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Our April 2023 Event: Too old to learn and too foreign to teach: Misconceptions about teaching and learning a new language. A talk by Ana Ilievska Završnik

At the recent Language Professionals Networking Event in April, we had the pleasure of hosting Ana Ilievska Završnik as our guest speaker. Ana shared her expertise on the topic of “Misconceptions about teaching and learning a new language”. Her insights shed light on common misconceptions that language professionals often come across in this field, and provided valuable insights and tricks to counter them.

Too Old To Learn and Too Foreign To Teach

The event commenced with a gracious welcome from our host Gabriella Ferenczi, followed by an introduction of our speaker, Ana Ilievska Završnik.

Ana introduced herself with great enthusiasm, expressing her passion for languages, particularly Macedonian and Slovene, as they hold a special place in her cultural heritage. Her dedication to language teaching and learning was evident as she shared her expertise and insights during the event.

“I just want to create a better world through languages.”

Ana Ilievska Završnik

Ana emphasised that misconceptions can often act as barriers, preventing us from exploring new things or learning a new language. These misconceptions can limit our potential and hinder our progress, and it’s important to address and overcome them in order to fully embrace new experiences and opportunities.

Misconceptions about teaching and learning a new language

Ana brought to light countless misconceptions. One is something that often comes up in our discussions in the community: that only native speakers are qualified to teach a language, and that translators can only be bilingual individuals.

To counter this all too common misconception, she drew a parallel using the metaphor of a mountaineer and a sherpa, where the mountaineer is accompanied by a sherpa who guides them every step of the way to the mountain’s summit, providing necessary support and expertise. Similarly, Ana highlighted that language learning is a collaborative effort between the teacher and the student, and that the ideal teacher is like a sherpa. The advantage of a non-native speaker is that they have traversed the same path of learning the language themselves and can guide others effectively. Ana  suggested as a possible way to fight against this misconception  is to use the mountain metaphor:

Relying solely on a native speaker to teach a language is akin to being guided by someone born on the mountain top who shouts directions from above. Instead, a non-native speaker who has conquered the language themselves often has valuable insights into the teaching process and a deep understanding of the language.

Ana Ilievska Završnik

This highlights the unique perspectives that non-native speakers can bring to language education and helps potential clients appreciate that expertise.

Apart from this one, Ana mentioned several other misconceptions such as “you will learn while listening to the radio” and “I am too old to learn a language” and “English is enough” and “We learn a language in the same way”. As she put it:

“…there is not one recipe to learn a language…”

Ana Ilievska Završnik

Ana’s talk emphasised the importance of understanding that language learning is a highly individualised process, and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It does not matter how old you are or the way you learn it. People have different backgrounds, learning styles, and preferences, and it’s important to find what works best for you as a learner.

From a student perspective, it is important to be an active learner. Actively listening, paraphrasing, deep thinking when reading or listening, and writing down what you have learned are all effective strategies for language acquisition that teachers should highlight. Making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process, and being open to asking for help from teachers, using dictionaries, and other sources of information can greatly facilitate the language learning journey.

Ana reminded us teachers that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to learn a language, and it’s important to find what works best for the student and encourage them to be proactive in their learning journey. With dedication, effort, and the right resources, anyone can achieve success in learning a new language.

Furthermore, Ana addressed the all-too-common misconception around age and that it’s a barrier to learning. As she demonstrated, older individuals often have cognitive strengths and advantages, such as more vocabulary, knowledge, and life experiences that can aid in language learning. 

However, as Ana also mentioned, older learners may also face challenges such as learning anxiety, overthinking, and influence from others’ failures, which can impact the learning process. It’s important for teachers to be aware of these factors and provide support accordingly.

While English is a global and dominant language, it’s not enough in today’s world. Learning other languages has been scientifically proven to broaden horizons and facilitate understanding of different cultures. It can also help break down barriers between colleagues from different countries, fostering better communication and collaboration.

“…English is used to connect with people, learning a new language can help us to have more influence on people…”

Ana Ilievska Završnik


We extend our heartfelt thanks to our guest speaker, Ana Ilievska Završnik, for sharing her invaluable tips and advice on how we can fight against these common misconceptions surrounding language learning and teaching. We are also grateful to all the attendees who actively participated in the discussion that followed Ana’s talk and shared their comments and perspectives on grammar, business and all things that come with being a language professional in an ever-changing world.

We look forward to welcoming you to our upcoming event in May. To stay updated on our latest news and event dates, do subscribe to our email list.

About the Speaker

Ana Ilievska Završnik is a lecturer, a translator, and a chartered language specialist for Macedonian and Slovene language. She is working as a cultural and language consultant for public and corporate sectors across the UK, and as a volunteer translator and integration mentor for international human rights organisations. She is a founder of the online school Language Yoga – School of Macedonian and Slovene language.

Ana holds a university degree in South Slavic languages and Sociology of Culture from University of Arts, Ljubljana. She completed training courses and certificates relevant to her professional activities with institutions such as Chartered Institute of Linguists, Linguistic Association of Great Britain, The British Association for Applied Linguistics and the British Association for Slavonic & East European Studies. She is also a member of the ONA VE / SHE KNOWS – Slovenian Association that connects female experts from various fields and topics and promotes their knowledge in such a way that they are more recognizable in society.

She likes museums, galleries, and coffee, preferably together, language conferences and events, listening to Scottish Gaelic and reading grammar books, eating potica and drinking боза, preferably separate.

Feel free to connect with Ana on LinkedIn and check out her websites:

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