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4 Things to Stop Believing if You Actually Want to Learn a Language

language learning beliefs of americansFor the 73% of Americans who are monolingual, there are four beliefs, or misbeliefs, that are preventing them from getting fluent in a foreign language.

If you’ve always wished you were fluent in a foreign language, but haven’t been able to keep at it long enough, chances are you have come to believe one of the following to be true.

Keep in mind as you read, these are probably just barriers you’ve constructed over the years to convince yourself why you can’t learn a language. To know the real reason, you’ll need to break them down and look beneath the surface.


“Learning a language is too difficult”


Is learning a language easy?

No. Absolutely not.

But a lot of people make it a lot more difficult than it’s got to be. They think they’ve got to memorize thousands of vocabulary and master difficult grammar — from the very start.

If you could write down all the English words you know and all the grammar rules you use, you’d be surprised at the massive book you’d have. Throw that down in front of a beginner learner, tell them they have to start memorizing it, and see how many people would actually follow through to the end.

That sounds ridiculous, but it’s exactly what so many people do all the time.

This is the reason people think learning a language is so difficult. They’re constantly comparing what they can do in their own language with what they can’t do in the language they’re setting out to learn.

So when you think, “it’s too difficult,” what are some other underlying reasons that could be making you feel that way?

Ask yourself the following:

  • Do you actually just hate not being able to communicate simple things?
  • Is the way you’re learning boring?
  • Have you chosen a language that has added barriers (like Chinese characters)? If so, how might you get around that (ex. focus on speaking and listening first)?

Breaking down the facade of this excuse is the only way you’ll get to the real reason — that thing holding you back.

And until you know the real reason, you won’t be able to think of a creative solution to help you stick with learning.

Stop going through life believing that learning a language is or was too difficult for you.

It’s such a rewarding experience that you’ve got to find a way to succeed.


“Learning a language takes a lot more time than I have”


Now this is something people tell themselves regardless of what they’re trying to learn.

Bottom line is this. If you actually really want to learn a foreign language (or anything) you’ll find the time.

You only need 30 minutes a day, and as long as it’s daily, you’ll see incredible improvement in just a month.

Impossible to find the time, you say?

Try it. Prove yourself wrong.

Track what you’re doing every 15 minutes for a few days. You’ll either find that you have time you didn’t realize, or that your schedule really is maxed out.

If the latter, you just have to do some slash and burn. Get rid of the time wasters and replace them with 30 minutes of working towards adding something valuable to your life.

If you really can’t find the time, think about how much earlier you could get up, or if you can stay up a little later.

Remember, it’s not just about finding the time. You need to find the times you feel alert. Identify your most productive times, and switch your schedule around so that activities that don’t require too much thinking (checking email, Facebook, etc.) are moved to low productivity times.

Finally, make sure there is a 30 minute time slot you can devote every day. Promise yourself to do this for just one month, and I guarantee you’ll be amazed by how much improvement you’ll see. That should be enough to motivate you for another month.

So, if time seems to be your problem, have you really tried to find more?

If you have, and it comes down to either TV-time or learn-a-language-time, and TV-time wins out, congratulations — time is no longer your problem!

Just stop telling yourself that the reason is because you don’t have time. Be brutally honest and tell yourself, “I’m not learning a language because I’d rather watch TV.”

In fact, try to tell that to a few people when they ask how your language studies are going.

You most likely have the choice to choose between something and language learning. If the something else continues to win out after being brutally honest, that’s fine.

Just stop telling yourself and others it’s a lack of time that’s preventing you from getting started.


“I’m too old to learn a language. Isn’t there some kind of cut off thingy?”

My 3 year old is growing up in Japan. And I have to admit, it’s an amazing experience watching a kid grow up in a bilingual environment, picking up two languages simultaneously in almost effortless fashion.

So in this aspect, we must bow down to the language acquisition powers that the extremely young of our species possess.

But that’s how kids acquire their first language(s). It’s not how they acquire a second language, which turns out to be a completely different process.

In fact, this idea that kids learn better is just one of many myths:

“People continue to believe that children learn languages faster than adults. Is this superiority illusory? Let us consider the criteria of language proficiency for a child and an adult. A child does not have to learn as much as an adult to achieve communicative competence. A child’s constructions are shorter and simpler, and vocabulary is smaller. Hence, although it appears that the child learns more quickly than the adult, research results typically indicate that adult and adolescent learners perform better.”

If you’ve been letting this belief hold you back, it’s probably because people have been saying kids learn better than adults since you were little. Since you missed that window of opportunity, you just came to believe you’re out of luck.

Well, stop believing it. Believe in the opposite.

In fact, challenge a kid on your block — or your own kid. It’ll be a fun project. And you’ll finally learn a foreign language.

Still need more encouragement to dump this belief? Try this and this.


“I took that one language course in college, and [enter negative outcome here]…”

Failure is tough.

In fact, we’re pretty hard wired to avoid failure. That’s why past failure to learn a language prevents people from trying again.

I know people who had awful experiences at school trying to learn a language. There are all kinds of reasons for that, but the fact remains; past failures place a paralyzing fear on most people to try again.

That’s because we start believing things about what and who we are based on our actions.

Failing or giving up at past attempts to learn a language reinforced in your mind that you are the kind of person who can’t learn languages — regardless of what those reasons were.

Just like children learning to “be the kind of people who share”, your actions will continue to feedback into what you believe about yourself.

If you start start studying a language little by little, every day, eventually you’ll start to believe that you’re the kind of person who can learn a language.

You don’t have to believe you’re the best learner or can even become the best.

You only have to believe you are a learner. Studying every day should create that identity, and you will learn.

Once you cross that bridge, then you can start to work out how to learn better.

You can do it!

Resolution setting season is right around the corner (isn’t it always?!).

Society is going to be asking you what you’re going to change for the new year.

If this is going to be your year to speak a foreign language, get a jump on succeeding by crushing some debilitating beliefs.

Know anyone who’s always talking about learning a language, but never does? Please share it with them!

Also, what other beliefs do you think hold people back from learning a language? Let me know in the comments.

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