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Personality Has Less Impact On Language Learning Than You Think

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EXTROVERT INTROVERT
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There are so many myths surrounding language learning: You need to do this. You need to be that. You have to be musical and have an ear for music. You have to have a talent for language learning. One of the biggest myths I have come across though is that extroverts are the better language learners. I do not believe at all that you need to be an extrovert to learn a language. Language learning isn't about your personality type, rather it comes down to whether or not you possess the three keys.

The first key is attitude. You have to be interested in and like the language. You have to believe you're going to achieve your goal. Your belief that you can achieve your goal is very important and I think the first-time language learner has a problem: they've never done it before. It easier to give in to insecurities if you've never achieved something before. But attitude is 70 per cent of the battle, and you have to go into language learning with the attitude that you will be successful.

The second key is time. Language learning takes time, lots of time, and you have to be willing to put the time into it in order to reach your goals. It's not months to fluency. It takes a lot of time every day for many, many months or years.

The third key the ability to notice. So often people are stuck with the way words are written in their own language and they don't listen to how they're pronounced in the new language. They'll constantly translate expressions from their own language into the new language and don't pay attention to how things are said in the target language. Alertness and attentiveness are extremely important.

Neither your attitude, willingness to spend the time or your attentiveness to the language require you to be an extrovert. Introverts can just as easily have those qualities. An extrovert may want to get out there and speak right away. They're perhaps more likely to be unfazed about not understanding and want to show off the few phrases they know. That's all good. There's nothing wrong with that. I'm not really an introvert, but I don't do that. That's not a necessary condition of language learning. I derive immense enjoyment from listening and reading and building up my vocabulary, building up my familiarity with the language, activities which are so enjoyable to me.

For the last two weeks I've been listening to Korean. I've been listening to podcasts and audiobooks, reading and really getting into the language. Doing these things doesn't require me to be an extrovert. In fact, you could say these are all introverted activities. I'm communicating with the language and through the language with the culture, but I'm not required to be an extrovert to do that.

My goal, eventually, is to speak more confidently and I know that these activities improve my ability to do so. Now, an introverted person may be more inclined to be afraid of exposing their shortcomings in the language and making mistakes in front of others. Maybe they're more afraid that they're going to sound less educated than they are, less intelligent than they are. It's possible. The solution, nevertheless, is to engage in these input-based activities and build up familiarity of vocabulary and comprehension skills. That way, when they go to speak they will feel more comfortable.

I see no evidence that introverts are less capable in their own language. I see no evidence that they have a smaller vocabulary, that they read less, that they understand less, that they're interested in fewer things. So if that's true of their own language, I think it will be equally of a foreign or second language. They may behave differently in the new language or speak less at some gathering, but introverts typically have a lot to say when they are comfortable; a lot of things of substance to say.

If you're an introvert, devoting yourself to input-based activities like lots of listening and reading and building up your vocabulary is going to make you more comfortable. Then when you go speak you will have better listening comprehension and a bigger vocabulary. You'll be better able to defend yourself and that's going to make you more confident.

I think the idea that extroverts are going to do better at learning a language is a bit of a tortoise and hare situation. Extroverts are more like the hare off the bat because they're speaking more quickly. But in the long run, in terms of all of listening, reading, speaking, writing, vocabulary, accuracy, all of these things, I don't think extroverts have an advantage.

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