Dispelling Myths about Language Learning

By Jonty Yamisha • 11 minute read

Dispelling Myths About What Impedes Learning

The learning techniques we’ve covered provide you with the necessary skills to master your target language. Still, you must also dispel the false beliefs and myths that prevent you from being motivated to study.

You may be discouraged from pursuing higher levels of language acquisition due to false beliefs about your competency and learning capacity.

The Brain Is Susceptible to Deceptions and Prejudices

Using Logic and Intuition in Harmony


You must continuously improve and add to your knowledge and skills if you want to keep learning.

However, you must be aware of what you already know, what you don’t know, and what you still need to study to broaden your knowledge.

No matter how advanced you are in the language you’re studying, there’s always room to learn new things and gain mastery in various aspects of the language.

The issue is that most people assess their abilities inadequately. Humans are predisposed to delusions and cognitive biases that prevent us from seeing our flaws.

Two complementary processing systems are wired into humans:

  1. Automatic/Unconscious System:This controls your instincts and quick responses. Whether escaping a difficult scenario or defending against another basketball player, this approach is essential for situations requiring split-second decisions and reactive action.
  2. Regulated/Conscious System: This is in charge of reason and logic. This system balances the impulsivity of the first system by operating a little more slowly, aiding in problem analysis. For instance, when you see a snake, your unconscious system tells you to run away. Still, a few seconds later, your conscious system tells you that the snake is just a garden hose.

(Shortform note: Read our summaries of Thinking Fast and Slow and Blink to learn more about these two systems.)

End up believing illusions

You may end up believing illusions that cause you to misunderstand your ability when your conscious system fails to rectify an unconscious perceptual error, such as:

  1. Visual deceptions: Your perception is distorted by perceptual illusions, causing you to misinterpret sounds, images, or other experiences. For example, pilots may have optical illusions or, in extreme cases, illusions causing them to believe the plane is flying level while slanted. In language learning, visual deceptions might take the form of believing you saw a foreign word spelled a certain way when it had been spelled another way.
  2. Mental prejudices: The systematic issues with your thinking affecting your judgment and decision-making cause cognitive biases. The bandwagon effect, for instance, is a cognitive bias that increases people’s propensity to think or act according to how others think or act.

Unknowingly, humans occasionally manufacture their illusions to make sense of the universe. Instead, people unconsciously construct narratives explaining why something is the way it is because they naturally desire order and reason.

People also make up stories to describe the events in their lives, including challenges experienced and decisions made. Someone might claim, for instance, that no one in her family has gone to college because they’re not the “intellectual” type, aligning with the story she and her family have built.

Although narratives have a greater impact than objective facts, most people are unaware of or greatly underestimate this impact.

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Our Brains Aren’t Bound by Learning Styles

Everyone has some aptitude in each subject, but a typical narrative in educational contexts is that everyone has a favored learning style.

Avoid Being Bound by Learning Styles

Numerous theories and models define learning styles based on various factors.

Three learning types are identified under a typical model:

  1. Auditory: Learners who like lectures or other spoken presentations
  2. Kinesthetic: Learners who benefit from movement and hands-on instruction
  3. Visual: Learners who benefit most from graphs and pictures

Many individuals also think language teaching should be based on a student’s preferred learning method. However, doing so can limit a student’s perception of her potential and talents.

For instance, if a student believes she is a kinesthetic learner, she may not put as much effort into a reading project because it isn’t a good fit for her learning style.

Although different people may prefer different learning methods, learning isn’t hampered if the teaching method doesn’t suit the learner’s preferred method.

According to researchers, the few studies that thoroughly examined the notion failed to support it or flat-out refuted it. The lesson learned was that all students learn best when the teaching method is appropriate for the subject covered in class.

For example, using visual aids to teach geometry, audio to teach a foreign language, or kinesthetics to teach motion-related physics principles.

While it turns out that your preferred learning method doesn’t significantly affect your capacity to learn a language, how you view yourself and your potential does. 

This component of your story affects how you perceive your experiences and behavior. Your narrative influences your ability to try new things, how much effort you exert, and how persistent you are when facing setbacks.

Your Adaptable Memories Are Subject to Distortions

Because of how powerful they are, narratives influence how you see and recall your experiences, meaning you can change your memory naturally.


Your memory’s adaptability is essential to your capacity for learning a foreign language. Everything you learn becomes a memory. Each time you recall a lesson, you make new connections and generate new cues for that material, further solidifying its imprint on your mind.

Conversely, you can enhance your comprehension and increase your ability to remember knowledge by adding to your memory by using recall like this.

However, it might be troublesome when you tend to fabricate distorted memories and fail to recognize that they are distorted.

Memories Approximate Events and Are Prone To Error

Memories are only approximate representations of events rather than precise recordings, so they are prone to error. For example, you won’t be able to recall every aspect of an encounter or every concept you covered in a chapter of your Hindi textbook.

Recall every aspect

Instead, you recall some details and automatically add the missing information when recalling the experience.

