Learning a language is hardest the first time

I am often asked which language was hardest to learn. In a way I guess I should say it was Chinese, with all the characters and the four tones etc. Yet I learned to read books and newspapers and speak on a variety of subjects in less than a year.

On the other hand, it took me more than 12 years to reach that level in French, through school and university. Most things are hardest the first time. We are afraid, apprehensive, not confident we can do it. We can’t visualize ourselves speaking another language. We do not believe in ourselves. Once we learn one language, we break through a barrier. From then on, languages may be difficult, and even seem impossible at first, but they are all learnable. The learning becomes easier.

What has been the experience of others?

One thought on “Learning a language is hardest the first time

  1. Wow, for once I actually agree with you.Indeed, in my experience with languages, Spanish is among the absolute easiest to learn. However, as it was my first, it was also one of the most difficult, and it took the longest.I think the introduction of new concepts is the reason why the first language is so hard — learning to think of things like "subjunctive", and "imperfective", and "noun gender", and a whole array of grammatical concepts which we aren’t even aware of in English.Now, though, I am ready to say that the number of new concepts I’ve had to learn for Russian, even as a seasoned language learner, are more than what was new to me when I first learned Spanish. By that measure, I would say that Russian "is harder", even as much as I despise that phrase.

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