7 Common Misconceptions About Language Learning

There are over 6,000 languages in the world. Some are more important than others, not better or more advanced, just more important. Why? Because they are spoken by more people, in more countries. That does not mean that Finnish is not important to the Finns, and Maori is not important to the Maoris. It is just that these languages are not so important to the rest of us.

On the other hand, Mandarin Chinese is spoken by over one billion people. Chinese origin words account for 60% of Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese vocabulary. Knowing Chinese will help you learn these languages too. It helped me. Chinese culture has influenced the world for thousands of years with its art, philosophy, technology, food, medicine and performing arts. Today China’s economy is booming. Chinese seems well worth learning.

Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese are essentially dialects of the same language. If you learn one, you can learn the others. I did. If you learn Spanish, you open the door to the culture, music, history and possible business dealings with 800 million people in 60 countries, including the US and Canada.
If you get ambitious you could try Russian, as I have been doing for the last two years. Once you have Russian you can probably communicate with other Slav speakers.

But hold it here! Before getting carried away, let’s look at the present situation of language teaching. According to one Canadian survey, after 12 years of daily French classes, only one high school graduate out of 147 (0.68%) achieved “intermediate” proficiency. Another survey of immigrants learning English in the US showed that “classroom instructional hours” had little impact on progress.

If we cannot teach our own official languages in North America, what hope is there for other languages like Chinese or Spanish, let alone Russian, Arabic or Hindi?

As a speaker of 10 languages I know the benefits of speaking more than one language. We simply have to change the way we go about teaching languages. To start with we need to dispel seven common misconceptions about language learning.

1. Language learning is difficult

It is only difficult to learn a language if you don’t want to. Learning a language takes time, but is not difficult. You mostly need to listen and read. Believe me, it is that simple. I have done it many times. Soon you feel the satisfaction of understanding another language. Before you know it you start speaking. It is the way languages are usually taught that makes language learning hard to like.

2. You have to have a gift for learning languages

No you don’t. Anyone who wants to, can learn. In Sweden and Holland most people speak more than one language. They can’t just all be gifted at languages. Foreign athletes in North America usually learn to speak English faster than people in more formal learning environments. In language learning it is attitude, not aptitude, that determines success.

3. You have to live where the language is spoken

Some immigrants to North America never learn to speak more than halting English. Yet we meet people in other countries who speak flawless English. In 1968, I learned to speak Mandarin fluently while living in Hong Kong, where few people spoke it. With the Internet, language content is available to anyone with a computer, and you can download it to your iPod and listen. Where you live is not an obstacle.

4. Only children can learn to speak another language well

Recent brain research has demonstrated that our brains remain plastic well into old age. Adults who lose their eyesight have to learn a new language, braille, for example. Adults have a wide vocabulary in their own language and are better language learners than children. I have learned 4 languages since the age of 55. Adults only need the child’s willingness to experiment and desire to communicate, without the fear of ridicule.

5. To learn a language you need formal classroom instruction

This is the crux of the problem. Classrooms may be economical to run and a great place to meet others. They have the weight of history and tradition behind them. Unfortunately, a classroom is an inefficient place to learn a language. The more students in the class, the more inefficient it is. Languages cannot be taught, they can only be learned. Theoretical grammatical explanations are hard to understand, hard to remember, and even harder to use. Drills and exercises are annoying to most people. A majority of school kids graduate unable to communicate in languages that they study for 10 or more years.

6. You need to speak in order to learn (and I have nobody to speak to)

Speaking the language is usually the goal of language learning, but speaking can wait. Once you have acquired the language, you will find the opportunity to speak. When you are learning the language it is more important to listen. Trying to just pick up a few “handy” phrases to say is likely to just get you into trouble. If you meet a native speaker, you will inevitably spend most of your time listening unless you already know the language. You do not need to speak in order to learn, you need to learn in order to speak.

7. I would love to learn but I don’t have the time

How about the time you spend waiting in line, commuting, doing things around the house, going for a walk? Why not use that time to listen to a language on your iPod? Once you get started, even 10 or 15 minutes a day will soon grow to 30 minutes a day, or one hour. If you believe you will achieve significant results, and if you enjoy doing it, as I do, you will find the time.


This is the first in a series of three articles on language learning by Steve Kaufmann. Steve is a former Canadian diplomat, who has had his own company in the international trade of forest products for over 20 years. Steve founded The Linguist Institute Ltd. in 2002 to develop a new approach to language learning using the web. The new LingQ system for learning multiple languages is now available. Steve also maintains a blog on language learning.

