While a good school, teacher and good materials can help a great deal in learning a language fast and well, the single most important factor that will determine the success of your language learning is: you.
In earlier posts, I have covered many of the common excuses for not learning a language, such as:
- “I am too old to learn a language well”
- “I am not good at languages, never was and never will be”
- “I have no time”
The fact is that almost anyone is able to learn a new language up to a decent level. But it often doesn’t happen, because learning a language takes more time and persistence than most of us are willing to put into it.
We tend to forget that learning our mother tongue has also been a process that took many years and involved making countless mistakes and facing the frustrations associated with all that.
Learning another language is not going to be more difficult than the languages we learnt before, but it’s not going to be any easier either. If you start with that mindset and are willing to commit the time and effort to make it through, you will be successful. In many cases, though, it takes so long to see any progress that we grow demotivated before we are able to harvest from the learning effort we put in.
I know a particular case where a German girl quit her Mandarin lessons after about 1 month of full-time learning. It was ‘just too difficult’. I and most of my fellow students with a European background started to see the first results (being able to ask for something simple) after about 6 weeks.
By quitting so early, this girl wasted 4 weeks, along with the money it took her to come to Singapore to learn Mandarin. I don’t doubt her intelligence – she may be more intelligent than me. But what’s the use of intelligence, if because of her attitude, she wasn’t able to make full use of it?
As a positive contrast, I once heard a long term American expat in Japan say: ‘Everyone in Japan needs to learn Japanese eventually. There is no way around it. It takes about 2 years to learn Japanese. I am a rather slow learner for languages, but I am here for 10 years now and took about 3 years to learn it.’
If she had put in the same amount of effort, would the German girl have been able to learn Mandarin? Of course she would. It’s a simple fact that whatever your IQ is, learning a language takes continuous effort over a long period of time. I’d rather be a bit less intelligent, but ‘stubborn’ enough to stay the course for long enough to see the results.