10 Most Common Language-Learning Myths: Debunked

10 Most Common Language-Learning Myths: Debunked

Language learning is an adventure. And just like in every adventure, there are many ups and downs awaiting language learners throughout their journey. 

 

There is no point in making the process seem more scary than it actually is by assuming that certain misconceptions about learning a new language are true. It can be difficult to filter between facts and myths, as some of them have become so popular, that they are often repeated without a second thought.

 

At Europe Language Jobs, we list job offers in more than 40 languages. We know what’s true and untrue about the language learning process, so in this article, we will debunk the most common language learning myths.

 

 

10 Most Common Language-Learning Myths

 

  1. We are born with an inclination towards a specific language
  2. We are predisposed to learn some languages more than others
  3. Some people are more talented in language learning than others
  4. The more languages you speak, the easier it is to learn others
  5. The language learning process looks the same for every language
  6. A few months are enough to become fluent in a new language
  7. You must reach a certain level of language proficiency before you can start speaking
  8. The older you get, the harder it is to learn a new language
  9. Language apps are enough to learn a new language
  10. Language learning is always expensive 

 


  1. We are born with an inclination towards a specific language

 

This language-learning myth follows us from the very moment of birth. Some people believe that babies are born with the innate talent to learn the language spoken in their native country.

 

In fact, we aren’t born with any predispositions towards any specific language. Our minds are blank sheets, ready to be shaped by the external factors around us as we grow up and shape our identity. 

 

A baby born in France isn’t “programmed” to speak French. If he or she grows up in France, in a French-speaking family, and goes to a French-speaking school, they will learn French as the language surrounding them.

 

However, if the baby’s parents moved to Germany immediately after his or her birth and they grew up surrounded by German, they would likely speak German. If his or her parents continued speaking French at home, the child could grow up bilingual. 

 

But it’s only because of the circumstances he or she was raised in. They weren’t born with an inclination towards learning French or German - they were just the languages they were exposed to since birth. 


 

  1. We are predisposed to learn some languages more than others

 

Following a similar pattern, another language-learning myth claims that it is easier for certain people to learn certain languages. So many students give up learning a new language after deciding “ugh, it’s just not for me”. 

 

This language-learning myth grew from a fact and escalated into a common misconception. It is true that we find some languages easier to learn than others - but it’s not a question of innate predispositions. 

 

Again, it all comes down to the “nature vs nurture” dilemma. We are not predestined by nature to speak any language better than others. There is no element of our DNA code saying “you will be better at Spanish than French”. 

 

We find some languages easier to learn than others because of other languages we know. There are different language groups, for example Germanic, Romance, or Slavic. Individual languages within those groups tend to follow similar patterns, as they evolved from common roots.

 

For this reason, a German native speaker might find Dutch easier to learn than French, because Dutch is also a Germanic language, while French is a Romance language. There are more similarities between German and Dutch than German and French, which could make the language-learning process easier.

 

But this doesn’t mean that a Czech native speaker can’t learn Japanese, or an English native speaker can’t become fluent in Finnish. An interest in the language and culture can heavily influence the language-learning process and make learning a language from a different group seem much easier. 


 

  1. Some people are more talented in language learning than others

 

Some people appear to just soak in foreign languages like sponges, with seemingly no effort. Others struggle to form basic sentences after months of intense language courses.

 

This makes us immediately reach a conclusion: some people are just more talented in language learning than others.

 

However, this is actually one of the most common language-learning myths.

 

There are indeed different types of human intelligence. Howard Gartner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences recognises 8 of them:

 

  • Spatial intelligence

  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence

  • Musical intelligence

  • Linguistic intelligence

  • Logical-mathematical skills

  • Interpersonal intelligence

  • Intrapersonal intelligence

  • Naturalistic intelligence

 

The people for whom linguistic intelligence is dominant are those who seem to soak in languages like sponges. But it doesn’t mean that those for whom linguistic intelligence is less active absolutely can’t learn a foreign language. 

 

First of all, one person can have more than one dominant type of intelligence. Someone who is good at mathematics can also be good at languages and sports. Being talented at one thing doesn’t exclude being gifted in a completely different area. 

