How Our Emotions Influence Our Language Skills

How Our Emotions Influence Our Language Skills has been transcribed from Steve’s YouTube channel.  Original video was published on April 2, 2013


Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here. I want to make a video in response to a video that I received from Lucas from Brazil. He posted this video in response to one of my recent videos and I’ll see if I can somehow hook this up to this video in some way. He speaks very good English as a young man from Brazil. He says I enjoyed learning English and he speaks it very well. He studied at LingQ and he learned Italian and after a few weeks or months he was doing very well, but now he works for a company in Brazil that has a lot of dealings with international customers, most of whom are Spanish speakers. So he’s spent now a few months using LingQ reading and listening, but his ability to speak Spanish hasn’t improved; whereas, he saw remarkable improvement in his English and his Italian. What can be the reason?


I thought that was very interesting. My belief, without having had the chance to really ask Lucas a lot of questions, is that he’s not very motivated to speak Spanish because Spanish is similar so to Portuguese. Very often we don’t realize that we are sort of not motivated to do certain things, this is particularly the case with pronunciation with accents. I know that when I listen to Brazilian Portuguese, I find myself not wanting to pronounce the ‘t’ as a ‘cha’, _____, that kind of stuff, even though I know that is how it’s pronounced, maybe because I speak Spanish and because I listen to a lot of European Portuguese.


Nor do I speak like a European Portuguese either, I kind of stick with my Spanish. I see myself reluctant to let go of that Spanish because the languages are so similar. I just won’t let go and I see this with people in their pronunciation. I mentioned in another video my father who would always say Nova _____ instead of Nova Scotia.


You’ll sometimes find learners who are native speakers of German or of Spanish or Chinese and they’ll quote you proverbs translated from their own language in order to explain something in English and they think that’s very good because they like their own thing and it’s normal, you have a certain attachment. It’s an emotional attachment either to your own language or say in the case of my speaking Spanish and Portuguese. I’m quite comfortable with my Spanish pronunciation and so to start pronouncing, essentially, the same words in quite a different way is something that I’m, at some level, reluctant to do. My emotions are getting in the way, whereas if it’s a totally different language I just go for it 100%. It’s totally make-believe, imaginary. I’m playing some strange role and so I’m not held back.


I think this can be the case with very similar languages. I speak English, I could live in Texas or Scotland for 20 years and I wouldn’t change how I speak. I might be slightly influenced by it, but not very much. I’m comfortable with it. I’m not going to change it, whereas a foreigner moving into any of those areas would probably be more influenced by the local language, trying harder, wanting to imitate the local pronunciation.


I just mention this (A) in the answer the the video from Lucas. I think that he has to try to project himself as an Argentinean and it’s easier for him and perhaps more attractive for him to project himself as an Italian or an American, let’s say. That’s fun. That’s positive for him. He likes doing that, but he doesn’t want to project himself as an Argentinean because the Spanish or whoever he speaks to, Paraguayan or whoever, neighbors of Brazil. Because at some level he thinks they should be able to understand his Portuguese, he’s not as motivated.


I see this in so many different areas. I see this, for example, where people from certain cultures like to consider themselves very unique and, therefore, they’re unwilling to let go of that cultural identity, that cultural ego, in order to project themselves into this other cultural identity. As I say, my father. You see people even from the same language group. Let’s say French people. Some will pronounce English very, very well and others make no concession at all to English. They speak English like this and that is the way they will always speak it because at some emotional level they don’t want to change.


I just want to get reaction from people on this. I think in so many things in language learning, our willingness, our emotional commitment to or resistance to certain things, our determination, our ability to project into another persona, these things are so important, so important, far more important than diagrams of the mouth and where you put your tongue or any other of these artificial learning tricks or tools or assists that you can find.


A better attitude means better language skills

So I guess the message there is to really look at your attitude and your emotional commitment to learning a language and to pronouncing that language closer to the way it’s pronounced. I’d like to hear from Lucas. I think that’s his problem. If you talk about learning a language — what does it mean to learn a language — a Portuguese person practically doesn’t have to learn Spanish. They know 95% of the vocabulary and the grammar is so similar. Yeah, there are differences, but they’re not great. I mean they’re basically there, so there’s no reason why.


I don’t believe those who say well, because the pronunciation is so different. You know, Portuguese which has all these diphthongs and Spanish which has their very clear, pure vowels, it’s more difficult for that reason. I don’t think it’s difficult for sort of those technical reasons and the proof of that is if you listen to someone like Benny the Irish Polyglot or Luca or Richard Simcott. They pronounce each of the romance languages very well. They speak Portuguese very well, Spanish very well, Italian very well, French very well. They are able to make all the different sounds, so the only reason a native speaker of Brazilian Portuguese like Lucas is not is because he doesn’t want to. I haven’t heard him in Italian, but he pronounces English very well.


So it comes down to this attitudinal thing. I think we can take a lesson from that and look at how that applies to our own language learning. Are we resisting at some level? Are we hanging back? Are we reluctant? Yeah, attitude is big. I look forward to hearing your comments and maybe even hearing from Lucas.


On that, bye for now.

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