Leveling the playing field

I’m creating FluencyForIntroverts.com as a refuge from the current trendiness of extravert-centric ways of approaching language learning. The trend is most famous at Benny Lewis’s Fluent in 3 Months.

First let me be clear: I’m not opposed to Benny Lewis, extravert-centric learning, or Fluent in 3 Months. On the contrary, I enthusiastically support them all. Lewis, his learning methods, and his publicity campaign are not ineffective — for a certain kind of person. If that style of language learning is what helps you, go with it.

On the other hand, it has some serious shortcoming for people with other styles of learning, not to mention other styles of being.

Here’s a quotation from Lewis’s blog post “The Shy Delusion”:

Sorry for being so blunt…. but don’t be such a sissy!

I’m not going to dig you out of your introvert hole using introvert if-then logic. I’ll drag you out kicking and screaming if I have to, and push you into a real-life social situation with no mental preparation, so you can get used to how us extroverts genuinely do it ourselves.

That’s ignorant and insulting, even if well-meaning. I don’t say Lewis is ignorant. He’s well-educated, a good person, and is helping many people. All of which never prevented someone from ignorantly insulting a great many people. It gets even more ignorant and insulting.

Lewis also writes:

If you are the 1% of people who really are introverts, then I’m sorry. I’m sorry not for writing this post, but that so many “ambiverts” are diluting what you really are. If you’re an ambivert (half introvert, half extrovert) like pretty much everyone else, then stop identifying with the part that is limiting you.

Aside from the preposterous claim that only 1% of people are introverts (more than half of people are introverts), the tone is overbearing, loud, self-righteous, rude, and know-it-all: precisely the kind of bombastic “help” which just makes the “helper” look foolish in a particular blog post. (Benny Lewis isn’t foolish. He was foolish in that blog post.)

Why introverts may be better at learning languages to fluency than extraverts

First a psychological definition of introversion. Note it has nothing to do with being shy, afraid, schizoid, or antisocial. From MyersBriggs.org on introversion, a sketch. (Click the link to read more.):

I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing when I decide to act. Ideas are almost solid things for me. Sometimes I like the idea of something better than the real thing.

Introverts can use foreign languages in real-world situations just as well as extraverts. In fact, language-learning to fluency is a tailor-made activity for introverts. We get to interact on a direct, thoughtful plane with people from other cultures.

The beautiful thing about conversing with someone cross-linguistically is this: chatter is often pruned right out of the conversation, especially when the conversation includes only two people. Both people are often blissfully happy to drop all that. It’s part of what brought them to language-learning in the first place. It’s an opportunity to think clearly about what they want to say, what is worth saying, and what is the best way to say it. People don’t tend to drone on and on or to puff themselves up with meaningless chatter when communicating in a second language. It’s very often beautifully calm, simple, and spare.

I taught English for seven years in Japan. All of my best students (dozens), with one exception, seemed to be introverts.

When it comes to learning languages to fluency, far from taking a back seat to loudmouthed chatterboxes, introverts are temperamentally very well equipped.

You don’t need to wear strange hats, sing in public, or accost strangers boldly in a public park in order to get a very good deal of real world language practice. That’s only what Benny Lewis does because that’s just what he does.

That’s his personality. If you’re different from Benny Lewis, then obviously his bold antics shouldn’t become the basis of your method for learning a language. You’ll find your conversations just as efficiently, but in other ways: host families, coffee shops, over a chess board, paddling a kayak, or whatever it is you do.

Introverts learn languages to fluency well. They just don’t do it with a circus-barker learning style.

So, that’s why I’m building this site. To open up some introvert space in the current extravert-centric “learn a language loudly” atmosphere.

If you’d like to contribute, I’d love to hear from you. Contact me via the contact form in the sidebar.