87 Responses to 7 Common Misconceptions About Language Learning

  1. Robert O'Shaughnessy says:

    Great post, I’m amazed at how you keep pumping them out day after day. Maybe you could write about how you manage to maintain such amazing consistency. Your Blog has been a great source of inspiration thanks again.

  2. Brian Barker says:

    Can I put in a word for Esperanto as well?

    I suggest not becuase it has become a living language, but because it has great propaedeutic values as well.

    Detail can be seen on http://www.lernu.net

  3. Regarding myth no.2: maybe you don’t need a “gift” for languages, but you definitely need to like learning them. You’re obviously a language buff; most other people probably aren’t.

    Myth number 5 is nothing short of an idiocy; I can testify from experience that school is the *worst* way to teach a language. As you wrote, “Languages cannot be taught, they can only be learned.”

    As for people who move to a foreign (to them) country, but never seem to learn the language, I have some “choice” words for them. As a tourist, it’s OK to just speak English and be done with it, but as a resident…

  4. Jeba says:

    A nice article.. I wanted to add..

    I stay in Bangalore, India. And in Bangalore an Average person Knows at least 5 languages.. Hindi, English, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil.

    And traders or shop keepers know.

    Malayalam, Gujrati, urdu.. apart from those languages I mentioned earlier..

    The reason I mentioned is the language know by people depends on how they are surrounded..

    India specially has lots of culture and Language and we all seem to understand each other pretty well.. Strange but True!!

  5. Great article! I just purchased a language pack last week to start learning Spanish. Now I’m more excited than ever!

  6. Peter says:

    This is the first in a series of three articles on language learning by Steve. So if you enjoyed this one, stay tuned over the coming weeks for the next two.

  7. One of the simplest ways to pick up a language is to take 6 months and watch the news in that language every day, over the Internet. Also good but slightly more challenging is doing the same thing via radio.

    Tim Ferriss also talks a lot about language learning.

    Some great software to help with learning languages is supermemo. Just google it.

  8. Leisureguy says:

    It’s often been observed that the first foreign language is the most difficult to learn. Once a first foreign language is mastered, others are easier. I suspect that this is partly because one learns, in that first language, which things are important and how to learn them. The prepositions, for example, just have to be memorized. The common (and thus irregular) verbs must be mastered early. If you can’t speak a phrase, find an equivalent phrase using words you know. And so on.

    Regarding Esperanto: it was, of course, constructed specifically to be easy to learn, and thus is a good candidate for the “first foreign language” experience. In fact, there was an experiment in Finnland, where 3 years of learning German is the norm. One group instead had a first year of Esperanto, followed by two years of German (with Esperanto continuing as the language used in geography classes). The Esperanto students, at the end of the three years, spoke German more readily and fluently than those who had three years of German.

  9. Tim Brownson says:

    Here’s a fascinating and I am assured by more than one source, true story.

    John Grinder the guy that co-developed NLP with Richard Bandler and the linguist in the partnership, has learned multiple languages, but his technique is a tad unorthodox.

    With some very rare tribal languages he has gone and lived in the native habitat with them AFTER hypnotizing himself into not understanding English! No BS, he puts himself in a position of being almost like a child so his only frame of reference is the language he is hearing and he internalizes everything as an infant would and picks it up very quickly.

    Try THAT out! 😉

  10. Alison says:

    Good post, but you’ve fallen into the trap that all languages are “spoken” and require “listening”. :)

  11. ell says:

    Excellent post.

  12. Steve says:


    You are quite right. I am sorry. In fact when I was a student in Europe over 40 years ago I remember meeting a deaf Japanese student, in a cafe full of students from many different countries, and he was able to communicate in 13 languages, just writing and reading. Reading and writing are wonderful means of communicating and learning languages.

    I cannot deny that sound provides an additional dimension, but if that dimension is lacking, or the ability to hear declines over the years, one should still focus on what one has, and not on what one does not have. The same would be true for people lacking sight, or whose ability to read declines.

    I went to visit your excellent web site. I stand corrected. Thank you.

  13. Ali says:

    Fascinating article, thanks! I studied French and German as a teenager but — like many people — have forgotten much of what I learned. I do find that it comes back quickly when I try to read the language, though.

    I’ve always thought that I’m just not especially interested in learning foreign languages, unless going abroad, but now I’m considering trying to return to learning again.

    I do think that, whilst you may not need to be naturally gifted to learn a foreign language, some people have more aptitude than others. (Just like some people are talented at spelling, maths, etc — yes, anyone can learn, but it comes easier to some!)

