7 Language Learning Myths

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Here I share the 7 Language Learning Myths that unfortunately persist all the time on the internet. Do you believe in any?

7. It is possible to learn a foreign language overnight using some secret tricks.
Sorry, no. A language is a lot more than grammar and vocabulary. It’s also expressions, sayings and all this kind of stuff. It is not possible to learn a language that fast unless you are able to somehow upload it to your brain (let me know when you are able to do that). Some methods for learning a language are clearly better than others (that’s what a good part of this site is about, after all). And by better we don’t neceserilly mean objectively better, even though sometimes it gets so subjectively better for everyone that it gets close to being objective.

6. You shouldn’t learn any foreign language because everybody speaks English.
It is estimated that about 1 billion people know at least some English in the world. The world is at least six times that. If you have travelled in China or some other similar countries, you know how easy it is to find English speakers. Also, see this article.

5. You should learn a language till you are proficient and only then move on.
You know, I once heard it’s just a Western fetish to try learning languages till proficiency. And really, why would you do that? As long as you can communicate, it’s all good. Learn untill you are able to talk about weather and ask where the toilet is and move on. You will be picking up more and more of the language as you move on even if you don’t actively learn it and just use it from time to time.

4. All the languages in the world are of equal difficulty.
This one is a bit tricky. First of all, it is kind of evident that some languages are more alike (English and French) than others (German and Thai) so some languages are relatively easier to learn for speakers of related languages. But let’s forget that. Let’s look at it from a Martian’s perspective. The argument goes: if a bunch of cloned Martians came to Earth and each of them picked a language and started learning it, they would finish learning those languages at the same time. Now, that seems just too counter-intuitive for me. Let’s look at two extremes: Riau Indonesian and Russian. Russian has noun declension, verb conjugation, noun genders and numbers, verb tenses and so on. Riau Indonesian has no inflection or tone, almost no tense marking, no noun genders and numbers. Now, which one do you think is easier for a Martian to learn?

3. Don’t learn Japanese or Chinese because they are dead difficult.
When we got over this “all languages are equally difficult” idea, we sometimes see this kind of thing being stated. Now, both Chinese and Japanese have hieroglyphic alphabets which makes you remember all those signs to write all the words which is not really that awesome. The thing is though – you are not obliged to learn those to communicate. Neither Chinese nor Japanese has noun genders, rigorous verb conjugations and all that kind of stuff and spoken Chinese (Mandarin) is pretty easy compared to some other languages (tones are not that hard too). For example, to say “I will be going to school tomorrow” in Mandarin Chinese, you simply have to say the equivalent of: I tomorrow go learn place. Could it be easier?
As for the writing system, English is not that much different: it has no strict rules how to spell words so you have to learn the spelling by rote. Check out the word Ghoti (pronounced: fish) for example.

2. You can’t become proficient in a foreign language unless you learned it before puberty.
This is based on a Critical Period Hypothesis that suggests that you cannot learn a language once you are out of puberty. Sadly, there is some truth to it. It is way harder for you to learn a language once you get older. However, this is not absolute. To my knowledge, the idea is not based on sufficient evidence. To the contracy, I have seen many people who achieve a native-level fluency while having learnt the language as adults. I have to dismiss it due to lack of sufficient evidence and existance of counter-evidence. That’s not to say that fluency is easy. That’s not to say it’s something you can achieve with moderate efforts. Still, it’s to say that it’s impossible (save for accent).

1. You can’t learn two languages at the same time. If you do, you’ll end up getting confused and messed up and fail horribly.
I would definitely disagree with this one. Who on Earth says you can’t learn many languages? I have done been doing that. I have known people who do that too. Actually, Why wouldn’t you be able to do that? Say, you can learn Maths and Physics at the same time, can’t you? Why not different languages? In fact, I think it’s even better for you to switch between languages every other day.

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11 Comments


  1. ·

    Regarding point 4: it heavily depends on your native tongue and the languages you already speak. For example: for someone who already speaks Cantonese it's easier to learn Vietnamese than if he/she decided to learn English. Also, the amount of materials you can get. For example: there are MANY materials for English. But what if you decided to learn Afrikaans? Waaaay less.

    Overall I think we shouldn't concentrate too much on the grammar issue; that only counts for the people who study grammar in a formal way. All other people who learn in an inductive way don't worry too much about cases and such; they just learn the language.

  2. noweating
    ·

    On point 2. It would seem that people who learned the language after puberty never lose their accent. For example French speakers living in England for the last twenty years who still speak with a French accent. However I have met a counter example to this a Lithuanian guy who had been living in England only a few years who to my native ear had an English accent. When I commented on how surprising and unusual I found this (I thought he had been living in England since childhood) he told me most people just don't make the effort to lose their accent once it is good enough to be understood.

    On point 1. I think there might be a case for not learning two very similar languages at the same time e.g. Spanish and Italian. Although as I've only learnt Spanish I can't speak from personal experience.

  3. Izkata
    ·

    Regarding point 1: Math and Physics are the same language, just applied differently. An appropriate comparison would be giving a professional presentation in English and talking to your friends in English.


  4. ·

    I guess there is some truth in it but I wouldn't really say so. It is possible to explain theories of Physics without using maths and that implies that Physics has more to it than pure Maths.

  5. andrei
    ·

    i will definatly agree on the cant learning many languages at once because i am learning russian dutch and japanese all different and never once got them mixed up except for the russian word for yes and the dutch word for yes da in russian ja in dutch which is simmular but hey mistakes happen

  6. Lucas
    ·

    I agree, except for the point 3…I could even say it reflects “chinese and japanese learning myths”.
    Quiet sad on a publication trying to fight language learning myths…

  7. Walter
    ·

    On the Martian analogy, it still depends on what language the Martian speak. Unless, of course, by “cloned” Martians you meant newly cloned baby Martians who do not speak a single Martian-language word. But that won’t be too different from using human babies for that purpose. :)


  8. ·

    Oh! are there still many people considering these points as the most important ones that can prevent them from learning a language!

  9. learning
    ·

    It absolutely is not hard to learn two languages at once. I’m learning Arabic and German at the same time (in 3rd year for both) and doing great in both of them. It just takes time and effort and if you’re not the kind of person that wants to try, then don’t waste other peoples time saying they can’t do something.

  10. dag
    ·

    You can start learning languages as an adult. I started at age 24 and am doing quite well so far. However, I wouldn’t mix 2 related languages. I also did it… and I failed miserably.

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