Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as being “naturally” good at languages. Rather, people who are good at languages share certain beliefs, habits, and characteristics that allow them to excel at learning new languages.
1. People who are good at languages aren’t afraid to make mistakes
Like any other accomplishment, fluency in a new language requires that the learner not hold back for fear of messing up. Even while speaking in our native tongues, we are inevitably going to make mistakes. Successful language learners understand that they will make mistakes, whether it be in their pronunciation, syntax, conjugation, or vocabulary. Instead of hesitating so as to avoid making a mistake, they give it their best and know that if they mess up, they will at least learn something new when they are corrected.
2. People who are good at languages look for patterns
Most languages work in a systematic and predictable way. Successful language learners look for patterns in language that are not explicitly pointed out by an instructor. While an instructor will teach the most obvious patterns in language, like verb conjugation, it is up to the learner to seek and find other patterns, such as those in sentence structure and word roots.
3. People who are good at languages actively embrace the culture of their target language
While there are different theories about the exact relationship between language and culture, i.e., which one “came first”, there is no doubt that the two go hand in hand. Attempting to learn a language in an exclusively grammatical manner will never allow you to reap all of the benefits of learning the language. Successful language learners are eager to learn the gestural and nonverbal mannerisms of the culture of their target language. This includes embracing cultural values or norms that might be starkly different from the ones you are used to.
4. People who are good at languages have patience… a lot of it
This ties heavily in with number one. Learning any skill takes practice, and it is easy to become frustrated, and maybe even quit if you don’t immediately understand a grammar concept or can’t seem to remember a vocabulary word. Successful languages learners know that you don’t learn a new language overnight. They set reasonable goals and know that fluency takes time.
5. People who are good at languages use their target language whenever they can
Everybody knows the saying “use it or lose it”. The more you practice the things you learn from your instructor, the closer you will get to fluency. It is not enough to simply learn the material, take a test, do well and move on. Successful language learners take every opportunity they get to use their target language. They attempt to think in the language, talk to native speakers, and use what they learn outside of the classroom.
6. People who are good at languages want to learn
Many people study languages in order to gain some kind of worldly advantage, which is most often a leg-up in their field or business. Especially when studying a language to meet a school requirement, people do not put in the effort required to accomplish fluency. While wanting to stand out in your sector or pass a class is perfectly fine, you will find that you are selling yourself incredibly short. Successful language learners are eager to learn for learning’s sake. Sure, in the process they might get an A in a class or add a skill to their resume, but learning the language is always the priority.
In short, learning a new language is impossible unless you absolutely throw yourself into the task. Understand and accept that, like with everything, there will be good days and bad days. The only way you can maximize your good days is to be actively involved in the process.