 

Other factors which influence our ability to learn a new language are motivation, effort, and time invested in the language-learning process. Consistency is key when it comes to learning languages, so a motivated person who puts in a lot of effort and spends a certain amount of time on lessons every day will learn faster than someone who just occasionally revises grammar. 


 

  1. The more languages you speak, the easier it is to learn others

 

I am fluent in 4 languages. When I tell people I’ve started learning a 5th one, I often hear, “Of course, you know so many of them, another one is just a walk in the park for you”.

 

Uhmm, no, sir.

 

I speak Polish, English, Spanish, and French. That’s one Slavic, one Germanic, and two Romance languages. 

 

Trying to learn Arabic, a language from the Semitic family, was not a walk in the park for me. Everything was so different, all my other languages didn’t help me at all and after 6 months of intense classes, I couldn’t even properly read.

 

On the other hand, I started learning Portuguese a few weeks ago and am currently in the process of reading a 500-page novel in that language because my knowledge of Spanish helps me understand it. 

 

But you know what? Spanish and French help me a lot, but they also get in the way a lot. 

 

Languages that are too similar are tricky. Sometimes, the many similarities between them make you forget about the differences and you end up inventing nonexistent words or building awkward structures. 

 

So, learning a new language that’s completely different is hard, no matter how many other languages you speak. But becoming fluent in a language similar to one you already know can be challenging, too. 


 

  1. The language learning process looks the same for every language

 

This language learning myth often has people giving up on learning a new language, once they compare their progress in both languages. Comparing yourself to others is bad enough, but even comparing yourself to yourself isn’t good, either. 

 

Generally, it is difficult to establish how long it takes to learn a foreign language, and any numerical values you encounter on that topic are just estimates. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) attempted to make this task easier by dividing languages into 4 distinctive groups, based on the time it takes to learn them. 

 

We won’t go into detail about which languages belong where here, but just so you have an idea of the range in the time scale, it goes from 24-30 weeks for Italian in group 1 up to 88 weeks for Korean in group 4. 

 

Again, those numbers are just exemplary and can be influenced by several different factors. But with this visual in mind, how can you compare learning a language from group 1 to a language from group 4? 30 weeks is not even half of 88. 

 

Learning time aside, even the process of language learning is different for various languages. In Arabic, Russian, or Japanese, you start by learning a whole new alphabet. 

 

Mandarin is a phonetic language. To reach fluency, you need to understand the subtle differences in various sounds. 

 

Learning French, English, or Spanish is based on comprehending the complex grammar and building a vocabulary bank. 

 

Therefore, the language learning process is incomparable for all of those languages.

 

The beauty of languages lies in their diversity. Don’t fall into the trap of sabotaging your progress by believing in the common language learning myth claiming that the process of learning a new language is always the same. 



  1. A few months are enough to become fluent in a new language

 

As we have stated before, answering the question “How long does it take to learn a new language?” is tricky. The response depends on too many unknowns: personal circumstances, language, motivation, intensity, and much more. 

 

However, hardly ever will it be the question of just a few months.

 

Of course, it heavily depends on what “fluency” means to every individual. For some, being fluent is the ability to study and do academic work in a foreign language, while for others it’s everyday communication on basic topics.

 

But one thing must be pointed out: languages constantly evolve. They are tightly tied to people, and as we change, then so do they. Hundreds of new words enter dictionaries every year. Gen Z and Baby Boomers would never find common ground if they tried communicating in their proper youth slang. 

 

Becoming fluent and staying fluent takes continuous effort. It’s a constant work in progress, so while you can say you have reached some level of communication in a foreign language within a few months, believing that’s all it would take to reach absolute fluency is a trap. 


 

  1. You must reach a certain level of language proficiency before you can start speaking

 

This language-learning myth is the final nail to the coffin of every polyglot. Oh, how many more of us there would be if only this misconception didn’t exist!

 

Speaking is a crucial part of learning a language. Even language learning apps try to get you to speak from the very start, even if it’s just ridiculous sentences such as “Our cow wears jeans” or “I boil sauce”. 

