Extroverts and Introverts: Lessons for Language Learners

Extroverts and Introverts

Extroverts and Introverts: Lessons for Language Learners

Welcome to the 5-Week Linguist Show. If you want to learn a language or you teach a language, you’ve come to the right place. Join Janina each week for tips, resources, and advice for making engaging language learning happen anytime, anywhere.

Konnichiwa. Welcome to the 5-Week Linguist Show. Today I wanted to talk about extroversion and introversion in language learning. So I’ve been a teacher for a long time. And one thing that it has really surprised me, I didn’t expect to be a teacher this long that’s for sure. I didn’t expect to see people in such a different way, working with so many of them. You work with hundreds of people every year to include your parents and colleagues and students add that up over a few years. And it doesn’t take a few years to get into the thousands. And I’ve come to the conclusion that people are so much more… we’re very simple in many ways, we all want the same things, right? I think as humans, we all just want to feel safe. We want to feel accepted. We want to laugh. We want to feel loved. I think it’s really simple.

And how we express that of course is in different ways. We’re all the same in that way. But then we’re also unique, very obviously. And as a language teacher, I always think about personality traits and how I can maximize the personality traits of the people I work with, particularly students, of course, to help them get the best results that don’t feel unnatural to them. One challenge that I found as a language teacher is perfectionism. And a lot of really high achieving students have a lot of perfectionist tendencies, as you can well imagine. They want to do things well. They want to do things really well and they work hard and they try at it.

And that’s fantastic. An effort is amazing and they’re wonderful people to work with, but languages can become a challenge because it’s something that you have to accept that you’re going to do. You’re going to just keep stumbling through for a really long time and you have to get comfortable with that, or else you’ll quit. You have to really manage your expectations, that this is new and I’m just going to get through it. And that of course doesn’t seem to fit well with those of us with perfectionist tendencies, right? And a lot of perfectionist would rather not do something if they don’t think that they’re going to do it really well, in my experience.

Extrovert or Introvert?

So it got me thinking about extroversion and introversion. And extroversion is one of the big five personality traits. And you’re going to have to forgive me if some of my verbiage is incorrect, because I’m not a personality researcher. I’m not a psychiatrist, not a psychologist. I’m not… I studied these things really for the practical side of it. And of course, extroversion is one of these and it’s one of the five core traits. And it’s characterized by being talkative and open and being excitable, being warrant, being assertive, being cheerful, loving being the center of attention, being really friendly, being really engaging.

And then it’s a continuum, right? So we have people who tend to be a lot more extroverted or high in extroversion. I believe they call it. Introverts are low in that, right? They tend to be quiet and they tend to be reserved and they tend to be less involved and they tend to be… Or seem less involved rather. And I think about this with language learning. So Benny Lewis, is super extroverted. He loves talking to people. So it’s no surprise that once he figured out how to get the language that he needed to do so, that he started doing so. And he learned, I don’t even know how many languages he speaks. Seven, maybe. So that isn’t a surprise. And so getting over those shy bits, wasn’t particularly difficult for him. But he’ll tell you his listening skills could be a real challenge.

So, he got me thinking about extroversion and introversion. So how do we use that to become better language learners and teachers? So extroversion and introversion, I see as a continuum and most of us are somewhere in between. And I think that they both have real strengths. So people who are extroverted, they tend to be risk takers and they want to get out there and they want to be in front of people and they want to talk and they want to take action. It’s kind of, you think about leaders who do that, right? You think about those people who really want to put themselves out there. And then you have introverts, who think a lot before they speak and they really consider carefully what other people are talking about. They have a lot of compassion. They listen.

So you go back to the research and these are both of these things that appear to be on opposite sides of the spectrum, of where our personalities might be. How do you take those things and apply them to the research? So we know that we learn from input, right? We learn from comprehensible input and we know we all go through the natural order, right? We go through stages of mastering different grammars and languages. So how do you marry the fact, right? How do you listen and read, right? Spend lots of time in input and then make that progression through those different stages, so that you can master the grammar that you’re picking up.

And I thought about a few activities that we do commonly to learn languages. And I wanted to put a few in there for people who see themselves as more introverted and people who see themselves in more extroverted, because I think the extroverts can learn a lot from the introverts and the introverts can learn a lot from the extroverts. I think the extroverts are great with their bravery. And I think they’re excellent with their willingness to talk and their willingness to put themselves out there.

