If there is one area that many people overlook when learning a second language, that is mindset.
But what do we mean by a second language?
For some, it might be about speaking Spanish, French, Chinese or any other language. But for teachers and academics, second language learning is also called second language acquisition (SLA).
A second language is not the first native language you learn as a child because you were born into the language and culture and learned fast. It was your way of surviving through communication as you developed.
A second language is learnt for a different reason.
You might want to learn a second language to increase your career opportunities, to talk with friends, to communicate in business, to help your children at school or for any other reason that makes you want to learn.
You could learn a second language as an older child, a teenager or an adult of any age.
However, learning a second language requires a purpose, motivation, and perseverance to become competent.
Second language acquisition (SLA)
Second language learning includes a complex mix of different perspectives. For example, there is the psychology and neuroscience behind why and how we learn; socio-cultural aspects of language learning and education help with the structure and rules of learning, and linguistics are also important in speaking the language. Contributions from all areas are necessary in language learning.
If we look at some of the theories behind learning a second language, they do include unconscious learning, but many people don’t consider this when they want to learn a language.
I believe a positive mindset is essential to learning a successful second language and becoming fluent. Let go of unconscious barriers and learn to enjoy learning.
What do we mean when we say mindset?
Mindset is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving. It’s based on beliefs. Depending on your perspective, some people would also call it a philosophy in life that helps us progress or keeps us stuck.
Carol Dweck researched mindsets and concluded that there was a continuum between a fixed mindset at one end of the scale and a growth mindset at the other end.
With a fixed mindset, little changes, but a growth mindset is about learning and development.
To develop a growth mindset, one needs to reflect on one’s self-limiting beliefs and understand where they are in the present and where they want to be in the future. A growth mindset is linked to achievement.
Five elements of building a positive mindset
So, when learning a second language, you can make it easier by thinking and behaving differently and building that positive mindset.
Here are five elements that are needed.
If you don’t feel motivated, then you won’t want to put the effort into learning. And believe me, you do need to make some effort to learn a second language because you may need to learn how to pronounce words and understand the meaning and culture. Furthermore, different expressions will be used in different countries that speak the same language.
Consider how many ways you might say ‘hello’ in your own language because there will also be many ways to say it in your second language as well.
Start with your intention or a purpose that will help you last through difficult times and help you when you are in embarrassing or complex situations.
And there needs to be plenty of effort to keep going to understand the many aspects of language learning, including the culture and grammar rules.
Motivation can increase with external rewards such as praise from others or monetary gains through learning the language for career prospects. However, with a positive growth mindset, people get motivated by internal motivators such as achievement.
Develop your motivation by mixing with positive people and clarifying why you want to learn another language.
Understanding how to learn
There are ways to improve learning. Someone with a positive mindset will seek out new ways. For example, they might ask about new language apps or investigate language groups to socialise with.
Using mnemonics, books and workbooks, going to classes, hiring a private tutor and moving to the country are ways that help.
Once you know that variety in learning and fun are beneficial, you can find new ways that suit you. Some people enjoy watching movies in a second language. Others might learn how to sing songs in the language while developing new friends with the same interest will also help.
But there may be hidden barriers to learning, such as bad experiences at school that result in feeling not good enough or boring language teachers at school that make learning grammar unbearable.
Unfortunately, when other personal difficulties, such as high levels of work or personal stress or anxiety, are present, learning is difficult as the body is dealing with the fight or flight responses. This results in learning going on the back burner. Therefore, you must reduce or remove additional stressors and learn to relax to improve learning and memory.
Get help if needed. Find new ways to remember things and shock yourself with how much vocabulary you can learn quickly when you know how to focus on what you want.
Attitude to change
Change is inevitable, but many people fear change because it’s going into unknown territory. They may also be comfortable where they are and do not consider change as important.
On the other hand, people who have a growth mindset want to change because they want to achieve something and learn. This is why a positive, growth mindset is important for second language learning.
When you learn a second language, you often make new friends, go to different social venues or commit to classes every week, so change your usual timetable.
You will change many behaviours when learning a second language to fit the culture, especially if you go to the country. For example, if you are learning Chinese and go to China, you may need to learn to eat with chopsticks when eating out! This means that you have additional learning that you might not have considered when you chose to speak the language.
You need a positive mindset to deal with challenging times.
Join a language support group or do a language exchange programme with someone who can teach you the language and customs, and you can help them learn your language.
Consistency is important with everything, but someone with a growth mindset will realise the progress that they are making and will strive to meet their goals.
Choose to do something small, say, read a grammar book for 20 minutes each day rather than sitting down to read the whole book in one day.
Develop a new positive habit to learn the language and timetable it into your schedule.
Closely related to consistency is practice.
As a language learner, you need lots of reading, writing and speaking practice.
People often ask how long they should practice speaking a second language, but practice needs to be different for different people because we all have different abilities to listen, read, write, speak and learn.
Building a vocabulary to ask for things in another language might take weeks or months; however, understanding the colloquial language and customs of the country could take years.
Practice with a buddy will help.
How to build a positive mindset in language learning
Finally, if you want to learn a second language but feel stuck because of past experiences, stress, anxiety or negative feelings, these things need to change first, so I would like to help.
I am a specialist in helping with the psychological difficulties of language learning, but I also understand the main aspects of language learning and the pressures of exams.
Many years ago, I qualified as a TEFL (teaching English as a second language), but most of my interest and qualifications are in helping people to overcome personal problems, such as stress, anxiety and difficulties progressing in life, through knowledge and skills in healthcare, psychology, counselling, hypnotherapy and coaching.
If you need help with motivation, setting goals, developing positive habits and letting go of the barriers that are holding you back, please book an appointment.