When it comes to language learning, there’s no magic bullet. No matter who you are, you’re going to have to put in the work. And the method one person uses won’t necessarily work for everyone else. Before you even get started, then, you’ll want to figure out a learning plan that works best for you. How do you know what to choose, though? One option is to look at your Enneagram type.
The Enneagram of Personality is a way of dividing people up into nine different types. It’s similar in concept to the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator, which you may be more familiar with. It looks at a person’s fixations, fears and ideals to ascribe them a number, and you can use that number to figure out what you’re good at and what you need to work on. While there are paid versions of the Enneagram test, there are also free (though less detailed) evaluations online.
We should mention that personality tests should be used as a guideline rather than a rigid indicator of who you are. There are a million ways you can categorize yourself, and many psychologists think personality tests are a misguided way to evaluate people. Nevertheless, the Enneagram of Personality remains popular, and it can be a good way to reflect on your values and difficulties. It’s a useful tool for stepping back to consider what kind of learning might work best for you.
Using Your Enneagram Type To Learn A Language
Type 1 — The Perfectionist
With a name like “The Perfectionist,” it might seem like learning a language should be a breeze for a Type 1. You can set up a regular time each day to practice, set a clear schedule for when you want to learn various vocabulary, and concentrate on the goals you’ve set. It’s great to take advantage of all these traits, because they’ll be important to your success.
On the flip side, perfectionism isn’t always the best goal to have when you’re learning a language. Americans often think about language learning as a binary: you either know a language fluently, or you don’t know it at all. But there’s a lot of ground to cover between those two, and just because you don’t know every grammar rule doesn’t mean you can’t communicate. So while creating a schedule for yourself is great, also make sure to go a little easy on yourself. If you miss a day, that’s fine, there’ll be more days to study. And most of all, know that making mistakes is an important part of learning. No matter how hard you try, you won’t be perfect in a new language, and that’s alright.
Type 2 — The Giver
Being a Type 2 on the Enneagram means your primary motivation in life is nurturing relationships with other people. Fortunately, language is perfect for that. Communicating with someone in their native language is an act of caring, and it can provide you with strong motivation on your language journey.
Language learning for adults is often presented as a solitary exercise. You just take your lessons and learn your vocab on your own time. But it takes two to convo, so a Type 2 might want to spend less time with textbooks and more time with native speakers. If you already know someone who can speak the language you’re learning, reach out to them and ask if you can practice your language skills on them. Even better, you can find a tandem partner: a native speaker of the language you’re learning who wants to learn English. That way, you can trade tips in your mother tongues and build a strong bond across languages.
Type 3 — The Achiever
A Type 3 on the Enneagram has a lot of the traits that are ideal for learning a language. Of the many types on the Enneagram of Personality, you might be the most likely to succeed in this particular venture. You’re goal-oriented, and there are obvious ways of taking advantage of that when learning. Setting daily, weekly and monthly goals for the aspects of a language you wish to master is a great way to get started.
You might be thinking, “I like to achieve things, a new language is something to achieve, what’s the downside?” Well, one thing to keep in mind is that learning a language isn’t exactly like learning the state capitals or all the rules of England. A language is alive, and it’s not so easy to cross “Spanish” or “Russian” off a bucket list. If you quickly get impatient when you’re trying to learn something, a language might be particularly frustrating. One way to avoid this impatience is to reframe how you think of your goal. Instead of saying “I want to learn French,” try “I want to be a French learner.” Even in your native tongue, there’s no “end” to learning, and focusing too much on the end will distract you from the journey.
Type 4 — The Individualist
The driving motivation for a Type 4 is the desire to stand out from other people. They also tend to be very artistic. And this can mean quite a few different things when it comes to language learning. One option to set yourself apart from the average language learner is by learning a minority language like Basque or Welsh. If you’ve already got your heart set on a language, though, you’ll want to focus more on your artistic side. Fortunately, language is an artistic medium. You’ll still have to do the hard work of learning vocabulary and grammar, but once you’ve tackled that, you have a lot of freedom. Write short stories in your new language. Go to a museum and try to translate the placards next to each work of art. Watch movies made in the country you’re most interested in. Be creative!
