Beliefs And Their Impact On Learning Languages.

“Relentless, repetitive self talk is what changes our self-image.”
by ~Denis Waitley~

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Our beliefs are one of the most powerful determiners of our outcomes in life. However they are results of our experiences, but as our experiences are quite narrow when you consider all that is possible, we need to be careful about being too wedded to them. Our language learning beliefs can stop us even considering possibilities, that may well be the answer to our prayers. Just consider the man who sold his farm because he believed that he could find his fortune in far off lands, lands where there was rich and plenty. So he travelled, far and wide seeking his fortune, but after many years of travel, unsuccessfully seeking his fortune, he returned to his homeland by chance. On his return he found that the new owner had discovered a large oil deposit on his land.

There are all kinds of beliefs that may be holding you back as a language learner. We do not often reflect upon them unless some vent has caused us to step back, because that is not what we have been educated to do. So, as a way of at least alerting you to the variety and their power, I have listed here some beliefs that may be impeding your progress:

Language Learning Beliefs

  • I am not a talented language learner
    There are numerous people who showed no interest or talent in a field but later developed prodigious talent in it later in life. 
  • I have always been bad at learning languages
    Your past is only a determiner of your future if you allow it to be. This is what makes us human, we have choices open to us, even if at times it does not appear to be the case. Humans are the ultimate learning machine, that capacity staying alive in us till the day we die.
  • I don’t have enough time 
    Consider a jar full of marbles. Is it full? Yes, to the brim But you can pour water into the jar so its fullness was only an illusion. 
    Alternatively, you may even be able to take out some “marbles” that have less importance to you than learning a language, then you will have even more space to fill! 
  • I do not have the opportunity to practice with “locals”
    There are nearly always opportunities, it’s just that most of the time we do not seek them out. Consider, some immigrants to a country consistently complain that there are no opportunities to practice. They just can’t seem to find locals to talk to.  Opportunities are always there, but many people don’t look for them or see them or maybe are not prepared to do what is necessary to make the most of it.
  • There are no opportunities to use the language I am learning in the country I live in
    It is amazing who one can find in one’s own town if one looks. And nowadays with the advent of the internet, talking to people can be as easy as turning on your computer!
  • I am too old
    If you believe that is the case, then of course that is the case. However there are many cases of even elderly people learning a new language. 
  • I have no ear for languages
    That may well be your belief and even experience.  But that does not need to be the case for the rest of your life. You can re-educate your ear in just the way we can educate any other sense. Remember though that you did learn your first language so that capacity resides within you.
  • My pronunciation is so bad
    It may well be, but there are reasons for that.  The reasons are not written in stone, they can be altered. You may need to find a specialist to give you some pointers and guidance as to what you can do to change your habits, or you may even be able to do it by yourself.
  • I am too shy to talk to people
    Talking with people IS important so being shy or reserved WILL hold you back. There is no reason however why you have to stay shy. It all depends upon what you really want and are prepared to do to break this habit.
  • The language I am learning is only a tool so I don’t need to perfect it 
    This attitude will of course put a ceiling on your development
  • My vocabulary will improve if I memorise the words I want to learn
    Memorisation is a great skill to develop but it has limited value for most people learning a language.  It is a good skill to cultivate to remember phone numbers, etc, but language learning requires more than that.
  • Studying grammar will improve my speaking
    Many people study and study grammar believing that once they know the grammar, they will be able to speak. These are two separate skills. Because you know how to drive the car, does not mean you can actually drive it. There are many skills that need to be learn, that in fact are separate to the intellectual exercise of knowing the skill needs to be exercised.
  • Using a bilingual dictionary is the best way to improve vocabulary.
    Bilingual dictionaries do have a function but the belief that it is the best way will preclude exploring other ways, that many times are much better ways to improve your vocabulary

Sometimes letting go of beliefs that are not serving us is like discarding a ball and chain that has been attached to our leg. Imagine how much freer you will feel once they are not there.

This list has just scratched the surface. Reflect a little on your experiences and attitudes.

Are there any there that I have not listed?

Have you seen some that are holding others back?

Do list them below for everyone’s benefit…


There are a number of great books on the power of beliefs. This book by Bruce Lipton is a classic, exploring the biological basis for the understanding of their power.

  • Samaneh

    That is truly correct. I think, especially in adult language learners, their preconceived beliefs about themselves are decisive factors in their language learning motivation.

  • Yes, Chinese does have unique challenges with its pictographs. It really depends on whether you need to learn to read and write. If not, it is not necessary to learn that to learn to speak. You could use Pinyin to support the speaking, if you need it.

  • Adel

    That’s really great reflection on language learning. It always take different path for people to learn a language, however what is the best for language learners I think is to keep involved in a real life situation a long side with educational sitting engagement. These are very informative tips for language learning seekers.

  • larbi

    well done!