Introverts and Extroverts in Language Learning

Introverts and Extroverts in Language Learning

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 v.s. 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.

So who is a better language learner? – Introverts v.s. Extroverts

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. Both introverts and extroverts are capable of learning a language and even going all the way to fluency.

An extrovert may want to get out there and speak right away. They’re perhaps more likely to be unfazed 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.

So both introverts and extroverts can learn a new language fluently

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. But this is the case with both introverts and extroverts.

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.

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5 comments on “Introverts and Extroverts in Language Learning

Carol

Hi Steve, Thanks for the post. I wanted to tell you that I have gone back to many of your posts and also Tha Way of the Linguist for a second time. I have gained so much by hearing your ideas repeated two or three times. I think the reason for this is that it takes awhile to change your point of view. It takes awhile to be convinced that yes, you really can do this! Then, it takes a bit longer to actually accept responsibility. When you finally accept the idea that you can do it, well, why haven’t you? Even though your ideas may seem to be common sense, it takes a LOT of encouragement to really put them into practice! Thanks for this encouragement.

Erin

Thank you for this! I’m an introvert who would love to learn a few languages, but I’ve been discouraged because I’ve always been told that to be fluent I have to get out there and do a lot of talking. But, it only occurred to me the other day that I’ve never been a big talker, not even in my own language. But, through spending my life listening to people in real life AND on TV and being an extensive reader, I’m a great communicator when I do choose to speak and I have a much larger vocabulary than most people I know. This helps confirm my suspicion that, at least for a while, I can learn quite a bit through methods that come much more naturally to me.

Robert Macaulay

The goal is to enjoy learning, developing and using the language.

I’m having fun learning my first language Japanese.

I can understand basic sentences and catch words here and there on TV shows.
Reading Hiragana is amusing. It’s like reading English.

It’s like a fog that is slowly clearing and it’s an interesting experience.

Mel

This article is very important for introverts. I have been struggling for two and a half years to learn Mandarin. You have identified the bottom line for successful language learning.

Attitude, time, alertness and attentiveness. I can do all of these better than most extroverts.

The next thing you made me think about was how I learned my native language compared to introverts. I hardly spoke a word before the age of four. I was always shy and scared of drawing attention to myself. I would rather be alone with my pet cat. By the time I became an adult, my skills in my native language were better than most introverts.

Why? Attitude, time, alertness and attentiveness.

I was not an avid reader but my mother would always do crosswords. She had difficulty completing about half of her crosswords. My mother would get very frustrated with the last few words. I learned to treat words as a puzzle. It sometimes took me a very long time but I nearly always finished the crossword. It was not my word knowledge that gave me success but my problem-solving skills.

I now know that my pathway to learning Mandarin will be very unique and a problem-solving approach will be strongly interwoven with my attitude, use of time, alertness and attentiveness. Thank you for helping me achieve this clarity.

Congratulations, you have successfully communicated with an introvert.

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