The Difficulty of Process


Last week I wrote about what makes a language difficult to learn. The post was intended to deal with the topic of what makes one language more difficult than another categorically. Whatever the language you are learning, however, there are certain difficulties involved in the process of acquisition.

How much? What? When? How?

The biggest problem is knowing how much of what to do when, and how to do it. Most people make the mistake of thinking language learning is about resources, or about classes. It's not. At least, it shouldn't be.

Many people end up purchasing loads of resources without actually knowing how to use them. Where to start? How much of each to do every day? Which resources are better than others? Some take classes, but have nowhere to go once finished with the course.

I tell my students that ideally they'll get to the point where they can learn a language with as few pre-constructed resources as possible. Resources — such as textbooks, computer programs, grammars, etc. — are often necessary when starting out. A class with a good teacher can also help in getting started. But many people I know never get beyond the resource or beyond the class. There's always another level, another book, another tape. My goal in working with people is to get them to the point as quickly as possible where they're reading real books, watching real films, and speaking with real people. Then, everything in the language becomes a resource, whether it's a traffic sign, a novel, or a person. The process doesn't stop there, but it changes and becomes a lot more fun.

When you know what to focus on, how much of those activities to do, when in the language learning process to do them, and also how to do them on your own, you can really start to fly through a language. The reason for this is that different aspects of a language are more important at different times during the process of acquisition. Different aspects are also more or less important depending on a person's goals in the language they're learning. Being able to adjust the balance for different purposes and throughout the language learning process as one progresses is critical to efficient and effective learning.


Motivation to keep going, keep focusing on drilling the language, is often the biggest challenge language learners face. When you can go beyond the resource, however, you get to choose examples of the language that interest you. You start to convert your normal day into the new language and replace activities in your mother tongue with the same activities in the new language. The hurdle of motivation starts to disappear once you get over the initial hump of building a foundation.


One problem — and it's one that is becoming less and less of an issue with the internet and globalization — is accessibility to the language. How many speakers of the language do you know? Can you easily get books and movies in the new language? It becomes easier to learn certain languages just because examples are easier to obtain. It's easy to turn on French or Spanish subtitles on a lot of movies, something that's not so easy if you're learning a language like Rohingya.

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