“I’m useless at languages”
I can hear some of you even from here saying “Yes…that’s me…I’m useless at languages!”(I’m on the south coast of Spain at the moment!)
Throughout my time teaching Spanish to English people, the one consistent lament I hear , as I take on a new student, is “I’m useless at languages so you’ll have your work cut out with me!” Or “I’m useless at languages so I’ll never be able to really learn Spanish.”
You seriously would not believe how many of my first-time students start out with that first sentence when I meet them.
And I get it. I really do.
There is no doubt that learning a new language takes time, commitment, effort and staying power. It can be frustrating at times when your progress is slower than you expect. But “useless at languages” ? No.
I was labelled “useless at languages” too.
At Secondary School in the UK, many years ago I remember, perhaps it was after my first Spanish lesson, feeling that I was ‘useless at languages’. (The same way some of us have been labelled ‘useless at Maths’ or ‘useless at History’; labels encouraged by the education system to exonerate itself of any obligation or duty to provide efficient teaching resources.)
I have to admit that it took several years before I managed to shake off that label of being ‘useless at languages’. But I finally began to realise that I had been tagged with that label unfairly. And I can bet you that the chances are that you have been unfairly tagged too.
So you are ‘useless at languages’? There maybe several reasons why you feel that way, so let’s analyse them.
- Your first Foreign Language class made you feel that way, so gave up.
- You have since signed up for language lessons at the local community hall but made little progress, so gave up.
- You paid a lot of money to a private tutor once a week and learned very little in 2 months, so gave up.
Feel free to add your own reasons as to why you feel you are ‘useless at languages’. There may be many more.
Add your reason here…………………………………………………….
But this is MY story
I was labelled, as perhaps you were, at a young age, as being ‘useless at languages’. But I still dreamt of being able to speak another language. I couldn’t shake the bug. I had loved my first foreign language lessons at school and desperately wanted to succeed…in Spanish. But I felt useless.
My Spanish teacher insisted on giving out a very clear signal which was: “You are useless at languages.” I tried so hard to overcome that with extra homework but kept failing miserably every time. I still had the dream of speaking Spanish, and in my first ever post here I talked about falling in love with Spanish
Remember we are talking a long time ago here. With that I mean ….NO INTERNET! But we had something in the UK called “The Teach Yourself” series. They were little yellow and blue hardback books and there was one for every subject under the sun (at the time).
My elder sister Angela bought me one. I remember it to this day: “Teach Yourself…Spanish”, in a desperate attempt to get me, useless at languages, through a Spanish exam.
I even hid this book from my teacher. I didn’t want her to see I was looking at something different. Something SHE hadn’t given me to study…..
It was a different approach. I remember it had a few humorous touches. I don’t know why, but for some reason it worked for me.
The extra dedication worked. Unfortunately something had to be sacrificed and that was dedication to Maths. (But that’s another story.) The point was that I became a bit obsessed with the Spanish. It wasn’t just another subject for me on the timetable. It sort of turned into the ONLY subject on the timetable, for at least a while.
Then it got pathological
I changed my name from ‘Marie’ to ‘María’., and wouldn’t answer to anything else, not even at home.
I named all my work ‘María’ to such an extent that all my school certificates show the name ‘María’ on them. Remember I was only about 13 at the time so I was allowed to do strange stuff like that! I turned into ‘María’ . NOT RECOMMENDED.
(What I didn’t realise was that this caused a tremendous amount of confusion later on in life when I had to convalidate these qualifications before the Spanish authorities. I paid a couple of hundred pounds to have the certificates verified as belonging to me…but that’s another story, too)
Only after concentrating all my efforts on Spanish did I slowly I begin to realise I wasn’t particularly “useless” at languages. I began to view Spanish as an equivalent to English, which I already knew very well…. but just with funny words.
Now this is the part where I’m going to surprise you!
One major fact is that generally we all speak a language and have gone through the ‘language acquisition’ process.
I’m hearing you think “No, not me. I haven’t gone through a language acquisition process.”
But you speak a language, don’t you? Your own native language!
You may be even quite fluent in that language? I would even go so far as to say that you believe you speak that language very well.
Well there you have it. You are a linguist and you weren’t even aware of the fact!
Now you know you are great at languages, you have to remember the next stage is to realise that you are Never too old!
We are all linguists…you are a linguist!
We are all linguists in as much as we all (or mostly all) have been able to ‘acquire’ a native language. This in itself constitutes language acquisition.
Now is the time to harness in the linguist in you and be determined to reach some of your linguistic goals…
because after all, you ARE a linguist, aren’t you?
Do you believe you’re a linguist and that you are …great at languages?
Tell me in the comments below how you feel about your language journey.
Would you consider yourself useless at languages? If so, why?