Frustration and despondency can lead you to believe that a language is simply too difficult to learn. Whether you feel that way because you don’t think you are making progress, because you did poorly on a test or quiz, or because you are listening to music or radio and still find you can’t keep up, it doesn’t matter.
We all feel it at some point in the learning process. Some languages simply seem beyond our abilities. It is incredibly easy to allow that thought to keep you from pursuing learning the language.
As an English speaker the languages most likely to make you feel ill-at east (meaning you are more likely to think you won’t succeed) are the Asian languages. One of the most commonly cited reasons is that even their written language is nothing like ours. There are literally over 3,000 distinctly different characters to learn, and that’s when you don’t consider the other country specific forms of scripts (such as Kana and Hangul).
It can seem like an impossible task, and it will be if you keep that mindset.
Identify Why You Think It is Impossible
Before you begin to learn an impossible language, ask why you believe it is impossible.
I have always had an interest in learning Japanese, but didn’t do anything about it because I had been told how difficult it is to learn an Asian language. If you check out any website that compares learning English with other languages, Japanese is always classified as one of the few that is the most difficult (nearly impossible).
I know exactly why I thought I wouldn’t be able to learn the languages – everyone said it was impossible. Websites confirmed this to be true.
Before beginning my studies I had already decided it would be nearly impossible. Fortunately, I love a challenge and when someone tells me something like that is impossible, I am much more likely to try to prove them wrong.
You need to know what it is that made you believe you can’t learn something. Once you know what your main block is, you will be able to break it down into terms of reality.
Every language spoken today has been learned by the native speakers. That means that no language is impossible to learn.
Examining Difficult and Complex from another Angle
Both of these terms are relative. Ultimately, you decide if something is difficult or just complex. You pick what you are comparing something to, then decide when these two terms apply. In this case, what you are comparing it to is your native language.
One thing to remember here, you were actually learning your native language for about four or five years before you are considered fluent. And it was only in high school when most of us could speak about many subjects.
If that is easy, then a few years learning any other language is far simpler by comparison.
There will be challenges because even similar languages have a plethora of differences.
If you call something difficult, that is a completely subjective statement. It is a personal opinion, not a fact. If someonefinds Cantonese too difficult to learn, that is an opinion of the language, not a fact.
Never judge a language by how difficult other people have found learning the language to be.
Yes, if something is complex, that is pretty much a fact. Complex means that there are layers and intricacies that will take time to understand.
When it comes to languages, even the most dissimilar ones have common components, such as vocabulary, grammar, and lexicon. These are your building blocks.
It is easy to forget that our own language is just as complex as any other language. I never fully understand the complexity of English until I started learning German. Of course, I had learned about nouns, adjectives, and a lot of the basics, but I only had a vague idea of what a gerund was until I was learning German. It really drove home the point of how understanding the complexity of your own language can help you understand even the most dissimilar language.
You work with complex ideas every day. It should not be a deterrent to learning any language.
The Distance between Your First Language and Subsequent Languages
The biggest consideration when you start learning a language is understanding the relationship between your target language and your first language. German and English are closely related; French, Italian, and Spanish are closely related (the romance languages). Related languages have both similar structures and comparable vocabulary.
When you look at any Asian language and compare it to a European language, the languages appear to be unrelated (they are related, but very distantly). That doesn’t mean they are impossible. If you are in France and you want to travel, it is going to take you less time to reach Italy or Spain than it will to reach Germany, Denmark, China, or Korea. Languages are the same. The further the relationship between your first language and the one you want to learn, the longer it is going to take to reach fluency.
Fortunately, you can reduce the distance with these four tips.
Understanding Your Mindset
You have to know about your destination before you can reach it. Understand your preconceived notions about the language so you know where you are starting mentally. Be aware that your experience is going to be different from everyone else’s, especially the people who said a particular language was too difficult to learn. Do not bring their negativity into your learning.
Understanding Your Intentions
Why are you learning the language in the first place? Very few people decide to learn a language for fun (although there are a few of us). The more distant a language is from your first language, the stronger your intentions need to be for you to succeed.
You will need to draw from these intentions to keep yourself motivated later.
Set Your Course
Intentions and motivation are great, but without a plan, you are going to have a very difficult time reaching your goal. Learning a language is going to be a lengthy process, and you need to be prepared for the long haul.
The following are the key elements to keep in mind.
Your ultimate long-term goal should include a final time when you plan to be at your desired fluency level.
Setting aside time every day is absolutely essential for being successful, regardless of how closely related a language is to your own. Every new language is going to require daily practice, just the longer distances will require either more time every day or a lengthier long-term goal.
Determine How to Reach Your Destination
You need to know what tools you are going to use to reach your goals. This is going to vary based on your own abilities. People can certainly make recommendations, but everyone learns differently.
By tailoring your approach to learning a language, it goes from being impossible to a trip that you can make with the right amount of effort.
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