Are you an introvert? Are you learning a language?
Do you find that your introversion impacts the way you learn and progress?
The world was made for extraverts, they say.
Especially the world of language learning where all the attention is primarily on your speaking skills.
As an introvert learning languages, you may have felt disandvantaged, but this ends today.
Discover how you can use your superpowers!
I’m leaving the mic to Alyssa, the founder of Introvert English. She’s an English teacher, a coach (and also a biologist!) from Arkansas, USA, living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As an English coach, she helps introverted immigrants express themselves in English and better understand their new culture through introspective activities and language support.
How to use your introvert superpowers
Have you ever felt that learning a language is harder for introverts? Maybe you’ve experienced some blockages?
Speaking to strangers is difficult or undesirable for you. As speaking is the skill we give the most attention to, you think that language acquisition overall must be hard for you?
Actually, that’s not necessarily true.
I am here to tell you that as an introvert, you have scientific advantages to help you learn a language.
Let’s call them superpowers.
And it’s high time you knew about them!
Becoming aware of your powers, and playing them up will give you more confidence in yourself as a learner.
Of course, gaining confidence in your abilities and unblocking yourself is foundational to your success.
Let’s have a look at the advantages we have as introverts, and also at a few of the common struggles introverts face in language learning.
What are the things you love doing in your free time? If you’re an introvert, chances are you love to spend some time alone, reading, journaling, walking in nature, and learning new things.
Introvert hobbies tend to be more solitary, studious and reflexive. This makes it easier to incorporate language studies into our daily lives.
The inner life of introverts is also much richer than extroverts. Introverts are biologically more sensitive than extroverts. (source) This is why we do not want or need much external stimulation. We are happy staying at home or with small groups, and processing less stimuli, more deeply.
And this is actually great for language learning! “It isn’t about quantity as much as quality,” should be the introvert mantra.
Introverts tend to have “nerdy” hobbies, like studying, reading, writing, or watching specific kinds of movies or series.
You can very easily do these kinds of activities directly in your target language, creating a self-immersive experience for yourself.
This kind of intrinsic motivation, that is based on your own desire rather than on an external factor, is one of the best ingredients to be successful in learning a foreign language because staying home and spending time with your languages never feels like a chore.
We introverts are excellent observers and analyzers.
- Introverts listen and process more than jumping in and automatically responding. They process information more internally than interactively (source). This means that introverts may need to take a step back and sit with new information for a while, alone, before they fully digest it. However, this also means that when we respond, we give thoughtful answers. We enjoy expressing ourselves deeply.
- This also means that we are excellent listeners. Listening is half of verbal communication. So many people struggle to understand, because they really weren’t taught how to listen intentionally in their native language. But introverts usually have this skill more developed than extroverts.
- Being excellent observers and analyzers adds up to being more intuitive. Maybe introverts talk less in groups, but they are feeling and noticing A LOT. Having a strong intuition is priceless, and serves us in all forms of communication.
Introverts use more meta-cognitive strategies. Meta-cognitivie strategies include goal setting, planning, thinking, about their process.
A 2013 study found that introverts use more of these strategies in language learning. (source)
They may find themselves making study plans, setting and resetting goals, and experimenting with different learning strategies.
Self awareness is one of the most powerful tools you can develop for language learning. Just be careful not to spend more time making the strategies than you do the actual learning. This is how really sneaky procrastination and self sabotage can creep in.
However, if used in moderation, these kinds of organized learning strategies help advance your language learning immensely.
What about the struggles then?
Although introvertedness and shyness are not the same thing, a very common roadblock for introverts is anxiety while using their target language.
So here are 5 tips for you to overcome this anxiety and thrive as a language learner.
5 tips to thrive as an introvert language learner
Don’t put all of the focus on you.
We tend to believe that everyone is paying attention to the way we act and speak, but that’s not true. Remember that if most people worry about what others will think about them, they can’t be paying attention about what they think about you. Most people aren’t as great listeners as introverts. They won’t notice your mistakes as much as you do.
Get out of your comfort zone, at a reasonable pace.
Give yourself grace, and time. You may like taking things in a more relaxed, and slower way. This is natural and perfect.
Progress comes from consistently challenging yourself, but not from pushing yourself too hard so that you can continue enjoying the process of learning on the long term.
Use the power of the internet.
I strongly believe that languages can be learned to a very good level even by never leaving your house! Language Exchange apps such as Hellotalk, Youtube videos, and online teachers, mean that you can have endless input that’s aligned with your interests every day. And you an practice your oral skills by recording yourself speaking, and by journaling. This is perfect for practicing output!
Prepare for conversions that you know you’ll have.
Introverts take longer to formulate their thoughts. A 2008 study in the Journal of Motor Behavior hypothesizes that this is because introverts process more thoughtfully. (source)
This further proves that writing, and anticipating questions and answers is a powerful tool, especially for introverts.
Writing gives us the chance to create language, but more slowly, intentionally, at our own pace. This gives you a chance to practice and rehearse the conversations you will have in the future.
Choose your reaction
Remember that you have control over the way you react to and feel about your own mistakes.
If you stumble, it is important to not let it throw you off.
Don’t forget to breathe through it.
So many of my interactions went south quickly because of how I reacted to my mistakes.
Don’t start negatively reacting in the middle of your interaction or conversation. When I started taking my speaking less seriously, I felt lighter and could communicate better.
Play it off like nothing happened. Breathe, and skip the word you don’t know. Say ‘nevermind,’ smile, and change the topic.
It often feels like the world, especially the language learning world, was made for extroverts. But we all learn and work differently!
Self awareness is key to learning how to learn.
Working with your introverted nature, instead of against it, will be one of your biggest assets in your language learning journey.
May it be as rich as your inner life.
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