Debate:How important is language talent

On this week’s podcast I invited my language learning buddies Yong Jun and Katherine to debate how big a role talent plays in language learning. Check it out here & let me know who you agree with :slight_smile:

I have not listened to the debate, yet at least, but it´s very important. People can say motivation is the only important thing all day, but that´s plain false to begin with and your motivation is very much affected by your talent. Motivation, opportunity and talent all play big roles in learning anything and they are not independent of each other.


Talent matters a lot if you are bilingual you don’t even have to study languages lol. If you were born in Hongkong you wouldn’t even need to study Chinese so its pretty important but this is probably the worst way to view anything because does it actually matter how good you are at blank thing at the end of the day? Things like language learning or running or a musical instrument are done for fun.

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Spotify has outsanctioned me, I can’t get the podcast )

There is always a but!
I think when talking about something as not quantifiable and not verifiable as talent, it’s just a speculation about abstractions nobody sure of what it is exactly.

If I haven’t any, what does it mean?
That I should work harder (than who?) or I should better give up?
If you think I shouldn’t give up, it means that someone else will get the same results faster than I will?
How would you know that they’re faster in terms of hours/results?
What if they’re lying for the sake of flaunting because, you know, all this ego thing attached to having talent?
How would you distinguish our differences in opportunities we have?
What if to catch some useful little idea about yourself or about learning also is an opportunity to develop something within your personality?

So again, talking about this is swamping deeper into the realm of useless guessing.
Big numbers of practice, choosing approaches and having enough time is what really makes a difference. While the whole talent thing verifiably affects only one’s ego (and ego, in turn, affects motivation).

As for motivation, it is always up to learners themselves. There are theories and scientific researches of what it is and how to harness it. My first advice is to not listen about talent, not harm your self-esteem with this hurtful abstraction :slight_smile:
But it’s a learner who have to do it in the end.

I definitely agree that “Talent” is pretty nebulous term to define to the point of not being useful. Is everyone’s genetic make-up, life circumstances, memory, ability to hear differences in sounds, etc., etc., unique? Yes, of course. Does this impact their ability more easily acquire an L2? Yes, of course. I just do not know what this tells me beyond, your mileage will vary.

A general path to success is going to depend on:

  • A Sound Method
  • Opportunity
  • Discipline
  • Patience

RE: Motivation
I like to think about this in terms of motivation and discipline. Discipline, to me, is the ability to do [difficult] things irrespective of the motivation to do so. Motivation is a powerful emotional tool that we should use when it is favorable to us. But to successfully learn anything, or do anything challenging and long term, we need the ability to simply “do it” without “needing to” or “wanting to”, at least in the moment.

In terms I have heard before, I would liken “needing to” to extrinsic motivation, and “wanting to” to intrinsic motivation.

I will run at least 50 miles in May, targeting at least a 5K 5 days a week (being careful to not injure myself), and every single time I will want nothing more than to stop for the first 5-10 minutes.

Like you, Nike and Shia LeBeouf have said… Just… DO IT!


I agree. In general you can become very good at everything in life with just good opportunity and hard-work, but not extraordinary.
For chess fans - recently one of the chess players compared himself to Jan Krzysztof Duda. His chess education started in early childhood with lots of motivation and passion. He earns money now from chess, mainly tutoring, but he also participates in tournments. So when comparing his skills to Duda’s he admitted, that Duda excels him in every single aspect, either mental, emotional, physical or knowledge of the game.
For most people it is not a big deal, simply “simply the best” is for the talented ones :slight_smile:

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The only people I knew who believed in a “talent” for language learning are the ones who needed an excuse for not putting in the time and effort to learn another language.

Of the people I know who speak multiple languages, none of them believe in talent because they all know the amount of work they needed to put in.


I believe talent doesn’t really have much to do with language learning. Of course, I think that some people have better memories than others and that can make it easier to learn a language. Moreover, different people have different brains so they will pickup on different language structures quicker or slower. I think it really depends on the person but at the end of the day, when it comes to learning a language, hardwork and dedication will pay off.


Talent is another word for perseverance :slight_smile:

Let me break that pattern for you. I am multilingual, believe in talent (and hard work) and you just need to look at my stats to see how I have put in loads of work on LingQ.

But to be fair, I have met ppl in other fields who said they didn’t need to practice much because of their talent and guess what - they weren’t talented. That’s Dunning Kruger for you.


In chess im curious on one defines the term talent. If I am born with a grandmaster as a father and I play with him for 15 years and become the best in the world is this talent or hard work? Is it both? Talent is this vague term that people say people have to excuse or make themselves feel better about people who have been doing the task longer and more effectivly, along with a lot more hard work.

