“I’m not like you. You’re gifted at languages”. If I had a penny for all the times I heard that, I’d be rich! Well, OK I wouldn’t be rich, but I would be able to get a good sandwich somewhere. ;-)
More seriously, it is a sentence I’ve heard over and over again “oui mais pour toi c’est facile” (for you it’s easy). If I tell anyone who’s learning a language that “hey I did it, so can you” the answer I get is “yeah, but that’s because you’re good at languages, I'm not”. Seriously I’m not particularly good at it, and you're most likely not bad at it. Also, "I did it so can you" is not a sentence I say anymore. I've learned that as a coach, it's definitely not a good move ;-)
I'm not gifted at learning languages. Speaking
more than 1 language doesn’t necessarily mean you’re gifted; it could also be that you’re good at learning a language, or that you grew up in an environement where there was more than one language - reminder: many countries worldwide are (at least) bilingual. If the country itself is not officially bilingual, the people are (depending on their region, etc.).
I’m bilingual - French and English. And by bilingual, I mean deeply, in my soul. I should, however, be trilingual. I’m almost unforgivable. I was born in Algeria when Algeria was a bilingual country - French and Arabic, but I left before I could read or write it. I moved to London at age 5, so I learned to read and write in English. I was in an English school and didn’t have a choice: that’s not talent. It’s survival.
I learned Spanish because I loved it so much (you can read about it here) and I was very good at Spanish because I started learning it at college in the US. In my classes, I was the only completely fluent person in a similar language (French), so Spanish came more easily to me. I had a headstart right there. But you know what? I wasn’t the best in my class. Why? Because I’m not gifted in languages, I have to work to learn them and I wasn't working very hard, I relied on my French.
What I do have is passion. I am passionate about languages. Understanding a new language opens doors to whole new worlds (and I love new worlds!). I also love words, and I love knowing where they come from and how they came about.
That passion is my drive. That’s why I’m good at learning languages rather than “gifted at languages.”
And when you’re passionate about something, you’re happy when you get to work with your passion. Your brain is happy, and learning becomes much easier (read more about happiness and learning here).
“Interest is at once a cognitive state and an affective state, what Silvia calls a “knowledge emotion.” The feelings that characterize interest are overwhelmingly positive: a sense of being energized and invigorated, captivated and enthralled. As for its effects on cognition: interest effectively turbocharges our thinking. When we’re interested in what we’re learning, we pay closer attention; we process the information more efficiently; we employ more effective learning strategies, such as engaging in critical thinking, making connections between old and new knowledge, and attending to deep structure instead of surface features. When we’re interested in a task, we work harder and persist longer, bringing more of our self-regulatory skills into play.”*
The question hence is not whether or not I’m gifted, but how I learn languages. I learn languages from a positive state of mind. Not as a chore. That’s an initial clue.