Learning a foreign language is not without its own challenges. Especially being a busy professional, the idea to make the time and effort to see a language teacher or to enroll yourself to a language school already feels like a daunting task, and hence, this is when labelling ‘learning a foreign language is difficult’ in your head comes easy. We want the result, but not to go through the process, haven’t we all been there?
As an English native speaker, obviously English comes natural to me. I don’t begin questioning and get frustrated over to why the word right has 2 meanings that are not related at all, and so does the word ‘XXX’ and many more others. Learning a language as an adult, we tend to like to complicate things. Instead of focusing on learning the language to make it feels like a second nature to us, we like to question why is the grammar this way, and why it’s not that way. This is when we need to stop ourselves and ask: why complicate things? Even in English, there are many language concepts that may not logically explained. Why don’t we start to see our target language from a different spectacle- trying to understand it from the culture where it comes from?
It’s the process that matters. The process that will get us from 0 to the proficiency level we are after. People often thinks that it’s harder to learn language as an adults, it’s only true because adults tend to try to complicate things. Kids will only focus on learning words and language concepts they encounter. Adults though, will compare to its native language and try to find the ‘logic’ or connection there – which may not even exist.
It’s also important to note that there are many easy ways to learn a foreign language. We just have to be creative and resourceful. Feeling you have no time to go to a language school? Easy. Pay a private tutor to come to teach you at times and location where it’s convenient for you. Feeling you need to practice your listening skills but have no contact to native speakers? Easy. Search on Youtube for children’s cartoon / pop songs / tv shows / news spoken in your target language. You may even come across a channel or song or show that you’ll really like. Feeling you need to practice your reading skill? Read books targeted to English speakers learning your target language. With the information age we are currently in right now, there is no such thing as “not enough resources”. It’s all about whether we are resourceful or creative enough to get what we want.
When you’re still toying with the idea whether you should make the move to learn a foreign language, it’s important to be consciously aware of common learning language myths out there. We need to make sure that we are not feeding our thoughts with these mental blocks that can stall our progress along the way.
- ‘I am not good at speaking’
This is a lie that language learners like to tell themselves. Why is it not true? Because everybody can communicate both verbally and non-verbally all the time – every single second. When you are communicating to your friends in your native language, you’re speaking a language. That proves you are capable to communicate. Don’t attach the feeling of ‘pressure’ to the idea of ‘learning a foreign language,’ even if you are learning for the sake of work or business purposes. To be fair, not all English native speakers speak English with proper grammar and pronunciation anyway. Why do we have to hold ourselves to such a high expectation when we have just barely started learning? Why do we have to care so much about sounding like a native, when the core importance really is to be able to convey your thoughts and express your opinions? Isn’t that the point of communication through a language?
- ‘I’m too old’
There is no age limit to learn. Children and adults have the same capability in learning a language. The difference is just how children and adults process new information they are given to. As an analogy, children are like blank canvases, whilst adults are like newspapers with a lot of pictures and writings in their head that can complicate things when it comes to absorbing new information or concept. Certainly learning strategies suitable for children will not be suitable for adults, and vice versa. Adults themselves may even have differences in learning methods they prefer. The key is to find learning strategies and methods that work for you.
- ‘I don’t have much time’
As a professional, maybe you don’t have time to go to class for 6 days a week. But does learning a foreign language have to take up THAT much time and commitment? The answer is no. It’s in the consistency of you learning that makes a difference. You cannot expect to learn and take a language class for 3 hours only once a month and expect great result. If anything, consistently learning 5 minutes daily will work better as compared to a language class that you take once a month. Side note: for best result we recommend to take an 1 hour language class weekly. Repetition is key in making learning a foreign language feels effortless to you, and the presence and involvement of an experienced teacher will alleviate you the stress of deciding and preparing the materials you need to learn. This is when getting a tutor will come very helpful to busy professionals like yourself. Does it have to be expensive? The answer is no. You can also consider to take an online class or program where you can take the lesson at your own pace, in smaller chunks in a more consistent basis. Just keep in mind that consistency matters, not the number of the lesson hours.
- ‘It takes a long time to master a new language’
Important advice here: focus on the fun when you are learning a new skill, not the pressure. Imagine that you just started learning guitar. Would you pressure yourself to master playing songs that are at the intermediate level? It’s a sure way to kill your motivation to acquire a new skill.
Learn to celebrate small wins along the process. Did a native speaker smile appreciatively at you when you said a greeting in the target language you’re learning? It’s a win. Did you understand the meaning of a commercial’s tagline you just watched? It’s a win. Your reward is a feeling of satisfaction and you should learn to embrace it. What’s important is to keep making progress no matter how small. Abandoning your learning will not get you to your goal.
If you are ever feeling overwhelmed by the number of resources out there to learn your target language, just pick one. Cut out the chaos, keep your learning process simple. Pick one and just get started. Along the way you can add more resources to supplement your learning. The crucial step is to start learning. The next crucial step is to not stop learning.
- ‘I have to visit the country to learn it’
Visiting the country where your target language is spoken can give you an advantage to learn about the culture and the language’s non-verbal cues. Language and culture go hand in hand. Over time culture shapes language and vice versa. Learning a language where it is spoken will put you constantly in a learning environment. You cannot just “switch off” from not learning as you are constantly exposed to interactions with locals. You will also get to learn the difference between formal and informal speech by “living it.” By consistently finding the differences between formal and informal speech in your daily conversation with locals, you will be able to effortlessly identify the differences. But just because you’re not able to visit the country where your target language is spoken doesn’t mean you are a lost cause. To be fair, a person can live in Bali for 5 years and still not knowing how to speak in Indonesian. It all comes back to the individual. Are you willing to put in time and effort to learn it? Frankly speaking this applies to all skills, may it be playing a musical instrument or sport.
When it comes to learning foreign language, these days you can easily arrange for Skype lessons with qualified native speaker-teachers. With the help of technology, you can also find native speaker friends who are geographically across the globe or find a conversation club of the target language you’re currently learning in your city.
Would you like to know how to identify a qualified native speaker-teachers? Read the article here.
Now that we’ve covered all five language learning myths and countering them with facts, the ball is now on your court. Ask yourself: do you have a motivation to learn? Do you think the learning process you need to go through will equate the outcome you’ll get?
When it comes to learning a language as an adult, 5 things you need to remember to get you master your target language are:
- The point of learning a new language is for you to be able to communicate in that language. The focus is never to sound like a native. It’s a bonus, certainly, but not the end goal.
- Don’t complicate new information that you receive. Think yourself like a baby, start your mind afresh like a blank canvas. Stop comparing your target language to your native language, particularly in regards to language concepts.
- Find learning methods and strategies that work for you to let you learn a language effortlessly. You just have to put in 5 minutes daily to learn. Consistency is key.
- Alleviate yourself from stress and pressure on the progress and outcome you think you ‘must’ achieve; and remember to celebrate small wins. Just get started.
- You can learn your target language anywhere in the world. So what’s stopping you?