Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Language Difficulty Scale

I used to think that it was a bit stupid when people would say, "Oh this particular language is sooo hard to learn."

ALL languages are hard! It takes lots of work to learn ANY language! All languages have their own unique traits and complex grammar structures and pronunciation difficulties. And yeah, some languages are a little easier or harder than others depending on your native language, but it shouldn't make too much of a difference.
So I always thought lists like the following one http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Wikibooks:Language_Learning_Difficulty_for_English_Speakers
were pretty bunk.

The website lists languages in order of difficulty for English speakers.
Afrikaans, Dutch, and Spanish are listed as some of the easiest languages, taking only 600 class hours to reach "General Professional Proficiency in Speaking and General Professional Proficiency in Reading (R3)."

Bosnian and Nepali are in level two, taking 1100 class hours to achieve the same competency....and Japanese falls under level three. It says that it should take "88 weeks (2200 class hours)(about half that time preferably spent studying in-country)" to get to a level three speaking and reading ability.

I am much more of a believer now that certain languages are MUCH harder then others for English speakers. For example, I believe that Japanese is almost four times harder for me than Spanish was. I half-assed learning Spanish for two years in high school. I took one semester in college, then four years later I moved to Ecuador. Within three months of living there, I was pretty good. I felt comfortable going to the immigration office, renting an apartment, meeting new people, having conversations about the upcoming elections, and telling jokes. It helped that my boyfriend and I spoke Spanish to each other and I was taking 10 hours of Spanish classes per week, but it really wasn't that hard!

I assumed that when Jon and I moved to Japan, I would pick up Japanese pretty much following the same time-scale. I knew that reading and writing would take longer to master, but speaking and listening should be ok, especially since Japanese and Spanish pronunciation is actually pretty similar (in the global scheme of languages). I work in a Japanese speaking environment and I study about 90 minutes a day. I've been here 8 months now, so that's about 500 hours of study. Now, those are hours spent studying on my own, not in a a formal classroom setting, but as a language teacher myself, I feel that my time studying is spent as productively as possible. I go to Japanese class once a week and I also meet with a language exchange partner to practice conversation once a week.
However, I find myself still struggling to express myself in the simplest way. I can't understand people even when they are trying to speak slowly and use basic words. I can't put the words I know together to form a comprehensible sentence.
Today I made an appointment using Japanese at a clinic and it was a pretty nerve-wracking, but successful experience. At least, I think it was successful, I'll find out Monday at 3:00 if my name is actually on the list.