  14. Steve says:

    From my own experience, I concur that the first language is the hardest to learn and it gets easier with each language.
    I am unable to memorize prepositions or verb endings, regular or irregular. You just have to get enough input until it clicks. Our ability to observe and notice patterns and then to imitate them is more effective than the futile effort to memorize something that has no meaning for us.

  15. Leisureguy says:

    Well, “memorize” has several meanings. What I meant was to get a list of the prepositions and go mumbling along, practicing them: “The cat is ON the table, the cat is UNDER the table, the cat is ABOVE the table, the cat is BESIDE the table,” and so on, using them endlessly in short sentences to learn as many as possible quickly. Same with irregular verbs: using “to be” (for example) in many short sentences, focusing on learning the forms: “I am fine, you are fine, he is fine, I was fine, you were fine, he was fine,” and so on.

  16. elizabethb says:

    I learned French and German at school and did Russian for a year at university (and will get back to learning it some day – I’ve got the books).

    The problem used to be that it was dry as dust and the only reading material was high literature. But now with the Internet here’s a further idea for testing your knowledge of the language: read online versions of your favourite magazines in other languages.

    It will get you used to regular words and phrases that are used in conversation frequently. I remember having to learn the parts of the body in French – how much more fun would it be to go to Vogue in French and read about the latest lipsticks, makeup or model looks to see what parts of the face, skin and body are in that language. And because they all syndicate the same or similar articles you can identify by educated guesswork and with the help of the pictures what the words mean.

    May sound trite but I’m sure you can think of other magazines serving different interests where the same principle can be applied.

  17. Hey Steve,

    Very nice post!

    I think you did an excellent job of taking away the common excuses for not learning foreign languages.

    I agree that point 4 is typically used as an excuse, but there are several reasons why children tend to be better at learning languages than adults.

    Children up to 4 are usually emitting primarily delta brainwaves. These delta waves are associated with learning without questioning (among other things). Hence, children are like sponges. When it comes to habits, this can be problematic, but for language it is very useful. Fortunately for us adults there are brainwave entrainment CDs out there to help us get this same benefit.

    Children, when learning their first language, don’t learn it in terms of another language. This is a challenge most adults face, partially due to our own instincts, but also due to our typical classroom environment. Many classes and programs just act as translators (I.E. here is what this phrase means in your native tongue). This method can work, but it is much slower. On the other hand, many newer language courses attempt to get around this by using none of the student’s native tongue. The student just listens to native speakers, and associates pictures and actions with words in the new language.

    Finally, for children, learning their first language is about survival. We have to learn one language to get by in society. As adults, though, I think we can match (or come close to matching) this with a healthy dose of enthusiasm. How excited are you to learn the new language? When your motivation wanes, be sure to get back in contact with all the exciting reasons you chose to pick up a new language in the first place.

    Hope you guys find this useful!

    keep smiling,


  18. Steve says:

    Hypnotism might work although I am not sure how many people are willing or able to try it. On the other hand having an attitude of independence from your first language, of cultural weightlessness is a great advantage. One reason languages get easier to learn is that you get less and less hung up on your first language as the norm. You become more open to observing and imitating the new language, like a child.

  19. Steve says:

    My experience has been with learning languages with lots of grammar like French, Spanish,German, Russian as well as others. It was only when I stopped trying to recite or remember conjugation or declension tables and let myself go, trying to naturally reproduce what I had been listening to and reading, that I started getting more of these language details right.
    I agree on the importance of phrases. Learning phrases is key, and they often incorporate the prepositions or endings or verb forms/tenses that you need. I focus on listening to and reading content of interest, and the systematic study of vocabulary (words and phrases) that I have encountered in these meaningful contexts.

  20. Steve says:

    Absolutely, the internet is a fabulous resource with magazines, blogs, podcasts and language exchange sites.

  21. John says:

    My way to learn language is with free software from http://www.valodas.com

  22. Kibrika says:

    Thank you for a wanderful, inspiring post! I was curious what’s your opinion on which is better: learning one language at a time or mixing them all the time. For example, today I’m listening to Japanese, but tomorrow I plan on listening to German none of wich I know well enough to understand fully.

  23. Steve says:

    I prefer to concentrate on one language for at least 6 months. I can have a “minor” that I occasionally work on, but I find that the pursuit of one language becomes an all consuming affair for a period of concentration. After that I can leave it and go after another language, and I do not lose much when I go back to the first one. In fact, I often find that I am better after a period of neglect, and perhaps because studying another language was generally good for my language learning ability.

