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Does A Background In Linguistics Make Language Learning Easier?

An interesting topic was posted on Reddit Linguistics recently, in which a poster asked whether or not a background in linguistics would help a person learn a new language more easily.  This would seem to make sense; a knowledge of the inner workings of language would seem to give a person a leg up on learning new ones.

Most posters agreed that learning basic linguistics and the science of language greatly enhanced their ability to learn foreign languages.  It helped them learn the structures of new grammar faster as well as root words.  Although it was agreed that fluency is hard and still takes time, it’s much easier to kickstart the process with a working knowledge of linguistics.

Here are a few of the responses:

“The only language I studied before learning linguistics was a smidgen of French in high school, and when I look back to it, it feels like I was stumbling around in a dark room, finding my way around by feeling everything and shuffling slowly. After I learned some linguistics, it was like I turned on the light and could suddenly see the whole room.”  ~ poster iwsfutcmd

“Linguistics helps you to recognize the underlying structures of language, so even if you haven’t studied linguistics in reference to the particular language you’re learning, knowledge of things like “affixation, morphology, phonology, etc” will help you to not only know “this is the way the language is spoken” but why this is the way the language is spoken. That deeper understanding will help with retention and figuring out parts of the language that may not make sense at first”  ~ poster Naznarreb

“A friend of mine once described the relationship between language learning and linguistics as like writing music and music theory. You have a lot of genius musicians who know nothing about theory, just like people who can naturally pick up languages without knowing anything about linguistics. But music theory and linguistics both offer insights that can’t be gained from intuition alone.”  ~ poster cygne

Other responders, however, found that the increased knowledge of language made them frustrated in class:

“Not for me. It makes participating in a language class infuriating, because everybody else is operating on a completely different lay-person level, and any question I pose to the teacher gets her agitated because the other students can’t relate to my viewpoint because they don’t have the necessary background. And grammar is taught so painstakingly slowly and with simplified analogies and… I just wish I could have a teacher who would recommend material to me and then just meet with me a couple times a week to speak the language, review excercises and answer the questions I want to ask without judging me for using concepts some art history major in the same language class has never heard of.”  ~ poster trua

“It can backfire. I got so frustrated in German class when the prof would keep explaining the point of cases for the sake of every one else who didn’t already know about them.”  ~ poster dont_press_ctrl-W

Do you have an increased knowledge of linguistics?  How has it made learning new languages for you?

About Liz Blake

Liz Blake is a language enthusiast who takes a special interest in linguistic anthropology and how language affects the way people interact and see the world. In her spare time she likes to read, garden, and most of all: travel!

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