And I think those are really great leadership skills, but I think the introverts have just as much to offer with regard to leadership, they really listen and they’re really careful and thoughtful about what they say and what they do. So introverts, if I were to suggest language activities that were more appropriate for introverts, I would suggest anything that involves quiet, listening and reading. Right? We have two ears and one mouth, we have two eyes and one brain. I definitely try to listen and read twice as much as I speak or I write a process that I input. Invest a lot of your time in activities that allow you to learn language by listening, reading, observing, and thinking.


Extroverts, I think extroverts can take a lot of lessons from this. That you can invest a lot of time in input and not lose any traction. One thing I tend to see sometimes is something called fossilization. And I think that this can happen if you’re really quick to speak, which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. And sometimes we get stuck in some patterns of not listening to the output that’s coming towards us. And maybe we’ve memorized some phrases and words to communicate with people and they’re not necessarily grammatically correct. And we just keep saying that because we’re not listening to the other side, I’m definitely guilty of it.

But to really consider that one mouth and those two ears, that can really help you move forward in your skills, right? Introverts or careful listeners, readers, and thinkers. And I think the extroverts can really benefit from that. Extroverts, extroverts put themselves out there. They’re the first ones to talk. They take advantage of the talking time in a language class, they get on places like Italki. They aren’t shy about doing language exchange and they don’t care about their skills. They’re not overly thinking something. Those are the people who… Again, back to the research the theories, those people who are really extroverted might under monitor, Krashen’s monitor hypothesis. They might under monitor, right? And their accuracy is going to suffer. But you know what? They’re communicating.

Those people take any and every opportunity they can to talk to people in a language, the extrovert. Introverts, what introverts can learn from that, put yourself out there more. If you’re scared, because I tend to be… A part of me is a bit of a perfectionist. And I definitely like to have a little bit of confidence before I go ahead and do things. And I’m also very thoughtful in what I say, because I’m a teacher. I have to be, I can’t… I have to really use the time that I’m with people to make sure that certain things are talked about. So I definitely think about things pretty thoroughly before I implement them.

If going on Italki or going to a language school abroad or any of those things terrify you, getting on language exchange, getting on your phone and getting on HelloTalk, just talk to yourself every day. And even if it just means reading a list, spend four minutes a day and then work up to five minutes a day and then 10 minutes a day. Do it every day for five weeks. Do it every day for five weeks, you can even give yourself weekends off. Just make yourself that promise that you will talk to yourself in your target language. Maybe you want to record it and listen to it. And you’ll feel yourself getting over your shyness. I think there’s so much value in both ends of the spectrum of this continuum of personality traits. And I think that we’ve got so much to learn from both sides of the spectrum.


So thinking about some of our leaders in linguistics and the practical side of it, the applied side of it online, I think about Steve Kaufman. And I would say he might be more of an introvert, as far as language learning goes. He focuses on input. He processes the grammar and the vocabulary that he’s taking in that he’s reading and that he’s listening to. And he focuses more on that than anything else in the world. Anything else that he does, right? Because that’s where you learn languages is from the input, right? And we can’t… That’s an amazing takeaway, that you want to speak 20 plus… I don’t even know how many languages Steve Kaufman speaks. Somebody put it in the comments. I have no idea. It’s a lot whatever it is, it’s a lot. It’s so much that Stephen Krashen study name is a hyperpolyglot. I mean the guy’s amazing. And even if he’s not an introvert, he’s using introverted strategies, right? He’s using input.

Let’s go to the other end of the spectrum. Benny Lewis, complete extrovert. He memorized some words and phrases and gets talking to people and then it gets all that input back. He’s pretty successful language learner too. So I think that the takeaways, if you really want to learn the language fast, is to marry those things together. Right? The best of the introverts, what that tells us is that we don’t need language classes necessarily. We don’t need to travel. All we need is some input, right? That could be something we read, something we listened to. It’s available completely online. I know LingQ, he does lots of input lists in different languages. So there’s lots of content there.

You could get most of your language learning out of that. If you’re not studying… If you’re not traveling abroad or you don’t have people to talk to you necessarily. And then marry it with the big takeaways from Benny Lewis, which is talking, right. Talk on Italki, talk on HelloTalk. If you’re scared, you could talk to yourself. I think that both of these personality traits, putting them together is just like Krashen’s Learning Acquisition. Using those things together makes for the perfect language/acquisition marriage. Until next time.


Reading in a foreign language http://reallifelanguage.com/reallifelanguageblog/2017/02/15/tools-reading-foreign-language/

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