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Why is it so difficult to learn a language?

If you're having trouble learning a new language, take a deep breath and remember that you're not alone. Language learning is generally more difficult for adults than it is for youngsters, whose super-flexible brains actually build the connections needed to learn a second language.

But why is it so difficult to learn a foreign language in the first place?

Simply put, it's difficult since it tests both your mind (your brain must develop new cognitive frameworks) and your patience (it requires sustained, consistent practice). But there's a lot more to it.

The brain is a complex organ.

Have you ever wondered why some people can communicate fluently in Spanish while others can barely say "hola"? According to studies, our brain's unique wiring can predict our ability to learn a language.

Participants in a study done at McGill University had their brains examined before and after a 12-week intensive French course. The better-performing participants had stronger connections between brain areas involved in speaking and reading, according to the researchers.

While this may indicate that some people are simply better intellectually equipped for language learning, it does not rule out the possibility that everyone should give it a shot!

How we learn

There are numerous ways to learn a language: after-work classes, studying abroad, apps, conversing with your foreign partner, working abroad, or enrolling in an intensive language course. Adults, on the other hand, must, you know, be adults, so we can't learn "implicitly" like small children do by following around caring native speakers all day.

Our more sophisticated adult brains, however, get in the way of learning.

We learn as adults by collecting vocabulary, but we often don't understand how each piece works together to make grammatically acceptable language.

Adults' tendency to over-analyze, according to MIT research, inhibits their capacity to take up tiny subtleties in a foreign language, and that straining harder and harder would not improve outcomes.

Similarities between languages

Learning a language that is drastically different from your own is difficult. Surprisingly, investigations demonstrate that these obstacles are caused by neural preferences rather than personal aversions to challenge.

Our brains are not indifferent to language similarities, according to research from the Donders Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, and will reuse our mother tongue's grammar and characteristics to make sense of a similarly structured foreign language.

Nuria Sagarra, a professor of psycholinguistics, agrees that learners of vastly different languages face a greater challenge: "Things will be easier if your native language is more similar to the foreign language (for example, if your native language has rich morphology and you are learning a different rich morphology, such as a Russian learning Spanish)."

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