 

Speaking is also usually the most daunting part of learning a new language. We are afraid of judgment based on our accent, pronunciation, and mistakes. The sooner we start getting used to speaking, the more we can address and combat that fear.

 

If you don’t try speaking from the get-go, your anxiety to start will only grow. Use whatever words you have in your bank to construct basic sentences, even if they’re not the kind you would use in real life. This way, you can practice the pronunciation and standard grammar structures.

 

The complexity of your speaking will increase as you improve, but in the beginning, it’s all about getting over the natural fear of speaking in a brand-new language. 


 

  1.  The older you get, the harder it is to learn a new language

 

This is probably one of the most harmful language-learning myths. It has certainly killed the aspirations of many mature language learners who gave up before they could even try.

 

The one thing children can use to their advantage in the language learning process is their cognitive flexibility. Their brains are primed for accommodating new information, and they aren’t driven by personal prejudices regarding what is and isn’t useful yet. 

 

Adults tend to be more judgmental. We question everything, including the way languages work. When I worked as a language tutor, my adult students often complained to me about all kinds of pronunciation or grammar rules, as if I were the one who made them.

 

The need to get to the bottom of everything can sometimes get in the way of learning a new language, where exceptions are common. It’s not as easy to accept that there isn’t always a logical explanation for the way things are. 

 

But mature learners also have something young students often don’t - perspective. Children often learn languages because they’re mandatory at school, or because their parents signed them up for extra lessons. It’s hardly ever their choice.

 

As adults, we are the ones deciding to start learning a foreign language. Our motivations can be different - for travel, for work, or relocation. Either way, we make that choice because we are aware that a new language is an advantage.

 

This awareness can transform into motivation and increase the efficiency of our language-learning process. So what we adults lack in cognitive flexibility, we make up in determination. 


 

  1. Language apps are enough to learn a new language

 

Duolingo is the new Facebook. Personally, there are people I interact with more in the language learning app than on any social media or in real life. 

 

They are popular because the daily lessons take under 5 minutes and the additional bonus of competitiveness in completing quests and keeping up the streak keeps us on our toes. 

 

It’s all too easy to forget that no matter how fun, language apps are not enough to learn a new language. It’s another language-learning myth - probably the most heartbreaking one. 

 

The advantage of language learning apps is that they develop all areas of learning a new language: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. But they do it on such a small scale, that completing a lesson a day simply isn’t enough.

 

Language apps are a great supplement for other language learning activities: watching films, talking to native speakers, attending a course, or reading books. But don’t put all your eggs in one basket and expect a language-learning app to make you fluent. 


 

  1. Language learning is always expensive

 

Language courses are expensive. But language learning doesn’t have to be. 

 

Language courses are great because they allow you to make steady progress in a safe environment, under the watchful eye of a professional. But if you can’t afford them, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn a foreign language!

 

There are so many free language learning resources: books, films, podcasts, music, language exchange meetings, talking to natives, language apps, YouTube tutorials, free online lessons, digital workbooks and worksheets, and so much more.

 

You can experiment with different methods and stick to what works for you. Remember to develop in all areas of learning a new language: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. Neglecting even one of those elements will negatively impact your language-learning efforts.

 


 

The most common language-learning myths revolve around a natural talent for learning languages, the time and money it takes to learn a new language, and the optimal age for becoming a language student. 

 

The truth is, it’s never too late to start learning a foreign language and you don’t need tons of money or extraordinary talent for it. What matters is consistency, determination, and leveraging a variety of resources. 

 

Entering the language-learning process with certain prejudices guiding you will only make learning a new language more difficult. Empty your mind of language-learning myths, set measurable goals, and in moments of doubt, remember why you started. 

 

Not sure which language to choose? Check out our list of the most useful European languages (excluding English)!


 

Feeling inspired? Visit our blog for more career advice! How can you be sure the information we provide is top-notch? We are a group of professionals working with recruiters, career coaches, and HR specialists from all over the world! 

Trust our experience and let us help you find a new job in Europe!

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