We were honoured to have some of our French students with us this year at the Arabic Intensive and we decided to do an Arabic lesson in French. Now my French is shocking, Anisa and I did one month weekly French class at some adult learning centre and that’s about as much formal French as we know. That said, I try and take every opportunity to speak with people and use what little words I know. I think the main reason why people struggle to learn a new language is their fear of speaking. A lot of people say to me, I don’t want to speak, I just want to understand. That’s fine, and I know a lot of people who are brilliant when it comes to translating texts but when it comes to uttering a few words in Arabic they get really anxious and become paralysed. In my view, speaking only enhances your memory and ability to learn. Language understanding, comprehension and speech is known to occur in the Broca’s area of the brain, the more that part of the brain is firing, the more you’re going to learn and retain.
I believe the real reason why people can’t speak is because they have an innate fear of failure, a fear of looking like an idiot. Kids don’t have this fear, and that is why they can learn so many languages. It’s only when we acquire this fear later on in life that we limit our ability to learn new languages. To speak, you need to do what’s uncomfortable, you have to fail constantly and be comfortable being in awkward situations. If you’ve got a perfectionist personality, this could be somewhat daunting because constant failure leaves you rather vulnerable. And I’ll be honest, I’ve just lost count of the amount of times I’ve been put down, laughed at and made fun of. And the same is likely to happen to you. But that’s ok, because you’re not doing it for these people, you’re doing it for you. Confronting this fear of failure, and failing regularly, is often the best way to learn.