Why Can't I learn a Foreign Language?
You probably know more Spanish than you think!
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It might sound a little snooty of me to say “This is why you can’t learn another language”. But there is always one big difference that I have seen between those that already have the ability to speak another language and those that just say they want to. It starts to branch out to the other reasons as well, which we will get to. But here it is:
You think of being able to SPEAK another language as a DESTINATION, not LEARNING LANGUAGE as a JOURNEY.
It’s not your fault. If you have ever taken a language class, it’s the teacher’s fault for instilling this bad mindset into you. In fact, I would wager to say that most teachers are to blame for so many students not being able to speak the foreign language they teach. But that's a debate for another time...
Anyway, let me explain myself.
The number one thing I hear people say that want to learn another language is “WHEN I can speak another language.”
"When I can speak German, I will travel to a Germany.
"WHEN I can speak Spanish, I will get a better job."
The problem with that is you will never get to WHEN if you don’t start practicing NOW.
Pick up a basic greetings book. The very first thing it teaches you is how to introduce yourself. Like for example, in Spanish: “Hola, como está? Mi nombre es Jordan.” Guess what? You can speak Spanish when you learn that! You have already arrived at the destination. Are you fluent? No. But you will only be able get to the point of fluency when you begin to practice what you ALREADY KNOW and LEARN NEW THINGS that you don’t. Once you overcome that mental block, you will finally be able to reach your goals.
Why is this such a problem? Because it scares you into inaction. You don’t want to open your mouth and use that language. You don’t want to go up to someone you don’t know (scary), say the few words you know in their language (scarier) and possibly say something wrong (scariest). But guess what? That’s how we learn language.
Think back to when you learned English. Did you go from being a baby to toddler, and magically one day started speaking fluent English? The process we take as children to learn a new language is how we need to learn language as adults. You hear the sounds and practice them yourself. You begin to see patterns in speech, like your parents pointing at themselves and saying “Daddy” or “Mommy”. As your vocabulary expands, you begin to string those nouns together with verbs. Now you’re saying “Mommy help” or “Daddy eat”. And before you know it you’re able to start having a conversation with your parents and siblings.
So I want you to begin this immediately. It’s a very common practice for people when they are beginning to learn a new language is to go around the house and label everything with the word for it in that language. Do it. And begin to use those words every day.
Again, using Spanish as an example.
“Do you want to eat a manzana?”
“Today I should go to el gimnasio, pero I don’t want to.”
And soon enough you will be speaking in sentences. They might not be big sentences at first, but that’s how you learn.
Back in 2010, there was a study conducted that revealed that on average, humans need only to hear a new word 160 times for it to be imprinted in their heads. This is why it's so important that we constantly find repetition. Listening to TV or Radio in your target language. Opening your mouth and using those words. That's where you gain fluency and the ability to remember those words.