You’re going the wrong way – language learning tips for introverts

You’re going the wrong way – language learning tips for introverts

Do you know how annoying it is to have complete strangers yelling at you that you’re going the wrong way? How can people who don’t even know where you want to go know that it’s the wrong way?

I sometimes had this experience when I was walking to work with my guide dog. I wasn’t going the wrong way. I knew a shortcut that avoided a big, open area with crowds of people, and going my way made it easier for us to get where we needed to go. In fact the destination was the same – I just took a route that was easier for me.

It’s the same with language learning. People used to tell me to watch a popular tv series in my target language, but when you can’t see, trying to work out what’s being said in a fast-paced conversation with no visual clues is not my idea of fun! I do watch tv, mainly with my partner or on my own when there’s additional descriptions of what’s going on, but it’s way down at the bottom of my list of activities for language learning. Radio dramas or podcasts work much better for me, because I don’t have the additional problem of trying to work out what’s happening on the screen.

As a result of this and other similar experiences, I am open to advice, but I’m happy to disregard it if I know that something is unlikely to work for me because of my disability, the adaptive technology that I use, or even my personality. We should all be open to try new things, and sometimes you don’t know that something won’t work until you’ve tried it, but when someone has some “great advice” that would actually make things harder for me, I’m happy not to take it on board.

When I’m working with customers, I think of them as individuals. Of course I have plenty of tips and ideas of things that have worked for other people. I also have seen people doing things that are very unlikely to help them with language learning. However, I know that everyone has different learning styles, personalities, likes and dislikes, and it’s important to consider these when planning what to do in lessons.

It’s important to have goals in mind. Goals and plans are a hot topic of conversation at the end of the year, but what I think some people forget is the fact that how you achieve those goals is equally important. If you’re trying to improve a skill or achieve a language goal, there may be an easier way to get there than the way that many other people take.

Today I’d like to look specifically at people who identify as introverts, but if this doesn’t apply to you, I’d encourage you to still consider the “how” as well as the “what” when you’re planning your next language goals.

I don’t claim to be an authority on the subject of introverts – everyone experiences things differently and what’s ok for one person might not be ok for someone else. I don’t usually like the idea of labelling people either, but these are just some tips based on my own and my customers’ experiences.

Before we start – there are many misconceptions about what being introverted really means. It’s not a synonym for being shy. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t enjoy social contact, but it can mean that you would rather avoid situations with a lot of social contact, particularly with a lot of people at once, and that social interactions can be draining for you in a way that is not experienced by extroverts. Introverts often need time alone to refill their energy supplies, whereas extroverts can get this energy by being with other people.

It’s possible to be an outgoingintravert – you enjoy social interactions, but too much of it leaves you feeling drained and needing time away from people.

Goal: build your personal learning network

Activity: join a language meet-up
Alternative: join an online forum

I talked about personal learning networks in another post, but basically it’s a group of people who can help and encourage you to improve your language skills.

Joining a language meet-up can be fun and a good way to meet new people. However, if you find big groups of strangers overwhelming, an online community may be a better way to make new connections. Rather than hearing people talking at you from all sides, you can take the time to read the contributions and answer those that are relevant. You can respond at a time that’s good for you, and if you need a break, you can come back later. You still get the benefits of communicating with others, but you can limit the contact to a level that’s comfortable for you.

If big groups of people stress you out anyway, you probably won’t enjoy a situation in which a big group of people is practicing your target language. If you do want to try attending a meet-up, set yourself a time limit for when you plan to leave. Knowing that you only have to stay till 9 will feel more manageable than not knowing when the event is going to end. If appropriate, try to have some good, one-to-one conversations instead of trying to follow all of the conversations going on around you.

Goal: improve your listening skills

Activity: go to the cinema and watch an English film
Alternative: watch a film at home, on your own or with a friend

I’m not saying that introverts don’t go to the cinema, but if you struggle with sensory overload, such as a lot of people, noise, or visual effects, you can get the same benefits of watching something in English either at home, or with a language study partner so that you can discuss the film afterwards.

Improve your speaking skills

Activity: have a conversation with 5 new people in English this week
Alternative: build relationships with tandem partners and have one-to-one conversations with them.

There may be reasons why you need to practice talking to complete strangers, but if your main goal is to work on your speaking skills and you’re not the kind of person who enjoys randomly chatting to people at the bus stop, make life easier for yourself and plan opportunities for you to speak in an environment in which you feel comfortable. You can always venture out of your comfort zone later, but if the main aim is to speak more, then put yourself in situations in which this is more likely to happen.

Aim: build your vocabulary

Activity: take part in written or spoken conversations in your target language

The alternative here is more subtle – but I wanted to include it because sometimes you just need to find people with whom you can relate. This will make it easier for you to interact with them. If you are bored by small-talk or you find it meaningless, find forums where people discuss things that are important to you. Ok, there is an argument that it’s good to know how to function in superficial conversations, but if your aim is to build your vocabulary and confidence about speaking and writing in another language, there’s no reason why you can’t do this using a subject that’s meaningful to you.

Also, it’s ok to start with writing. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to speak at all – if you want to improve your speaking skills, you will need to speak, but it’s ok to build up your confidence talking to strangers in writing first, and then to move on to speaking once you’ve found some people that you trust and feel comfortable with.

Improve your language skills by attending a course

There are so many courses on offer out there. Some people thrive on learning in groups, but others find this adds additional pressure, particularly if the classes include a lot of games or highly interactive activities. However you’re not at school now, and as an adult, you’re in charge of your learning programme. Perhaps one-to-one tuition would be better for you.


So, if you’re doing things in a different way to people on your course or in your circle of friends, as long as you get the results that you want and are making progress, it really doesn’t matter. Work to your strengths and find out what works for you. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t enjoy doing the activities that other people enjoy. If you don’t enjoy them anyway, doing them in a foreign language won’t automatically be fun for you. Of course it’s good to try new things, but always keep your language goals in mind and consider that there may be other ways to achieve them that may better suit your learning style.

I know some people aren’t learning a new language because it’s their hobby, but whether you’re learning a new language for work or pleasure, you will make faster progress if you’re enjoying yourself, so try not to fill your language learning schedule with things that you know will drain your energy and leave you feeling burnt-out.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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Kirsty working with students