Food for Thought

Language-Learning Is Hard: True or False?

We live in an ‘instant-gratification’ society these days. In a way, the time it takes to pronounce the word ‘instant’ is counterproductive to the actual definition of the word. When people claim that language-learning is hard, they tend to mean that they have to wait for what they want. We can’t instantly download every aspect of a language–grammar, syntax, vocabulary, intonation, tones, etc.–into our brains [at least not yet], so the language-learning process becomes frustrating. We have to wait for these linguistic pieces, or ‘documents’, to load and then synthesize… which gives the impression that language-learning is ‘hard’. In reality, it just takes more time to ‘download’ than many are willing to wait. But we all accepted dial-up at one point in time, so just wait it out. It will be worth the tried patience.

How We Learn Language

When friends or relatives hear that you are learning a foreign language, the first question they invariably ask is, “What can you say?” Unfortunately, and although usually well-intentioned, this is the wrong question. As you stammer and mutter about what you are learning in your class, instead of producing actual language, mortification settles in and you ask to be excused. What a pity, right? You know you are learning, but you can’t say anything.

Stop for a second now and think about how you learned language as a baby. Did anyone ask you on Day #1 what you could say? What about Day #200? If you are the student, give yourself a break. Babies must hear a lot of language before they begin speaking; the same is true for you. Likewise, if you know someone who is learning a new language, give them a break. Show your enthusiasm and encouragement, but avoid pressuring them to produce language.  Keep in mind that the emotional connection grows deeper and more profound as you grow older (and spend more time with a language). The same is true in your native tongue. You gain more insight and knowledge of cultural nuances every day. Fascinating, isn’t it?