5 Language Learning Myths that may be stoping you from learning Spanish
1. You had to learn it when you were young
We’ve all heard the studies suggesting the finite window for fluently learning a language closes when you are a child, and then we tell each other “you had to learn it when you were young”. Not so!!! What we don’t pay attention to is that these studies focus on perfectly fluent accents, and children learning without even realizing it. But it is by no means the case that you can’t learn a language when your thirty (like me). While it may take more effort and result in less perfection, you have the advantage of context and prior knowledge to help you make lasting connections for learning and memory.
And not all of us want an indistinguishable accent anyway! Your accent tells people something about you right away, which makes for easy conversation, not to mention, adds an element of intrigue and sex appeal! (think Penelope Cruz or Antonio Banderas!!!)
2. I’m just not good at languages
Sure, some people seem to pick up languages easily. A good memory is a big help. But don’t overestimate the importance of natural ability. The real key, like everything else, is motivation. Many times the people who are good at languages are so because they are also very interested in them – thus they are motivated to learn and (surprise) practice! If you can link your motivation to your interest in the language, you will work harder and be better at it.
3. It takes years to be fluent
Sure, that’s true. But define fluency. Even if you live in Spain for 3 years, you may not be technically “fluent” in the language. If you want to be able to speak with people, to navigate in a foreign country, express an opinion, and understand native speakers … well, this can be done in much less time!
So if this idea is stopping you from getting started, rethink your fluency goals. Do you consider children fluent? A five-year old may only know 2,000 words! And research suggests with just 2,000 words, you can understand 80% of what’s written in a newspaper.
4. I don’t have time
Everybody’s busy. The real question is what are your priorities and how well can you manage your time? Can you spend 20 minutes a day listening to something on your computer or mp3 player? Or 1 hour every couple days? The key is to be consistent and be efficient in your learning, especially when time is precious. Consistency helps solidify the memory and efficiency ensures you spend the time you do have, learning the right stuff with the right kind of practice.
A good option is to combine it with something you already do for pleasure, like reading the paper or a book, listening to music, watching tv, cooking, speaking with friends — do it in Spanish!
5. If I speak English, I don’t need to learn another language
Don’t be short-sighted. Consider yourself lucky that English seems to have become the international language, but don’t then loose sight of all the advantages of learning a second language, just because you don’t NEED it to survive.
Aside from making you more employable, more useful, and more interesting, speaking with someone else in their native tongue gives you a unique window into who they are -as a person and within a culture- allowing you to see a completely different side to things and people. It can be incredibly enriching, rewarding, and social, and it gives you automatic entrance to a new “club” of millions of members whom you may never have been able to get to know before!!
There is also widespread agreement that a learning second language is good for your health, helping to strengthen and retain mental acuity, which is important for everyone, and especially for an older generation!
So, if you’ve found yourself reluctant to pursue your foreign language goals because of these myths, consider them dispelled! Be advised that learning a language takes work and won’t be easy – that’s not a myth – but as they say, nothing worth doing ever is …
¡Buena suerte! ¡Y nos hablamos en Español pronto!
(1) “Vocabulary Size,Text Coverage and Word Lists”, Paul Nation and Robert Waring; http://www.fltr.ucl.ac.be/fltr/germ/etan/bibs/vocab/cup.html
(2)”How Large a Vocabulary Is Needed For Reading and Listening?”, ISP Nation; 2006 The Canadian Modern Language Review, 63, 1 (September)
(3)”Being bilingual ‘boosts brain power’ “, BBC News; www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17892521