As a guy that’s spends a lot of his free time involved with teaching, language teaching, and traveling this often comes as a shock to many people. However, the truth is that language learners come in all personality types and backgrounds.
This article focuses on helping you introverts be more self-aware of your natural tendencies, the drawbacks of introvertism in language learning, and what you can do about it to ensure that you are using your introvertism in your favor and not allow it to become a hindrance to your fluency development.
INTROVERT TIP #1
Since you spend more time alone, you’re likely to want do more solo study and analyzing of your target language than an extrovert would.
Being an introverted language learner often means you're probably more likely to prefer grammar and vocabulary study over throwing yourself fearlessly into conversation. You probably tend to naturally be a bit more cerebral when it comes to a challenging mental task like learning a foreign language and you want to be approaching it in a systematic way. Why would blabbing away be more effective for building fluency than focusing in on the nuts and bolts of grammar and vocabulary?
As an motivated introverted language learner you’re more likely to be willing to "nerd out" and study with a language app, study grammar, and review past content such as vocabulary you’ve studied put together in a self-study course at Memrise.com. This can be an enormous advantage over many other language learners simply because so many are not willing to put in the tedious, hard work necessary to build a solid foundational base of knowledge. Grammar and vocabulary are the skeleton and meat of a language. However, interaction, negotiating meaning, and memorable experiences in a language that you are learning allow you to actually be skilled in applying your new abilities in real world settings.
All you have to realize is that in order to reach your goal of conversational fluency you must force yourself to seek balance and integrate enough speaking and interaction in your language each week. As an introvert, I have to also continuously remind myself of this as well. Introverts are great at convincing themselves that because they naturally feel more inclined to be on their own, that this is the best thing for them. Finding and maintaining balance is key!
INTROVERT TIP #2
You probably gain more pleasure from spending your time alone, reading and watching series and movies, than your average extrovert.
Receiving language input from reading, video, and audio in your target language is undeniably essential for building a robust vocabulary, high level grammatical usage, and ‘adult like’ level of fluency. However, just reading or watching and listening to video on it’s own, without taking action to become involved in meaningful interaction with the language can really slow down your progress. Regularly engaging in dialogue, learning how to learn from your mistakes, negotiating meaning in the language when you don’t understand something, and becoming comfortable amongst fluent speakers of your target language is mandatory for you to reach your desired level of fluency.
Despite the potential negatives, large amounts of reading has been proven studies on language acquisition to help not only in the most obvious of areas such as standard vocabulary growth and improvement in recognizing grammar features, but interestingly reading helps learners to subconsciously build up a mental representation of the language over time. Also, through reading, you are acquiring more obscure language structures like conjunctions, prepositions, and other connector words. Visual repetition of these words in their precise place and usage in the syntax of the language to which they belong is a great way to acquire them into your skillset.
Also, by being repeatedly exposed to native speakers via audio and video you’re also piecing together the mental representation of the language that you are developing in your mind. There is absolutely nothing wrong with large, consistent amounts of quality native input like books, movies, or series. Just bear in mind that by ONLY doing this you become a passive learner and never learn to fluently interact in the way that you dream of.
INTROVERT TIP #3
Since you derive much of your energy and happiness from alone time, you’re likely to seek out less social interaction and conversation with strangers than an extrovert would.
This means you're probably less likely to be motivated to seek to improve your language through conversation in a social setting, especially with a many people involved. You will likely enjoy and feel more comfortable doing “self-study” than immersing yourself in social environments, often having to meet new people and stretching yourself socially. The truth is, however, if you really want to be conversationally fluent in a language, you have to log hundreds to thousands of hours actually speaking it.
You are more likely to not prefer large group hangouts, but instead you can seek out smaller, more intimate ones. This is probably the most interesting ‘positive’ that you can pull from this since in smaller groups you have more opportunities to speak and in one-on-one scenarios, obviously, even more. Small group courses, private classes, and conversation exchange are arguably (however, true in my experience) the best environment in which to develop conversational fluency.
As someone more introverted than extroverted, I find myself comfortable in setting up several one-to-one online Portuguese or French conversation classes each week. I feel at ease, focused and engaged when I can focus on one native speaker at a time. Last summer, for example, I spent several months in Quebec City and Montreal where I would be excited and motivated to go to my small, 3 or 4 student, French conversation classes with our teacher, but I would be less enthusiastic to go to a larger language “meetup group”, where anywhere from 20-40 people might show up. Looking back, I recognize that I missed out on opportunities that I could had otherwise capitalized on, learned a great deal from, and probably made more friends and language partners. However, my point is that whether you tend to be more introverted or extroverted, it’s helpful to recognize your personality type and realize what your tendencies are when seeking to become the most effective language learner that you can be.
Whether introvert or extrovert, your average language learner has the same goals at the end of the day: speak and understand (and perhaps write and read) at something close to native skill level. It doesn't matter what your natural personality type is at the end of the day as long as you know which you tend to lean towards and the natural tendencies that come along with it. Take a look at who you are, make a plan based on that, and get started today!
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Levi Flint is a language teacher, learner, and traveler frustrated with how languages have been viewed and taught in North America. He hopes to change things with a bit of clarity, perspective, and common sense.