Posted by: lyonenglishnetwork | October 14, 2012

Learning languages is not like learning mathematics

I was talking to a guy today after playing badminton the other side of Lyon.

He was actually the owner (I think) of the badminton place where we were playing. He said he never focused on history or geography at school, because he never found any interest in it. He was interested in maths, because he said it was useful, but he certaily wasn’t interested in languages. In fact, he said he’d never really been much further than 10 km from where he lived. 

He told me a story about how he was training people in how to use ‘paint’ – the computer programme but never became interested in it until someone told him, it was actually quite easy, all you have to do is copy ‘n paste.

That’s kind of how languages are, they’re actually quite easy. Too many people think that languages are hard – they’re not hard, you just have to know how to approach them. If you get caught up on grammar (as many a commentator on the web will tell you), you might get stuck. But if you focus on learning vocabulary, listening and speaking, you’ll be just fine. Really, you will. 

Get familiar with the language first, and then use it. English is the same, except that it’s at a different frequency from French, but it’s possible to tune your ear to it, I’m convinced of that. In fact, lots of people do.

So, here are my top tips:

  • enjoy the language
  • listen and read to a variety of material
  • try and listen to authentic material as much as possible even if it goes quickly at the beginning
  • do intensive listening sessions (download material from websites like: and listen several times a week on your mobile phone, .mp3 player or computer)
  • regularity is key
  • long-term learning is key
  • once you’re familiar with the language, speak regularly
  • be confident: you’ll get there in the end, it may (no, it will) take some time but you’ll get there
  • try to use typical expressions

Learning languages is easy, really, it is… it just takes time, and some effort. And it’s not like learning mathematics – in mathematics, you only have one right answer most of the time, in languages, there are many different ways to speak and learn. 



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