One of the things that I’ve noticed about speaking several languages is that when people I meet for the first time find out a huge majority of them make some kind of excuse for why they don’t.
They say they wish they could learn another language but they’re too old now, or they don’t have the time or money, or they wish they had my talent for languages, and so on. None of these are valid reasons for not learning a second language if it’s something you really want to do. When you repeat these excuses to yourself it just internalizes this self-fulfilling narrative that you can’t do it. That you’ll never successfully learn a new language.
Here’s why you’re wrong.
Common Excuses for Not Learning a Language
This list is, sadly, not extensive. These are the handful I hear people telling me (and themselves) most often though.
I Don’t Have the Time to Learn a Language – Whenever people say “I don’t have the time for X,” I hear “I don’t make X a priority.” I get twenty-four hours everyday to play with. So do you. So does everyone else. The question is how you choose to allot that time. Tally up the amount of time you spend each day watching TV and tell me you couldn’t spare an hour of that if it meant speaking another language. If you really aren’t willing to drop an hour of TV, browsing Reddit, playing video games, or whatever else to be able to speak a new language then it’s not that you don’t have time it’s that you clearly don’t actually want to speak another language.
Most of the time you don’t even need a full hour. You can make real progress by sneaking in five minute sessions on Memrise, or Duolingo. Unless your day is so full of tasks you must do for survival that you do not have even five minutes of down time to devote to bettering yourself, you have ample time.
I Don’t Have the Money to Learn a Language – When I learned Swedish I went from knowing only as much Swedish as I could pick up from my visits to the local Ikea to being able to have fluid conversations with natives without spending a cent.
For that in particular I used Memrise to build my vocab as much as possible, Duolingo to start getting a handle on grammar and free exchange sessions on iTalki to practice and refine everything. I also did a quick Google search for ‘Online Swedish Lessons’ and ‘Free Swedish Lessons’ and found a plethora of resources to help fill in gaps. I could’ve paid for a dedicated teacher on iTalki, but I wanted to keep everything free and I like being able to help people out with their English in return.
There are plenty of other resources out there completely for free. If you’re reading this you can at least afford the Internet, so you’re set.
I Don’t Have a Talent for Languages / I’m Too Old to Learn a Language – I combine these into one excuse because the response to both is the same.
That’s… pretty much it. There is no such thing as a ‘talent for language learning’ or an ‘aptitude for language learning’, at least not in any significant, meaningful kind of way. These are terms perpetuated by people who have never seriously tried to learn a language and want to make themselves feel better about not putting in the effort. Unless you have a diagnosed learning disability you have no excuse (and even if you do have one, you can still learn a new language).
The same goes for being too old. The notion that children are better at learning languages is flatly wrong. The reason they seem to learn them so easily is because we never let them stop. They’re constantly hearing new words, being spoken too, and spend almost every waking moment being bombarded by the language – they can’t help but learn it. The ability to learn languages doesn’t diminish with age, it improves. You can understand things a child can’t, and don’t have to learn by sheer osmosis.
[X Language] Is Just Too Hard to Learn – Are some languages potentially more difficult to learn because of their differences with your native tongue (presumably English)?
Of course. Potentially.
The fact is it’s all relative though. Some English speakers pick up tonality like in Mandarin or Cantonese right off the bat, others don’t. Sometimes grammar that’s wildly different from English grammar makes learning more difficult, sometimes it makes it easier because the contrasts stand out and make it memorable. Personally, I had a much harder time memorizing the genders and understanding the lengthy sentence structure of German than I did memorizing the tones and understanding the grammar of Mandarin. It will differ for everyone.
Besides, if you genuinely want to speak a language it shouldn’t matter if it’s hard or not. Don’t be a baby.
Don’t Discourage Yourself
Everyone can learn a second language.
The more you come up with excuses or tell yourself you can’t do it the more you poison your own attitudes. Remember that there are always options, always resources, and always people out there who can help you. If you want to learn another language the only thing out there that can stop you is yourself.
Have any other excuses you’ve heard people use for not learning a language that you think aren’t valid? Do you have your own excuse or struggle with language learning that you think is a real problem? Share with everyone in the comments!