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Let’s talk about learning

Most specifically language learning.

So let’s talk a bit about how rude it is to tell a person they must just have a knack for learning languages and it must be easier for them. I think I can explain it best through a story.

When I first went back to college I had not taken a math class in 17 years. And even 17 years earlier math was not my strongest class. I was put in the bottom level of remedial math and I had to work hard to understand it. For 2 semesters of remedial math and then on to algebra, pre-cal, and stats I spent anywhere from 2-5 hours a day in the math tutoring lab. All the tutors knew me on a first name basis. Shout out to Eddy! Love ya!

Math was so very difficult for me. I cried so much in that tutoring lab they probably all thought I was a basket case. I really, really struggled with it. But I worked and worked and worked to understand it. While my classmates would only show up in the tutoring lab an hour before class on the day of a test I was there almost everyday until they kicked me out at closing time at 10:00 and I went in to school early to study several days a week.

I ended up with an A in all my college math courses but one and in class I could almost always answer the questions because I had studied the stuff so much. All my classmates would get mad at me and say things like “you always know the answers…it’s not fair…. Math is so easy for you” I would laugh at them and explain how many hours I spent in the tutoring lab every week just to understand this stuff and how it in no way was easy for me. They always ignored what I said and just went on saying that it was unfair that they got bad grades because math was hard for them.

I feel the exact same way when people tell me that languages must come easy to me. It’s like this complete dismissal of all the hard work I put into learning a language. It’s hard. I study hard at this stuff. I went to Guatemala and worked 4 hours a day one on one with a tutor for  almost 2 whole months to learn Spanish. Let’s break down the numbers: a college 3 credit Spanish course is 45 hours in the classroom per semester. That’s 45 hours with a teacher over 15 weeks. I studied 140 hours in only 7 weeks. That is a fuck ton of work. And it’s hard fucking work. For anyone to say I must just be good with languages is completely disrespecting the work I did. In addition to the tutor I have also listened to over 120 hours of mp3 lessons and done countless hours of studying online.

Shall we even talk about Chinese? It is fucking hard for me. Learning Chinese has been more difficult for me than Organic Chemistry was in college. The first month we lived here I studied Chinese 80 hours with a tutor. For the next six months I studied 8 hours a week, for the next six months I studied 5 hours a week, for the next six months I studied 3 hours a week, and since then I have studied 1.5 hours a week. In less than 3 years I have put in over 500 hours of private one on one tutoring hours. How many credit hours is a college degree? Oh yes: 120. So I have studied Chinese for almost enough hours to have earned an entire 5 university degrees. And you want to tell me languages must be easy for me???? I have made it through books 1, 2, and 3 and I am now 25% through book 4. Not to mention the fact that almost everyone I know only speaks Chinese, no one in any shops speaks any English and I am forced to speak and understand it all day everyday. How dare you say that I must just find languages easy to learn. I must just have a knack for languages. I am “blessed” with a talent for learning languages.

No. I fucking work hard. That’s the answer. I fucking work really, really hard at it. It is not easy and for you to say it is completely disrespects all the work I have put into it.

I am sharing this story because I see people make these mistakes all the time. When an amazing musician performs people will talk about how “blessed” he/she is or how naturally the music comes to them. I assure you that person practices many hours a week. I know musicians that practice 8+ hours a day. That’s why they’re so good.

Sure are there maybe people out there that language actually is easy? Maybe. Are there people that math is easy, or music is easy, or art is easy, or whatever it is they excel at is easy for them? Maybe so but for most of us we have to work really hard to be good at what we do and ignoring our work by assuming it is easy for us is not cool. Everyone that I know that’s really good at something got there through hard work and practice.

Starting in less than a year I’ll be moving to a new country and learning yet another new language. I enjoy the challenge. I like the feeling of overcoming an obstacle and I also know that learning new languages is one of the best things we can do for our brains. But please, oh please, do not tell me that learning languages is hard for you and easy for me. I will be working a full time job in a new country where I know no one, taking extra language courses on the weekends, listening to French mp3s on the way to work and the way home, studying every extra moment I can find in the day to learn the language and be able to communicate with the people around me. I will be working hard. It will not come natural to me and for you to say it does is simply rude.