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Myths about Language Learning: True or false?

Home >> Tips for learning >> Myths about Language Learning

It’s best to study individually or in a small group

False!

It is a common misconception that individual lessons ensure maximum progress. For the development of an essential language skill such as listening, for instance, it would be best to listen to different people with a variety of accents and get used to different ways of speaking. When you talk and listen to only one person for the majority of your time, even though it's your teacher, you are getting used to his or her speech, accent and mannerisms. Very often what happens when you then hear somebody else’s speech, a psychological barrier springs up from nowhere, preventing you from communicating with, and at times even from understanding, the speaker.

As for developing speaking skills within the communicative teaching approach you can get much more practice if you are a member of a group of say six to eight people compared to a micro group of two or three. In fact, the teacher can use many more interaction patterns ensuring students work in pairs and groups most of the time, thus practising their speaking and listening together with new grammar and vocabulary. Believe it or not, it is your talking time in the lesson that matters and enables you to progress!

And, if that weren't enough, communicating with different people on interesting topics always adds flavour to the lesson, which makes it more interesting and engaging.

But… If you need to refresh what you learnt a while ago, or you need to catch up on bits of grammar or lexis you missed at a particular level, then it would be sensible to take a short individual course to prepare you for the next stage of your further language development.

I need to keep on learning a language all my life. If I stop I will simply forget

Partially true!

Think of what it’s like going to the gym. Your muscles are strong and keep growing when you practise. What happens when you give it up altogether? Yep! We all know that… To keep your body in shape you need to exercise regularly and consistently. Why should learning a language be any different? Regrettably, it's not!

But… There’s good news as well! Getting back into shape is much easier for a professional sportsman than for an amateur, which means when you are refreshing something, it's always quicker than learning it anew, though, of course, it still takes time. Also, using the language in different life situations or at work can help you 'keep in shape' with it.

I can’t learn a language quickly, it will take years

Partially but true!

Well, it all depends… It depends upon how much time you devote to it. Normally, a language level (and there are six in total) takes around six to eight months to learn if you have classes three times a week. If you study twice a week the same course will take you around 12 months. So you can work out for yourself how much time it will take to learn it!

But… Nowadays, there are intensive courses where you can take a level for only 2-3 months!

Nonetheless, it's worth remembering that people have different aims for learning. For one person, two or three levels would be enough, for others even six levels are not!

Having classes once or twice a week is enough

Only partially true!

Again it depends on your aim. Remember the gym? You can see people at different levels of fitness there… What does it depend on? Probably on how frequently they attend and how diligently they practise. Some of them just want to keep fit, some have more ambitious goals. If you really want to develop your language, a class a week is definitely too little and even two aren't enough.

But… If you're already in good shape (have a good language level) then twice a week will help you keep fit and feel good. Would I consider going to the gym once a week? Yes, but only guided by the principle: It’s better than nothing! And I have to admit, I wouldn’t expect much!

To learn a foreign language you need to cram in hours of studying grammar books

False!

Study grammar? Yes! Practise grammar a lot? Yes! Relentlessly cram in hours and hours of grammar work? Well, you can do that if you enjoy it, but there certainly are other ways! Practising a new grammar structure involves a degree of drilling which must be done both orally and in writing, though this can and should be organised in an engaging and …even thrilling way. Learning a language might require diligence but it does not necessarily entail boredom, at least not with the communicative teaching approach!

But… Don’t expect to avoid homework. It is a necessary part of learning which will speed up your progress!

It’s best to be taught by a native speaker

False!

It’s best to have a professionally qualified teacher! If you are offered a native speaker with no teaching qualifications, choose them to be your friend but not your teacher. Also, you need to be aware that for many native speakers, it takes a month to obtain a professional language teaching qualification, which unfortunately is not enough to become a really good teacher. At the same time, nobody guarantees you will get the best results with a non-native teacher, because your learning does not depend on the teacher’s nationality, but something else…such as their attitude, knowledge, and, of course, professionalism. Often a non-native teacher who speaks your language will be able to provide you with better support at the beginning of your learning, at lower levels. That does not imply the use of the translation method while teaching grammar or anything else. It is just that he or she will know the differences between the languages and will therefore be able to predict the possible problems you will encounter.

But… It goes without saying, that irrespective of whether your teacher is a native speaker or not, his or her language proficiency is a must!

Language school certificates will help to prove my level if I choose to work or study abroad

Partially true!

Ninety nine percent of the educational institutions in English-speaking countries and some business companies abroad will require an internationally recognised confirmation of your language level from an authorised examination body. Here you can read more on English language international examinations. A middle or high level international examination certificate such as IELTS is also a prerequisite for immigration within countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But… Some organisations will simply ask for written proof of your serious language study such as a certificate from a language school and/or a reference from your teacher.

Taking an international exam is extremely difficult

Again, this is only partially true!

Yes, it demands a good deal of serious preparation, not only in terms of your language level, but also in terms of the examination format. You need to be aware of the skills and strategies required for the exam you have chosen to take (each exam can vary dramatically from the next) and practise the timing. I would personally recommend taking a special short-term preparation course where a specialist will tell you all you need to know about the exam and ensure you have enough practice of both the skills and the necessary vocabulary, as well as the format requirements of the exam. This kind of practice will also help you overcome the stress of taking an examination, or at least reduce it!

But… As soon as you know exactly what’s required and have a bit of practice, an international exam becomes just a test you can easily cope with, provided that your language level is sufficient for taking it.