Welcome to "The Rules of Language Learning".
My name is Olly Richards.
Let me ask you a very important question… Would you take business advice from someonewho’s stinking rich? You would? Ok good.
Now what if I told you that that person gotrich by playing the lottery? That business advice from that person suddenlydoesn’t sound quite so tempting any more, does it? No.
You just realised that the person you thoughtheld all the secrets… actually just got lucky and doesn’t know the first thing aboutbusiness! Seems obvious.
So, when it comes to language learning…what are you doing taking language learning advice from native speakers? Huh? I should probably explain myself… Look, I remember when I first started learningCantonese.
In case you don’t know, Cantonese is thelanguage of Hong Kong, but I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t know that, because…well, no-one learns Cantonese! So, I was pretty much in the dark about howto go about learning that language… All the books and courses were rubbish.
And I would get all my Cantonese-learningwisdom from native speakers.
It was always hilarious the things I was advisedto do.
In fact, the first thing I was told to dowas not to bother learning Cantonese, and learn Mandarin instead! Which, might actually have been good advice.
But just as often, I’d hear: "Oh, you're learning Cantonese! You should just watch loads of Cantonese movies!You'll learn how real Cantonese people talk! We have lots of funny idioms in Cantonese!” Hmm.
Have you ever been given the “watch lotsof movies” advice before? (Leave a comment at the end of the articleand let me know if you have.
) So… At first, I looked up to these native speakersas bastions of authority, whose advice I should heed — after all, they speak the languageperfectly! But quickly, I learned that I could quitesafely ignore most language learning advice coming my way from native speakers.
Why? Well, there are a few big problems.
Yes, native speakers are well-intentioned.
Yes, native speakers speak the language much better than you!Yes, native speakers often know a lot about the language.
But they have no idea what it's like to belearning the language.
Or often what it's like to learn any foreignlanguage, for that matter.
They have no idea about how their languagelooks, feels or sounds to someone who hasn't grown up with it.
They have no idea about how confusing thegrammar feels, how weird the pronunciation sounds, how their vocabulary all sounds thesame to you.
So, at what point did you think they’requalified to give you advice about how to learn their language? If you had a friend who just won the lottery,you wouldn't turn to them for business advice, despite them being much richer than you! You know your really skinny friend who caneat cake all day long without putting on a pound of fat? You wouldn't ask them how to lose weight,even though they're super thin! And the same goes for language learning.
The process of learning a language is fundamentallydifferent from knowing or speaking a language.
Successfully learning a foreign language asan adult has as much to do with things like: Time managementFocus Self-confidence.
As learning the words or the grammar ofthe language.
That's why people like me spend comparativelylittle time talking about the mechanics of languages, and much more time talking aboutthe mechanics of yourself, and how you work.
“Learning how to learn” as Barbara Oakleywould put it.
Someone who hasn't gone through the languagelearning process themselves, as an adult, simply cannot understand what goes into it… And, no matter how well-intentioned they are,they're really not in any position to give you advice.
So, don’t pay any attention to languagelearning advice from native speakers, ladies and gentlemen.
Unless, of course… That person actually has some meaningful languagelearning experience! In which case you can probably just forgetabout everything I’ve just said.
It’s just that, in reality, most peopledon’t in fact have any meaningful language learning experience as an adult.
Take the case of your teacher, for example… (This is where it starts to get really interesting:) ) Your teacher is likely to be a native speaker.
So does that mean you should or shouldn'ttake language learning advice from them? Well.
When I taught English, way back in the day,it was once in a blue moon that I’d meet an English teacher who had learned anotherlanguage to a good level.
They might be able to explain grammar to you,but are they really qualified to advise you on successful language learning? It's debatable! And does that mean that there are potentiallythousands of English teachers out there who really shouldn’t be dishing out languagelearning advice? Does it mean that? Well, I’ll leave you to ponder that one.
Of course, you may be lucky enough to havea native speaker teacher who has also learned other languages themselves as an adult…and been successful at it! Giving them not only language expertise, butalso language learning expertise… And all I can say is: If you have a teacherlike that, hold onto them! But until that day.
Next time you meet a native speaker at a party,and you sense the advice coming on… Smile… Thank them.
And take their advice with a very large pinchof salt.
Unless, of course, you think I’m wrong aboutall this, in which case I’d love to hear about it in a comment below.
But if you ask me, don’t take language learningadvice from native speakers.