Myth Busted! Some People Are Just Good at Learning

By OptiLingo

When it comes to learning a new language, there tends to be two different schools of thought. Some people believe it is basically easy. Others feel it is inherently difficult. Which camp are you in?

Personally, I found it to be rather challenging. Of course, I was teaching myself how to speak Circassian, one of the world’s most ancient and complex languages. But I’m probably not the world’s most natural language learner. As it turned out, that was for the best. I needed to put in the time and effort so I could truly discover the best way to learn a new language, and then pass that knowledge along to others.

It’s true that learning a second or third language is easier for some people than it is for others. That’s due to the way different parts of the brain communicate. But everyone is capable of learning a second language.

Have you ever been in a class with someone who seems to naurally absorb whatever the teacher says? If you find yourself in that sceaniro now, don’t feel you can’t do it just because they can.

Learning a language is not like winning the lottery. If you put your mind to it and really dedicate yourself to learning, you will do it. It may take a bit longer than it does for some people, but it will also take less time than it does for others to master the material.

What you need to keep in mind is that everyone learns differently. And that includes learning how to become fluent in another language. If you find the right methods and means for the way your mind works, it won’t take you nearly as long to learn than if you don’t.

Even for people who learn languages easily, it still requires daily work and maintaining what they learn to continue making progress. Learning a new language is not something only a few people can do – it’s something anyone can do with the proper mindset.


The Myth

One of the biggest myths about people who speak more than one language is that it is incredibly easy for them. Learning a language is almost as easy as breathing for them.

They are the kind of people who can walk into a café anywhere in the world, place an order, then strike up a meaningful conversation with a stranger while waiting for their order.

The truth is a lot less romantic.

Yes, it is easier for some people to learn a language than it is for others. And yes, once they learn a language, they tend to be more comfortable talking with people they encounter.

But that doesn’t mean the path toward fluency was not a long and winding road. It doesn’t mean they are secure in their ability to speak in a newly acquired language.

The difference lies in their outlook and confidence. Polyglots (people who know several languages) understand you have to make mistakes and look like an idiot sometimes to fully gain proficiency in a new language.

They don’t let insecurities stop them from pushing themselves to practice what they’ve learned. A person who knows and learns a new language as an adult will always feel uncertain in their knowledge. But they accept that practice is the key to gaining the best results.


What Science Says

Science has a lot to say about pretty much everything involving learning. And that includes learning a language. The way the human brain learns a language has been of intense interest because it seems like something that is difficult to do.

But everyone learns at least one language. That means everyone is able to learn a language. Science has focused on the reason why it is easier for some people than it is for others.

One of the most notable studies was conducted at McGill University in Montreal. The study included adult participants in Canada whose first language was English and who were taking a 12-week, intensive French course. All 15 adults participated in a test of their abilities before and after the class.

The study found that the connection between two sections of the brain (the left anterior operculum and the left superior temporal gyrus) played a significant role in how easily the adults learned French.

According to the brain scans, the adults who had better communication between these two parts of the brain were able to more quickly learn French, thereby performing better on the speaking test at the end of the study.

While this and other studies have shown that some brains are more adept at language learning than others, it does not mean it isn’t something everyone can learn.

The human brain is incredibly elastic. It can be changed and shaped to incorporate new information – it’s just a little easier for some people. When it comes to languages, though, dedication and regular practice are what actually result in fluency, not the way a person’s brain works.


Most Polyglots Are Geniuses

This myth is so strange it is almost funny. Being able to understand and speak in multiple languages is often considered a sign of someone’s intelligence. But it isn’t.

More than intelligence, it’s a sign that the person has learned making mistakes is part of the learning process. Just as not all wealthy people are geniuses, not all polyglots are geniuses. It’s more a matter of confidence and a willingness to get up and try again after failing for the first or 50th time.

They are able to get over the inherent fears of learning a new language, and that is what makes them successful. Even if they find learning another language to be easy, it’s not a genetic trait like your hair or eye color.

It does take work, as well as focusing on what they are doing to succeed. They just accept that and push through the doubts.

Closely tied to this is the idea that polyglots have amazing memories. You don’t need a photographic memory to learn another language. And it actually may not be as helpful as you think, even if you did have one.

