on October 07 2009 09:40 am 0

Is There Such a Thing as “a Gift for Languages?”

The short answer is “yes,” but it’s not what most people mean when they say “gift for languages.” Individuals considered gifted IQ-wise, may also have an exceptional ability to learn a foreign language quickly.

There’s also some evidence of language savant syndrome in which an individual has lower than average cognitive function in many areas, but exceptional language ability (something like “Rain Man” and his gift for rote memorization).

What people usually mean by “gift for languages,” though, isn’t a specific cognitive phenomenon (for lack of a better phrase), but a seemingly higher than average ability to either learn faster and remember more accurately or gain working fluency without much effort. In other words, it’s the idea that some people are born being “good at languages,” while others aren’t.

In reality, though, that “gift” is a combination of several things that almost anyone get.

Enough Intrinsic Motivation

Some people just love learning languages. They love gaining new words or grammar features to express things their native language can’t. They love the thrill of having that first conversation in a language they didn’t know a word of a few weeks ago.

Other people may have a passion for a particular culture or region and love learning any language related to it. That kind of motivation seems to flip a switch in the brain that announces, “This is important. I must remember it.” That’s why if you’re not really a language lover in general, you owe it to yourself to study a language that truly interests you.

Extrinsic motivation, such as the promise of a promotion or more travel opportunities, can push you along and help you stick with a language, but it won’t necessary make learning easier. That’s because you’re brain isn’t quite getting the message that language knowledge is essential to getting what you want. The connection just isn’t direct enough.

The Right Teaching Methods

Yes, all the common instruction methods “work,” but they don’t work equally well for everyone. So many people are put off language learning from years of struggling with language instruction methods that are all wrong for their learning style. They see those same methods working for their fellow students and conclude that those people have a “gift for languages” and they don’t.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. If you’re the kind of person who needs to hear and speak a language to really get it, then the writing/translation method is unlikely to produce good results for you. Something as simple and non-academic as listening to music in the language and hanging out around native speakers, however, might work great.

Handy Mind Hacks

Nearly every experienced language learner, even if they know only one other language, has a collection of tried-and-true tricks for getting vocabulary to stick and for picking apart and learning to use foreign grammar concepts. There are literally dozens of these little techniques, but unless you’re presented with a thorough list of ideas to test out, it can can years to discover which ones work for you.

A kinesthetic learner who learns through doing and hands-on experience may find it useful to physically act out dialogues. Even smiling and waving at your imaginary conversation partner as you say, “Hello! How are you?” puts those words in context and helps you remember them.

Just sitting and “visualizing” dialogues or representations of words can help to. You can imagine yourself having a plausible dialogue such as checking into a hotel or ordering a meal in a restaurant. You could also visualize the word “in action,” such as reviewing the word “eat” by imagine people eating in different situations. Some of that may feel a little strange, but if it works isn’t it worth it?

In the book Faster Foreign Language Learning, I’ve covered motivation, method selection, and especially study/memory techniques each in depth so you can skip the years of trial and error and start using your own “gift for languages” now.

Related posts:

  1. How to Fix “I’m Not Good with Languages.”
  2. Compartmentalizing, Mixing Languages and Switching Languages: How Good Do You Have to Be?
  3. Facts About Easy to Learn Languages That May Surprise You
  4. Not Mixing Languages is Easy? Hm…
  5. How to Cure Foreign Language Learning Burnout

Filed under Mindset

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