Unless you are two years old (and if you are, tell your mom to get you off the internet), then learning a foreign language is phenomenally difficult. While kids who grow up with significant exposure to multiple languages have a relatively easier time, the rest of us are stuck studying, practicing and floundering about with our ineptness for quite some time.
Learning a new foreign language
But is it hard to learn just the basics?
Let’s say you are planning a trip to mainland China. You don’t expect to be discussing philosophy with the locals in Mandarin, but you want to get out there by yourself, meet some people, and truly experience the culture through their language. That is going to require months, if not years, of dedicated practice beforehand. Even just having your most basic needs met – food, shelter, not wetting your pants because you couldn’t ask where a public bathroom was – is going to require significant legwork and preparation if you are only relying on your Mandarin skills.
And to become fluent?
This is largely dependent on what you consider “fluent,” how often you’re using the language, and your own skill with foreign languages, but the answer is years. We sometimes hear about multilingual prodigies who master a language in just a few month of study, but
1) those people are extraordinarily rare and
2) the definition of “master” is quite arbitrary.
I have attended conferences featuring expert linguists with multiple degrees in Spanish Studies and Translation who spoke Spanish at a very high level, but were still making mistakes a ten-year-old native speaker from Colombia would never make, and they made those mistakes in an unmistakable “gringo” accent. So fluency is really on a sliding scale, but for all intents and purposes, mastery of a foreign language is going to take years and really a whole lifetime to attain.
So why would I do it?
To see the world in a totally new way, to make more money, to potentially meet the love of your life, to challenge yourself, to have fun, to realize just how big our world really is… There are numerous reasons to undertake such a difficult endeavor, and at APlus Translations we encourage everyone to take that leap and start the journey. If in the meantime, however, you need a little help with a translation or other foreign language service, we are here to help.