Learning a language similar to your own native tongue makes it easy to learn a new language. With the vast majority of European languages stemming from Latin, you already have the foundation you need to learn other European languages.

Polyglots use what they know of their own language to establish connections to the vocabulary of other languages. And they do spend a lot of time memorizing new words.

If you know someone who speaks several languages, they will tell you that studying vocabulary is probably the one aspect they will have to constantly study for the rest of their lives. Again, they accept what it takes to become proficient instead of shying away from it.


Your Age Is Less Relevant Than Your Motivation to Learn

Some people use that old adage – “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” – to excuse them from learning anything new. You have probably heard many folks say it is more difficult to learn a new language the older you get. There is no doubt it looks easier for children to learn a language than it does for adults, but take a step back and pay attention to how children learn.

Children start to learn a language from the time they are a few months old, even though they do not understand any of it. By one year old, children can usually say a few words, but they aren’t speaking in sentences or even phrases. It actually takes them several years to get to the point where they can even hold a basic conversation with anyone.

The real advantage children have over adults when it comes to learning a new language is that they will be able to hear the sounds and nuances that adults can’t. It certainly seems like less work for them to learn a language, but consider the fact that learning a first language is part of their job.

Adults spend much of their time doing a host of other things, and they have to fit learning a new language into an already very busy schedule. Children literally have nothing else to do but learn about their world, including the language used around them.

If a child learns a new language, they will likely be able to do so without an accent. And by the time they reach puberty, it is very likely they will always speak new languages with an accent. However, the goal of learning another language isn’t to be able to speak without an accent – the goal is to be able to speak the language.

If you had all day every day to study a language, you would find youself learning that language much faster than a child learning a first language. You have a grasp of the concept of grammar and the importance of vocabulary. You also know better how you learn compared to a child.


Finding Hacks and Systems That Work for You

The thing polyglots have that you don’t is a system of hacks and a method tailored to their individual learning styles. They have been through the process before and know what worked for them the first, second, or third time.

They carry flashcards or have a host of apps on their cell phone they can use whenever they have spare time to dedicate to it. They listen to music and radio stations in the target language, and they spend time reading in their target language. They don’t do anything that you can’t do.

If you know someone who speaks more than one language, take time to talk with that person about their learning process. Find out what they do to make it easier to learn.

Some of them will give you a vague answer, but many will be happy to share information with you. If the initial response is something like, “I don’t know, it’s just easy,” you can try asking about specifics. Ask what their motivation is for learning a new language and what helped them decide to start learning whatever language they are focused on at the moment.

Motivation is really as important when it comes to learning a language as the process itself. You will certainly have a different motivation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the passion and energy they feel when it comes to learning a new language. Once you start talking about motivations and interests, you will find the person will probably have a lot more to say. And that can help you come up with your own motivations.

If the person talks about apps and other methods for learning, make sure to write them down so you can try them out. There is no guarantee their methods will work for you. But if nothing else, it might teach you it doesn’t work for you. Then you can continue to look for the way that does work for you. It will probably be a mix of different methods and strategies. Just keep an open mind about how to learn.


Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

One of the real keys to learning a language is to understand it is a very personal experience. Perhaps you don’t have the benefit of better communication between the parts of your brain that make learning a language easy. There are probably other things you do have that can make the process easier, even if it is only your motivation.

You may have a better memory than people who know multiple languages. Or maybe you have more resources or time you can dedicate to learning. You definitely have some unique abilities and talents, and you just have to learn how to use them to learn your target language.

The best way to learn another language, though, is to stop comparing yourself to others. Your brain works differently, and different methods of learning will work better for you than they do for someone who already knows multiple languages.

By comparing yourself to someone else, you are adding a burden to the process that is artificial and a hindrance. You may find it easier to write in the language than to speak it, while one of the other students finds it easier to speak the language than to write in it.

Use that to your advantage by speaking with that person more often and emailing back and forth. That will help strengthen the language learning for both of you.

Don’t look at the way someone learns and assume you can’t do something just because it is easier for that person. There is a very good chance that person is struggling, too. Maybe they are just better at hiding it.

But even if they are having an easier time learning a language, if you put in the effort and time, you will get there eventually as well. Your progress is your own. Worry less about how others are doing and focus on what is working best for you.