Why I am writing this blog post?
I am going to start this post by introducing myself. For those of you who never came across my site or social media, my name is Raffaella and I am a qualified language tutor. I also hold a BA Hon in Spanish & French and a Master’s degree in Intercultural Communication for Business and Professions. As part of my Master’s I studied second language acquisition in adults and children, hence this post to explain how many variables affect second language learning.
Why you should stay away from misleading promises
Let’s start by dispelling false promises. How many times did you come across apps, certain language schools telling you that you will be fluent in not time, usually 3 months? Does it sound too good to be true? Well, that is because it’s not true in almost all cases.
How you study makes a difference
There are various methods to learn a language and everyone has their preferred language style, however, if you believe you will be fluent using only apps based on gamification you will be disappointed.
Bob Meese, Duolingo’s chief revenue officer, did not immediately understand the spoken question “¿Hablas español?” (Which means, “do you speak Spanish?”) after six months of Duolingo Spanish study.
I can carry on with these type of examples, but I would like to explain to you why learning a new language requires time and commitment. If you are interested in picking up random words and phrases you are reading the wrong post.
I am a strong advocate of understanding the sentence structure, in teaching grammar rules through fun role-plays. Grammar is the pillar of a language, if you are interested in speaking correctly that is. Once you understand the basic rules your brain will start creating connections facilitating the learning process.
Learning in context is one of the keys
Learning in context means learning from real or simulated life situations, the latter is carried out through role-plays. Children are natural learners and can solely rely on real life contexts for learning a new language, because their language acquisition process is not the same as in adults. Describing the differences between the two is beyond the scope of this post, so I will only focus on the variables which affect second language acquisition in adults.
One of factors which determine the time necessary to be fluent in a new language also depends on how similar the language we want to learn is to our native one. I.e. My mother tongue is Italian and it took me a couple of years to become fluent in English, even though I had studied English at school and moved to the UK in my late teenage years. Being surrounded and living with Italians did not help, but the main factor which slowed down my learning process was language anxiety which I will explain later on.
On the other hand, when I went to Tenerife for summer work, I could immediately understand most of conversational Spanish, because Spanish it’s very similar to Italian. I felt confident right away that helped a great deal in speaking. After, that experience I fell in love with Spanish and I ended up studying it at Kingston University without any previous A levels or GCSES.
It took me a lot of effort at the beginning to get to the same level of my class peers, but after several hours spent studying grammar and doing an extra module I made it! However, French was and it still is a bit of a struggle when it comes to speaking. French and Italian grammars are much more similar than the Spanish one, nonetheless, my lack of motivation and love for the French language slowed down my progress.
What is exactly language aptitude?
Language aptitude it’s a specific intelligence related to language learning.
Don’t you despair; it’s not the only factor that counts. Language aptitude is usually high in actors who are likely to be able switching accents and learn a new language and sound like a native. However for us, mortal beings hope is not dead, we can still rely on motivation and passion for the language we desire to learn. Would you like to learn more about language aptitude?
Click on this link https://www.languagesalive.com/foreign-language-aptitude/
According to decades of academic research on second language acquisition, motivation is the second most powerful factor which impacts language attainment. In a few words, the more you are motivated to learn a new language the more you will be likely to achieve fluency. How do you get motivated? There are two kinds of motivations in the academic field when it comes to language learning; extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. The first one is when an individual wants to learn a new language because of a need. For instance, for work, moving to a foreign country or buying a second home abroad.
Conversely intrinsic motivation is an inner personal motivation like wanting to learn for pure interest. For example when a second or a third generation immigratn is proud of their heritage and want know more about their family’s language and culture. If you would like to learn more about motivation please click on the following link https://www.languagesalive.com/foreign-language-aptitude/
As I briefly mentioned above, language anxiety slowed me down when I first moved to the UK.
What is actually language anxiety?
Language anxiety is a real construct, it’s a real thing. Language anxiety is the fear of performance when speaking a foreign language. According to research, language anxiety is more common in women, but it does affect men too. I experienced it myself, not only have I experienced it, I was consumed by it. I would freeze and blush when asked the simplest questions such as “where is the toilet?” I knew the answer; after all I had studied English at school in Italy for 8 years.
However, when confronted with the real interaction, my brain would go blank. I was afraid of speaking, especially when in groups. The only thing which seemed to work was alcohol. It was much easier to converse in English when I was a bit tipsy, but as you understand it’s not a sustainable solution. I couldn’t find extra help online in those early internet times, I felt like I was a failure and I would have never become fluent.
I even overheard my friend telling my best friend at that time, saying I wasn’t good at English and it was taking me long time to learn it. My best friend replied that everyone learns at their own pace and I just needed time. She was absolutely right, but it was only a couple of years after I started feeling confident in my skills. I didn’t know what language anxiety was, I was beating myself up for not progressing quick enough; a feeling which trapped me in a vicious circle and tormented me for years.
How I overcame language anxiety
As I said earlier, it took me long time to overcome the fear of speaking English; I had to keep on pushing myself and went through two painful years. I failed my proficiency test, but I was able to get a place at University using my Cambridge first certificate. Even then, I wasn’t feeling confident enough. Yet, studying Spanish was fun and translating into English was certainly challenging, but it was rewarding. I developed a passion for both languages and I even got to the point I would enjoy giving group presentations in English without reading any notes.
How you can overcome language anxiety
In the last decade, academic research has shown reducing language anxiety is possible by applying positive psychology. Studies showed that applying mindfulness in the classroom would make the pupils more receptive to new information and relaxed when speaking the target language.
Therefore, Nicole Magnier and I joined our forces to address the need to tackle the psychological barriers when learning a new language. Our ground-breaking learning experience was born after analysing the latest empirical studies in the field. If you would like to learn more please click here. In addition, we’ve created an online community where learners can practise together online or offline too if they live in the same city! We are also always available to answer your questions and help you out step by step in your learning journey.
Learning a new language doesn’t have to be daunting and feel like a burden. It’s possible to speed up the learning process by feeling more confident in ones skills and become more relaxed when speaking it. Everyone has their own pace; so be mindful, observe, absorb, practise. Above all, do not beat yourself up, you are not alone, many people do experience what you are going through.
Let us help you, comment below with your doubts and concerns; we would be happy to point you out to the right direction. Check our innovative Italian learning experience here. We are looking forward to hearing from you!
Raffaella & Nicole