  24. Kibrika says:

    Thank you for your answer!

  25. Marc says:

    “As a speaker of 10 languages…”

    How proficient are you in those ten languages?

  26. Steve says:


    English is my native language.

    French, Japanese and Mandarin are next in proficiency. I can participate in any discussion, with relatively few errors,and have quite acceptable pronunciation. I can read most materials, books, newspapers etc.

    In Swedish, Spanish and German I do the same but make more errors in usage. Italian and Cantonese are a little weaker. In Russian, which I took up 2 years ago, studying on my own when I have time, I am right now reading the history of Stalin by Edward Radzinski, and have read Turgenev, Tolstoi, Chekhov and Ostrovsky with the help of audio books and LingQ. I do not speak often and would struggle in a conversation. I also speak a bit of Portuguese and Korean.

    Here are three youtube links of me speaking a total of 11 languages.

  27. Kevin says:

    I’m gonna give Chinese a go. After living in Japan and getting Japanese down to a satisfactory level now I’m not afraid to try and bugger those that say “I’m too old to learn a language.”. Steve has shown us that it’s all in your head and heart. Time to get my 2nd Asian language and I’ll be looking forward to the addition of Korean as well.

  28. Pingback: 5 Poor Excuses For Not Learning a Foreign Language | PickTheBrain | Motivation and Self Improvement

  29. Marc says:

    Thanks Steve. I am trying to learn French and Italian. I took French for 3 years in high school and Italian for two years in college. My pronunciation in both is pretty good, but I’ve gotten quite rusty conversationally. I grew up speaking English and Tagalog. I’d also like to learn Korean (my ex was half Korean) and know just a few phrases. What kind of regimen would you recommend for speedy learning?

  30. Steve says:

    I recommend you read my most recent article here at Pick the Brain, and the one that will appear next Monday. That will give you a good idea of my approach to language learning.
    For French and Italian, I really recommend that you register at LingQ (it is free) and do a lot listening and reading and reviewing or words using flash cards.You can use LingQ’s content or import content of your choice.

    LingQ does not yet really support Korean, but hopefully in the fall. good luck.

  31. Leisureguy says:

    One very helpful book in learning a language (any language) is P.J.T. Glendening’s Teach Yourself to Learn a Language. He offers quite a bit of useful advice and tactics, including a list of 250 words to learn that will take you far. He also recommends that you learn both the ordinal (first, second, third, …) and the cardinal (one, two, three, …) forms of numbers: the former, for example, are essential for addresses, the latter for phone numbers.

    The book is not in print, but secondhand copies are easy to find with searches.

  32. Steve says:

    I find numbers amongst the most difficult things to learn. Numbers are so hard wired in your own language, that it takes the brain a long time go get used to a different number system.

    In general I do not favour setting yourself priorities in terms of words to learn. Stay with content that interests you and let the words and concepts and phrases and structures click in when your brain chooses to hold on to them. You cannot influence this process other than by exposing yourself to as much content as possible. You can help by making sure the content is of interest and at your vocabulary level.

    But if you are like me, you may find that the numbers will elude you for a long time. You may hear the word for “disappointment” and it will click while dates and telephone numbers will still be noise to you.

  33. Leisureguy says:

    I have to say that some words have an obvious priority, and that the number words are among them. If you’re trying to get about in a foreign city and you want to find (or are told) an address, knowing the ordinals is important. Or if you have to ask someone on the phone for a telephone number and don’t know the cardinals, you are helpless. So far as the list of 250 words, it would be better to look at the list rather than dismissing it out of hand. It includes things like: the definite and indefinite articles, words for telling time and dates (numbers again!), basic words like “day,” “night,” “man,” “woman,” “street,” “store,” and so on. It seems reasonable me to make such words a priority. But each to his own.

  34. Steve says:

    Words are harder to learn from lists than from reading and listening, in my experience. You will naturally come across the highest frequency words more frequently, which should normally make them easier to learn.

    As for the definite article, for the many people who speak languages without articles (Slavic languages, Chinese, Japanese etc.) the article is one of the last things they learn to master. They are just hard wired to do without articles, and language does not need them.

  35. Leisureguy says:

    Sorry, I was unclear: I was speaking of English speakers learning to speak a foreign language. In English, of course, the definite and indefinite articles are commonly used and if the target language has those, it’s a good idea to learn them early. YMMV.

