piranha: red origami crane (Default)
renaissance poisson ([personal profile] piranha) wrote2015-06-04 03:32 pm
Entry tags:

foreign language acquisition for introverts and shy people

lately i've been hanging out on language sites because i'm kinda desperate for things that make me feel at least semi-competent again. and languages have always been an area of strength for me.

seems there is a real upswing of language learning as something really cool and desirable, and there are now a number of sites that tout "fluent in 3 months" and similar slogans, all going against the conventional "wisdom" of languages being difficult to learn, requiring some special talent, etc.

i'm all in favour of it, though the promises are as most promises made by evangelists, somewhat optimistic. but i think helping people lose their fears of language learning, ripping down some of those myths of how incredibly difficult it is to acquire a language once you're not longer a child, that's all a really fabulous trend.

along with that comes a slew of new methods for language acquisition. since i've learned both through formal instruction and by teaching myself, i'm pretty excited about that, because frankly, most formal language instruction in my life has been ineffective in actually teaching me a living language; i've done much better on my own, and will be trying some of the stuff i'm now discovering. one thing i've always known about is that i've been too slow when it came to speaking a language, knowing how to read and write it well long before i could speak it well. that was ok when i was still in high school because it wasn't like i had anyone with whom to speak a new language. and it seemed still ok when i started learning japanese a few years ago because i wanted to learn it to read manga. but i am now reconsidering that approach. primarily because my french still sucks, and i want to pick it back up again. i used to be virtually paralyzed with fear of making mistakes when speaking, and would consequently put it off for as long as possible. and that's held me back in more than one language. so i am in principle all for speaking sooner.

but some of the loudest proponents of the "speak right away" movement are very obviously extraverts, and have -- to me -- some uncomfortable entitlement issues going on.

i’d just come from benny lewis’s fluent in 3 months site. benny is overflowing with "just walk up to some random person and start talking" advice. then i stumbled onto social risk takers are better language learners by donovan nagel. he relayed a story about asking a little, old shopkeep lady in south korea for her name, which was apparently quite the faux pas. and somebody accused him of being rude after he invited himself into a group of strangers in a pub. so he wrote this article while on the defensive, justifying any potential rudeness and offense with the idea that without risk taking you won't learn a language.

i agree that one won't get anywhere without some amount of risk taking, and that one will acquire spoken language faster the sooner and the more frequently one engages with native speakers. but he makes it sound like the only way to get there is to push oneself on people, which in my experience isn't true. as a strong introvert wary of imposing, that's not my way. fortunately there is a huge area between offending somebody, and playing the wallflower, and i believe from experience that people who want to avoid offending can still take plenty of risks. luckily introverts are often excellent observers and researchers, and a bit of research on social mores of a new culture goes a long way. i don't want to be a dolt in a new culture, not because i am afraid to look foolish (way too old to mind that anymore, and it’s basically unavoidable), but because it can come across as disrespectful. just because i am learning their language does not mean i feel in any way entitled to their attention and their forgiveness for my uncouth foreigner mistakes. i think that's what bothered me most about donovan's intrusions on other people -- he seemed to me to act from a position of entitlement, and if they were offended, oh well, he just moved on to other people. *meh*.

one doesn't need to ask a little, old shopkeeper lady for her name to push one's korean, after all; one can introduce oneself and then ask some questions pertinent to shopping that go beyond the phrase book. one can ask one's younger acquaintances (in korean) how one would go about conversing with an elder politely. one doesn’t need to intrude on a random group in a pub, one can ask the barkeep whether he might introduce one to people who'd love to help a newcomer speak gaeilge.

that’s the advice introverts and shy people and those with social anxiety need to hear — there is lots of room for friendly, non-threatening, inoffensive communication with strangers. find a few native speakers on one of the sites that are specifically meant for that purpose. use those for feedback on how to behave in their culture. that will push your language skills way beyond your comfort envelope at the start. go to events where you have something in common with the people there; safe subjects are pretty much a given then. i really liked the challenge at the end of donovan's article: push every conversation just a little further. there is a lot of room before one gets to offensive when one starts with everyday, neutral subjects.

i need to look whether there are any sites not run by extraverts. if not, maybe that's something i could write about myself, since i do have a lot of experience with foreign language acquisition as a shy introvert.
forthwritten: stained glass spiral (Default)

[personal profile] forthwritten 2015-06-04 11:43 pm (UTC)(link)
If you barge up to a little old lady and ask her her name in Korean, you may well have mastered the ability to ask for someone's name but you clearly haven't learnt much about the culture: things like communication conventions, the sorts of conversations you can have with strangers and/or people older than you and/or people of a different gender to you and/or people of a different social class to you.

One of my friends runs a blog: https://compassionatelanguage.wordpress.com/ - they've found setting up Skype language exchanges with native speakers helpful because both participants get to practice the language they're learning and it means they don't have to demand attention and education from strangers.
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)

[personal profile] firecat 2015-06-05 03:39 am (UTC)(link)
The "too paralyzed to speak" issue always affects me too. I don't think it's fear-based for me. It seems to be partly because I go through a long phase in language learning when I treat sentence construction like a puzzle, and that uses a different part of my brain than the part I use for speaking.

What sites are you hanging out on?
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)

[personal profile] firecat 2015-06-06 06:33 pm (UTC)(link)
If I'd experienced judgementalism about my speaking it would have stifled me too. I only ever spoke French in Quebec, where ppl were tolerant at the level I was trying to speak it.

I'm learning Spanish. I didn't like memrise much for beginning levels because the flashcard stacks seemed kind of random, but it might be better for refreshing. I really like duolingo. They have a thing called immersion where you crowd-translate articles that people post. I find that very addictive. People comment on each other's translations to some degree. The community for Spanish speakers is pretty friendly, don't know about French.

I have also used babbel, which offers various mini-courses, and brainscape, another flashcard site.
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)

Re: memrise vs duolingo in french

[personal profile] firecat 2015-06-08 01:35 am (UTC)(link)
Thanks for the anki suggestion!

I think that since a lot of courses on memrise are user generated, some are probably better than others.
spark: White sparkler on dark background (Default)

[personal profile] spark 2015-06-05 01:22 pm (UTC)(link)
I would really like to read your advice on foreign language acquisition as a shy introvert.

Have you played with Duolingo? I really enjoy it but it's hard for me to tell how much increasing skill at Duolingo leads to increasing real language skill.
spark: White sparkler on dark background (Default)

[personal profile] spark 2015-06-06 12:02 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you, that's very helpful. I found Pimsleur CDs very good for getting some basic Italian, especially for pronunciation, but I think my brain is so visual/text oriented that it's better for me if I learn reading/writing at the same time as listening/speaking. Otherwise part of my brain is distracted trying to figure out written forms for the sounds I'm hearing. So I like Duolingo for that mix, and for the randomness, and for vocabulary acquisition. It was frustrating with Pimsleur that after finishing all the available CDs my vocabulary was still so limited, and I didn't really find a good resource for progressing further at the time.

These days I live in a substantially Welsh speaking area, and have friends who would be patient with my beginner's Welsh, but I really feel more comfortable practicing by myself a lot first. But it's really important to me to learn it -- I don't want to be part of the problem of more and more non-Welsh speakers moving in and making it harder for the language to survive, so I want to make more progress than I currently am.