Here’s the fourth episode of the free language learning mini series.
Episode 4 – Emotions and Language Learning(Podcast at the end of the transcript)
David: Hello and welcome to another episode of this miniseries brought to you by Luca Lampariello and yours truly, David Mansaray. Today we’re going to be speaking about something that is very close to my heart, and that is emotions and language learning. To be more specific, what role emotions play in your success as a language learner and what are some of the things that we can experience, something that I don’t think is discussed enough because I see it in a lot of people where their emotions are controlling them more, not allowing them to take their learning to the next stage.
So, before we get started, I need to say hello to Luca! How are you doing today Luca?
Luca: Hi David! I’m doing great, I’m doing great. The weather’s fantastic. I know I mention it all the time, but the weather plays a huge role in my life. If the weather is great I feel great as well.
David: For those of you who are listening to this, this is the second time recording this and I mentioned Luca always mentions the weather. So, if you go back to any interview he and I have recorded or watch a YouTube video and somebody says “how are you doing, Luca?” and it’s “yeah, the weather’s great you know. It’s sunny. I’m in Rome or I’m in Paris.”
Luca: That’s true.
David: Okay, so let’s get straight into this. So, Luca, my first question to you is going to be something that is quite general but I think it’s a great place for us to start. And, that is what role do emotions play in the process of learning a language?
Luca: Ah, well, I wouldn’t say that it’s everything but I would say it plays a huge factor. Now when we think about education in general, for example if you go to school, if you go to university, or, you know, you have a teacher, often I think this aspect is neglected because I think that learning how to assemble words, learning words, learning how to pronounce words, and everything related to the the strictly linguistical part of language learning is great and, obviously, it is important. But, I also think that caring for emotions and training people how to control their emotions, and how to make the best use of emotions, is one of the most important things in language learning, and it’s often one of the most neglected aspects of language learning. So, one of the things I do for example with my students is, because I’m a language coach, as some of you know, is to train them from a psychological point of view. When you hold a conversation David, and I think you’ve noticed that, even if you speak your own native language, we unconsciously do a lot of things we’re not even aware of, you know, for example how we move our eyes, how we get emotional in some situations. Often emotions can hinder us, can hamper us, from communicating in the way we would like to communicate with other people and this is even more evident when it comes to speaking a foreign language because, as adults, I’m not talking about kids, adults in general when we try to get our point across in a foreign language, what happens is that we often feel judged by others and often we feel that speaking a language is some kind of performance. So, sometimes, the fact of feeling judged keeps us from giving our best, you know, and if you don’t train people, if you tell people how to learn words, how to speak, but then you don’t train them how to control their feelings and how to make the best of them, then the performance, I don’t consider it a performance, but our ability in general to communicate is going to be diminished, is not going to be as good as if we actually knew how to communicate and control our feelings at the same time.
David: Absolutely, and you know one of the things that I realized in myself, and also other language learners, is that when you get started with a language, something that really stops people from, sort of, getting started, is this feeling of embarrassment or feeling extremely self-conscious, you know, worried about the way that they pronounce the language, or how their grammar is. All these sort of things sort of go on in a person’s mind when they are getting started and I’m sort of wondering if, you know, …first of all, before I ask about your advice on this, first of all I want to say is, Luca do you experience this too? Because I know that there are going to be people listening to this…”ah, Luca, Luca the polyglot, etcetera, blah, blah, blah, you know, he speaks languages well, but…” Do you experience these sorts of emotions when you’re setting out to learn a new language or are you, like, invincible?
Luca: Since I’m a human being like everybody else. Yeah, I…
Luca: Well, I always say that we are a bundle of emotions, you know, no matter what we think, our life every single day is like a journey and we live experiencing so many emotions in general, so yeah that happens to me as well, especially in the first stages of language learning. When I’m learning a language, when I just started learning a language actually, you know, it’s a very…you feel a little fragile. Meaning that, when for example, when you first attempt, your first attempt at conversation with a native speaker, if unfortunately you stumble upon an unpleasant person, and there are unpleasant people in this world unfortunately, it can be devastating for your language learning. Imagine that you’ve been learning a language, say French, for three weeks, or one month, and you try to talk to a person for the first time and you stumble upon a person who corrects you all the time, but doesn’t give you constructive criticism, but just criticizes you and makes you feel bad. You know, it happened to each and every one of us and not only in language learning that we stumble upon a person who made us feel uneasy. Has it ever happened to you David, that you’re uneasy around some people?