    My belief is that learning can be done deliberately, and that words in a list are not memorized as a list but used in simple sentences and standard dialogs. That is, if the word is the word for “man,” one would not simply memorize the foreign word by itself, but use it in phrases and simple sentences: “to a man,” “see the man,” “The man is eating,” “The man has a car,” and so on. Similarly with other words.

    And, of course, simply because the number appears in a list is no reason you can’t read it and listen to it.

    I can see, though, that you believe there is one correct way to learn, and some of the ideas I’ve mentioned fall outside that way.

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  41. Pingback: Interview with Steve Kaufmann, a Language Learning Hero | Living, Learning & Teaching in Taipei

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  45. Steve Pham says:

    The methods in this article are true. I have achieved advanced to near fluency in 9 languages, including English. I am only 17, and I started learning my 3rd language when I was 13. I have been switching around between different languages. I do admit that sometimes I get confused between the languages, but it only happens within languages of similar roots/origins/sounds. Out of the nine languages, I only learned Spanish in the classroom, but I took it to the next level and went over and beyond in learning it because the classroom was not enough. Thanks Steve Kaufmann!

  46. Kermal says:

    Wow Theoretical grammatical explanations are hard to understand, hard to remember, and even harder to use

  47. The best it to use what you already learned, so find a language exchange partner. There are websites that help you search for the right person.

  48. Pingback: Interview with Steve Kaufmann, Creator of LingQ.com and Author of “The Way of the Linguist” | Foreign Language Mastery

  49. julian park says:

    you have the truth. thanks for posting it. 

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  51. Poonam says:

    I agree with Robert. This is inspiring. Speaking four langanges now and i thought my brain would stop, but reading this gives me an incentive to learn more. Thanks

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  53. Monica Lara says:

    Thanks for this article its very interesting ! 

  54. Monica Lara says:

    Thanks for this article its very interesting ! 

  55. Grace says:

    “Languages cannot be taught, they can only be learned.” Very good point here. The student’s initiative on the language learning is actually a deciding factor on his/her progress. However, an inspiring mentor or teacher will make big difference as well.


  56. Viking Wilde says:

    Love, love, love love this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  57. Viking Wilde says:

    Love, love, love love this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  58. Annedewe says:

    This is useful  But what about rusty language.  I learnt some Italian a while ago but without much practice ity has retreated into my head from where it does sometimes shoot out surpsising me with the subjunctive or something, but mostly  hv e trouble both hearing correctly  and replying.  Being 70 is probably part of it, but not all.  Whatto do?

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  60. Waddillhc says:

    Woo hoo

  61. William Su says:

    Kids learn well when they having fun and relaxing. And when they play they are learning. I think this is same concept.

  62. Andini Rizky says:

     I agree with everything you say here.

  63. William Su says:

     People saying better to learn language when you are young. I would think because young kids have less fear in making mistakes. They also very easy to fit into a new environment when they move to a new area, etc.

  64. Jodie says:

    Great post, thank you, merci. Je suis apprentissage francais encore, tres lentement. This article has helped me a great deal to stay positive and stick at it. Nearly every excuse here is one I’ve used in my head as a reason not to continue learning or to fear that I will fail. But after reading this. I wouldn’t mind learning another language afterwards.

  65. badabingobus says:

    Sorry but I disagree.  Kids are born with a greater potential for language acquisition than adults. They can detect the building blocks of language and do not discriminate between the different sounds, language is not rote learned there are far too many combinations of words to learn for that. Having said that it is possible to learn languages at any age but it takes a lot of hard work and grammar must be learned in order to be able to put the words into the appropriate places in a sentence and also understand what is being said. I believe that it an be learned through exposure as opposed to reading all the rules and repetitive drills. Context is very important too and attending classes can be very beneficial because we can ask questions as they arise. I tried learning a language at the age of 25 and although it gave me the very basis building blocks, it wasn’t until I went to live in the country and attended classes that things started to fall into place.. Best of luck .. 

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  68. Gardyn_gurl says:

    An obvious point that needs to be made:  Adults work and have jobs.  Often, they come home tired and have responsibilities at home.  Fitting in the time to learn a language can be hard if they aren’t directly exposed to it regularly.  Kids, on the other hand, have lots of time to think about words and even making new ones up.

  69. They also quite often have some TV to watch, some radio to listen and some newspapers to read. Just switch the language you do it in and that wouldn’t be just a useless time consuming any more.

