There always seem to be a number of questions which keep coming up in language learning circles. These questions are constantly discussed, debated, fought over, and, eventually, left alone as the wounded participants spend time recovering from there battle and prepare for the next one.
As my contribution to the idea of World Peace, I have decided to end these periodical blood-lettings by giving the indisputable answers to five of these language questions.
1) What is the easiest language to learn?
One of the first responses this question normally receives is the query of “Why are you so lazy that you just want to learn the easiest? I want to learn the hardest because I am a real language enthusiasts!”.
Many try to answer it by saying it is easiest to learn a language similar to your native language, “keeping it in the [language] family”. Some will present an actual language, like Esperanto, extolling simplicity and design.
But they are wrong. All of them. The answer is “Your language”. That’s right. Whatever is your native language, that is the easiest to learn. Think about it: you learned it as a baby, before you were even developed enough to open a dictionary or post the question on Facebook. Even now, it is so easy for you that you “just know” what is grammatically correct and what isn’t, without thinking about any rules as to why it is. Can it really get any easier than that?
2) What is the hardest language to learn?
Quick answer: Extinct ones that you can’t find any resources for.
Less sarcastic answer: Basque. This wonderful little language belongs to a group of people that live in an area that spans two country, but is not an official language in either. It is not related in any fathomable way to any other language, and even the speakers don’t seem to be related to any other people. No one knows where it came from, and some have speculated that because of this, it came to the Earth from aliens (outer-space kind, not the people crossing your borders).
That isn’t why it is the hardest, however. Even alien languages like Klingon and Na’vi can be learned.
Basque has a difficult verb system, largely in part because it has so few verbs which can be conjugated synthetically and regularly. Most of the verbs have compound tense structures which consist of a non-finite verb form combined with a finite auxiliary and are thus conjugated periphrastically. Your brain blurred just reading that last sentence, didn’t it?
Then other terms come into play, like “ergaccusative”, when it is described as “showing a morphologically ergative system but a structurally accusative system.”
That’s all alien to me!
3) How many languages do you need to know to be a “polyglot”?
When a person knows one language, they are “monolingual”. When a person knows two, they are “bilingual”. When a person knows three, they are “trilingual”. After that, we tend to use the term “multilingual”. “Polyglot” is just the Greek version of “multilingual”, thus, the answer is four.
4) What is the best way to learn a language?
Speak it. I think Benny Lewis would nod his head vigorously at this answer, and he is right. No matter how many books you read, audio courses you listen to, classes you take, or points you earn on Memrise, you will progress the fastest when you are actually practising your new language. This is the reason that the immersion method is always promoted as so good. It’s not because you are surrounded by the language but because you are forced to use it.
5) What is the best age to learn a language?
Since you learned your first language when you were a baby, the obvious answer is “as soon as you start breathing”.
This question should more properly be “what is the best age to learn your second language?”. There has been extensive research and tests done on this, and there is a definitive answer. They have even pinpointed it down to a number of days. The result is that, for the best results in your language learning, you should start learning it when you are 23 years, 4 months, 10 days old.
And that concludes it. Five answers to common questions from language learners. These answers are non-disputable, non-negotiable, and non-transferable. I hope this will now prevent further fights so everyone can focus on the more complex questions, like which planet does Basque actually come from.