There’s an abundance of information (and misinformation) out there about how we learn languages. But some of the claims you often hear about can be based more on assumption than fact.
Have you heard that language learning is only for children? Or that polyglots must have a gift for languages? Can we achieve native-like pronunciation without moving abroad?
Today, we’re diving deep into these questions, unveiling common misconceptions and myths about language learning. I hope by the end of the article, you’ll have a more
Misconception 1: Only children can easily learn languages
While children have a greater likelihood of achieving a native-like accent, research has shown that adults can learn a language to fluency nearly as well as children. Adults often outpace children in the initial stages of learning a new language, largely due to their superior cognitive skills. So whether you are 30, 50, or 70, age is not a barrier; dedication, consistent practice, and good resources are what count.
Misconception 2: You have to live in a country where the language is spoken to become fluent
Immersion can help, but it’s not the only way to learn a language. Going abroad has certain advantages like easy access to native speakers and the opportunity to perfect your listening skills, it may not be suitable for everyone considering your priorities. Living in the country also does not guarantee learning a new language. Most of the times it does not teach you more than survival languages.
Misconception 3: Some languages are just too hard to learn
The difficulty of learning a language can depend on a lot of factors like your native language and learning methods. While there are some hard languages that generally take more time to learn, the gap is simply not that big. Learning any language takes time and effort.
In this way, labeling a language as “too hard” can often be a discouragement more than a reality. With appropriate commitment and resources, any language can be learned. So if you wish to learn Chinese, Russian, or Arabic, go for it!
Misconception 4: You must have a great memory to learn a language
Having a great memory can certainly be helpful when learning a new language, but it is not an absolute requirement. Memory plays an important role in expanding vocabulary and phrases.
However, language learning involves various skills and strategies. While memory can facilitate many aspects of language learning, regular practice, exposure, and comprehension are equally important. For instance, consistent practice through speaking, writing, and listening exercises can reinforce your language skills and improve fluency.
Misconception 5: The best way to learn languages is through formal classes
While formal classes can provide a structured environment for learning, they’re not the only or necessarily the best way for everyone. Besides traditional classes, there are multiple ways to learn a new language comprehensively. To list a few:
- online platforms
- language apps
- language exchange
Language learning is a highly personal process. You don’t need to rely on one sole resource. Try a few and find one that fits your learning type. Language is not taught, it’s caught.
Misconception 6: Bilinguals are equally proficient in both languages
Many people believe that bilinguals are equally competent in all four skills (speaking, listening, reading, and writing). This is actually a misconception rather than a fact.
Bilingualism isn’t always a 50/50 split. Most of the time only individuals who have grown up in a bilingual environment achieve equal proficiency in 2 languages. For most bilinguals, there is often a domain language, one that is stronger and used more often.
Bilingual proficiency can also be situation-dependent. Some may excel in one language in certain contexts, such as professional settings, while they may feel more comfortable using the other language in informal or personal situations.
Bilingualism is also dynamic rather than static. Bilingual proficiency may also fluctuate over time based on language use and exposure.
Misconception 7: Immersion is better than learning grammar
Immersion is a quite popular language-learning method in recent years. Language immersion refers to being exposed to the language in authentic contexts, such as through watching movies without subtitles or living abroad.
Many believe that immersion is better than many traditional language learning methods, such as learning grammar rules, for it’s closer to how humans naturally acquire languages.
However, while input plays an important role in language learning, mere immersion does not guarantee success in language learning. If you struggle to understand the majority of the input, a large amount of immersion can be quite inefficient. It’s the percentage of the input you understand (comprehensible input) that counts.
On the other hand, structured instructions from a reliable learning source, including learning grammar, can help you speed up the language learning process by understanding the underlying logic. Actually, research suggests that full immersion is not always necessary for optimal language learning outcomes.
Misconception 8: Learning one language hinders another
You might have heard people saying or personally experienced that learning a new language made the old language rusty. Does this mean learning one language hinders the ability of another? Is it possible to forget a language?
Shortly speaking, no. At least there is no need to worry about this.
Learning another language is quite unlikely to really hurt your ability in another. On the contrary, studies have shown that prior language learning experience can enhance your ability to know more languages. And that languages you have acquired can’t be fully forgotten. With constant exposure and usage, your brain can build linguistic connections between different languages, creating an integrated system.