It may seem obvious, but to become a good language learner you have to want to communicate in another language.
People who succeed in learning another language have a goal in mind: to get to know other people and their culture, not just to learn a new language.
Not all language learners are motivated to use the language they are learning. Many language learners suffer through years of formal classroom language teaching, memorizing, drilling, answering questions, studying for tests– and yet don’t achieve fluency.
They are fed up with trying to learn words that are not relevant to them. They don’t care about the content of what they are studying. They have no desire to communicate in their target language. The whole process seems meaningless to them.
A good language learner knows that to become fluent in a new language requires a commitment that goes beyond attending classes or studying textbooks.
Such a learner stretches in order to connect with a new culture, taking every opportunity to confront the new language in real life situations.
Without the motivation to communicate in the new language, the learner is left struggling with the technical details of language that are so easily forgotten.
Language is about communicating, not about details of grammar, nor vocabulary lists, nor tests, nor exercises. The very words of language are artificial creations.
It’s the heart to heart communication of meaning that is the essential nature of language, and therefore of language learning.
All the rest is artificial. Fish traps are only useful for catching fish.
Words are only useful if communication takes place. The learner has to truly want to start communicating.
Resistance to language learning
Not everyone wants to communicate in another language or learn about other cultures.
It’s understandable that many people are happier just using their own language and resist learning a new one.
Ironically, however, many of the people who are trying to learn a second language are also actively resisting it.
Meeting a different language and culture can be stressful. It’s certainly true that expressing thoughts and feelings in a new language is an intimate activity.
Your language reflects your attitudes and personality, and therefore you feel most comfortable in your native language.
It’s also possible for people to resist a new language as a form of defence of their own language and identity.
Some people feel inadequate and exposed when speaking in a second language. And some actually resent having to speak a new language, while others just find it tiring.
People all too often compare the new language to their own, rather than just imitating it and learning it.
These reactions are similar to how people may behave when they travel abroad.
Whereas eager travelers simply immerse themselves in their destination and enjoy themselves, others are looking for reasons to say that “after all, things are better at home.”
Either it’s the food, or the cleanliness, or the weather, that confirms to them that they were better off at home. Of course we are always happy to come home from a trip, but why think of it while traveling?
Speaking your native language is easier and more relaxing, but why focus on that while trying to communicate in a new language?
Many learners fail to take advantage of the environments that surround them.
It’s common for parents to send their children to foreign countries to learn languages. The majority of such students, when studying in a foreign country, are mostly interested in having a good time with friends speaking their native tongue.
They don’t take full advantage of the opportunity of living in a foreign country.
They aren’t sufficiently motivated to get to know the local people.
As a result, they don’t improve their target language as much as they have the ability to.
It’s common knowledge among university staff that many language students from foreign countries stay within their own language group. There’s a joke that students from Tokyo studying English in London return to Japan with an Osaka accent but little improvement in their English.
When we first learn to swim, the water can look uninviting.
Until we commit ourselves, communicating in a foreign language can be the same.
Some language learners feel that, for example, they don’t understand the sense of humor of the locals speaking their target language when they visit a country of their choice, so they stop going out with them. They think that the cultural gap between them and “the foreigners” is simply too wide to bridge.
Yet they still want to improve their target language.
These people don’t realize that they have to learn to find common ground with “the foreigners” if they hope to speak other languages fluently.
The personal, professional and cultural opportunities that come from being able to communicate in other languages are obvious. Successful language learners derive enormous pleasure from speaking other languages, whether at home or traveling.