David: Absolutely. There are some people that you speak to them and you just sort of want to run away, you know, you don’t want to go back. Absolutely. And then we do have those people that you don’t know what it is about them but they have this what I would call a magnetic personality and you’re just drawn to them and they just make you feel…
Luca: Exactly. One of the first pieces of advice that I would give is first, human contact is extremely important in your personal growth as well as in your growth, you know, well when we talk about language learning and your language progress, and I think that one of the very first pieces of advice that I would give is don’t surround yourself just with books but surround yourself with people who know more that you do. Who, you know, this is general advice, this is not just about language learning. If you surround yourself with people who make you feel great about yourself, then your general learning experience, once again I’m not just talking about language learning, is gonna be boosted. And this is what I’ve been trying to do in the last three years. I’ve just made a slight change to my strategy. I didn’t change my strategy. I added a knew ingredient to the recipe, meaning that before I just, I was thinking that learning just with books for a certain period of time, say three to six months, was great, right now together with books and together with an efficient technique, I try to talk on Skype, via Skype, if I can, but if I can also face to face with interesting people that resonate with me and that make me feel good about myself and about us, our relationship. And, I notice that by doing so, Michal comes to mind, my polish tutor. He is just, he’s a fantastic person. Whenever you talk to him, you never feel, you never feel judged, you always get constructive criticism and this helped me so much with Polish because I just noticed that together with a book, like Assimil or whatever, if you talk to a person who makes you feel good about yourself then you learn so fast and so much better because you want to share your personal experience. So, what we do is extremely simple, and I suggest everybody do that, is that, for example, you just turn on Skype, and what you do is you’re just going to talk about you, your self, your feelings, your emotions, your desires, and whenever that happens you feel like you really want to communicate your ideas, your emotions, your experiences, to another person who understands you, and you will learn a lot of words, expressions as a consequence of that. It’s not deliberate learning. It’s a consequence of resonating with another person.
David: Absolutely, and I can second what you’re saying there about Michal. I spent some time with him in Poland and he’s absolutely an amazing guy. Anyone studying Polish definitely check out Michal. Okay, so, I guess the next that I’m really wanting to address is, you know, how one really overcomes some of these, you know, psychological barriers and, you know, I’m talking about other things like being worried about your pronunciation, your grammar. We’ve spoken about making sure you find the right people to help us and so, what does this look like for most people? Is it difficult to find someone who is going to be the right match that is going to help us go to the next stage or what’s your experience with this, you know, something that you’ve observed in the learners, that you have observed in general?
Luca: I think the process is twofold, meaning that you, on the one hand, have to find the right people to talk to. How do you find the right people? First, as I said before, the internet is the treasure trove, not only for language material, but also for human resources. Meaning that, there’s a lot of sites that offer the possibility of coming into contact with interesting people. But, then it’s up to us to decide who is going to resonate with us. So, what I suggest is that it’s a trial and error process where we have to try to find the people we can really trust and who we really like. And, that is, as I said before, something that you have to try and then, maybe if you don’t like that person try to find another one. That is pretty important. How do you do that? Well, it’s pretty simple. You FEEL it. You feel when you like somebody and you feel when you don’t like somebody; good and bad vibes – that happens. When somebody corrects you and you haven’t even asked for it or gives you bad criticism then probably that person is not for you. Or if you didn’t like the way they looked at you when you’re talking when you’re using the camera, that is also important. Because we always consider that language learning is a flow between two people, flow of words, flow of sounds, but I think that the face expressions, they’re pretty important as well. So, there are some things that make you uneasy, and if that happens then you should find another person. So, for example, there’s a website called Language Exchange where you can send emails. You can actually look for people. You can take a look at their profile and then you can send an email. If they get back to you then you can agree, arrange a Skype meeting, or even a face-to-face meeting because you can find people in your own city, and then you just meet them, either on Skype or face-to-face, in person, and then you will decide whether those people are good for you or not. Don’t feel bad if you meet a person and then you don’t find that you don’t think they could be good language partners, then you say well, that was great but I have other fish to fry and you will find another person. It’s extremely important to find a person whom you like. If you, you know, if you start talking to a person and then you feel like it would be impolite not to talk to them again, that would be a huge mistake because your language learning process is gonna depend on the interaction you have with people. And when you first speak, when you start learning a language, in the first maybe three months, you are fragile psychologically because you feel judged and if somebody gives you very bad feedback it’s gonna be a disaster, it’s gonna be a devastating blow to your language learning process. I don’t know David if it has ever happened to you that you met a person that you felt uneasy around.
