Introverts, although quiet, are a highly valuable type in the work place. They are known for being creatives, for being able to retreat inside their heads and come up with solutions, for working quietly and efficiently, and for being great listeners. While extroverts thrive on energy from other people, introverts gain most of their energy from alone time.
While introverts are being recognised more and more as a valuable asset in the community and workplace, education remains a place of dread for many. This was made even worse when as time went on schools began to make it mandatory for students to “participate” in order to pass a class. While I think talking is a great way to learn, and an efficient way of making sure a child is paying attention and learning, it is damning to an introverts self-esteem to tell them that they are not a good student if they don’t contribute vocally.
As an introvert, I know that I often have the answer, that I often have good ideas, and that I often know how to solve a problem. Throughout my time in school, and now in university, I have been able to develop my own way of demonstrating this. Instead of loudly announcing my ideas, I have developed listening skills, bettering my team work abilities. My constant roll of inner dialogue allows my ideas to be well-thought out, even when not totally coherent.
I was in school when I realised I have a love of languages. This began with German and grew when I entered Transition Year and learned a basic level of Spanish. I later went on to study these two in university. Initially, it may not seem like something an introvert would excel at, considering that learning a language requires a lot of talking and interacting with people (that’s right, people. Cue heavy breathing and raised heart rates). However, my journey of learning different languages, and spending two months in Barcelona soaking up Spanish and Catalan, I feel I have learned a thing or two about the positive qualities of an introvert in learning a language.
We listen and absorb:
When you find yourself in a situation with “that quiet person” in your class, lecture, or work place, give them the benefit of the doubt. Although you may feel like you’re doing most of the talking, we introverts are absorbing, analysing, and innovating all at the same time. How does this apply to learning a language? Easy. I travelled to Barcelona last Summer to work as a live-in au-pair for a Catalan family. At this point I had only spent nine months learning Spanish four to five hours per week. I knew enough to get by but was floundered by their quick pace. However, as an introvert I played up on my listening skills and absorbed the language wherever I could. I listened to the family even when I didn’t know what was going on. I listened to locals on the street discussing everything from the weather to political issues. I listened to the radio in the morning. I attempted to exchange words with shopkeepers when I was out. Eventually, it felt more abnormal to hear English than it did to hear Spanish and I was still thinking in Spanish a few days after returning to Irish soil.
We cannot be forced:
I cannot tell you how many times I have had a teacher/friend/classmate tell me that I need to “speak louder” or “say more”. I’ve even had my opinions and suggestions dismissed simply because I have not spoken loud enough. What may surprise some people is that this fellow introvert trained in a theatre college for one year before moving to study English Literature. Believe me, I know how to project my voice, but I am not on a stage and the woman three buildings across does not need to hear me. Do you notice an introvert will never ask you to improve your listening skills? Hmph.
What I am saying is, is that you cannot force an introvert to speak when they do not want to. We’re introverts/internal. We think more than we speak and that’s okay and necessary in the world. How does this help someone who is trying to learn a language? After all, isn’t speaking the best way to learn? Theoretically, yes. However, since listening is one of our key skills we often absorb as much as we can before churning it out for others to hear. Being told “you need to speak” will only make an introvert retreat even more. So let us ponder and wait, when the moment is right we will speak. And eventually I was brave enough to speak in Barcelona. I even had conversations with strangers in restaurants and cafes. And let me tell you, if you’re understanding an elderly Spanish person you must be getting good.
Write it down:
Let that hand flow. One of the ways I tried to learn Spanish was by fusing it with my love of literature and translating Spanish poems into English. This was a really fun way of getting my brain to work and to expand my vocabulary for similar words. The same can work for songs, which the girls I was minding loved to do. When you write things down you remember them, so don’t feel discouraged if you write more than you speak. I assure you that when the time comes and you have to order that delicious croissant in your new favourite cafe by the sea that you will be more than capable.
So if you happen to be an introvert in the process of learning a language, or you feel intrigued to begin, know that it is for everyone. It’s a challenge for any person, but particularly for introverts it contains daunting aspects. Embrace these and allow them to challenge you so that you grow. Find your strengths as pointed out in this text and allow them to help you flourish. You’ll be flying across the world in no time. Coming from queen introvert herself, it is testimony that it can be done since I am sitting here wishing I was speaking with some Spanish stranger about everything under the sun. Languages open up millions of doors for you, and you’ll definitely encounter another introvert or two along the way.