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Why it is hard to learn a new language

If it is difficult for you to learn a foreign language, you can take a deep breath now because you are not alone. It is no secret that it is more difficult for adults to learn a new language than for children, in whose extremely flexible brains the necessary connections grow and develop that they need to learn an additional language.

But why is it so difficult to learn a foreign language at all? Put simply, this is because it poses a double challenge: both in terms of the mind (your brain needs to build new cognitive structures) and in terms of the time it takes (you have to practice consistently over a long period of time to be successful). But that is not all.

In this article, we’ll look at three main factors that make learning a new language difficult – and give you six tips to make things a little easier for you – so that you can move forward with bigger strides from now on!

a student learning english

The brain

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to learn Spanish through play, while others can barely manage a “hola”? Well, there is research that indicates that the individual interconnections of our brains determine the success of language learning. In a study conducted at McGill University, participants’ brains were scanned before and after a 12-week intensive French course. The researchers found that the connections between areas of the brain involved in speaking and reading were stronger in the participants who found it easier to learn. So that could mean that some people simply have better cognitive skills for language learning, but of course, it doesn’t mean that not everyone can and should try (and learning a language is very good for you and your brain )!

How we learn

Evening courses, language holidays abroad, apps, conversations with your tandem partner, working abroad, intensive courses – there are so many methods and opportunities to learn a foreign language. Unfortunately, however, it is also the case that adults hardly have the opportunity to learn “on the side” or implicitly, as children often do when they simply deal with native speakers all day and gradually “pick up” the language. Our highly developed, cluttered adult brains often get in the way while we study.

As adults, we usually learn by gradually expanding our vocabulary and learning vocabulary, but often we do not even know how the individual words belong together properly in order to formulate grammatically correct sentences and texts. Research at MIT even indicates that the tendency towards analysis and questioning is more likely to prevent adults from noticing the subtle nuances of a foreign language and that greater effort in this area does not lead to better results.

Katie Nielson from Voxy sees the problem in the fact that we see language as an object. “In history lessons, you learn chronologically and work of the years to get everything in the right order. But you can’t learn a language that way, ”says Nielson. “It doesn’t work like memorizing a certain number of words and rules and then expecting to master the language. One then has the knowledge of ‘language as an object’; one can describe the language, but not use it. ”

She suggests understanding the process as “skill learning” (something you do) rather than “object learning” (something you know). But how do you do that? Just let go of the claim to perfection. Learning without hesitation – whether with an app, a course, or while traveling – don’t be afraid of making mistakes and accept that you will feel stupid sometimes, but that that’s not bad at all.

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