There are so many myths surrounding language learning. You need to do this. You need to be that. You have to be musical. You have to have an ear for music. Some people have a talent. I don’t have a talent. I don’t believe any of that. One of these myths is that there exists a battle in language learning: introverts vs. extroverts, and 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 comes down to the three keys: number one, attitude. You have to be interested in the language. You have to like the language. You have to believe you’re going to achieve your goal. If you’re looking for something around the house and you go looking in a closet or through your different pants pockets, if you’re convinced that the item you’re looking for is there you’ll find it, in many cases. But if you’re not really sure that it’s there, you kind of half-heartedly look and in the end you don’t find it. 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. But that’s one part of attitude — enthusiasm, interest, dedication and so forth. Attitude is 70% of the battle.
Number two is time. You have to spend the time. You have to spend a lot of time. Language learning takes time. It’s not three months to fluency. It takes a lot of time every day for many, many months or longer.
The third thing you have to do is develop this 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 it’s 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 new language. Alertness and attentiveness are extremely important.
Neither your attitude, willingness to spend the time and your attentiveness to the language require you to be an extrovert. Introverts can just as easily have those qualities. If I look, for example, at some of our members in our wonderful LingQ community, many of whom speak several languages, many of whom I’ve spoken to in a variety of languages, some might be extroverts, but a lot are introverts. It’s irrelevant.
An extrovert may want to get out there and speak right away. They’re perhaps more likely to be unphased about not understanding and want to show-off the few phrases they have. 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 Polish. 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. These are all introverted activities, if you want. 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 and I know that these activities improve my ability to speak. Now, an introverted person may be more included to be afraid to expose their shortcomings in the language and make 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 their familiarity of their vocabulary and their 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 such as we do at LingQ, lots of listening and reading and building up your vocabulary, this is going to make you more comfortable because when you go speak you will have better listening comprehension, a bigger vocabulary. You’ll be better able to defend yourself and that’s going to make you more confident.
I think that very often the idea is that people who are extroverts and love to talk are going to do better. I think, initially, it’s a bit of a tortoise and hare situation. I think they’d be more like the hare, off the bat they’re speaking more quickly. But in the long run, in terms of all of the language skills that we normally talk about, listening, reading, speaking, writing, vocabulary, accuracy, all of these things, I don’t think the extroverts have an advantage.
So that’s my take on introverts and extroverts in language learning. Being an introvert is not an obstacle. I’m interested in hearing your opinion.