on November 04 2009 01:12 pm 2

How to Fix “I’m Not Good with Languages.”

If you can read this, you absolutely do have what it takes to learn another language. Learning a foreign language as an adult does not take “above average” intelligence or any particular “aptitude” for languages.


Unfortunately, though, a lot of would-be multilinguals get thrown off track by stumbling blocks that have nothing to do with their skills or innate abilities. Here are some ideas for how you can overcome three main problems that may have misled you into thinking you’re not good with languages.

Try a Different Language


I know this isn’t always possible. Sometimes you don’t have much choice about the language you need to learn. When you do, though, pick one that interests you. Motivation is a huge part of being able to learn a language.


Don’t assume that just because you had a hard time with French or Spanish—so called “easy languages” for English speakers—that you’ll have an even harder time with Arabic or Chinese—so called “hard languages.”


In fact, Barry Farber talks about this in his book How to Learn Any Language: Quickly, Easily, Inexpensively, Enjoyably and on Your Own. He almost failed despite having regular classroom instruction, but learned Chinese through simple conversation because he was far more motivated with the latter.


So if you’ve being studying a language because you think it’s “useful” or because you assume you need to learn an “easy one” first, stop! Pick something that draws you in and inspires to at least browse your phrase book every day.

Try a Different Method


There are dozens of foreign language learning methods out there and they’re all right for some people and totally wrong for others. There is no best way to learn a foreign language. If you’re self-taught, you might have started out with Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, the Teach Yourself series, the Living Languages series or some other popular course.


If one—or two or three—highly praised courses don’t do much for you, don’t assume it’s wholly due to some failing on your part. Browse the local library or download trial versions online to test a variety of language learning course until you find one that suits your learning style.


The same goes with language schools and private tutors. Each has their own preferred methods and approach. Although they can tailor these to the students need to some extent, you’ll do better with a teacher who naturally teaches the way you learn.

Learn Mnemonics


Have been trying to learn foreign language vocabulary by simply reading through a list of words again and again? Have you been trying to learn grammar by reviewing explanations of the rules or memorizing tables of verb conjugations and case endings? If so, it’s no wonder you’re struggling.


There are ways you can “hook” new foreign words you already know well (in your native language or another you’re fluent in) and make those new words nearly unforgettable within minutes.


It’s also possible to get a fully functional knowledge of grammar without ever having read about grammar rules that don’t already make sense or memorize tables or charts of abstract word-endings. I’ll admit drills do help perfect your grammar skills once you’re already conversational, but those drills don’t all have to be boring gap-fills and the like.


If you’re interested in gaining the skills that will let you get fully conversational in a language in just three months, look into the Faster Foreign Language Learning book.

Related posts:

  1. Facts About Easy to Learn Languages That May Surprise You
  2. Compartmentalizing, Mixing Languages and Switching Languages: How Good Do You Have to Be?
  3. Is There Such a Thing as “a Gift for Languages?”
  4. Not Mixing Languages is Easy? Hm…
  5. Overcoming Plateaus: A Return to the Beginner’s Mind

Filed under Mindset,Strategy Planning

2 Responses to “How to Fix “I’m Not Good with Languages.””

  1. Dan says:

    And what if those tricks/techniques don’t work?

  2. Amelia says:

    Hello, Dan. Thanks for your comment. To answer your question…hmm…well, there are dozens of different language teaching methods and countless mnemonic devices. I’d first say keep exploring those (using library copies and free/trial software to save money) until you hit on something that suits your learning style. As for mnemonics, not everyone uses them and you can certainly learn without them, but they do work for some people.

    But if you’re stuck with one particular language and literally no teaching method or system has helped you any, I would go with pure conversation, preferably in an immersion setting if possible. You can also learn with a practice partner, though. That is, skip the textbooks and CDs and just talk to someone. It can be slow and frustrating at first, but you’ll eventually make progress this way. Just keep a dictionary handy and know that you may end up with some grammar errors you’ll need to clean up later.

    Also, even for fast learners, it still takes some time, especially if you’re not getting much exposure to the language.

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