After two decades of learning foreign languages and one writing and podcasting about them, I’ve decided to quit this absurd undertaking. It turns out that the monolingual naysayers and forum trolls have been right all along. Life is short, so it’s high time I accept the truth about foreign languages, stop trying to empower independent learners, get a real job, and spend whatever leftover time I have on a more worthwhile habit. Read on to see the top three reasons I am throwing in the towel and shutting down Language Mastery.
1) Everyone speaks English.
Everybody in the entire world already speaks English, so why should I bother working so hard to learn foreign languages? I already won the linguistic lottery by being born a native speaker of English, so I might as well reap the rewards of my mother tongue!
2) Only children can learn foreign languages well.
Everyone knows that languages are easier for children. Past a certain age, it’s simply too late to master a foreign tongue. I just turned forty in February, so it’s time to hang up my language learning spurs and move onto another hobby. Maybe sūdoku (数独)?
3) Foreign languages are really hard.
Not only am I too old to learn a language now, but I’ve also come to accept that I am just not very good at them. I can stare at long lists of out-of-context vocabulary or declension tables for hours, and still not be able to use them in speech. Maybe natural born geniuses and polyglots can learn many languages, but I’m simply not smart enough. Though I happened to win the geographic lottery with English, I’ve lost the genetic lottery and don’t seem to have the “gift for languages.”
Oh, one last thing I forgot to mention above…
- No, many people in the world don’t speak English (at least not fluently). And even if everyone did, you can learn much more about―and connect much more deeply with―other cultures and peoples by mastering their language. As Nelson Mandela said:
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
- No, children are not better at languages, nor are you ever too old to learn a foreign tongue. Adults, in fact, have many advantages over kiddos: ① we already know how to learn, ② we are able to seek out resources and opportunities to practice, ③ we have the ability to analyze and see creative associations, and ④ we already understand the meanings behind foreign terms; we simply have to learn the arbitrary way they are pronounced and written. As Gabriel Wyner jokes:
“Children aren’t better at learning languages. Children are better at having thousands of free hours to learn languages.”
- No, foreign languages are not inherently difficult, nor do you need to be a genius to learn them. Do they take time and effort? Absolutely. But our brains do the heavy linguistic lifting when we get enough exposure and practice. In fact, the process more or less progresses automatically at a subconscious level when we do things right. The truly difficult parts of reaching fluency are ① having the discipline to put in enough time for a long enough period of time, and ② having the courage to make mistakes and tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. To leverage another Gabriel Wyner gem:
“There is no such thing as a ‘hard’ language; any idiot can speak whatever language his parents spoke when he was a child. The real challenge lies in finding a path that conforms to the demands of a busy life.” —Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It