Is Learning a Language Difficult?
A general misconception exists that learning a language is difficult. I also held this view, but that changed when I started to learn Spanish. I now believe that learning a language is not difficult. What Do We Mean by ‘Difficult’? The truth is this, when most people say that something is ‘hard’ or ‘difficult’ what they really mean is that it’s going to take time, effort and it’s not going to come easy. All of those things apply to learning a language, but I don’t believe learning a language is difficult. You see, language is complex system made up of many parts and small details, however, all of these can be learnt easily when the necessary time is dedicated, and an effective approach is adopted. I’ve come to realise that most of the challenges we face when learning a language don’t exist as part of the language, they exist as part of ourselves. Developing Skill and Self-Mastery Often what’s considered difficult when learning a language is staying consistent, maintaining focus, having the will to push forward when you want to give up, dealing with limiting beliefs like ‘I’m not smart enough’, ‘What was I thinking’, ‘I can’t do this’ ect, ect… I asked people on Facebook what they found most challenging when learning a new skill, you can read their response here. Learning a language – or any skill – consciously and successfully is primarily a case of self-mastery; having what it takes to push forward in the face of adversity and learning to feel at home outside of your comfort zone. I’ll reiterate: Most of the challenges we face when learning a language don’t exist as part of the language, they exist as part of ourselves. As I mentioned here, deciding to learn a language was one of the best decisions I ever made. Amongst other things, I learnt how to overcome hurdles, how to shut out the voice that told me to quit, how to stay focused and how to learn. Honestly, I’m not exaggerating when I say that learning a language taught me how to grow as a person. Of course, there will be aspects of a language we find challenging and they will take time to learn, but I still hold the strong opinion that learning a language is not difficult. Any Other Opinions? I decided to ask the question ‘is learning a language difficult?’ to a handful of successful language learners Here are their responses: Randy Hunt speaks 3 languages fluently and a few others with varying degrees of fluency; he says: It’s not learning a language that’s hard. Actually, taken at face value, “learning” is easy, and “language” is easy. Then again, exercising is easy too. So is saving money and paying bills. But in a world full of diet pills, spray-on tans, cosmetic surgeries, lottery tickets, and game shows, it’s hard to deny that the hard part of any big task is having the consistency, the perseverance, the patience to see it through. This is why foreign language skill remains such an effective signal about people. Learning the language is the easy part; the hard part is dong all the work, day after day. Steve Kaufmann speaks 10 languages fluently; he says: I think language learning is difficult for many people, if they have never achieved fluency in another language before. They have no sense of what it is like and no confidence they can do it. They need to trust that their brain will learn. They should avoid the frustrating task of trying to master grammar in a language for which they have insufficient experience or exposure. They also should not put pressure on themselves to produce the language too early. This is stressful and unnecessary. If they focus on getting the language in them through lots of interesting input. If they accept patiently that they will forget much of what they learn, and that the language will remain fuzzy for quite a while, then it they will learn, but it takes time. Many people are simply too impatient. Language learning takes time.It is not the learning itself that is difficult, it is staying the course. Robert Bigler is a simultaneous interpreter who speaks 5 languages fluently and a few others with varying degrees of fluency; he says: Learning a language requires dedication more than anything else. It is not a difficult but certainly a time-consuming task. There is no quick one-size-fits-all solution. Learning a language is like getting to know a person. You have to invest a lot of time to produce lasting results. I’m convinced we all can learn any language to a degree that allows us to communicate in that language if we are serious about it. As long as you are motivated enough and enjoy what you are doing, you will succeed. Just don’t expect to be fluent in any language over night. It takes time, but it is all worth it. Jana Fadness speaks 2 languages fluently and a handful of others with varying degrees of fluency; she says: When I first got into learning languages, there was no one around me to tell me it was difficult, and so I never thought about it. I just started learning Japanese because it seemed interesting, and I kept learning it because it was fun. None of my family or friends knew anything about learning languages, so I guess none of them felt qualified to say, “You’ll never learn Japanese unless you do X, Y and Z.” I mean, they thought I was weird, but I didn’t care about that. It was only later on that I met people who said “Japanese is really freaking difficult”, but by that time I had fallen so in love with the language that I didn’t care. I was determined to learn the language, and it didn’t matter how difficult it was or how long it would take. Now I have learned Japanese, and I’m telling you it was totally worth it. I’m not going to tell you how long it took or how hard it was, because it doesn’t matter and it never did. None of that time or effort was wasted. Rather than asking ourselves “Is this difficult?”, I think we should be asking “Is this really worth doing?” If the answer is yes, we should just do it. Difficulty is irrelevant. Susanna Zaraysky speaks 7 languages fluently; she says: Language learning in general is not difficult because it can be made into a fun game using music and the media. There are difficult aspects of memorizing and internalizing grammar rules so that they stick and make sense. Pronunciation can also be difficult if one is not used to new sounds and listening carefully but once the language learner gets used to learning how to listen, this barrier melts away. It’s all about one’s mindset. You can make grammar fun by listening to a song and paying attention to how many times a certain grammatical structure is used. It’s about your attitude. Look for ways to make languages enjoyable and they won’t be difficult. Benny Lewis speaks 8 languages fluently and a few others with varying degrees of fluency; he says: It’s quite a subjective question because it depends on a million things like your circumstances, goals, and willingness to be flexible. I think that it can indeed be difficult at times, but in a way your mentality can cancel this out. I’m reminded of the first language challenge I took on (apart from lazy exam-only language learning in school) of trying to learn Spanish at age 21. For six months it definitely was difficult – but not because of irregular conjugations, rolled rs and new vocabulary – because I was constantly reminding myself of how difficult the task was. Since I was “too old” to be learning a language, and didn’t have the “language gene”, and tried a traditional classroom environment again and was the worst student, I was definitely sure of Spanish’s difficulty. However, one day I put all of this negative reinforcement aside and just got into the language; using it for real, and ignoring the difficulties as simply part of the process rather than brick walls preventing me from continuing. I would take the “glass is half full” approach of reminding myself how far I had come and how logical the language really was and soon progress started to flow much more. Luca Lampariello speaks more than 8 languages fluently; he says: I totally agree with you on the fact that calling something difficult makes it ..difficult. Learning a language is not difficult, but there is a general and pernicious tendency (school, some teachers; learners themselves) make it much, much more difficult than it really is. Learning how to speak a language is like building a castle. If we want to build it in a few days, and we don’t know how to build it, we’ll find the task VERY difficult. If we instead consider our task as something “sophisticated, complex” that we can only build over time, “brick by brick” then we’ll find the experience engaging and fascinating. Interest and attitude are driving forces in language learning, and in life in general. Also, you can watch a video Luca made speaking about the topic by clicking here As you can see, I’m not the only one that holds this view. Learning a language is not difficult. What do you think? By David Mansaray