For people fairly new to foreign language learning, there are often many internal battles that need to be overcome. Whenever you forego the familiar and the safe and venture out of your comfort zone, you are confronted with your own fear.
A little uneasiness is to be expected in many situations in life, but fear of the unknown can be crippling. Escaping your comfort zone is essential when you’re trying to grow as an individual.
So often, people have written off the idea of learning a new language because they have allowed negative self-talk to define reality in their own minds.
We all have interacted with people who expressed negative opinions when you state your goal to learn a new language. But what others say doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not your internal monologue matches their negativity.
In this post, I will go over the most commonly held fears of beginning language learners as well as provide counterpoints to said fears.
I’m Afraid of Making Mistakes!
You make mistakes in your native language. Everybody does. When Chinese people speak fast, they sometimes make tone errors. Native speakers of Slavic languages often mix up cases.
This is actually an instance where not being unique benefits you.
Making many mistakes and learning from them will allow you to progress faster in your studies. If you are constantly interacting with native speakers, you will be receiving feedback on what you need to do to improve.
I Feel Awkward Trying to Imitate Native Speakers!
The primary barrier people often have when trying to acquire a good accent is purely psychological. They might feel silly trying to actively imitate the pronunciation, speaking patterns, rhythms, etc. of native speakers.
We often struggle with the idea of being part of a group that isn’t entirely familiar to us, and this mentality manifests itself in hesitance to embrace characteristics of the unfamiliar group.
You must embrace your new language (and the culture of the people that speak it) with openness and intense curiosity. View it as an opportunity to develop a new way of conceptualizing the world.
Don’t think of yourself as an outsider who will always be a foreigner to this language and culture. Think of yourself as a person who wants to develop a second identity. An identity in which you talk, think, and act in a different way than your native group.
You don’t need to be in Rome to do as the Romans do. Watch TV and listen to songs in the language. Observe the mannerisms, habits, etc. of native speakers and mimic them.
It’s Too Difficult!
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that language learning takes a bit of time. If you speak one language, it is possible to learn another one.
While it is true that some languages take more time to pick up than others (such as Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Russian, etc. vs Western European languages for English speakers), no language is impossible to learn if you have proper motivation, a strategy, and set goals.
Only pursue the languages you personally are interested in. If you have a strong interest in Arabic, it doesn’t make sense to try to tackle Western European languages just because they’re ‘easier’. There are many things that are ‘easy’ to learn. That alone doesn’t motivate you to learn them.
I’m Too Old!
This one has been repeated so often, it’s become gospel to many. Fortunately, it’s not true.
While it is a fact that your ability to ‘hear’ new sounds (and mimic them), weakens a bit with age, you can still train your ear to recognize them with repeated exposure.
And while children have a bit of a leg up with acquiring native-like pronunciation, adults are better at deducing patterns and picking up grammatical concepts because they already have a strong command of one language.
Babies listen for a year before being able to communicate in simple, incomplete sentences. An adult could figure out how to put together a sentence in a foreign language with just a few hours of study.
I’m Afraid of Being Seen as ‘Weird’!
Language learning is no more ‘weird’ than many other hobbies people have.
Many people are envious of the multilingual. Of course, there will be some people who react negatively, such as cultural chauvinists, but their attitude about your interests says more about them than it does about you.
Being fluent in more than one language also looks great on your resume or CV. And it might open the door to many opportunities that would not have come your way otherwise.
Don’t hesitate. Be comfortable with the unknown. Make friends with native speakers of your target language. Devour all sorts of media from the culture. Absorb as much as you can. Enjoy the ride.
The only limits you should have are those beyond your control. Your comfort zone is not a physical object. It is an idea in your mind that is capable of being altered—by you.