I was never really into school, but Id like to think that Ive made up for it with my enthusiasm for learning things on my own. One of my latest, and largest, self-education projects is trying to break out of the monolingual American stereotype and teach myself a second language.
Im not there yet. You couldnt parachute me into a non-English-speaking country and have me function like a native. But Im having little successes. I can read the headlines and know what most of them are saying. Increasingly, I can get my point across when talking to a native speaker, even if some of the words I use are a little messed up. Im hopeful that Ill get there eventually.
One thing I do know, though, is that if you have ADHD, you absolutely can learn a new language.
Learning a language is a gargantuan project. It takes years, and hundreds if not thousands of hours. Its exactly the kind of thing an ADHDer would start and not finish.
Heres the thing, though. Learning a language, based on my experience so far and what Ive heard from others, doesnt necessarily require any great skill. More than anything, it just requires persistence, and putting in the time.
For people with ADHD, persistence is inextricably tied to enthusiasm. Which means that if youre lukewarm about the prospect of learning a new language, itll be hard to persist. On the other hand, if youre genuinely enthusiastic about the language and culture youre learning about, if you get a sense of reward from feeling yourself inch a little bit closer to fluency every day, if you get excited every time youre able to understand something a little better, then theres a good chance youll be able to persist.
Hence the importance of choosing a language youre really interested in, and a culture you want to discover more about. Learning a new language is kind of like getting married. Youre going to be spending a lot of time with that language, so its best to go with one youre really into.
Learning a language seems to get both harder and easier as you progress. It gets harder because once you reach a certain level, there arent any textbooks to tell you what to do, and the words you need to learn are still important but increasingly rare. However, it gets easier because more and more youre able to learn by engaging with interesting content like books and films, which helps keep motivation up.
In this sense, the first stage of learning the basics is the danger zone, especially for ADHDers. Its dry, and youre not really ready to start consuming media. If youve chosen a language thats interesting and a culture that youre really eager to learn more about, though, ideally that excitement combined with the novelty of beginning your studies is enough to push through the initial hurdles.
I havent said a lot about the how of learning a language with ADHD. Thats because the how is more or less the same as learning a language without ADHD. Textbooks for the basics. Flashcards for vocab. Various apps. Books, movies, finding native speakers to talk to. And looking for the right balance of study techniques that works for you.
My point is that if its something you want to do, ADHD doesnt have to stop you. True, it takes a lot of time, which means a lot of persistence and with ADHD, persistence is a wildcard. But set yourself a long-term goal, let your enthusiasm carry you, and you have a good shot of making it happen.
Image: Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski