When learning a new language, it helps to lean on your introvert strengths, like active listening and deep thinking.
I’m standing at the front of a sun-drenched classroom, note cards in hand, trying not to make eye contact with my classmates or the bright light from the projector. Then I take a deep breath and start speaking. But the words that leave my mouth are not my native language, English. They’re German, and I’m saying them in front of native speakers.
Yes, I’m terrified. Yes, every introvert instinct is yelling, Run!
But I do it anyway.
Plus, it’s partly my introversion that’s gotten me to this point.
Learning another language requires putting ourselves out there (even if we’re intimidated or shy) if we truly want to become fluent. But it’s also possible to do it in an introvert-friendly way. Looking back, although there were some challenges that came with learning a new language as an introvert, there were many ways my introversion helped me become more confident with my language ability.
My Language-Learning Background
Before jumping in, however, I want to share some context about my own language-learning experiences and how they shaped my understanding of doing so as an introvert.
First, I love learning languages. I am a full-on language nerd. So I’m writing this through the lens of someone who enjoys that process and has been learning other languages for 20-plus years.
Second, my experiences learning the two languages that I’m most comfortable with outside of English (German and Italian) have been vastly different. I learned German within the structure of a college classroom at first, then grew that knowledge through studying and working in German-speaking countries on three separate occasions.
With Italian, however, from the beginning, I learned it more closely to how people learn their native language, and have never taken a formal class, though I’d like to! It was all immersion and getting thrown in the deep end, with a whole lot of self-study, reading, and listening in the mix.
Each experience both challenged me, as well as drew from my introvert strengths.
However, keep in mind that every person, introvert or extrovert, learns another language in their own way and at their own pace. I hope that sharing my experience helps my fellow introverts who may be nervous about any stage of that process. Here are my top ways to learn a new language as an introvert.
7 Ways to Best Learn a New Language as an Introvert
1. Access your introvert strengths, like being perceptive and actively listening.
While introverts can experience challenges (like everyone else!) when pursuing a hobby, like learning a new language, there are also aspects of our personalities that can come in very handy. Here are some of the main ones:
- Listen — really listen. Sometimes (or oftentimes!) we so prefer listening to talking! We can easily hang back and take in a conversation. Listening is essential when learning to speak another language, and it allows us to absorb sounds, vocabulary, and idioms.
- Work at your own pace. Because introverts tend to work well alone, we can zero in on the task at hand on our own, especially if it’s something we’re deeply interested in. Quiet language-learning activities, like studying vocabulary, reading a story, or paying attention to song lyrics, may come naturally to us.
- Practice honest self-reflection to see what learning styles seem to work best. Introverts are deep thinkers (and overthinkers), which comes in handy when learning a new language. So, from time to time, take an honest inner look at how you’re doing. What makes you the most nervous when you’re speaking? What types of vocabulary do you stumble over? Which grammatical concepts are just not clicking? Honest self-reflection when learning another language is key if we want to help ourselves.
- Be perceptive — hone in on nonverbal clues, too. Whether we’re living among native speakers or just trying to learn the language as much as possible through, for example, film and TV (more on that below!), our ability to pick up on nonverbal cues can help us. We may be able to figure out meanings even if we don’t exactly understand each word. Does someone seem upset or happy when speaking? What kinds of facial expressions are they making? What’s their body language telling us? What general vibes are we getting from them? Plus, introverts’ natural tendency toward empathy can have our emotions-radar on alert when trying to understand another language.
- Remember to be patient — learning a language does not happen overnight. Learning another language requires enormous patience, mainly with ourselves. We want to be fluent, and we may experience a certain eagerness to get to that arbitrary finish line. But introverts also like to be prepared, and a key part of being prepared is patience. We know we need to learn vocabulary in order to understand, and the grammar to communicate effectively. We can work slowly and steadily toward fluency if we use our other introvert strengths to support that goal.
