You’ve heard the joke before:
“What do you call someone who can speak many languages?”
“What do you call someone who can speak two languages?”
“What do you call someone who can speak only one language?”
Americans are somewhat unique in the world. And it is not because many Americans only speak English. There are plenty of monolingual people in the world—probably in every single country. But the thing that is unique about many Americans—especially those who come from the Midwest—is that we can live the majority of our lives without ever hearing someone speak another language (in real life—not on TV). Now, if you’re from the South or Southwest you are probably accustomed to hearing Spanish being spoken, and this is increasing in many locations. (And many people resent it, too.) But in many corners of middle America you will rarely, if ever, hear someone speaking a language other than English.
In most parts of the world it is common to have native speakers of many different languages living all around you. This is certainly true in The Location. Even if you don’t speak these languages it is not an uncommon event to hear others speaking them. And I have come to see that this is normal. Living in such a monolingual environment is the exception.
Consequently, I believe this is one reason many Americans have this mental barrier to learning a language. We see it as a near impossible and very difficult task. I did, too. I remember when I was in high school I had the opportunity to study Spanish my freshman year. Something told me that I was “too young” to do this and needed to put it off until my junior or senior year. (Oh, how I regretted this—and oh, how wrong I was!) Learning another language was something only a very talented and intelligent person could do, so I thought. And so think many people.
The truth is, learning a language is difficult. However, it is not as difficult as many people think or make it out to be. Sometimes those who have learned to speak another language fluently don’t mind others thinking it is an amazing feat because it makes them look more impressive. But it is not an impossible task, or even an improbable one, if approached the right way.
I know how to help people learn to speak the language here in The Location. I have done it. I mentioned before that I have had interns from the US come for 4-6 months and in that time learn to speak more of the language than many full-timers who have been here for years. I know how to do it.
First, you must believe it is possible. You can do it. Yes, it is tough. Yes, you will get headaches and probably cry at times. Yes, you will make mistakes that are both funny and offensive. Yes, you will be confused and clueless. Yes, you will look dumb. But in the end, you will learn the language. Wanna know how?