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that language isn’t necessarily an individualist activity. After all, it’s a tool for communication, which inherently requires more than one person. You could technically spend all your time cloistered in your studies, but you’ll be missing out on a huge part of why languages are fun to learn. We’re all individuals on one level, but crossing language barriers can show us how similar humans from all over the world can be.
Type 5 — The Investigator
A Type 5 is someone who lives at the intersection of what seem like two contrasting threads: the desire to deeply understand the world, and the fear of becoming too reliant on others. This can lead a person to becoming very intellectually curious about certain topics, but also quite introverted. This first trait can be very useful when learning a language, because investigating languages can be a great way to learn them. What underlying patterns does the language you’re learning have? How is it similar to your native language? How is it not? Languages can unlock new realms of thought.
Your first inclination might be to learn the language without ever really putting it into practice. Which is understandable, because there’s quite a bit of social anxiety when it comes to speaking a new language, especially to a native speaker. But if you really want to understand a language, you’re going to have to start speaking it eventually. So as you’re learning, make sure to step out of your comfort zone. Try talking to people online in the language you’re learning before building up to in-person communication. And, most importantly, ask for help when you need it. There are countless resources out there to help you learn — and that’s great! — but there’s really nothing that can replace the experience of talking to someone who speaks it.
Type 6 — The Skeptic
Many Type 6 traits are ideal for learning a language. You’re organized, you have a strong social group and you have good communication skills. Take advantage of all of these when you’re working on a language. Organize your time so you’ve set aside a study period each day. Use your social group to keep you motivated (and if you have friends who speak the language you’re learning, all the better). And, well, use your communication skills in a whole new language.
The main fear that a Type 6 faces is being unprepared during times of distress. As far as language learning goes, that’s not necessarily a central issue that you’ll be running into. But if you ever find yourself frustrated and caught in a loop of overanalysis, remember to take a step back and try to get out of your head. Combining language learning with exercise, for example, can be a good way to overcome any anxiety you might feel.
Type 7 — The Enthusiast
A Type 7 on the Enneagram of Personality is someone who loves to be engaged and excited. Which is great, because learning a language gives you countless opportunities to have fun. Use this to your advantage! Learn a language using whatever you enjoy most, whether that be watching TV, playing video games or traveling the globe.
While all of that is great, a Type 7 will often get frustrated when they start feeling bored. And while learning a language is definitely fun, there are also parts of it that are hard work. There’s a reason why people dread their high school Spanish classes: memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules is a necessarily boring aspect of a language. There are ways to try to keep it exciting — flash cards, grammar games — but there will be times that are tough. If you find yourself getting stuck, remind yourself of your motivation. No one has ever learned a language without feeling frustrated from time to time, but you’ll need to push through and remember that it’s all a learning experience. And once you get to the other side, you’ll get to have fun again.
Type 8 — The Challenger
A Type 8, as the name implies, is someone who loves a challenge. Which is good news if you want to learn a language. The first few weeks of grammar and vocabulary can be a little repetitive — how can a language have so many tenses? — so turning it into a competition with yourself is a good idea. Set up goals for yourself and see how quickly you can complete them.
There are two things a Type 8 needs to keep in mind while learning, however. First is that you’re not going to learn a language in a week. Trying to go too quickly will lead to burnout, as you realize that it takes people months and even years to be 100 percent comfortable speaking another language. It’s good to challenge yourself, but don’t set yourself up for failure. Second, you have to know that language learning requires a little vulnerability (which a Type 8 might be reticent to show). You’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to push up against your limits, but that’s all part of the process.
Type 9 — The Peacemaker
A Type 9 — the last on the Enneagram of Personality — is someone who, generally speaking, likes going with the flow. They’re people who will make a routine and stick to it. And that’s the trait that will come in handy when you’re learning a language. Once you’ve started learning a language every day, it should be easy to stick with it. It’s like inertia: it’s hard to get started, but once you’re going, you’ll keep going.
The most common problem that might arise for you is pushing yourself to go further. The status quo can be great, but learning a language is about stepping outside your comfort zone and experiencing new things. You’ll really need to work on that, especially if you want to start talking to other people. You can’t be afraid of opening your mouth and making mistakes just because someone else might get upset. First, they probably won’t get upset, and they might even give you a helpful tip for the future. Second, what’s the point of learning a language if you’re never assertive enough to use it? You can’t make everyone happy all the time, no matter what language you speak, so once in awhile you need to prioritize your own growth and learning.