Talent to learn languages

I often hear that someone doesn’t have the talent to learn languages. “I wish I could learn them, but I’m not predisposed to learn them.” And I always wonder why people think of it that way? Black and white, talent or no talent. There are so many aspects that it could be enough for an entire book. 

I’ll start with the most obvious things. 

*) People rarely know how actually to learn. It’s not so much a matter of efficiency but finding what fits one’s personality. I’ve seen that in everything: chess, languages, sciences, all. But instead of saying, “I don’t know what works for me, and I need to put effort to explore it,” there’s some dedication to “that guy says it’s better to do this, he’s Ph.D., he knows better,” or “people learn on memrise,” or “I need to listen to Rosetta Stone,” there’s no correct answer. And it just doesn’t work in many cases. It’s you who decides what works. That Ph.D., even if they learned 15 languages and knew some cool ways to do it, doesn’t know how YOUR brain works, how your psyche wants it. There’s nothing more important than how, when, and who YOU want to learn. Maybe today it’s a podcast, tomorrow it’s memrise, after tomorrow, just a free chat with a teacher from an online website. There’s nothing more important than being attentive to what actually sparkles that interest, and it’s a weak muscle that needs training.

*) Exhausting the desire is a huge problem. If some of us are not used to wanting to learn consistently, and that desire or its surrogate appears, there’s a habit of exhausting it and riding it till the end. Some butcher attitude to the desire, like “if I have it finally, need to use it till the end, while I want it.” That’s, in many cases, detrimental to a desire. Exhaust it to the end – and it can be gone for a long time. I guess I can compare it to using the gym from January 1. The first few days are excellent, but it starts being draining later, and nothing but exhaustion comes out. Instead, we might need to recognize when this poor target desire appeared, cherish it, grow it, defend it, and stop using it up before it gets completely exhausted. 

*) Boredom is detrimental to anything. More than caring about pushing oneself, there is a need to find what keeps YOU going. Change it, change it, and change it again until you can attest that the sparkle is still there. Get into war with boredom and boring stuff. Get into a fight with yourself and your habits. Twist, explore, and find ways to be entertained. Find ways to keep it fun. Change every day, with the only thing to match: being engaged and entertained with how you learn the language.

*) Trust yourself. There are so many resources that 95% of them are likely not suitable for YOU. If someone insists this or that way is the right way to learn the language, be they a professor or someone that can speak eight languages, it’s not about them. It’s about you. Trust yourself, listen, and make mental notes. It’s another weak muscle to develop. All these professionals and PhDs are there to assist you in learning. It’s not you are there for them to push yourself. Take time and listen. 

*) Perfectionism applied to our desires is even more detrimental. When you think, “I’m 40/50. If I don’t intend to learn the language fluently, or if I don’t spend learning it like 20 min or an hour a day, it’s useless. What am I supposed to do with knowing five words in Japanese and a few phrases in Chinese? Maybe nothing. But the intellectual pleasure and the feeling of oneself as someone who took their time and learned something new is a treasure. Let alone that small efforts affect the brain in a very beneficial way. A Kanji! a day keeps dementia away. And.. you end up with 360 of those in a year 🙂 

*) We are not a tool to achieve things. Not now, not in the future. We are the lab, the engineers, our creators, the source of pleasure, the person. Language is not just for the future, or at least not entirely. It’s for right now, to share a new word with a friend, to experience intellectual pleasure, or to know that right now you are developing no matter the outcome. It has to be right now. About your enjoyment, right now. And the future we anticipate is instead a tool to make us feel good now. 

*) There’s some envy for people that speak languages. You can guess by now that I will call experiencing it detrimental to a genuine, joyful desire. I think that it’s true that negative emotions could force people to do things. I would compare it to learning with a knife threat. We will learn some, but the emotional impact will affect the body and brain on many levels, and there’s more and more proof of that in modern science. 

*) The wish to do something is a very tender and delicate thing. It needs love, assistance, and careful growing. How often it will appear, how long it will stay, and how strong it will entirely depend on us. We can’t just rip it in half because it’s there. A good part of us needs as much support as self-loving itself. 

*) We might think we want something, but it’s that darker part that says, “your mother always wanted you to speak that language”, “that Ph.D..”, or “that chick would be impressed.” There is nothing wrong with having one of those, but the idea is to be sincere about it. Ok, I want to push myself and learn it because of my mother. But first thing, I have to say that out loud rather than having no clue where that came from. The second thing is to ask ourselves: ok, she wanted it. Is that really something I want to do? Why now? To what extent? How many hours do I want to spend a day to make her happy? Will she still be happy? And is it real happiness rather than possessing a good trophy child? And what if I learn another language? Will she still be “as happy”? Maybe yes, maybe not, perhaps a mixture of yes’s and no’s. But we can move on from here. 

*) My own experience with the last few languages was so diverse that even at the same time, I wanted to learn them differently. For example, I wouldn’t fancy learning Hebrew unless I’d have some goals like possibly going there for a longer time at some point. There was no pure joy from learning when it started, so I had to wire my brain that Hebrew=fun first. I started with online lessons and clearly stated that I didn’t want to learn by the book. It’s going to be hectic and goofy. After trying four teachers, I found the right one. I was saying all super goofy things, such as “I’m flying with a shark. We go to our nest.” Beef invited the pork to have some talk about dementia”. In a month, not only did I have some idea about basic grammar, but my brain was wired right, and even relatively mundane things seemed fun, like a game. That’s when I stepped into extensive memorizing on an online platform. If I want something else tomorrow, I will switch immediately, as basically every time I learn. I evaluate the interest by a number from 0 to 10. If it drops below a certain level, I stop and see what I can do about it. The recent Japanese went well by fun kanji a day, dirty talk, and learning the structure of Haiku. And the Italian went well with me walking on the street and trying to mentally talk to someone in my mind, diving for a dictionary here and there. I don’t care much about Japanese or Italian, as in speaking it super freely, but I care how cool I feel about learning yet another kanji or expressing my (not so extended) thought. 

To wrap up, there’s no just “talented or not talented” for doing it. Well, maybe there is, but looking at the list above, how likely is it to play a considerable role? Think of it as a brain, which we only use 3% of. How important is it that one uses 2.9%, another 3%, and all this 97% that can step in anytime if needed? 

Learning language successfully combines all of the above and a lot more. Even if it’s needed for work or relocation, there are ways to change the ability and desire to learn. Ability to recognize the problems with studying in the past. Ability to remove the negativity and expectations, sincerity, or, in the least, honesty with oneself. Learning how to distinguish between the wish that is actually there and a wish “to be the person that has this wish.” Learning to encourage oneself and persevere in finding the right person to assist them. Learning how to grow the wish to learn, being very attentive to own desires, and stopping before it gets “used up” or exhausted. Learning how to learn differently and carefully distinguishing what works and what doesn’t. Resisting those saying, “this is how YOU want to learn.” It can coincide… but what are the chances? Remembering that today it could be one thing, and tomorrow it could be another. 

Talent to learn languages? Well, maybe a little important 🙂 

But, the beauty about paying attention to the rest of it can turn one into their own lab, change the entire personality, and there will be a great self-grown ability and aspiration to learn languages, as a bonus 🙂 

And in the end, it’s not the language that is a result. The enriched psyche and life is.