If you’re wondering how hard it is to learn a language, it may be because you’re intimidated by the task. However, learning a new language should be exciting and enjoyable, like learning new chess openings or trying to dunk a basketball.
Being bilingual or multilingual is a goal for many, and you’ll even see it on a LinkedIn skill list, as many employers appreciate bilingual workers. But is it worth the effort? How hard is it to learn a new language, really? Keep reading to find out.
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How Long Does It Take To Learn a New Language?
The answer to this question is highly subjective, as everyone learns at different rates, and some people have an aptitude for language.
It takes most people between three months and two years to learn how to comprehensively speak, write, and read a language, so they’re considered fluent. According to FSI research, it takes about 480 hours of dedicated practice and studying to achieve basic fluency.
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According to FSI research, it takes about 480 hours of dedicated practice and studying to achieve basic fluency.
What Is the Easiest Language to Learn?
You may think the answer to this is Spanish, but surprisingly, the easiest language for native English speakers to learn is Norwegian, followed by Swedish.
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Why Do Adults Struggle to Learn New Languages?
Generally, it’s more difficult for adults to learn a new language because their prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain dedicated to language learning and comprehension, is fully developed.
Before the prefrontal fully develops, it’s easier to accept new languages. With age, more of the region is dominated by your native language, leaving less room and flexibility to learn new languages.
How Hard Is It to Learn a New Language
If you’ve tried to learn a new language in the past and failed, you’re not alone. Most people who begin the journey to learn a new language do not achieve fluency within two years, if ever. Just over 95% of people who try to learn a new language in the US either drop out or never become fluent.
However, the failure to learn a new language is less about it being hard and more about taking the wrong learning approach. This section will discuss the factors that make language learning difficult and the biggest mistakes made when learning a new language.
Factors That Make Learning a New Language Harder
Below are four factors that can make language learning substantially harder.
Foreign Writing Systems: Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, Korean, and Japanese are among the hardest languages to learn because they use different alphabets. People must learn the alphabet and structure first, lengthening the learning process.
Complicated Pronunciations: Mastering the pronunciation of another language is difficult as an adult’s speech organs are fully formed. Languages with substantially different pronunciations for letters and syllables, like Polish or Russian, can take longer to grasp and speak.
Complex Grammar: Grammar is daunting even in your native language, so while learning vocab and pronunciations may be easy for some, grammar is a different beast. Without grammar, you can’t become fluent, so it’s one of the biggest hurdles for many people.
Different Dialects: Lastly, many languages, including English, have a variety of dialects, which can become confusing. You may feel fluent, but when you talk to a native speaker, you can’t understand them, muddying your grasp of the language.
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Common Language-Learning Mistakes Adults Make
Below are five common mistakes adults make when learning a new language, often failing.
Memorization: You cannot learn languages like other subjects. You can memorize an entire Spanish dictionary and still not be able to speak or understand any Spanish. This strategy is learning language as an object, meaning you can describe the language but you’re not fluent.
Comparison to Children: Children’s brains are more receptive to languages, so don’t compare yourself to kids, or anyone else. Trying to learn a language how a child would learn is not conducive to the adult brain map.
Lack of Commitment: Unsurprisingly, many adults fail to learn a new language due to a lack of commitment. Discomfort is not the enemy of learning, in fact, they’re best friends. Many adults quit because they think their discomfort is a sign of failure, but it’s not.
Lack of Consistency: Language learning takes time and practice, if you do not consistently practice the language, taking long breaks between speaking or studying, you won’t be able to progress.
No Real-World Use: Lastly, if you cannot speak to someone in the new language, do not write in the language, and only practice the language in strict academic studying sessions, you won’t become fluent. Without real-world use, your work leans more toward learning language as an object.
So, how hard is it to learn a new language, really? It’s only as hard as you make it.
Putting pressure on yourself, comparing yourself to others, and approaching the language too academically are common reasons for failure. But if you can avoid these, you’ll find that your brain is still apt to learn a language, and it can be a beautiful and fun journey.
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