Yesterday morning, I woke to an email from David Mansaray, asking me "Is learning a language difficult?" Part of my response was quoted in his latest blog post, but I found the topic very interesting, and it inspired me to give a lot of thought to how we use the word "difficult" in relation to language learning, and other things.
It's not learning a language that's hard. Actually, taken at face value, "learning" is easy, and "language" is easy. Then again, exercising is easy too. So is saving money and paying bills. But in a world full of diet pills, spray-on tans, cosmetic surgeries, lottery tickets, and game shows, it's hard to deny that the hard part of any big task is having the consistency, the perseverance, the patience to see it through. Learning the language is the easy part; the hard part is doing all the work, day after day. This is why foreign language skill remains such an effective signal about people — there's no shortcut for doing the work.
Once we accept that learning is the easy part, it becomes obvious that difficulty isn't the issue. The actual challenge is intent, which is at the core of persistence. If you pay attention each year on January 1, you see endless examples of easy tasks people want to accomplish: lose weight, quit smoking, start exercising, and often, learn a foreign language, etc.
Is quitting smoking difficult? No! Your default state is not smoking! What could involve less effort than staying in your default state? It requires more effort to acquire cigarettes, light them, smoke them, etc.
Is exercising difficult? No. Just stand up and start doing it. Certain exercises may, in fact, be difficult, but the act of exercising is as simple as anything else.
Is losing excess weight difficult? No. Just stop eating so much of the things that fatten. Once again, your default state wins here. We are all, by default, not eating. It requires more work to gain weight than it does to lose it!
And, as we already discussed above, learning a language isn't difficult either. If you're reading this, you've already learned at least one language successfully!
None of these things is difficult, and calling them difficult doesn't affect your confidence, or trick yourself into thinking it can't be done. The truth is, calling things difficult is an excuse. It's a fore-drawn conclusion. It's a way to justify to all your peers when you fail to do the simple task you claimed you wanted to accomplish.
But your peers know this game already. They play it too. When someone tells us something is difficult, we already understand that they're really telling us they lack the persistence to do it. So lets not fool ourselves into thinking that it's different when we say it... "Others are making excuses, but I really mean it." No. You don't.
When your desire to eat jelly donuts is stronger than your desire to lose weight... when your desire to have than next cigarette is stronger than your desire to quit... when your desire to have a bigger television is stronger than your desire to grow your savings... and when your desire to watch tv, go to the bar with friends, play video games, etc. is stronger than your desire to learn a foreign language... then the intent is clear: you will not do it. And then you'll justify that poor self-control and lack of persistence by proclaiming "it's too hard." But make no mistake: it's not hard. It's an excuse.
Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.