Language learning obstacle: The need to get it right

I met with a group of Chinese immigrants to discuss language learning. This was a follow up to the research report that showed that Chinese speaking immigrants to Canada don’t improve in their English , even after seven years in the country, whereas Slavic speaking immigrants do improve. There are many possible reasons, including the greater similarity of Slavic languages to English. However, in our meeting, another major reason became obvious in our discussions.

These immigrants, mostly between 35 and 60 years of age, expected to understand what they read, sound like a native, remember words, and speak correctly.They stayed with the same lesson until they got it right. They disliked speaking because they sounded not right to themselves. Basically, after a while they stopped trying to learn. They concluded that they were no good at languages.

In fact, for a good long while in a new language I do not understand much, even when I listen over and over, and even after studying all the words. For the longest time,  I cannot pronounce properly and I cannot speak correctly. But I don’t mind, since I know that with enough exposure and practice, I cannot help but improve. I have done it many times.

These learners were too concerned with getting it right. What really matters is just doing it.

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