That took 1 minute to write down. Comment if you can think of more reasons to learn a language.

Languages are an awesome CV addition

Your hard work sweating over those verb tables has taught you more than you think - you do well to mention all those great benefits and transferable skills from an analytical mind to a perfect toolkit for communicating with new people.

No language is harder than the next one

The variety from language to language is immense, but each one of them is ultimately a way of encoding the same message. Some might govern every single letter in every word with really precise categories telling you what ending to put on it, others might leave the meaning of a word up to the words around it. But in all of them, the aim is to get at the message and communicate accurately. If you don't enjoy all the cases in German, perhaps give a new language a go. If you're stuck with it, try understanding how the same thing is said in English. Remember: It is the same message, encoded differently.

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