My confession is this… speaking is not what motivates me.
I think this is true for many other of my fellow introverted language learners. I also think this is perfectly fine. We have different goals, different activities that we prefer over others. But yet we’re made to feel like we’re doing it wrong, that we’re never going to learn the language that way. Now, I totally agree that best way to get better at speaking, is by speaking. But what if that’s not your primary goal?
My own motivation, as is likely to be the case with other introverts, lies in enjoying native media. The fact that I can watch TV shows, read books, play video games, and even do my other hobbies in a foreign language, is the absolute coolest part of the process to me. Doing these things passively won’t get you very far, something else I can agree on. I think that is also a misunderstood part of our process though. But using those materials to pick out and learn new words and phrases from will. In other words, not just observing, but actively learning from them. Yes, extroverts, doing things the introverted way doesn’t mean that it isn’t hands-on.
I’ve noticed a lot of unfair comparisons when it comes to language learning based on input (reading/listening) vs. output (speaking/writing.) Comments such as: “It’s like wanting to learn how to swim, but all you do is watch videos about swimming. You don’t even get in the water.” No, that’s like wanting to learn a language and all you do is watch videos about the language rather than in it. Engaging with the language, understanding more and more by learning new vocabulary from the materials you’re passionate about and interested in, that is very much getting in the water. Those sort of activities are literally called immersion… kind of like with water, right?
Not wanting to knock it until I’ve tried it, I have done many hours of speaking practice with native-speaker tutors on Skype. During these speaking sessions, of course I made mistakes, but we could always understand each other in the target language. In other words, when the occasion arises, I’ve proven to myself that I can communicate; understand, and be understood. The tutoring session let me test out what I’d previously learned, but that session is not where I learned it.
In this regard, I tend to strongly agree with other input-based learners that speaking is not studying. It’s the performance after practicing. After speaking sessions on Skype, as useful and interesting as they were, I would still use input-based activities to learn what I needed to know to fill in the gaps. I think we do see the value of the social elements and can even find enjoyment in it sometimes, but for us introverts, the social element can be a draining experience rather than an energizing one. Since language learning is a marathon and not a sprint, why not focus on the activities that keep us motivated, inspired, and energized? Above all else, I certainly don’t want to discount the value of making friends in your target language. I just feel that it should be a friendship that arises naturally like any other, but you just happen to be interested in each other’s language.
I want to especially point out that this is not an “I’m right, and you’re wrong,” sort of argument. It’s very much a “You’re right, but we’re not wrong.” We are introverts in an extroverted world, and just as the truest, purest goal is for all language learners, perhaps we can strive to understand each other, just a little more.