Language Learning 

What I Wish I Knew Before I Learned my Second Language

The truth is, I hated learning my second language. I thought so many times that it wasn't worth my while and that I would quit. The only reason I kept on going is because my girlfriend and I couldn't communicate if she didn't learn English and I didn't learn Spanish. So I kept at it and eventually got good enough that we can speak and actually communicate.

And in the process, I realized somebody should really have told me the most important thing about learning that second language.

The beginning is by far the hardest. This is true for two reasons.

Reason one

The first one is that the best way to learn a language it to actually speak it. This is because every time you speak the language, your brain is forming the connections in your brain which flow from subject to verb and so on. And as these connections become stronger, the language becomes internalized, which makes speaking easier and easier.

The thing is, when you're just starting out and you've got about 20 words in your vocabulary, it is incredibly hard to have a conversation. You can't say the things you want to and you can't understand the people who are speaking to you in turn.

This is incredibly frustrating. You feel like an idiot and you can't insert any of the nuances into the conversation that you'd like to. As I'm a writer, that's a big deal. Nuance, after all, isn't just my life. It's my livelihood. If I can't master it, then I can't have people buy thesis online.

Reason two

The second reason that the beginning is the hardest is that you're basically throwing all the terms and grammar rules you're learning into a big black void, to get swallowed up and disappear. Why is that? Because things aren't learned in isolation. Instead, they are attached to semantic networks in your brain. The thing is, when you start a new language, there is no such network for that language. It still has to be formed, neuron by neuron.

As a result, you might have to learn a word over and over again. And even when you've got it, it can't attach to anything else as it's not there yet. This is hugely frustrating, as it feels like your banging your head into a wall. Phrases you've learned don't come to your mind and even when people speak to you in words you should understand, you still don't get it because they're not really connected yet.

This will often make it feel like becoming fluent is neigh on impossible.

But it gets better

The thing is, if you keep at it, that changes. You will have more words to have more interest conversations and your semantic network grow bigger and stronger, allowing you to understand language smoother and more quickly.

Suddenly, where before you had to learn a language word by painstaking word and repetition by painstaking repetition, as the network grows and there is more for the new phrases and words to attach to, they do so far more quickly. Suddenly you only have to hear a word once before you remember it, know how to apply grammar rules to it and use it in a conversation.

All you have to do is get there

The trick is getting there. You have to build that network and get to have those conversations. And you can only do that if you keep at it, stamping that vocabulary and learning those basic grammar rules, then doing it again because you forgot it since the last time you learned them.

And yes, that's hugely frustrating. But at least now you know it won't always stay that way. If you keep moving forward, that network will form and the speed at which you learn that language will accelerate.

And before you know it, you will be fluent. All you have to do is hold on and remember it will get easier. I promise.