Foreign Language Learning For English Speakers

My experience abroad has also influenced my perspective on the foreign language learning of English speakers. Sometimes people’s views on both how difficult or easy it is to learn a language surprise me.

I took a course called Serbo-Croatian at my university, four hours a week for 40 weeks or so before I went to work in Sarajevo for two years. I had a few lessons once there, used the language somewhat frequently and watched tv with local language subtitles. Today, this language is my strongest foreign language – I can make questions, use past present and future, understand the basics of the grammar (though I certainly don’t use it correctly) and use a lot of verbs and nouns. I can have a simple to average conversation with a stranger and talk about basic topics, but while I speak with some fluency (meaning regular pace, without stumbling over or repeating words) I am nowhere near fluent in the sense of near bi-lingual. I would not be able to understand a newspaper article well or fully appreciate a film without subtitles.

I think my success with this language, which isn’t really all that much, is connected to things like the positive feeling I have about the place and people I associate with it. I’m not great, but it’s hard for me to imagine achieving this level with another language, even a similar one like Slovak.

I think many English speakers don’t have experience with many foreign languages, and also use Spanish or French as a measuring stick, and other languages are just more difficult. See the US State Department difficulty ratings for several languages here (and keep in mind the time in weeks incorporates full-time study).