The Importance of a Growth Mindset for Language Learning

Introduction

You might have heard about the growth mindset, but what is it? This is a term popularized by Carol Dweck, a psychologist who has studied educational psychology for decades. A growth mindset is a way of thinking about your abilities and intelligence that allows you to learn from mistakes, have self-confidence, seek challenges and increase your potential. This article will explain the importance of growth mindset for language learning.

What is a growth mindset and why should you care? 

Growth mindset is a belief that intelligence can be developed through effort. It is the belief that you can get smarter and better at things (even if you don’t think so now). Having a growth mindset means believing in yourself, your abilities, and your potential for change and improvement. A person with a growth mindset believes they have more potential than they’ve shown thus far so they constantly work towards improving.

What are some examples?

For example, someone with a growth mindset might think:

“Learning languages takes a lot of work, but I can do it if I put in the effort.”

The opposite of this would be someone who has believed that their success or failure is due to some sort of natural talent or ability.

Someone with a fixed mindset may have thoughts like this one:

“I’m not good at languages. I’m just not very intelligent.”

However, people with fixed mindsets don’t necessarily think they aren’t intelligent or that they’re bad at things. In fact, it can be just as dangerous to think you’ve succeeded because you’re “naturally good at” the particular activity. This may look like these kinds of thoughts:

“Language learning comes easily to me. I must be very talented at this.”

How do these two different mindsets affect your language learning trajectory?

A fixed mindset

Now just imagine how those two different ways of thinking may influence the language learning trajectory of a particular student. Students who believe they are not very good a learning a language are unlikely to try very hard and may find excuses not to practice or study. They may also feel very defensive about feedback or mistakes. This is also true for learners with a fixed mindset who believe they are good at learning languages.

Because people with a fixed mindset view their language learning ability as an innate talent, if they make a mistake or don’t know a new word, they may hide behind excuses (“the teacher doesn’t explain very well”) or feel exceedingly upset when a correction is given. Feedback may feel like a personal attack for people with a fixed mindset because they equate their “natural talent” with their egos. Additionally, they are unlikely to put in the same amount of effort as someone with a growth mindset, so they may reach a plateau faster.

A growth mindset

On the other hand, learners with a growth mindset view challenges as opportunities to learn. When they make mistakes, they view feedback and corrections as essential tools to improve. Learning a language may still be difficult, but because they don’t equate their performance with their self-worth or “innate abilities,” they may not take small failures so personally. Having a growth mindset can encourage learners to put in the effort and evaluate their strategies to reach their goals, so they often reach those goals and improve their abilities. When learners with a growth mindset encounter a challenge, they approach it by looking for ways around it. They may work harder, re-evaluate their strategies, ask for assistance or look for good models to emulate. With a growth mindset, problems are met with solutions. With a fixed mindset, problems are met with excuses.

We can easily see the importance of growth mindset for language learning, now let’s look at how do you know what kind of mindset you have.

How do you know if you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?

First of all, most people have both types of mindsets. It’s all on a sliding scale and we may have different mindsets about different skills and abilities. Let’s see what kind of mindset you have when it comes to language learning:

How much do you agree with the following statements? (1= completely disagree 5= completely agree)

  • I believe some people are naturally more talented than others when it comes to learning languages.
  • I hate being corrected when I’m speaking in another language.
  • I get frustrated easily when something is difficult and I want to be told the answer.
  • I avoid trying very difficult things in another language, especially in front of others. They may find out I’m not very good.

The higher your score, the more fixed your mindset may be. (The minimum is 4, and the maximum is 20). If you’ve scored more than 12, you may want to work on cultivating a growth mindset to help you improve your language learning ability.

Develop a growth mindset in 4 steps.

  1. Embrace your fixed mindset: We all have some aspects of a fixed mindset. It’s important to acknowledge it and embrace it.
  2. Notice when your fixed mindset “tells the story”: The next time you make a mistake or fail at something, notice how your mind reacts. If it provides explanations like: “See, I knew you we’re any good at this!” or “You just aren’t any good at this kind of thing, so why try?” that’s your fixed mindset taking over. It’s not true!
  3. Name your fixed mindset: Psychologist Carol Dweck recommends naming your fixed mindset. Literally giving it a name so you can tell it to go away. For example, if I notice my fixed mindset creep in when I’m trying something new (like writing a blog post) I may just tell “Earl” to go away. It’s not helpful having him around!
  4. Finally, educate your fixed mindset. You could tell your “Earl” that this new activity is difficult, but that we can figure out how to do it. You can tell Earl that you just need to put in some more effort or look for another strategy. You can start engaging in problem-solving mode and incorporate the feedback you’ve received from a failure or a mistake. You’ll be improving in no time at all!

Conclusion

Developing a growth mindset will help you reach your goals, not just those concerned with language learning. Psychologist Carol Dweck has found that having a growth mindset is a good predictor of academic achievement, career success, personal success, happiness and health. In short: it can help you get the most out of life.

A growth mindset is a belief in your ability to learn new things and improve yourself over time. It encourages you to take on challenges because you know that with effort and perseverance you’ll be able to overcome them (or at least do better next time). If someone offers feedback about something you’re doing wrong or not very well at all – if they tell you “You need to work on X” – this kind of person will still see themselves as capable rather than incapable: “I need to work on X for sure! Let me give it my best shot next time around!”

If you’ve read this far, then I’m happy to say that you are on your way to developing a growth mindset. You now know about importance of growth mindset for language learning. You also know how to identify whether or not you have one, as well as how to develop one if necessary.

If you’re interested in reading more about Growth Mindset, I encourage you to watch this TED talk where Carol Dweck explains how to develop a Growth Mindset. If you’re interested on working with me to develop your growth mindset, click here.

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