  70. Fluent says:

    Very true, very excellent points. Like you, I’m always dedicated to spreading the message that language learning is not intrinsically difficult, not impossible after the age of 5 and not ever so simple that you could do it overnight. I particularly like the repetition of this important point I’ve seen so many times: Language acquisition is learning, not being taught. That probably goes for anything that can be learnt – you wouldn’t pick up driving, cooking or swimming in a theory based classroom either.

  71. Aaron Wright says:

    I am currently working on Italian. One trick I have learned for picking up a language is to use Wikipedia. Many people forget that there are different Wikipedias in different languages. The main Wikipedia homepage has links to all of the different languages. It is a fantastic source of reading material for practicing, free of charge.

  72. Fotbalistuldingiulesti says:

    Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese are essentially dialects of the same language????   You fucking clown!!  

  73. guest says:

    The first statement is really ableist. There are learning disabilities that DO make it difficult to learn a language. Obviously it isn’t impossible, but you really must understand that what’s easy for one isn’t necessarily easy for everyone.

  74. ate99 says:

    The only difference is that kids pay more attention to what is going on and listen more than adults.

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  76. Rafinchi says:

    He’s got a point… Of course they are distinct countries with different stories but they do indeed come from latin. I frequently refer to romance languages as spoilt latin versions and my own native language is European Spanish. So I can see where that’s comming from and you don’t need to insult anyone about it.

    The same could be said about Polish, Czech, Bulgarian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovene, Ukranian, Russian and so on. Or about the Germanic family: German, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian. Sure they are different but if you know one the rest can be classified in different degrees of inteligibility and they must be quite easy to learn once you’ve mastered anyone in the family.

  77. Alberto says:

    I’m a Spanish native speaker and I received a few classes of Portuguese a few months ago. I was able to understand everything during the class since the 1st day and the lady was speaking fluent Portuguese the whole time. I was amazed! Then I tested myself with a regular TV show in Portuguese. I couldn’t understand it all, but I did understand the 90% of what was being said on the show. I confirm that Spanish and Portuguese are very very similar… even though I don’t share the idea about those languages being “dialects”.

  78. Alberto says:

    Who said that? The BIG difference is that we as adult people have a huge lack of self-confidence which we have to get rid off when trying to learn something new. Kids, they just do it, without thinking too much about it. I’m a native Spanish speaker and learned English through Music, videos, internet… etc. At the end I was ready to get some money out of it way before my ex class mates finished the half of their formal English classes in really expensive academies.

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  80. Gaelle Jost says:

    personally, I can speak 7 languages ​​included English, Norwegian …. and of course, French, since I am a native of France ! But, i think, Babbel is not a really good website to learn a language ! I think to learn a language know the vocabulary is not enough at all ! To learn effectively a language, i think it’s important to be able to do sentences. but Babbel is not able to learn to the learners to do sentences !

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  82. Namnoot says:

    I’ve seen it happen. I know of people who are absolute genius, straight-A students who are utterly fluent in their home language (and I don’t just mean English) who try and try but cannot learn another language beyond perhaps a few phrases (usually those appropriated by their native language; English as we know is loaded with them, but so is Japanese and others). And there is a big difference between being able to read a language and speak it. Someone might be able to learn how to read Japanese, for example, but they can’t speak it to save their life. I tried learning Russian using the exact same methods suggested in the article and I gave up because it was useless and I couldn’t find the support I needed online or even in books (why do they publish translation dictionaries without pronunciation guides?). Personally, I believe you should master what you are good at. Those who are good at speaking one language, whether that be English, Swahili, Urdu or Mandarin, should not be treated as second class citizens because they try and fail at learning another language. That goes for people lording it over others that they can speak a dozen languages. I actually read somewhere that in order to properly learn a second language you actually need to develop a form of multiple personality disorder where you change your thinking between languages. I have enough challenges dealing with a single personality, thank you very much!

  83. Namnoot says:

    Also they haven’t had as much time to lock-in the language. Pick up your average dictionary. Flip through the pages. Try to count the words. Native speakers of English probably know 90% of the words and are capable of reading the book cover-to-cover if they so choose. Try being 30, 40, 50 and being faced with having to learn a similarly huge number of words in another language (especially if the language doesn’t even utilize Roman-style lettering). The very thought alone I think will put a mental block in place against being able to learn it. I do not envy people who are forced to learn another language and I have nothing but sympathy for people who come off sounding uneducated and stupid when trying to speak English when in fact it’s the furthest from the truth.

  84. diyana ♛ says:

    great article! motivational piece for my current pursuits of teaching myself Korean and building on the Arabic i grew up speaking at home :)


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