Does your personality make you good (or bad) at foreign languages? With Professor Tim Keeley

7th April 2019

Why are some people good at foreign languages? Or not so good? Professor Tim Keeley shares how certain personality traits can help you learn a language.

Why are some people good at learning languages? Or not so good? Is it motivation, memory or experience? These things can make a difference. But many of the people I know who speak several languages also share certain personality traits that seem to make language learning easier for them. What are they, and can you cultivate them to learn a language better? Today's guest, professor Tim Keeley, is an expert on how personality type and emotions can affect your success in language learning. In this interview, Tim talks about:
  • Why certain personality types are better - or worse - at learning foreign languages.
  • The tiny, almond-shaped part of your brain that makes a big difference to how you learn.
  • How to develop the character traits that will help you learn a language.
  • Why it's ok - and normal - to make beginners' mistakes, even at advanced levels.
As well as knowing a lot about the psychology behind how people learn languages, Tim speaks a baffling number of languages himself (watch the beginning to find out how many!) - if you're looking for inspiration and practical ideas to boost your language learning, Tim Keeley's your man. To listen to the interview while you're out and about, you can download the podcast version here.

1. Are you good at bouncing back from tough situations?

How far do you agree with these statements?
  1. It takes me a long time to recover from stressful experiences.
  2. I find that little things often bother me.
  3. I have never been good at coping with negative emotions.
In the first part of the interview, Tim introduces a trait called emotional resilience and how it can help you learn a foreign language. Click here to learn more about emotional resilience

The science bit: Your brain on stress

Tim gets into the neurobiology of how stress can impact your language learning. What happens in the brains of people who are good (and not so good) at coping with stress? In this section, you'll learn about:
  • The amygdala: a little part of your brain that can get you into big trouble!
  • The left prefrontal cortex: the "thinking" part of your brain which keeps the amygdala in check.
  • How the connections between these two parts of the brain can dictate how you respond to stress.
Learn more about how your brain reacts to stress here. Related post: The Secret Science of Joyful Language Learning

How to become emotionally resilient and learn languages more easily

Good news: with practice, you can cultivate more emotional resilience and become better at learning languages. In this section, Tim gives tips on how to feel calmer when speaking a foreign language, so that more learning can happen. Click here to hear to learn how to manage stress when speaking a foreign language

2. Can you put yourself in other people's shoes?

How far do you agree with these statements?
  1. I'm sensitive to the slightest change in a person's facial expressions.
  2. Before acting, I think things through carefully.
  3. People come to me because I'm understanding of their problems.
In this part of the interview, Tim explains how your ability to identify with people from different cultures can help (or hinder) your attempts to learn a foreign language. Learn more about emotional sensitivity and its effect on language learning

What happens when we can't empathise with other people?

Tim introduces a concept called "joint attention" and explains why your ability to connect with others is crucial when it comes to language development. Click here to learn about why empathy is important for language learning

Find out more about Tim's work

Here are the links Tim mentioned in the interview

What do you think?

Have you experienced any of the things Tim talked about in this episode? Tell us in the comments!

Related posts

Why so hard? How to learn a second language as an adult What's stopping you from speaking a foreign language - and how to fix it How to learn a language at home (even if you're really lazy) How to Learn a Language You Hated In School 32 fun ways to learn a language (that actually work)

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