David: Well, to be honest, yeah it happens. It’s happened quite a few times. And with language learning I find that it is quite, in my case at least, difficult to find the right people that are going to be able to give me the sort of conversation that I’m looking for to help me expand into different areas, because I find that with language learning sometimes, or with a language exchange, you can talk, end up talking, about the same things over and over and if you don’t have much in common with the person it can be difficult and I think this is part of really resonating with a person, making sure that you have things in common as well.
Luca: I just want to add a very important thing. You know, you mentioned that fact that you always keep saying the same things. Now, one suggestion is that the advantage of resonating with a person and speaking with that person for a long time, so establishing a good relationship, instead of having thirty language buddies, so to say, is the fact that we have a lot of people to talk to most of the time the conversation is pretty superficial. If you talk to too many people, you know, all these like “how are you?” “I am fine,” “the weather is great,” etc. etc., they keep coming and you don’t learn, you don’t move forward. Well, with another person, when you establish a certain relationship, you just talk about one thing and then you move to the other one. This is the first advantage so you cover more topics, you want to talk about more topics with the person you resonate with, you know. And the second very important thing is one of the biggest mistakes that people make is that they don’t get out of their comfort zone. Now, since they think that language learning, they consider (not everybody, but a lot of people consider) language learning, especially in the beginning, like a performance. They tend to resort to expressions and words that they already know instead of stepping into unknown ground because that makes them feel a little bit uneasy. But, what they should do is, and I always say that to my students, try to say as many things as you can that you don’t know how to say because when you can’t say something it’s not a bad thing. You’re going to learn a lot by getting constructive feedback. So, on the one hand you learn new words, and on the other hand, so you expand your knowledge, and the other hand, you refine your knowledge by getting positive feedback and learning from it. A positive attitude, you know, it might sound a little bit trite, because we always say that, but attitude is everything. Somebody corrects you and you shouldn’t feel judged or hurt by the fact that you didn’t get it right. You should be happy that you learned something new and that somebody helped you, you know, refine it. Because, if nobody corrected you, you wouldn’t learn.
David: And so, it sounds like what you are saying to me is that learning a language is something that we are going to consistently fail at in order to succeed, almost. Which is an interesting paradox that you have to really fail a lot to succeed. And, I think that a lot of people have this fear of confronting this failure and this is why they get boxed into their comfort zone and don’t step out. And so, what you’re saying is that it’s very important to, you know, master your emotions in this sense and to maybe let go of your ego and to accept that in order to improve what you need to do is, you know, take a step back and fail a lot.
Luca: I would say that the best polyglots or the best language learners have accomplished two things. First, they have found a method they like and, second they have overcome their sense of failure and they have actually figured out, first, how their brain works, not only from a linguistical point of view but also from an emotional point of view. That is quite important.
David: I think that’s something that’s really interesting because I get the impression, and I don’t have any evidence, but I believe it anyway, I don’t have data, but many people seem to think that, you know, all polyglots are talented with languages and they, you know, we don’t see this process of struggle and the overcoming of all of these obstacles that needs to be done in order to really succeed. And, so I’m curious, you know, Luca in your case, is it difficult to constantly be stepping out of your comfort zone? Because I know that a lot of people, you know, admire you as a language learner. But we don’t get to see your struggles too much. I guess I remember seeing a video where, or an audio where, you were struggling with Polish in the beginning stages and but, generally, are you constantly struggling when you’re moving out of your comfort zone? Is the language learning process uncomfortable for you? And the reason I want to talk about this is to maybe shed some light because I think whenever we look at anyone who is successful in just about any field, we see the results, the fruits of their labor, but we don’t see the work that goes into producing these tasty fruits. So, what is it like for you Luca?
