Right now, if I felt like it, I could send a text to someone in Argentina, and ask them how their day is. Within milliseconds, my message would be sent somewhere thousands of miles away, and I could reasonably expect a response just seconds later. Our ancestors would be blown away by this, as they had to wait days, weeks, or months to receive responses to their communiques.
As a part of this ease of communication, more and more business is being conducted across international borders. People are now exchanging ideas in goods and ways never dreamed imaginable due to the advances of modern technology. However, not all people speak the same language. Although 1 in 7 people do speak English, that means that 6 in 7 don’t. Therefore, if you wish to go high up in this globalized society, learning a new language will take you far.
Difficulty of Learning a Language
Sadly, learning an entire language isn’t as easy as putting a microchip into your head and calling it a day. Learning a language takes energy and time in the form several months or years, depending on the language. Of course, with all languages being different, some languages are easier for English speakers to learn. The US State Department’s Foreign Service Institute has compiled a list separating languages into four different levels of difficulty to learn.
Level I languages, or languages that take around 23-24 months/575-600 class hours to learn, include languages like Spanish, French, Italian and Dutch, among others.
The next level, Level II, consists of languages that are more difficult than Level I languages and take around 44 weeks/1100 class hours to learn. Many of these languages have different alphabets than English, like Russian, Greek, and Hindi, or significantly different words (not as many cognates, or “similar sounding words,” like in Level I languages).
Level III languages are the most difficult languages to learn, taking 30-36 weeks/2200 class hours or more to learn. Languages in this category include Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Arabic. These languages are significantly different than English, all of them using different script styles and grammatical rules than the Romance and Germanic languages featured in Level I.
There is another category of languages, separate from the other three. These languages typically take 30-36 weeks/750-900 class hours to complete, making them more difficult than Level I languages and slightly easier to learn than Level II languages. Languages at this level of difficulty include Indonesian, Swahili, and Malay.
No matter what category the language you want to learn is in, you should be prepared to spend plenty of time studying and practicing that language in order to achieve fluency.
Good Methods of Learning a New Language
According to a Russian workbook I got for Christmas last year, “repetition is the mother of all learning.”
As many of us have found out over years of having to cram information into our skulls to
pass tests succeed in life, repeating something over and over is a good way to remember it. Studying vocabulary and grammatical rules for the language you’d like to learn and then repeating those words is a great way to get them ingrained into your conscious – but only for a short time.
In order to actually retain the knowledge, you have to continue to use it. For example, this past summer my father and I went to Québec, Canada, an area with a predominantly French-speaking population. While he could muster up some basic phrases, my dad, who had spent years in middle school, high school and college learning French, wasn’t able to form complex sentences in the language. The problem was that he hadn’t used the language since college, so there was virtually no reason for him to retain knowledge of the language.
So the best way to learn and retain a language is to surround yourself with people that also speak — or are learning — the language. One easy way to do this is take classes that are either offered at your school or at a local community college. Here at Leesville, we have courses in Latin, French and Spanish.
But what if there aren’t any courses for the language you want to learn in your area? Well then, the internet will become your best friend (if it isn’t already).
There are many forums and services on the internet that can help you learn a new language, and make sure that you keep using it. For instance, the free website and app Duolingo reminds you daily to study and offers full courses in 22 different languages. Memrise, a similar language-learning service offers courses in dozens of the languages.
Another way to use the internet in order to learn a language is to join chat rooms, forums, social media applications, etc dedicated to your target language. Like with courses, these will allow you to surround yourself with people that know or are learning the language. To help me learn Russian, I’m a member of a WhatsApp group made up of both native speakers and learners. I can testify that this has helped me further learn the language and will continue to help me in the future.
It would also be a good idea to watch films and read news in your target language. Most major streaming services offer a variety of foreign-language films, and most news sites offer their news in several languages. And, with around 64% of Leesville students using their phones for three or more hours a day, it might be beneficial to change your phone’s language to the one you want to learn, so you receive constant exposure to that language.
How to Stay Motivated
Learning another language is hard, no matter which one it is. Even being fluent in Pig Latin (meaning that you can quickly speak it without long pauses) isn’t exactly a cake walk. With that, some of the grammar, spelling and pronunciation will be complicated and frustrating. For some people, that’s the fun part of learning the language, and don’t necessarily need the extra motivation to keep going. But for others, this might not be enough. Here are some methods of keeping yourself motivated to learn a new language.
- Learn about the culture surrounding the language: Languages don’t just come out of nowhere. They come from a group of people that have hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of years worth of history and culture. Studying those things can help you better understand the people who speak your target language, and can create a new connection between you and it.
- Learn with somebody else: Outside of classes, practicing your target language with friends or relatives will allow you to gain experience with it, and increase your level of fluency.
- Learn some fun phrases: Sometimes it’s a good idea to learn idioms and colloquialisms to better understand how people usually speak the language, instead of speaking solely in a formal, stuffy, totally grammatically correct way.
On the whole, however, motivation has to come from within. If you want to learn a language, you can’t rely on others to push you to learn and speak it. Outside motivation is certainly important, but inner motivation is vital.
Overall, learning a new language is certainly manageable. But it’s going to take a long time and a lot of hard work before you can parlez vous français, habla español, or говорит по-русски.