Language learning myths

Language learning tip #2

There’s a lot of confusion about language fluency, including what "fluency" even means. But there are two myths in particular that lead to a majority of students abandoning their language-learning aspirations.

Myth #1: Learning a new language is hard.

There’s nothing inherently more difficult about learning French than there is about learning, say, to play the piano. If you’ve ever played an instrument, you know that you start out with baby steps, learning the notes and how to play scales, then start putting notes together into chords and combining chords into songs. And you do this by learning where to put your fingers, how to move them, and how to read music. And – if you’re serious about it – you practice whenever you can. It doesn’t happen overnight, or in a week or a month: it takes regular, ongoing practice and there is no point at which you’re simply "done." There’s always more to learn.

Learning a language is very similar, except the notes are sounds, the scales are verb drills, the chords are sentences, and the songs are conversations. Torturous analogies aside, the point is that you don’t just magically know how to play all music after a few weeks, nor will you magically know how to speak French: you have to learn and practice and put some serious effort into it to get good at it. It takes a long time, and it’s really important to understand this up front. If you’re studying for an hour a week with the assumption that you’ll become fluent in a few months or even a year, you’re going to be very disappointed: it’s just not going to happen. You need to adjust your expectations or you’ll end up frustrated and disappointed.

Myth #2: Some people are good at languages and some aren’t.

The fact that you’re reading this article proves this simply isn’t true. You speak your native language, and you certainly weren’t born knowing it – you spent several years learning it as a child, albeit unconsciously and effortlessly. You’ve continued learning all of these years, and you’ll keep learning for the rest of your life. And there’s absolutely no reason that you can’t learn a foreign language, as long as you are willing to put adequate time and effort into it. When students don’t do this, usually because they have completely unrealistic ideas about how long it "should" take, they often make up stories to explain why their capabilities don’t match their expectations, like "I’m no good at languages." Nonsense. Here’s a fact: Everyone who can speak one language can speak two.

That said, sure, some brains are better at languages while others are better at math or science. But that doesn’t mean that "mathies" can’t learn another language, or that "languagers" can’t do any math. We all have our own individual strengths and weaknesses, but we can all learn anything – as long as we make the effort required to do so.

To get an idea of your current level, take our French CEFR test.

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Author info

Laura K. Lawless

Laura is Kwiziq's Language and Marketing Coordinator. Online educator since '99, Laura is passionate about language, travel, and cooking. She's American by birth and a permanent ex-pat by choice - freelancing made it possible for her to travel extensively and live in several countries before settling permanently in Guadeloupe. Laura is the creator of Lawless French and other websites and books on French, Spanish, English, and vegetarianism. She spends most of her spare time reading, playing with food, and enjoying water sports.

Despite the very Welsh name, Gruff is actually half French. Nowadays, he's a tech entrepreneur (and some-time novelist) but he used to be a physicist at Imperial College before getting hooked on inventing things. He has a special interest in language learning, speaks five languages to varying degrees of fluency and he often blogs about language learning, science, and technology. As well as co-founding Kwiziq, he is the author the Amazon best-selling SF thriller, The Looking Glass Club and the inventor of the Exertris gaming exercise-bike and Pidgin, a free online tool that makes drawing flow charts and relationship diagrams as quick and easy as describing them in pidgin English.

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