Luca: Well, stepping out of the comfort zone means struggling because that’s how we learn, you know. I’m not a neuroscientist but I read something, an interesting article about the fact that, you know, when we start a struggle we create neural networks, new neural networks, and every time we try to struggle and remember a word, we’re trying to grasp for a word, when we have a conversation, or when we try to learn the pronunciation of a new word, we struggle. So, of course, I struggle like everybody else. The fact that you can see the fruit of my labor, as you said, is, obviously is just the result of a lot of struggling. I’m a human being like everybody else, and I struggle a lot. You know, if you do something well, you must have done it poorly before. There is no question about that. When we learn is, in a way is, means struggling, but we have to be cautious about how we define words because when people say, for example, “oh, you put in so much hard work,” that is what they say. I don’t like that word that much because I don’t consider it hard work at all. It might be struggling, but to me it’s not hard work because when you enjoy something you don’t even think about it. Obviously, of course, I struggle, but the main difference is that I always before I have a conversation, especially on Skype, I always make sure that I’m going to talk about something I’m interested in. So, if you talk about something you’re really interested in and you want to get your point across, you forget about the struggling because you’re really want to communicate, you really want to tell the other person “you know what I did today? I had a great experience,” so it doesn’t matter if you don’t find a word. It doesn’t matter if you pronounce it wrong. A suggestion, a piece of advice that I always give, is record your conversations. Always do that. You will see that the second stage, meaning when you listen to yourself, you know people are afraid of their own voice. A person who has never recorded their own voice, now I’ve gotten used to it, but the very first time that I recorded my own voice I told myself “gosh, is that me?” And I noticed that every single student of mine had the same thing, the same feeling. Record your voice and you will see that when you listen to your own conversation, or the conversation you had with another person, you will be able to focus on the details, the nuts and bolts, but when you have a live conversation your brain has to grapple with too many things and you keep forgetting about stuff. But you will have the possibility of listening to yourself and to fill in the gaps. Now, technology gives us so many possibilities. Make use of them, you know. This is what I suggest.
David: And so, to tie this back into the overarching theme of our conversation today, we can use technology as a way to prepare ourselves for those stressful situations, so, you know, using the example that you just presented about recording yourself. If you find it a little bit, I would say, difficult to speak to people, perhaps you can use technology to prepare yourself for this process and this can be a way of controlling your emotions. And you know I just did a quick search online because I remembered a quote from, you know, an Italian painter, poet, and sculptor, Michelangelo. He said that “if you knew how much work went into it, you would not call it genius.”
Luca: Exactly. Exactly. David, let me tell you one more thing that I almost forgot to say. This is very important. Now, you have step one, which is a live conversation with somebody and that happens in real life as well as on Skype. Then you have step two, reviewing, meaning that you can listen to yourself having a conversation and you’re gonna have another perspective because you have the time to actually see how you talk. You’re seeing yourself from an external point of view and that is a great advantage because you can focus on other, on the nuts and bolts, as they call it. And then, step three, you can actually prepare yourself, you can talk to the microphone and think. For example, let’s suppose that you want to talk about Barcelona because I know that you really like that city, right? So, let’s suppose that you, for some reason, you have some problems talking to people and expressing yourself when you talk about Barcelona because there are just too many things to say, etc., etc. What you can do, you can like, let’s suppose you have a language partner or a person you really like talking to. Just create a recording of yourself. Just stand up and then you just talk to the microphone. You don’t have the stress of getting your point across because you know that at any time if you don’t like the recording you can just erase it, you know. So, you can actually prepare. You’re not talking to yourself. In a way, you’re talking to yourself because you’re talking to the microphone but on the other hand you know that you’re setting the recording to somebody else. You are actually getting your point across to another human being. So, on the one hand, you have the advantage of talking to a human being without really talking to a human being, and, on the other hand, you feel free. You have less stress because you’re just talking to a microphone and you can erase that recording, that production of yours at any time, and that is huge, it’s a huge help. All my students do that, you know, they send me recordings talking about whatever they want to talk about. They prepare and you can tell that they are less stressed and they can actually talk about anything much better than if they were having a live conversation with me.
David: And, so, some of the things that we discussed today are ways in which we can control the emotional aspect of language learning. It can be having a live conversation with a person, can be something that can be considered, for most people, stressful at first, and, so, ways that we can minimize the stress that we feel and eventually eliminate it is by number one, making sure we speak to someone with whom we really connect with, that we don’t feel is judging us, that is going to correct and help us in a positive way, constructive way that is going to make us feel good about ourselves. Finding this person may take some time, but you shouldn’t feel bad at all about, you know, skipping a person and, you know, saying that this is not the right person for me. I like to say that learning a language is a process of discovery and, you know, discovering the right language partner is part of that too. And, then, we can use technology also to make sure that we prepare ourselves for live conversations, stepping outside of our comfort zone, if it’s a little bit challenging at first to do that in front of a person, or in front of someone that we have never spoken to before, which I know that be challenging.
