WHAT ARE THE HARDEST THINGS ABOUT LEARNING A NEW LANGUAGE?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be proficient in several languages? It is even possible that you are already learning a new one. The learning process however, can be quite challenging and surprisingly not as easy as you would expect, especially depending on the particular language of interest. Getting insight into some of the problems you might encounter on your journey to mastering a foreign language, and thinking up feasible solutions to such problems could be the key to making the learning process easier and ensuring that the best possible results are achieved. So, what are some of the most difficult things to expect when learning a new language?

A. Fear: Learning a new language is relatively like exploring a new field. For some people, it may feel like getting pushed out of their comfort zones into an “unknown territory” where they have to struggle to grasp the concepts of communication. As humans are creatures that depend (to different extents) on patterns and routines, doing this as an adult can get quite scary probably because there is no memory (of how you overcame this hurdle while learning your first language as a child) to fall back on or routine to settle into, to make the learning process easier.

You may find yourself avoiding your interest or the actual process of learning a new language because of this fear. This is why whenever we are asked the first tip to acquiring a new language, we say ‘DEAL WITH THE FEAR’. Have you ever heard the saying that Rome was not built in a day? The truth is, no one is going to judge you for the mistakes you make while learning, you are the only one who can judge yourself.

B. Environment: It is common knowledge that your environment influences your learning process (and speed). It is obviously relatively easier to pick up and remember words in new languages faster when you are surrounded by native speakers and consequently exposed to the language more often. In this regard, learning could even be achieved passively by unintentionally absorbing the knowledge of a new language just by being around people who speak it. For language learners who are however not as fortunate, your environment could pose a big problem, due to a lack of opportunities for real-time practice.

Nevertheless, find every way to create the environment for yourself. Watch short videos, listen to music; bring the environment to yourself. Did you know that many English speakers actually acquired the language by mere constantly listening to English music?

C. Motivation: Some people have been found to be more committed and consistent with learning a new language when they have a specific need/purpose for it. It could be because of intentions to relocate in the nearest future or the necessity of knowledge of the language to work in certain environments/with certain people of interest, etc. It is common among people without such a purpose to have difficulties with maintaining interest or being consistent with learning the language because to an extent, need is a driving factor for accomplishment, and the lack thereof can result in complacency or disinterest.

One of the proven ways to maintain interest in new hobbies or activities of interest is to find people with similar interests and share your knowledge and progress on the journey. It is much easier to continue at something if friends or people in the same circle as you are also actively involved in it. For people with a stronger sense of self-discipline, another way to maintain interest is to set goals for yourself on your language learning journey, and make a decision to reward yourself when you meet such goals. A lot of the time, the promise of reward could be just what you need to motivate you.

D. Language learning background: Many linguists agree that one’s first language (or other languages one is already proficient in) can go a long way in determining the ease of learning a new one. For instance, with similar languages like Spanish and Portuguese (with a lexical similarity of about 90 percent), proficiency in one could equate to ease of learning the other, due to similar concepts, similar word spellings and sounds with very little variation, similar rules for learning the languages, etc. However, for someone who has been exposed to a language like English their entire adult life, learning languages like Arabic, Chinese or Russian can prove to be quite the hurdle because of the great number and degree of differences in language structure (alphabet system, spelling and pronunciation among others).

It is in the learner’s interest in such situations to pay particular attention to the rules of the language they are interested in. Approach each lesson with an open mind that is willing to unlearn and relearn, especially for languages that are very dissimilar to your first language. The less you rely on your first language to recognise patterns, the less confusing the learning process might be for you. Also, a lot of practice is necessary if one is to master such complex languages.

Key note: Be patient with yourself. Proficiency in foreign languages doesn’t just happen overnight!

E. Form and Usage: The form and usage of some languages could be the problem some people have in getting familiar with them. For instance, not all languages have grammatical genders. Languages such as French, Spanish, German, etc. associate some words with gender (gender-specific nouns); if you are used to a language such as English where majority of the words do not change with gender, this could be quite an interesting challenge to overcome. Also, in languages like Spanish where the adjective is placed after the noun it is modifying in the sentence (as opposed to being the other way round in English), learning can get quite confusing.

Just as stated in the previous point, it would help in this case to pay attention to all the rules of whatever new language you might be interested in. Constant practice would also get you familiar with new concepts in no time. Remember, practice makes progress.

NOTE TO THE READER: There are several other kinds of difficulties that could be encountered during the process of getting familiar with a new language, some more individually specific than the ones described above. We would therefore like to hear your thoughts on this matter.

What are the problems that you have encountered on your language learning journey?

*References available on request

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