There are so many, how do you decide which to learn?
Several years ago I decided to learn Japanese. Not for work or because there were several people around me speaking it. My reason was out of curiosity and based on an interest I had in the Japanese culture.
These two reasons for learning another language were NOT enough for me to becoming even remotely able to speak to someone who spoke Japanese. There were a few reasons for my failure; the greatest being I had no honest passion to learn the language. Another reason I did not succeed is because I had no one to speak with in my personal life and not enough people in the area for me to get to know.
There was a community of people who spoke Japanese in the state I resided but they lived too far away for me to include them in my daily life. That, coupled with the lack of true passion, did not give me the strong enough push necessary to make the effort to create a need to change these facts.
The language I should have chosen was Spanish however I did not have the same interest at that time to learn Spanish as I did Japanese. The difference between the two languages for me (then and now) is that I do come across far more people who speak Spanish than Japanese in almost every case.
As they say, hind site is 20/20 and I should have taken Spanish in High School and continued with the studies once in the workforce. I would be a highly sought after person if for no other reason than my ability to speak two languages.
Alas, I had no ambitions of speaking any other language than English when I was in school and had enough difficulties with that as it was. Adding another language on top of the one I already didn't truly understand or care about, would not have made me any happier.
About ten months ago I decided to seriously pursue learning a second language and searched out a local company that taught Spanish. Going back to the discussion about Research, I of course went to the Internet to see what I could find. Within minutes I was able to locate something very close to me and decided to take the plunge.
I began the 16 week Intro to Spanish class with high hopes but also with the knowledge it would not be an easy task. I was quite right; not at all easy. The first two classes left me exhausted and feeling like I ran a marathon. It was an honest slap in the face that I did not currently train my brain in any real fashion.
I can say I learn something new every day but learning a small thing each day or reading something briefly online or watching a short documentary is nothing compared to trying to learn foreign words, memorize them, and put them into a complete sentence when you have no idea how that sentence should look or sound.
Somehow I managed to pass the final exam and move on into Spanish 1. The teacher warned us that the next class would be much harder than the first and she was true to her word. Frustration is the best word to describe most of my time learning, or trying to learn, in this new 16 week class.
Approximately three classes before the final exam, our teacher went over an example of what would be taught in Spanish 2. She briefly explained past-tense verbs because she wanted to be sure we had this knowledge whether or not we continued to the next level. This was for the benefit of those of us who struggle the most and that probably won't go on or really should take Spanish 1 over again.
In general, learning a second language once a person is an adult is not easy. The older a person gets, the harder it is. We have learned what we have learned and in many case don't pursue learning anything more. When we do learn something more than we know, it's in our own native language. To mess up that balance and mix in learning something knew as actually learning a new language, can cause the brain to freeze and complain. It doesn't WANT to do it and will make sure you understand this by saying "you can't do this so you should just stop".
What I should have done...
Back to the theory of hind-site, knowing what I know today, I would tell my younger self to take the time and learn a second language along side my native language (or at least much sooner in life). As children and teenagers, most of us don't see the benefit of learning another language because we don't have any friends who DON'T speak the language we speak; so why bother. And we certainly don't think about the day we have to find a job let alone a job where we might need or want to speak another language.
Advise for parents with young children...
If you home school and speak another language, you should be speaking both all the time or find an outside source. If your child is in private school, they may offer language classes during regular hours. Public school is another story and many do not offer language classes to children in grade school.
What is the solution if you don't speak a second language or your school doesn't offer a class? Put your young children into a language class outside of their regular school hours. Find the time and expose them to one of the greatest abilities a person can have; to speak in more than just their native tongue.
The place I go for Spanish classes also teaches children in the early evening. It's treated as a special and fun event rather than a requirement. Having fun while learning a language is KEY to keeping the child (and quite frankly, the adult) interested. My own frustrations have made going to class more of a chore than a fun adventure. Sitting at home and studying has become the fun part for me; something I never thought I would say.
Doing homework is NOT the same thing as studying. You could never have told that to my teenage self because studying was the greatest chore of my life and finishing the homework meant I was finished studying. This is far from true when learning another language. Home work is homework, studying is what you do in order to complete the homework without errors and with full understanding of what the homework is asking. If you don't study, you won't learn
Don't worry about fluency. Accept the fact that, if you are an adult and have never taken a language class before now, you will not be fluent the way a native speaker is. That doesn't mean you can't give it your best shot but even if you were to accomplish fluency, it would take years to get there (easily ten years).
When my teacher first told me this I was a little disappointed because I felt I would be embarrassed if I were to speak to someone and not sound like I had been speaking that language my whole life.
She reminded me that most people realize learning a language is not easy and that if you're trying to speak properly, that is far better than not speaking at all. When I am speaking to someone who does not speak English very well, I am patient with the process and help them find the words they need. I must remember that others will do the same for me.
Don't remain silent...
Language is meant to be spoken and heard and unless the goal is to just read it, eventually a person must give it a shot even if that means they don't say it exactly right. Keep studying and listening to people who do speak the language correctly. Eventually you will do the same.
Practice isn't always the best method...
Do not practice something until you know you are practicing it correctly. If you practice a word or phrase incorrectly, you will need to unlearn it later and that might be even harder than learning it correctly in the first place.
Some interesting resources...
How many languages are there in the world?