Luca: Yes, and let me add that, you know, learning new languages is not just a linguistical journey, as I call it, it’s an interior inner journey into yourself because by stepping out of your comfort zone, by trying to get your point across with other native speakers, you discover your limits and you discover your potential, so you grow as a person. It’s not just linguistical growth, but it’s a human growth, and that is the reason why speaking foreign languages is so fulfilling for everybody. You have multiple personalities. You can change your persona, so to say, and you’re stronger from a psychological point of view because you have overcome so many obstacles that you’re conscious of the fact you can accomplish anything in life, you know.
David: And, for example, I agree with you when you say it’s just about the same for any endeavor in life, because I think that one or two weeks ago, I took a dance class, Luca, you know, this Brazilian class, a Brazilian dance coiffure, and, you know, I consider myself to be a confident person, but when I was stepping into this new domain with two left feet, you know, I suddenly remembered the feeling of when I started learning Spanish, for example, when it was really difficult and I just had to push myself, and I think that we need to, as learners, get used to the fact that progress comes in the uncomfortable zone often.
Luca: Absolutely. Every day. Because it’s not just about language learning. We always talk about language learning, our podcasts, etc., on my YouTube channel. Since there are so many things that happened in my life, for example, when I first decided to go to Barcelona for Erasmus, I was facing the unknown, so to say, but after doing that everything changed because I had this experience under my belt and it really helped me to figure out how to live in other countries and it made me feel so confident, but, so at the beginning you’re scared. Whenever you, for example, whenever I made the first presentation at a conference in Valence, it was like four years ago, I told myself “oh my gosh,” (this doesn’t have anything to do with languages, this is mathematics), but I was a little bit intimidated because I had to talk about, you know, mathematics in front of five hundred people, and then, once I had done it, I felt so great. Just before doing it I was like, well my legs were trembling a little bit, then I said “oh my God, what am I gonna do?” And, then when I did it, I felt so happy that I had done that and I felt like I could do anything, you know, and from that moment on I started giving conferences, speeches, and I felt more and more comfortable. So, you have to face something. You know, people are..what keeps people from taking off in life, a lot of people, is actually the fear of doing something that they feel that they cannot do and once they’ve done it, and they are aware of the fact that they can do it. You know, and so far as language learning is concerned, the reason why a lot of people think it’s impossible is because they have never done it. So, they want to learn a foreign language, they’ve never done it before, but once they’ve done it once, and they’ve learned a language to fluency, then all the rest, you know, might struggle with other languages, it’s pretty normal, but they know, they’re aware of the fact that they can do it. And, that makes a huge difference.
David: I like to talk about fear as a biological system of feedback in a sense. Whenever we are stepping into a domain, or an area, or a place that is new to us, stepping into the unknown, you know, this fear can be triggered in us and also it’s a way of protecting ourselves, becoming more aware of our surroundings. So, if we are stepping into something that we think might be dangerous or harmful, then fear comes into it. But, it’s not until we walk into, I don’t know, this forest, you know, in a physical sense or in a figurative sense, that we discover that there’s nothing to be worried about and that we become used to what is in the unknown.
Luca: You know, I might add that it’s not far fetched to say that, in my humble opinion, I think that the people, the most successful people, are the people who have struggled the most in life, and more than others, and have faced and overcome their fears.
David: Absolutely, and I think that’s a great way for us to end our conversation today. Those who succeed the most are those who struggled the most. And so, if you’re going through the storm, as I would put it, you know, don’t worry, keep going and there will be the nice rainbow at the end of it all, you know, with a pot of gold. Is there anything that you would add before we say goodbye today Luca?
Luca: There’s always a ton of things I would like to add.
David: No, but I’m going to stop you there. You guys are going to have to tune in to the next episode of our series, and we’re going to be talking about something very special, which I know you are all waiting for, which is the book Mr. Lampariello is writing. So, we’re going to be discussing that in the next episode. So, if you want to find out when this book is coming out, how it’s going at the moment, and I’m going to get as much of the information as I can about it. And, so we can get you guys ready for it. Okay, so thank you again for listening and we will see you in the next episode. We’re going to be talking about Mr. Lampariello’s book. Thanks again, Luca.
Luca: Thank you David. Bye-bye.