Most people who’ve never studied a second language always ask, “Is language learning a difficult endeavor?” The knee-jerk reaction for most of you, probably, is to wittily retort, “Well, you should try and see for yourself.” Of course, that answer doesn’t help anyone, so we’ll try to cover that question here.
Learning A Language Is Easy
Learning a language is no harder than wrapping your head around a new subject in school. Or learning a new sport. Or learning a new on-the-job skill. Sure, it takes work, but it’s also within most people’s realm of capabilities. Watched under that light, learning a new language is actually pretty easy.
Language learning isn’t a special field of study that requires special skills. If you’re reading this, in fact, then you’ve already learned English at some point in your life, just like you learned to walk, ride a bike or drive a car. Just like you learned elementary math, introductory biology and basic chemistry in school. Barring any brain impairment, everyone can learn a new language, so it’s no more easier nor difficult than any other area of study.
Language Learning In Practice
In the real world, most people struggle with learning a new language, all while they seem to do well enough learning new things for school, for work and for their hobbies. It’s not that the actual process of picking up a foreign vernacular is any more difficult; most of the time, success and failure in language learning comes down to how consistently you can persevere at it. And most folks just don’t care to put in the necessary effort.
When we’re in school, we sit through our lessons on a daily basis, take home assignment work and participate in regular testing to rate our progress. For the most part, we take to it like it’s our sworn duty. As such, we feel compelled to do the work on a regular basis. With many people who attempt to learn a language, there’s just not that kind of dedication when it comes to learning a new language, especially if they’re it without being required by work or circumstance.
Compare it to losing weight. Exercising 1 hour a day, 3 days a week sounds easy enough. Yet what percentage of people who sign up for annual gym memberships still use theirs after a month? The same goes with language learning. Most people put in the initial effort, but just don’t bother to follow through.
Difficulty Isn’t The Issue
Sure, there is some amount of difficulty with language learning. But it’s not anything special. For the most part, you won’t encounter anything that you haven’t faced learning a new skill at school, at work or at a gym. The real challenge is being able to motivate yourself to stick to the lessons and practice long enough so you can actually integrate the skills into your working abilities.
Being able to do the work, day after day, is where the real difficulties arise. There’s no shortcut to it. You’ll have to sit down with your language software on a daily basis, go through each lesson and practice as much as you can. All that, while attending to all the other things you have going on in your life.
But So-and-So Said It’s Difficult
Pick up a phrasebook and memorize five related phrases from it. Were you able to do it? Of course you were. That’s language learning in a nutshell — you just do the same thing over and over. Sure, you’ll also learn patterns, relationships and other elements of language along the way, but none of them will be any more difficult than that.
If you’ve had the idea that language learning is hard because someone told you, be wary. It’s no different than an 18 year old who failed the driver’s test twice saying “Getting a permit is so difficult.” Chances are, they’re saying it’s hard because it’s the easiest excuse available, not necessarily because they failed to learn because the subject itself is hard.
That’s why it’s important never to lose your motivations — the primary reasons you have for studying the language. Your motivation creates intent and that deliberate intention is usually what pushes you to work through the grind involved in language learning day after day.
Without motivation, it becomes too easy to quit, since there’s no reason to subject yourself to these daily routines. Make sure you have them written down somewhere accessible, like your phone or on a note in your wallet. That way, you can check them out anytime you feel like skipping another lesson, class or opportunity for practice.
Before you start a language program, make a commitment to stick to it. A strong intent to follow through on all the activities necessary to reach your learning goals can make the difference between doing the six months or so necessary to gain a strong facility of the language and losing interest somewhere down the line. Resolve to never quit until you’ve reached your goals (remember: make them measurable and specific), regardless of what they may be.
Time and Effort
If you’re going to learn a new language, you must be prepared to invest time and effort into it. Native speakers have been learning it since they were infants born into their families; your own path as an adult isn’t likely to be shorter or easier. You’ll need to put in your hours and do the work — there’s no warp zone to enter and exit out the other side.
Building a rich vocabulary requires committing one word to memory at a time. That usually means more than just reading a word, understanding its meaning and repeating to yourself until it sticks. Instead, having ready access to new vocabulary elements require repeated use in different situations, so that you gain an understanding of both meaning and the contexts in which they apply. That way, you get accustomed to integrating them in your speech, such that the right word comes to you right when you need it.