Why is it that some people have a difficult time learning a language while others seem to do it effortlessly? When I was a new English teacher, it always surprised me how my students always fell into 2 categories: Those who had experienced learning English in their youth as something fun and cool and those who had experienced it as difficult and tiring. What was more surprising was that a student's ability to learn English didn't necessarily have to do with intelligence but instead had everything to do with with how they experienced English learning when they were younger. The difference was significant.
Let me give you an example: Here in Israel, Latin soap operas "Telanovelas" are very popular especially among teenage girls. A friend of mine told me that when his daughter was a teenager, it would drive him crazy to see her watching "that garbage" all the time. Although I agree with him that the content of those soap operas probably isn't ideal, the story ends when his daughter turned 20, she landed in Bolivia for a six-month trip in South America speaking fluent Spanish.
In another example, I had an English student who wanted to start a business importing foodstuffs from India. He told me: "Ariel, when I was young, I wasn't smart enough to understand the importance of English. I only listed to music in Hebrew and had no interest in listening to songs in English." Despite the fact that he had a very low English level, he was very motivated and excited about learning and within a relatively short period of time was able to achieve a high level that really surprised us both.
I have come to believe that learning English is less about talent and more about perspective. Maybe I can say that talent =
perspective. Sometimes when someone has difficulty learning English, it has to do with a negative childhood experience related to English learning. Sometimes it has to do with anxiety that developed in later years. When I imagine a block to language learning, it looks like a net or a filter that covers the prefrontal cortex of the brain.
Try for a moment to imagine an untalented teacher in primary school. The teacher is monotonous, boring and doesn't know how to handle schoolchildren. Do you remember an experience like that? We have all had them. How did you feel towards the teacher? Maybe you felt resistance, difficulty or repulsion.
Now imagine you're in your early 20's and single. You meet the mate of your dreams at the beach. You have an instant attraction to each other. This person is beautiful, American doesn't understand a word in your native language. Your new romantic relationship has just begun. How does your motivation to study English look now? Now there is excitement! Elation! Dopamine bursting in your brain!
This is what I mean when I talk about perspective. From my experience with my many students, perspective can be changed at any age.
I agree that it's hard to compete with a new love but the question is: "How can we give ourselves a positive experience when learning English?" When I teach, I look for subjects that excite my students. Graphic design? Metallica? Manchester United? I find that reading articles, learning from songs and even watching videos on subjects that interest us enables something inside us to open up.