Language Myth #2

12 November 2020
Myth #2: It should be EASY to learn a new language! If it’s hard, then something’s wrong.

Truth: It’s HARD work to learn a new language. It is NOT easy! You’ve been lied to by commercial vendors and programs that want to make a quick buck when they say that it’s quick and easy! The truth is that it is takes a lot of mental and emotional energy to learn. Some students think that they shouldn’t have to think about it so much. They think it should just be absorbed without really mentally processing it much, similarly to how children learn language. Well, the truth is that we’re adults now. Adults think complex abstract thoughts and when learning a new language these complex thoughts can’t always be expressed until deeper language skills are developed.
Most adults have to mentally process language as they learn it. Some people have to think about it more than other people. The language learner will need to evaluate how much he needs to think about things instead of comparing himself to others – there will always be those who learn more quickly than others.

When we were studying Bengali in Northern India 20 years ago, I could think about the qualities of my marriage that made it so wonderful (such as having a loving tender spouse that cared for me and my needs). What I could actually say was that “I love my husband.” I couldn’t expound on what made me love him so much. So, I had very complex thoughts in my first language, but I couldn’t yet express those thoughts in my new language. I had to grow in my abilities in my new language in order to express more complex ideas. This is what makes language learning so difficult for an adult. We’d have much less frustration about learning colors and shapes if our thoughts only processed concrete descriptions of objects or places. If all I processed were red trucks or green apples such as children process, then learning colors wouldn’t frustrate me. Whatever learning method you use as an adult, you will still have the mental ability to process complex thoughts but only be able to use simple language. This is the tension of learning a new language as an adult. It is only when you have a deeper grasp of the language that you can express abstract ideas.