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How Introverts & Extroverts Learn Second Languages

By Yana Schottenstein

There are several misconceptions about how personality traits correlate to language learning.

Many people falsely believe that introverts have an innate, superior cognitive ability that helps them to understand a new language. At the same time, other people falsely believe that extroverts are better at human communication in general, so this helps them speak a new language better.

To learn a second language, it takes determination and a variety of practice techniques - and introverts and extroverts alike can become fluent speakers of any language they work hard at, regardless of personality type!

Generally, though, introverts and extroverts seem to prefer slightly different ways of learning new languages, even if both personality types get to the same result. Here are just a few varying ways that introverts and extroverts might learn a second language.

Introverts hear grammar

During conversations, introverts tend to listen to other people, and are more comfortable weighing the exact meaning of words before they speak. When studying a second language, introverts will habitually listen to each individual meaning of a new word, and discern how different grammatical rules in a language will rearrange the order of words and phrases.

Whereas many people may choose to learn grammar and syntax rules through textbook learning, some introverts can absorb grammar rules simply by listening and being accustomed to others' conversation.

Extroverts seek out conversation

For extroverts, talking with others and sharing social experiences is energizing and motivational. This is especially helpful for practicing speaking skills. Extroverts perform well when learning in a classroom setting, because there is constant encouragement to practice speaking with neighbors.

If abroad, some extroverts may even feel comfortable approaching strangers and speaking the local language with them. The ability to practice a new language with a fluent speaker can be a huge asset in language learning.

Introverts have large passive vocabularies

As mentioned above, introverts often listen to a group conversation, and they prefer to take the opportunity to practice one-on-one with a friend in a more comfortable setting later. Because introverts listen more than they might speak, they pick up words that otherwise fly by too quickly in the conversation, and piece together that word's meaning through context clues. As a result, introverts might have a large passive vocabulary - words that they understand and can use in a written sentence, but generally do not use in spoken language.

Extroverts recollect personal stories

When extroverts practice speaking skills, they tend to tell stories about people they personally know. Extroverts will share actual experiences or anecdotes, and in part, a speaking exercise becomes a social exchange. In contrast, introverts are more likely to use articles ("a", "the") when speaking, as they tend to discuss hypothetical subjects.

For example, if prompted to use 'jump' in a sentence, an extrovert is more likely to tell a story like: "My brother jumps over the car", as opposed to: "The boy jumps over the car."

Learning a second language is a highly personal experience, and people simply learn best in different ways. Although there are slight, generalized differences between how introverts and extroverts experience a second language, in the end, both personalities have equal ability to become fluent in a new language! In fact, numerous studies on the correlation between personality and language learning skills have failed to come up with a statistically significant distinction between how well introverts and extroverts learn a language. Introverts and extroverts may prefer different language practice techniques, but ultimately there is no evidence that one set of techniques is more effective than another set.

What do you think? Have you noticed how your personality might affect the way you prefer to learn languages?

About the writer

Yana Schottenstein, founder of Access 2 Interpreters, contributed content to this article. Access 2 Interpreters is a leading translation and interpretation company in Columbus.

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