This makes memory deceptions, like the following, possible:

  • Flashbulb Memories: Because you have a “flashbulb memory” of the experience in which you can recall where you were, what you did, and how you felt, you tend to think you could never forget or misunderstand any detail of significant, emotional occurrences. The most emotional memories, although people frequently have the greatest confidence while recollecting them, are also those that change the most over time, according to studies.
  • The Knew-It-All-Along Effect: Also known as the hindsight bias, it is the tendency to overestimate how predictable an event was after the fact, even when you couldn’t have predicted it.
  • Interference: Exposure to something immediately before or after an experience can skew your recall. For instance, if a witness to a crime had already seen a suspect’s photo before looking at a lineup, she is more likely to accuse someone in the lineup wrongly.
  • Conflating Implication with Fact: As you naturally fill in the specifics of your recollection, you’ll likely remember things that you may not have realized were suggested or taken for granted as true. For instance, if you remember a conversation with your boss about your new promotion, you probably assumed that a salary increase was also suggested. As a result, you might mistakenly believe your boss said you would get paid more for your new position, even though that was not the case.
  • The Influence of Suggestion: Your recollections can be significantly impacted and changed by other people’s recommendations. Participants in one study, for instance, saw a video of a car slamming into another vehicle after running a stop sign. When asked how fast the car was moving when it “smashed” into the second car, respondents estimated it to be moving at 41 mph, while those who were asked how fast it was moving when it “contacted” the second car estimated it to be moving at 32 mph. The researchers altered the participants’ recollections of the video by merely altering the language of the questions.
  • Social Memory Contagion or Memory Conformity: If you and a friend remember a shared experience, you’re likely to mix her memories with your own—even if she claims to remember something that didn’t occur. To put it another way, the mistakes of others can taint your memory.

Furthermore, there are instances where you can completely make up memories, like:

  • Feeling of Knowing: You are more inclined to accept something true when it’s familiar to you. If you repeatedly hear a lie, you gradually start to believe it to be true.
  • Imagination Inflation: If you visualize something enough, your mind may begin to believe it occurred and think of it as an actual memory. In language learning, this memory deception might come into play if you believe you read a fact about your target language that you, in reality, either misunderstood or never read to begin with.

There are still more ways that our thoughts deceive us into underestimating our intelligence and skill.

Intelligence and skill

Memory illusions and distortions that may cause our thoughts to deceive us into misunderstanding our intelligence and skill:

  • The Curse of Knowledge: As you get more skilled in a particular subject or talent, your mental models become more deeply established. Your ability to teach someone else something is tougher to achieve the more deeply embedded your mental models are, and the more probable it is that you’ll underestimate how long it will take someone to learn it.
  • False Consensus Effect: Because you don’t realize how much your paradigms affect how you perceive the world, you tend to imagine that everyone else thinks the same way. You can be blind to the flaws in your performance if you erroneously believe that you and those around you are on the same page.
  • Fluency Illusions: If you can easily follow a text or lecture on a subject, you can incorrectly believe this demonstrates your conceptual mastery, while you may have only read or heard a simplified presentation of the subject.
  • Misdiagnosing Issues: Your mental models can sometimes mislead you when you come across an issue you believe is familiar and you apply your go-to solution, only to discover it’s a different issue requiring a new approach. For instance, brain surgeons must generally operate carefully and steadily. Still, if certain circumstances cause pressure in the brain, they must act rapidly to save the lives of their patients.
  • Oblivious Incompetence: People who are the least skilled at a certain task are frequently the least aware of their flaws. Therefore, they don’t believe they need to improve. However, they can combat this by gaining the ability to evaluate their knowledge and abilities more accurately.

Adjust Your Inaccurate Sense of Competence

Language proficiency

It’s challenging to advance your knowledge and abilities properly because you’re not the ideal person to assess your language proficiency

However, if you know which indicators to take seriously, which ones to disregard, and how to better assess your proficiency level, you can improve.

Don’t base your assessment of your skill on these indicators:

  • Your comfort level with your notes or a text
  • How well you can remember new facts

Instead, use these indicators to evaluate your skill level:

  • How well you remember information a day or longer after learning it
  • The simplicity with which you can put an idea or lesson into your own words

Learning techniques

Here are several learning techniques to maintain your perception of your language fluency accurately:

  • Apprenticeship: Comparing your skill level to that of an expert offers you a better understanding of where you stand. Concerning language learning, you may want to use a native speaker or a mentor as a point of reference for your current skills in that language.
  • Peer Instruction: Collaborating to learn with your peers helps you avoid misunderstandings arising from independent study. Peer instruction can involve having students read a lesson and then listen to a lecture in class that is interspersed with questions regarding the ideas. Then, the students meet in small groups to discuss their conclusions after devoting a few minutes to each question.
  • Peer Review: Other students or professionals can determine if you’re doing a good job using your target language. You may make the necessary adjustments and improvements if they provide honest criticism.
  • Team Learning: Each team member with complementary skills can learn from the others when collaborating. Each person’s qualities are exhibited, and weaknesses are frequently visible, meaning if one student has a strong French vocabulary but struggles with conjugations, they can use team learning to lend their knowledge to other students while getting help from a student more familiar with conjugations.
  • Real-World Simulations: The best method to develop your abilities and identify any gaps between conceptual learning and application is to train in scenarios similar to those you would encounter in real-life situations. In language learning, this might mean talking to yourself in a mirror using your target language, finding a native-speaking pen pal, or visiting a country where your target language is spoken.

Jonty Yamisha

Husband, father, and accidental polyglot Jonty Yamisha founded OptiLingo after working to protect his native language, Circassian, from extinction. He has helped thousands finally achieve their dream of reaching fluency by promoting SPEAKING over typing languages with OptiLingo.