For most of us, learning a language from scratch isn’t always a walk in the park.
It takes a lot of time and a lot of energy. It can be confusing, tiring, demoralizing and often intimidating when it comes to building up the resolve to begin, or when it comes to finally speaking to a real flesh and blood person.
There’s no shame in admitting that it exhausts you, or that it takes a lot more dedication to learn a new language than you can always muster, and while there are countless strategies, methods and resources available to most learners, even the most effective, despite their claims, aren’t exactly major shortcuts.
I sometimes worry that the constant call for readers and community members to be working, working, working on their language projects, constantly placing pressure on you to learn, might be more demoralizing for some folks than it is motivational. I hear comments like this a lot on the Facebook page, in the various other social media groups and pages I follow and on the sites or comment sections of other language bloggers.
I’m not always the best about this either. I frequently find myself pushing the language learning process on others, even while struggling with my own difficulties more than I’m often willing to admit.
Being told that something is easy to do, only to then find yourself struggling against, can really get in the way of progress, so I’ll not lie and say that it’s “no big deal” or that “It’s so easy a gorilla can do it!”
A lot of experienced polyglots, news articles and language learners like to claim that learning a language is easy. I genuinely feel that most of them are simply saying this in an attempt to offer motivation to their readers, or sell a product, but sometimes it can really come across as little more than arrogance.
There will undoubtedly be people who disagree with my assertion – there usually are. Some people will naturally find that language study comes easier than others – and that’s alright – but it doesn’t seem fair to a less experienced or less confident learner to hold them to the same standards, or expect them to hold themselves to the same standards.
Some people make learning a language look like a piece of cake
Benny Lewis – often looked upon as one of the most influential figures in the language enthusiast community – bases his blog, his books and his reputation on the idea that he can reach fluency – or come damn close at least – in three months of intensive study.
He usually does pretty well.
At first glance, you have to assume he’s either showing off or insane. Perhaps he is to a degree, but it’s all part of building his brand – a brand that has managed to inspire thousands of people to get up and start learning.
Mr. Lewis doesn’t truly expect his readers to all just go out and reach fluency in three months – nor does he really encourage them to try, instead suggesting a more customized and realistic goal.
He has based his career around his intensive immersion and study lifestyle whereas most of us, even the most dedicated learners among us, aren’t in positions to have our lives revolve around our projects, nor do we have hundreds of thousands of followers clamoring for content, keeping the pressure on us.
He may make it look easy to the casual observer, but if you follow the man you’ll notice that it’s anything but.
He manages to learn a language so quickly because he works at it so incredibly strategically. He has also more or less mastered many techniques to maximize his time and energy right down to restricting his caffeine intake and timing his sleep schedules.
This includes having entirely sworn off alcohol. Would you do that? I wouldn’t.
Did I mention he’s done this with something like ten languages? It may never be easy, but it certainly becomes easier with every new language that you compound onto your repertoire.
The challenge is part of the fun
For some of us however, the challenge itself is a motivating factor. The trials and the slow mental burn – like the warm pain you feel after exercising – make it worth the time and effort. Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it needs to be unpleasant.
I hope that this post doesn’t serve to scare or intimidate you. If you’re having a hard time you’re not alone in your struggles and shouldn’t feel disheartened the next time someone tells you “Oh, Spanish is such an easy language to learn!” Effort, motivation, and dedication are key to success and you can manage all three.
Do you feel that being told a language is easy to learn helps or hinders your motivation?
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