There are no “easiest” or “hardest” languages, despite how many times people ask which those are. By the same notion, there are no “good” or “bad” languages. While languages are normally linked to a people and a culture, they rarely have the stigma of a people’s crime attached to them. I’ve never heard anyone say “I will never learn Spanish because of what they did to the Aztecs”.
It is possible, however, for people to not like a language, just as it is a reality that some people like a particular language. We all have our own personal likes and dislikes in everything, and languages are no exception.
But what happens when a language that we like becomes one we no longer like? Or, perhaps, we still like the language, but after studying it for a while, we decide to stop? What causes that language to “go bad” in our mind?
1) Lack of Resources / Speakers
Perhaps one of the quickest ways to kill off that love affair with a new language is the frustration at not finding enough good resources for it. As you spend your time looking for materials to aid in your learning rather than actually learning, sadness and frustration can quickly wipe out your excitement and joy. The wonderful new shiny toy quickly becomes more of a faded dream.
If you can’t find resources, you are also unlikely to find many speakers to talk with or ask questions of. For most people, a primary goal of learning a language is to be able to talk to others using it. When it is difficult to find anyone to share your new language, the enthusiasm for it can quickly evaporate.
2) Not What You Expected
Let’s say you are able to find plenty of resources and speakers, so you are starting to get into the language. What you may then discover is that it isn’t quite what you thought it would be like. Perhaps someone told you that the verb structures were really expressive, or that the vocabulary was similar to another language you know. Maybe it doesn’t sound as pretty when you are speaking it as you imagined. Maybe you realize that it will take you a lot longer to learn it than you planned, since you wanted to impress that cutie who works at the café. It just doesn’t live up to expectations.
I had lots of fun learning Latin in my school, and I figured it would be useful as a base for learning other languages. However, on my first trip to Italy, when I tried to guess the proper Italian words by using my Latin knowledge, I found that it didn’t work that easily. My Italian friend told me, bluntly, that Latin and Italian aren’t that close.
3) Too Hard
While you would probably like to believe that the difficulty of a language should not be a deterrent to learning it, when a language proves itself to be more of a challenge than you thought it would be, you feel that you won’t be able to make progress in it. Or maybe you aren’t making the progress that you planned to. The goals you set in that language have to be constantly moved as you struggle. That is depressing. Studying the language goes from being a dance in the sunshine to a struggle in a snowstorm. That love for it turns to anger, and you eventually give up.
I was always intrigued by the mystery of the Basque language, so was looking forward to helping someone pull together their Basque course for publishing online. I worked through the lessons, making sure they made sense and learning as I went. Then I hit the verbs. From my understanding, there were two ways of forming verbs, and the older way was incredibly confusing. I simply couldn’t wrap my head around the process. We never did get the course completed, and I now don’t even want to think about Basque.
If you are finding a language too hard to make the progress you planned, or perhaps you have been studying it too infrequently to make it stick, you are likely to become exhausted with the effort of achieving the level of ability you wished for. Your brain tires of making the effort, and even the thought of trying any more makes you cringe.
Or perhaps the opposite is true: you have been studying and progressing and talking so much that you are sick of the language. You overdid it, like eating too much baklava after a celebration dinner and now you don’t ever want to see the stuff again. (We know it is impossible to eat too much baklava, but this is just an example).
Finding the proper balance is critical, or you will find yourself burnt out on a language.
5) Relationship Gone Bad
Now, while languages aren’t normally associated with the bad actions of a country or culture, they can be associated with a single person. If you meet a particularly nasty Frenchmen, you might decide that French itself is a horrid language and vow never to touch it.
You are even more likely to have the feelings toward a language change because your feelings for a person change. For example, say you were studying Irish to attract that cute red-haired lass that lives in your building. It works, and you are romantically involved for a few months, but things go badly and your break up. Your last words to each other are shouted insults as she throws your collection of language books down the stairs of your building. You swear that all Irish women are crazy and do your best to forget her and all the Irish you learned. You can’t even look at the colours green or red without thinking of her and getting angry. This is, of course, all hypothetical and bears no resemblance to anything this author has gone through personally.
Bottom line: don’t mix languages and relationships.
I’m sure there are other reasons why people drop a language they have been studying, so feel free to leave a comment below to share with others, or write your own blog to respond!