How to Stop Worrying About your Language Talent [Infographic]

Today it occurred to me that we have not had an infographic on Fluent for a while, and I fancy sharing another good one with you. I do collect cool infographics related to language learning on my Pinterest boards, but every now and then it's cool to do a deep dive.

Before I jump into the points I'll be making, I just want to point out that my views on aptitude, attitude and training are not accepted by all. Linguists do often maintain that some natural aptitude for language learning exists. In fact, the military has apparently even started testing for it. I am personally not in the camp of people who want to promote a message of "There is a chance you have no talent for this project" simply because becoming the best ever language learner is not the point. If you do want to be an army quality translator in 6 months or become a finished product in a minimal amount of time, it might be that you aren't cut out for it. Let me tell you a story: I am not cut out for fitness. I grew up overweight, heck, I am not exactly slim now. But I can swim a mile, run 10k and do an hour of tough exercise these days. And I love it. My aptitude does not matter when it comes to enriching my life.

So cut out the target of perfection, and think about whether your practice is meaningful and right for you. Language learning aptitude may account for how quickly you pick up a language, perhaps even whether your speaking voice ends up beautiful and accent-free ten years into the future, but it will not account for not even trying.

There Is No Such Thing As A Polyglot Gene

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Today's chosen infographic is this illustration of Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule. When I first read his book Outliers, this principle was absolutely fascinating to me. I had never even questioned the idea that some people are just naturally born for being great at what they do. We are often confronted with terms that reinforce this whole idea even more, for example "child prodigy".

But Gladwell came out with some data (in the realm of pop science, of course) investigating high achievers from a different angle, and found that practice is mightier than talent in most cases.

How Can You Overcome The "No Talent" Fallacy

One of the most common misconceptions about language learning that I encounter is this persistent idea that learning another language is a skill that is open to an exclusive group of people. The English blame their whole nation for being "rubbish at language learning." The active language learners on the internet look up to "polyglots" who are awarded rock star status. The real language learning masters though are invisible and just get on with it. Click to Tweet This

If you want to make real progress and become one of those people that other people consider talented, the secret is to practice. Gladwell says that there is even a number of hours you can put on that practice: It is 10,000. The hours add up with every second we spend deliberately practicing - and that means focus, repetition and engagement.

Watching Youtube is Not Practice

According to this infographic, you can see that watching an expert perform the task you want to master is not something that really helps you improve. Neither is mindless repetition. Just like you can see in educational settings, it's pointless to demonstrate.

Here are some interesting questions to get you thinking:

  • Will 100 hours of Duolingo give you real progress or make you feel frustrated enough to believe that you "have no talent"?
  • Is accountability the most important aspect of 10,000 hours of practice?
  • How many hours can we get into 6 months?
  • How many language learners are aware that practice in the second foreign language will require so much less work than practice in the first foreign language?

I would love to hear what you think. No matter what it is, here is the bottom line: You are NOT missing a talent for language learning. You are NOT making progress more slowly than others. Even The Beatles were not born as great musicians. Neither was Mozart.

Get back to basics. Practice deliberately, embrace the learner status and remember what you came to language learning for.

The Importance of Learning Skills

In my experience I have seen students succeed the most when their systems and learning styles were set up very well. Students in full-time education are in a learning habit, they take better notes and revise by habit which gives them an advantage. In fact, this was part of the reasoning behind how I wrote The Vocab Cookbook: It's designed to help language learners understand a good vocabulary learning process and apply it easily. The idea is to form habits that are easy for you, not creating extra burdens. Does it work for you?

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