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Have you ever had someone, upon learning your proficiency in one or more languages, tell you that you have a natural talent for it? If so, how does that make you feel?

To me, it's an insult. They are basically saying that my proficiency just fell into my lap, when in fact I worked very hard for it. The implication is that if they had my gift, they would also easily acquire my same skill. But the truth of the matter is that they lack the dedication to learn a language, so they pretend to have some sort of genetic disadvantage. Nice try :D

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It's a common bullshit people massively believe in.
Those are the same people who learnt everything through rote memorisation at school in 15-24 years and never heard of things like SRS or mnemonics.

When I speak of the languages I speak, people always seem to be surprised 'about my abilities' and even start becoming jealous at me.
I always say: "it's not a natural ability, it's just a self-created habit", but they never believe me when I say that.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I don't know what to say. I would be happy if they tell me I'm gifted. However, I would still tell them that if they think they can't do it, then they won't. For me, it's all in the mind.

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To be honest I don't take that as an insult ;)   I was told that several times whenever my mom told people I learnt English completely on my own without books or a language course.  I didn't use a dictionary either. I learnt English thanks to Yahoo chat rooms.  First I was just paying attention to what people wrote and said, after a bit I started participating and then I started exchanging e-mails with native English speakers.  After 6 months I already wrote English decent enough, speaking it took me a bit longer because I've always been a shy person.  Then I met my now ex and I started to feel more confident, I was 17 years old.  I'm still improving my English :)  Some people are good with languages, specially if they are young, but I believe anyone can learn a language if they truly want it. 

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Yeah, I've been there where you try and you try and you feel you aren't making any progress. And you want to take the easy way out by saying - maybe it's just not for me, maybe I don't have what it takes. But you have to keep trying. I know I was at a point where I thought I was just wasting my time and I would never get as far as I have.

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I don't think it's an insult, but a recognition of something they only wish they have but don't. I tend to believe there are those predisposed to certain things, language being one of them. However, predisposition is just one thing. There are those who are predisposed to it, but aren't actually tapping the said 'gift'. Like any other gifts, if unused, it can be lost or won't produce anything. Having predisposition doesn't necessarily mean that everything will just fall into place. Like you said, work is involved - a lot of hard work, in fact. Whether you had that predisposition, you won't be as fluent as you are now without the hard work you put in to get the acquired skills.

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I haven't had anyone say that to me yet, but I expect the general trend would be for more people to learn languages through hard work rather than talent. In this case, I agree with you OP - I can understand how it would seem very disheartening to see your hard work minimized by someone who doesn't understand the hundreds of hours you must've put into study. Maybe if they were learning a language, too, then they'd understand how you felt.

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On 3/1/2016 at 2:01 PM, Wanda Kaishin said:

Have you ever had someone, upon learning your proficiency in one or more languages, tell you that you have a natural talent for it? If so, how does that make you feel?

To me, it's an insult. They are basically saying that my proficiency just fell into my lap, when in fact I worked very hard for it. The implication is that if they had my gift, they would also easily acquire my same skill. But the truth of the matter is that they lack the dedication to learn a language, so they pretend to have some sort of genetic disadvantage. Nice try :D

I get told I have a natural talent for a lot of things quite often...though I am rather incredulous when it comes to that. While I don't necessarily see it as an insult, sometimes the presumptuous tone behind "you're a genius at_____/you have a talent for_____" does indeed irk me.  Sometimes when I hear this, it's like the person is suggesting I stop doing what I'm trying hard with and take the easy way out.  I like challenges, thanks.

As for their dedication being lackluster, I don't know if that's a fair generalization.  I mean, I know people that want to learn a language but just don't know how.  Either they lack the resources or the confidence.  Outside of languages, talent versus effort is seen everywhere.  My mom, for example, wants to learn how to use chopsticks.  Unfortunately, she doesn't have the coordination in either hand to move the sticks correctly.  Is this a lack of drive or motivation on her part?  I think not.  Here's another example: everyone can sing.  But can everyone sing well? No.

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Before I fell out slight practice with speaking French, my teacher would always that I had sort of a naturally talent for speaking French, but when it came down to writing it I had slight trouble... Also depending on the kind of day I was having (also during that time I had narcolepsy [<--still have it] and slight depression [not as bad, now, as it used to be]) would determine how well my ability to speak it was... But none the less, knowing my luck my ability to speak French has probably diminished... Any who, I sadly was one of those people who choked some of my "natural talent" to me being part French... Yep, I'm a terrible person...

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I love it when people recognize and acknowledge my talents. I haven't heard anyone tell me that I have a gift in a really long time. I just want someone to tell me that I am a good person. I know I am a good person, but still no one has recognized that in me. I am good at computer things and learning how to speak different languages, but no one tells me that I am good.

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I have had people say that and I usually reply that I 'just like to talk a lot and that I'm not embarrassed to humiliate myself on a regular basis so it makes it look like I'm comfortable, and therefore to a quick eye fluent. But that I still have a long way to go.' What I hate is when my language skill is compared to my husbands. He is quiet by nature and a good listener. But people will say right in front of him, 'You are good in the language but he is not'. This must hurt his feelings and it has made me begin to not speak as much when we are together in public. I want him to have a chance to be heard. Its not fair to compare people's language skills in that way. He is incredible in so many other facets of culture, language and communication that it really makes me want to scream. But I know people are trying to give me a compliment. 

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It depends on how you take the complement because I think people express themselves in ways they think is right. If you misinterpreted it, which I think you did, then you just have to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Some people are not as smart as others and my term it as a gift, especially when it seems effortless to you to achieve something.

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4 hours ago, darkchild said:

It depends on how you take the complement because I think people express themselves in ways they think is right. If you misinterpreted it, which I think you did, then you just have to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Some people are not as smart as others and my term it as a gift, especially when it seems effortless to you to achieve something.

I think you are right, I doubt they say that in order to offend you. I think the best way to deal with this is just tell them how much time it took you to learn it and what you did to learn it.

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That's a good observation, and I think it's a good complement. But if you really think about it, it does have a flaw, since the language that you are learning is not your native language to begin with. So to become fluent in it, you really have to work for it. But since some can be quite forgetful, myself included, some do have a better shot a mastering a language because of "genetics".

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