Learning a New Language – How Easy (or Difficult) is It?

Today with have a guest post by Abby Nelson

I have a friend who can speak four different languages; and he’s not the kind who gets by with a few strategic words and sentences, he’s fluent in them too. If at all I envy anything in him, it is this multilingual ability which I know I can never emulate. Now while eternal optimists would tell me to never say never, and offer additional advice that anything is possible if you set your mind to it, those who are more realistic understand that learning a new language involves many different variables. For example:

- Popular belief has it that children pick up a new tongue faster than adults; but that’s not really true. What’s true is that kids who learn a new language before they reach puberty speak the tongue without the accent that makes it easy to identify non-native speakers. Adults and children are equally good at picking up new languages when exposed to it on a prolonged basis.

– Learning a new language is fastest when you try your hand at the spoken lingo, and the easiest way to do this is to spend time around native speakers who don’t speak any other language. This is why most of us pick up a new tongue within a few months of settling down in a foreign country where the local language is different from the one you speak. Necessity is the biggest motivator when it comes to picking up a new language – your survival instincts kick in and you initially pick up the basics necessary for communication; and with the passage of time, you learn more of the tongue and become more fluent in the language.

- When you learn a new language by listening to and speaking it, you pick up the vernacular slang and not the grammatical version of the tongue. So while you may be a proficient speaker after a while, you may not understand other aspects of the language.

- It takes effort to learn how to read and write the native script of a language. Some languages are easier than others if you already have the foundation laid to facilitate learning the script. For example, if you know how to read and write English, it’s easier to learn how to read and write languages that use the same script. You may have some difficulty with the pronunciation, but with a fair amount of practice, you can soon pick up this aspect of the language as well. Languages with complex scripts are the hardest to master to read and write.

So in conclusion, I think it’s safe to say that the ease or difficulty with which you master a language depends on personal necessity and motivation to learn the new tongue; so what’s a breeze for you may end up becoming an uphill climb for me and vice versa.

About the writer
Abby Nelson writes on the topic of Masters in Counseling. She welcomes your comments at her email id: abby.85nelson< @>gmail< .>com

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This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

7 Responses to Learning a New Language – How Easy (or Difficult) is It?

  1. Jurčík says:

    It consist how difficult it is-for example if I studied Danish along with Norwegian, it was difficult because it’s similar. But then, I have studied Spanish along with Greenlandic/Kalaallisut and it was easier-these two languages are different.

  2. Aidan says:

    I am not sure why you think that you couldn’t emulate him speaking four languages fluently. While it is admirable to be able to speak four languages it really doesn’t take any special talent to speak a language fluently. As you say yourself exposure is the key. The easiest way to get that exposure is to live in another country surrounded by a foreign language but there are plenty of other ways. Determined language learners can create a language ‘bubble’ where they seek out speakers of the target language. Depending on who lives where you live that may be relatively easy.
    In my case I grew up speaking English but I live in a country (Holland) where Dutch is the main language and my wife is Polish and speak that language to our children. That gives me easy exposure to three languages. At the same time, like most people, I learned languages at schools so I already had a good knowledge of Irish and French from there. In most countries in Europe people will take at least two foreign languages at school (in Holland it can be four or more). Even without going out of your way it is possible to have the chance to pick up a few languages.
    Also, I am also not convinced that speaking and listening to languages is the best way to become fluent. In my view reading is a really key skill. For example, I am learning Italian and I am totally concentrated on reading as much as possible. That way I will actually understand everything people are saying when I hear it.
    It is much easier to look up written words than words you hear. I see reading as the way to expand your vocabulary especially if you don’t live in the country. If I were reliant on listening to Italian or speaking my baby Italian I wouldn’t be able to make much progress. Reading gives me the basis, then I want to make sure I know the correct pronunciation and then I am confident to speak a language.

  3. Felix says:

    Surely the vernacular is just as “grammatical” as any other version of a language, but less standardized and therefore(?) perceived as less correct.

    Also, “not understand[ing] other aspects of the language” applies to many native speakers as well, e.g. the use of different stylistic levels.

  4. As an adult learning english my biggest challenge was and still in accent. Many English sounds are not existing in Chinese. It is like going through speech therapy; learning how to position your articulatory organs to produce the proper sounds. Exhausting but rewarding.

  5. I agree with your post, as we age we grow more intelligent (to a point). People overlook the extent to which children have exposure to their native language. If you lived in Germany for 6 years you could probably speak as well as a 12 year old (minus the accent), even though the 12 year old has twice as many years of experience with that language. Plus, as an adult speaker you’d be more articulate, which boils down to using language in more complex ways to express more complicated thoughts i.e. you could understand Wittgeinstien’s essays better.

    Another consideration is how similar the language is to your native language, which contrary to popular belief, is not only a matter on how related it is. There’s also typology to keep in mind. As an English speaker I do better with learning isolating languages, rather than a language with extensive conjugations Spanish, even though English and Spanish are both Indo-European. Also, language contact to bear in mind. Some languages also have extensive loan-words from a specific language. Some languages also have many more words than others; I’ve been speaking English for over 20 years and just learned the word ‘herse’ yesterday and that past tense ‘lead’ is spelled ‘led’ and not ‘lead’ (as ‘read’).

  6. Abbie says:

    As an adult learning english my biggest challenge was and still in accent.

    Yep. I think accent, ie proper phonology, is incredibly important. When you don’t learn the “accent”, you’re really just speaking an approximation of the language. I imagine this would make absorbing the spoken language harder. Can you develop a correct “internal voice” if your speech still reflects your native language?

    I recently began learning Spanish, and right now I’m focusing on the phonology, before anything else. That’s how children learn, so it seems the obvious place to start.

    I was initially amazed to discover the complexities of the phonology. I had three years of Spanish in middle school and I think the only subtlety I learned was v=b and that h was silent.

  7. When I was a child growing up in Toronto Canada we started learning French around the 3rd grade. The first thing we learned was how to count from 1-10 and then the alphabet. Learning French at a young age made it easier for me personally.