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Maybe you still have an excuse in another field?

Because the only personal practical reason of believing in talents is to dodge some challange.

It’s an abstraction of such sort which I can swap for any other word instead, “eybrxwc” for example, and talk in vague terms about eybrxwc’s impact on learning and learners and it will look like eybrxwc has something to do with the reality, but it’s not actually.
We will retrospectively talk about someone’s sucess, your point will be that the secret ingredient was a talent, I will defend eybrxwc version.

Abstractions are not always as useless as these two, but when it comes to defining or examinating someone’s success they should be defined carefully and explicitly.

Economics is defining talent just as trivial retrospective metric of people’s achievments and innovations made by them.

McKinsey’s definition of talent went far beyond managerial or leadership skills:

All right, the sum :)) Because without the sum of other verifiable metrics, it’s eybrxwc.

Im confused with that definition talent is just hardwork, and how long someone has been doing x activity. Right? Then being talented is just being good at whatever activity? So then of course talent matters because talent is just cumulative work.
Some people associate the word talent with genetic which I sometimes do. The figure skater who started skating at age 3 will be better than the rest assuming the same effort and training ethics and modalities were used. So this is an example of superior talent and genetics because with anything assuming effort and modalities cumulative time are consistent is everything. Is this thinking correct?

I’m confused too. If it’s the sum (or cumulative work) than it’s not reasonable to call it a talent.
If talent is genetic make-up (I also think this is more suitable), it matters depending on the field you’re examining. Basketball requires certain physical make up that is quite easy to define, while learning language or math is a much more complex term and goes far beyond just genetic qualities and so far isn’t determined to the point of developing any models. How many Mozarts without piano’s there are? How many Salieries with a huge financial support or an extraordinary luck in terms of “just right” opportunities, whom laymen call talented, there are? We’ll never find out.

I’m seeing a lot of people here saying ‘talent’ is mostly hard work in disguise.
I’m wondering if you guys know about the Big Five model of personality. In that schema hard work would be a expression of trait conscientiousness. So I’m wondering if ‘being innately talented’ actually means ‘being genetically predisposed/nurtured in developing trait conscientiousness’.

In other words, being hard-working is a talent.


The article on Wiki is quite long, but I’ll read it.

Genetically predisposed for something is ok. But I’m not sure for how it applies to hard (consistent work in the case of intellectual achivements) work. Is there any researches on the subject for average healthy population without physical disabilities or mental conditions?
Also interesting, why am I sometimes genetically predisposed to hard work and sometimes I’m predisposed for slacking. Sure, I’m not a reference for scientific conclusions.

Well, if you take an example of Judit Polgar, her two sisters also played chess and became professionals, but in no way at the same level as she.
I am a bit surprised that so many people here totally reject talent claiming it is only hard-work. Let’s take another example of Alma Deutscher, not only having a perfect pitch, but also being able to compose a song before touching the piano, also at times during her sleep, and she could do that as a kid already. Is it really only hard-work? In languages we have also examples of such extremally talented people like me (joke:))
Among famous polyglots I know that Vlad Skultety clearly stated many times that talent is one of the elements of success for language learners. But as far as I know he never offered any courses so was more relaxed to express that commercially inappropriate opinion.

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Not so many claiming that talent is hard work. Talent is an undefined quality. Each time talking about another talent you’re talking about completely another thing, another quality. So why don’t talk about those qualities directly? If we’re talking for heavy lifting we’re talking about obvious genetic advantages of big guys, but when we talking about chess or language learning, there are so many aspects of it, including subtle and unnamed, so many factors.
Who knows, may it be, that being the youngest chess sister in the family somehow is a more suitable environment, than it’s for being middle and older? May it be, that the relationships with their parents wasn’t equal for each sister and has affected the kids’ performance more, than their innate genetic abilities?
Also, language learning isn’t a competition as chess is. Different goals, different criteria.
Your examples proves nothing, unfortunately. We have no data to make conclusions. Opinion of Vlad Skultety also is just an opinion of a man with clout. Are you sure that it’s in no way just an off handed statements or even ego self-assurance?

Everyone on the planet learned a language without a language course.
Most language courses suck rocks. Meaning that only those with talent for succeeding at language courses succeed on average.

If, however, you do it like a polyglot then anyone can do it.
This is evidenced by the fact that there are very few geniuses among polyglots.

The only thing that is missing is figuring out how the polyglots do it.