- Get creative — learning a new language is about a lot more than reading books or taking classes. Introverts tend to be creative, and we can use that to figure out ways to learn that work best for us, and how we can have fun with it! Once you start brainstorming, you’ll see there are plenty of ways to do this. But, below, I offer several suggestions, too…
2. Utilize language apps, like Duolingo and Babbel.
Learning another language, despite its challenges, can be fun and introvert-friendly. It definitely pushes us out of our comfort zone, but there are ways to challenge ourselves so that we stay true to ourselves while still growing at the same time.
The 21st century has brought about some wonderful ways to learn another language. With language-learning apps — like Duolingo and Babbel, for example — it’s easy to learn independently. And no talking-to-others necessary! We just need to recite out loud to ourselves.
3. Listen to podcasts and songs in the language.
Podcasts or songs in your target language are also a fantastic way to learn. I love listening to radio apps, or to a song and following along with lyrics. These are great ways to pick up vocabulary, idioms, and to sharpen your listening skills.
And you can do this anywhere, whether you’re cleaning the house, taking a walk, driving to work, before bed as part of your evening routine, and so on.
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4. Watch TV shows and films, too.
There are other creative ways to absorb the language you’re learning, too. For example, some streaming services have voice tracks or subtitles in a range of languages. When you watch a certain show, adjust the settings to your preferences. Maybe you’d like to watch it dubbed and subtitled in the language you’re learning. Or maybe you’d prefer to split it, dubbed in the language you’re learning with subtitles in your native language, or vice-versa.
For instance, I recently watched The Princess Diaries dubbed in Italian, because I know the movie extremely well. While I started the movie with English subtitles, I eventually switched them over to Italian, since I already knew what they were saying in English. Within about a minute, I noticed how quickly I was picking up expressions in Italian!
I’ve watched baking shows this way, as well, and it’s so much fun. With any show that has a clear context like that, it’s also easy to understand what’s happening, so it’s just as easy to guess what they’re probably saying.
5. Read books and magazines in the language you’re learning.
I’ve also read books I know well in other languages. For instance, I’ve read most of the Harry Potter series in German, and the first book I read in Italian was a translation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. Plus, we introverts are big readers anyway, so why not combine the learning-a-new-language with some leisurely reading?
6. Take a language class, either online or in person.
Although the tips above are all great ways to learn a new language, and are extremely introvert-friendly, in order to become truly fluent, other people need to eventually be part of the language-learning process.
One of these is taking a language class. If you’re especially nervous about doing that, try a smaller class. It may seem intimidating because everyone is expected to talk, but it’s a great way to learn and get plenty of individual attention, too.
My very first German class had six people in it. Yes, I had to spend a lot of time talking. But I was with a group of people who were all learning, as well, and we had to figure things out together. It was incredibly supportive and fun, and is part of the reason why I stuck with learning a language that was a challenge, grammar-wise.
7. Practice one-on-one speaking.
Another introvert-friendly language-learning activity is through one-on-one speaking. I strongly recommend finding a tandem partner for a language exchange. A tandem partner is someone you meet with who is a native speaker or fluent in your target language. Meanwhile, they want to learn your native language!
Introverts love forming deep connections with people, and this is a fun way to do so and for you both to learn at the same time. For a language partner, you can look at local colleges, on online forums (like on Facebook), or on Meetup.com.
Remember: Draw on Your Introvert Strengths
When, if, all else fails, draw on your introvert strengths.
Remember that presentation I had to give German in front of native speakers? Relying on my introvert superpowers definitely helped! One, I’d rehearsed and was ready, and was confident enough in my language ability to string sentences together if I had to answer a question or speak off the cuff. I didn’t have to read from an exact script, but I had a few critical sentences written out word-by-word just in case. Two, I’d successfully given loads of presentations in my native language before, and knew I’d stop being nervous after I was warmed up — I usually stop shaking after about 30 seconds! Three, I reminded myself to be proud for having the nerve to give a presentation in another language at all!
Yes, learning another language can challenge introverts, especially in terms of needing to put ourselves out there. But it also draws on our strengths, which makes it fun and incredibly rewarding. Plus, we can then travel to the country in question so we can practice the language around locals… or at least go to a bakery and order a pastry and coffee. One step at a time, right?
My fellow introverts, what tips would you add to the list? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Do you ever struggle to know what to say?
As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.
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