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Urban Language Myths: “You Just Pick It Up!”

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A must read for anyone who has ever wrestled with learning another language! You SOOOO do NOT just “pick it up!”

Lady Of The Cakes

“Have you heard? Dave’s moving to Egypt.”
“Does he speak Arabic…?”
“No, but he’s good with languages, he’ll just pick it up!”

I take it we’re all familiar with this conversation.

OK, let me hand it to you straight: A language is not a bunch of keys you’ve just dropped onto the floor or a box of washing powder. Nor is it a venereal disease. You do not “just pick it up” by casually passing through a supermarket or someone’s bodily fluids.

The harsh truth is this: Learning a language is darn hard work. There are days when you just want to hammer your head against a pebbledashed wall.

A widely held – and wildly unhelpful – misconception is that one must possess this magical quality called a “talent for languages” to learn a second language in adulthood.

Let me tell you this: Talent is hugely overrated. To succeed at…

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  1. Hey, thanks very much for the reblog 🙂

  2. Thanks for this post. I’m torn. On the one hand, many Africans and Indians describe their multilingualism as just “picking up”a language. They look funny at Americans who struggle and don’t get very far.

    On the other hand, learning languages does take a ton of work. You have to listen, speak, fail, study, and fail some more. I’m good at languages, but it’s because so much of my free time goes into working on them.

    So I don’t know – how much do people need to work to learn languages?

    You’ve made me think! Thank you very much!

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