Today I want to talk about the numerous myths and cliché that are corrupting the field of language learning. These concepts are true not only for the French language, but for any other language.
Persistent and completely wrong clichés
Personally, I think it’s a shame that so many people give up on learning languages, not because they get discouraged, but because they have these clichés that paralyze them stuck inside their mind.
Hence, it’s necessary to drive the point home once again and to put an end to these clichés that are still too widespread. This will enable you to see things more clearly and to start your learning with more confidence.
Sifting through 7 clichés about languages
1st cliché – You must be talented to learn languages
“Yes, but you are talented. I suck at languages!”
Some people seem to have this genius ability with foreign languages and they are able to learn more than five, six, seven languages, at a very young age. Maybe they have some gift or an inner facility for languages. Well, I just have one thing to say regarding their situation, without sarcasm: all the better for them.
On your side, please don’t focus on what other people do but concentrate on your own work. If some of us might have some advantages, conversely, no one suck at languages. And don’t tell me that as an American, or British, or whatever, you suffer from a natural and irreversible disadvantage. There are no “curse” on any country of this world and the people living in it for languages. The poor level of languages in your country come from other sources which I have already talked about.
2nd cliché – Knowing English is enough
“Everyone speaks English! Why should I bother learning another language?”
English is the third most spoken language in the world if you count the number of native speakers, after Chinese Mandarin and Spanish. It’s also the most learned language on Earth, with a huge economic and cultural power. English can only be useful, but to content oneself only with English would be a mistake for me.
Once you get out of the Anglo-Saxon world and of the big cities of North America and Western Europe, it won’t take long for your English to prove its limits. Some other languages will then be much more useful, including French, but also Spanish, Russian, Chinese Mandarin…
3rd cliché – After a certain age, it’s mission impossible
“Languages should be taught at kinder garden. It’s too late afterwards!”
As an adult or a teenager, you have learning capacities that go far beyond those of children; thus you are able to learn new languages until a very advanced age, and more and more easily.
However I would recommend to be careful if you want to learn a language with exotic sounds, such as Chinese Mandarin. During our childhood, our ears get used to the sounds of our native language and “shut themselves” to those they don’t need. Thus, we struggle to perceive some foreign sounds properly, and it becomes necessary to re-educate our ears with native speakers of the language.
In fact, French could be considered “exotic” for many people in the world, including English speakers, since there are many sounds in French that doesn’t exist in English. But anyway, don’t panic, your age won’t represent an obstacle for this re-education at all.
4th cliché – Complete immersion in the country, otherwise forget about it
“The only way to learn a language efficiently, it’s to go for several months in the country to be in immersion.”
I’m going to make enemies among language holiday organizers, but it’s not necessary to go to a country to learn its language. I would even add that it’s possible to reach an advanced level without ever putting one foot in this country. Obviously, it’s neither the most practical option, nor the most motivating.
The problem with this cliché, it’s that it pushes you to believe that once you are in immersion in the country, something magic will make you automatically speak the language in just a few months, without the slightest effort. But reality is quite different.
I’m sure you have met some foreign people in your country who have been living there for several years already but who don’t have such a good English. It’s because they learned the language by the trial and error method, but without the theoretical aspect that should go with it: grammar, correct turn of phrase, etc. Thus they have reached a good enough level to manage a daily life, but which is probably not the one you aspire to reach on your part.
Of course, a holiday in immersion has its advantages: you have the possibility to practice the language every day and you are exposed to daily life vocabulary. It’s a great opportunity to progress, provided that you stay active in your learning. Work on your grammar, revise your vocabulary, don’t hesitate to ask people around you if what you say is correct. In short, be strict with yourself, otherwise this time spent in the country won’t bring the results you would hope for.
5th cliché – It takes too much time
“I would love to learn French, but I don’t have time!”
I understand that your schedule is busy and doesn’t leave you time to study. In reality, learning a language is an activity that doesn’t require so much time. A regular session of 15/30 minutes per day is more than enough. The only thing that matters is the duration: if you apply this advice during several months or years, you will reach an excellent level, with a very small impact on your daily life.
It’s even possible to fill the downtimes of your days with mini sessions: revise on your phone, radio, TV show episode in OV… However, don’t hesitate, during the weekend for example, to dedicate more time to one particular subject, like a grammar point that you don’t understand.
Anyway, you don’t have to be retired to start learning languages, you just have to know how to manage well your time.
6th cliché – You must wait to speak perfectly the language before speaking it with natives
“Only when you master grammar perfectly can you start to speak the language. Otherwise, you will make too many mistakes.”
Yes and no. Of course, that’s another common cliché, but which holds a bit of truth. For oral communication, perfection is your worst enemy: if you wait to have a perfect expression to open your mouth, you will never practice, and this you won’t progress. Makes sense.
Therefore, you should practice your speaking skills as soon as possible: far from being the only way to learn, it’s only part of the learning process.
But let me warn you: watch out for the bad habits! In order to avoid themselves, make sure your pronunciation is correct. It would be a shame to repeat (hence to memorize) a wrong pronunciation or turn of phrase.
Therefore, I invite you to proceed by imitation: first, repeat only the words and expressions that you heard and that you know the pronunciation. If possible, practice with people who can correct your mistakes. Thus, you will take good habits when you speak and you will start on a solid foundation.
7th cliché – Some languages are impossible to learn
“French/Japanese/Chinese…” is too difficult to learn. I don’t know anyone who succeeded to speak it fluently.”
It’s true that my objective with Blog French is to help you speak French, but this cliché not only concerns French, but any language: no languages in this world is impossible to learn. For example, if French is known to have a complex grammar with many irregularities, its pronunciation is actually quite easy when you think that there are only 15 vowels sounds in it. Conversely, if Chinese implies to learn thousands of characters, its grammar is known to be pretty simple. The difficulty of a language is therefore subjective, and it’s mainly based on what YOU think is easy or difficult.
In addition, this difficulty is mainly perceived depending on the remoteness of your target language compared to your native language or the ones you have learned. For example with French, it has much more similarities with English than with Chinese, so it will be much easier for you to learn French than for a Chinese native speaker. For me, Spanish is actually quite simple, since it’s grammatical quirks are quite similar to the ones of French, which I already know. Conversely, a Russian will find Spanish much more difficult to learn than some other Slavic language, like Ukrainian.
Once again, everything is relative and no language is fundamentally more difficult than another.