4 Myths about Learning a Language, Debunked

myth, reality, language learning mythsIf you’re hesitant about learning a new language, it might be because you’ve bought into the idea that it’s too hard or simply unnecessary or impractical. Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look, so here are four misconceptions about language study that often hold back would-be language learners.

Myth #1: You don’t need to learn a language because everybody already speaks English.

It’s really hard to pin down exactly how many people on the planet speak English, but know this: It’s not even close to being the majority of humans, much less everyone. According to the Ethnologue, there are 335 million native English speakers in the world. Add in all of the people who speak English as a second or third language, and the number of English speakers jumps to 1.5 billion by some estimates. No doubt, that’s a lot, but it translates to less than a quarter of the earth’s population. So while English may be the unofficial lingua franca, keep in mind that learning another language (or two, or three) can help you communicate with the other three-fourths of the world.

Myth #2: Translation technology is all you need. 

Even the most ambitious polyglot can never learn every language available, so online translators are great and fast tools for getting the gist of texts written in numerous languages. But hitting up Google or Bing should not be your entire language-learning plan. These machine translators, while good at converting words from one language to another, have trouble with context and nuance, which means that the translation ends up sounding, well, robotic, and in some cases, downright unintelligible. You’d be hard-pressed to conduct business or develop a relationship without some severe misunderstandings. Truly tapping into what a language has to offer requires something only a human being can provide.

Myth #3: You have to go to another country to learn a language.

Living in another country won’t automatically make you fluent in a second language, and inability to travel won’t doom you to a life of monolingualism. Immersion is the best way to learn a language, but keep in mind that there are also benefits to establishing a solid foundation in the language before ever setting foot in a new country. Language learners who find themselves suddenly in a foreign land with no previous language study may find that, out of necessity, they develop a pidgin (simplified and incomplete) version of the language. This may solidify bad habits that will be hard to kick later on. And when you’re ready to take the plunge and start up a conversation in another language, you don’t need a plane ticket, just an Internet connection. Thanks to rapidly advancing technology, you can access other worlds, languages, and cultures through your computer or even your phone.

Myth #4: It’s too late to learn a language.

It’s never too late. While it’s true that neuroplasticity decreases to some extent with age, there are a lot of benefits to being an older language learner. You have a fully developed vocabulary and know the structure of your native language well, so you’re able to transfer those skills over to a new language. Additionally, you have a fully developed cognitive system, something young children do not have, which facilitates understanding complex linguistic concepts. Older learners also generally have more motivation and established study skills, and often, increased free time to dedicate to mastering a language.


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