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.