No, learning a foreign language is not easy.

After studying German off and on for a number of years, along with a variety of other languages, I feel it’s my duty to let everyone who wants to learn a foreign language in on a little secret: learning a foreign language isn’t easy. Despite what dozens of programs would have you think – “Learn [X] in 10 Minutes a Day”, “Learn [X] the Fast and Fun Way”, etc. – slogging through a foreign language is hard work. Sometimes it’s infuriating, painful even, depending on what language you’re studying and what problems you’re facing. I’m not saying that studying a foreign language is hopeless or pointless or anything like that – I think studying a foreign language (or many!) is a rewarding endeavor, one which can often be enjoyable. But do I think that learning a foreign language is a piece of cake, like many language learning programs try to make it appear? Not in the least.

I think programs that try to make learning a foreign language sound like learning to tie your shoes are actually harmful to learners, because they often give beginners a false idea of what will be required of them. “Oh, I’ll be able to learn [X] in a month, studying only 10 minutes a day!” Not exactly. You might be able to get down some basic greetings, farewells – the very basics – but that’s about it.

Let’s be honest, though. We all know why the programs are marketed that way – because we all wish we could learn a language in a month, particularly us Americans. We’re spoiled. We want to know how to do “it”, whatever “it” is, and we want to know how to do it a week ago. I’d say if a program were marketed with “Learn [X] in 3 years, with 1-3 hours of study per day, every day”, they wouldn’t sell many copies…

But if you’re going to really study a language, really try to master a language, you might as well settle down with a similar timeframe. You can become proficient in many language in less time; some languages might take much longer. But with any foreign language, you’re looking at some multiple of years – not months – to become proficient in the language. The sooner you accept that and plan accordingly, the sooner you won’t be let down by having your hopes in the clouds. Don’t be fooled by the “learn a language in a month!” programs.

2 thoughts on “No, learning a foreign language is not easy.”

  1. You’re absolutely right! Thinking about my own experiences, it’s taken me 4 years to even come close to being “literary” fluent. That means I still have listening, speaking, and writing to work on all of which will probably take the same amount of time.

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