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What would you say is harder? Learning a language or learning an instrument?

What do you think? Both take a ton of time and dedication and both are very hard to stick with. I know there are languages that are harder than others, as well as instruments that are harder than others, but I mean in general.

October 2, 2017



This is really subjective because there's no clear definition of at what point you have ''learned it'', but anyways...

I speak Spanish (mother tongue), English and German and I can play guitar and ukulele... from personal experience I'd say to play an instrument because you can't have it always with you to practice, you have to read theory, also you must develop an ability with your hands (gross and fine movements), visual and auditory skills, apart from that there's no other activity that makes your whole brain ''light up'' on scans as much as playing an instrument, meaning that when you're doing it you use a large portion of your brain if not its whole, not painting, not reading nor writing do it as much as playing an instrument.

This video summarizes it beautifully:

How playing an instrument benefits your brain



Well, you can't always have the language with you either. Most people here in UK who speak 2+ languages (there aren't many), they needed it for some reason... not all, but the vast majority. I'm actually in that very small minority. I wanted a second language, but I really have no need to learn anything other than English in order to get by in my surroundings... learning in such conditions can be frustrating at times. Of course, we can immerse ourselves in any language we want to if we have internet access... but if I changed all my device settings back to English and never watched a French video, I could quite easily go months without hearing a word of French... moments when I need to speak it would be even rarer still. We actually can play an instrument when we want to just like our language learning. The two are more or less the same here: I am on my computer typing this message right now, and if I want to go on YouTube and watch a French video I can. My accordion is also next to me, which if I want to pick up and play I can.


Only people with a certain musical talent can master an instrument, whereas everyone can master a language. Everyone has a native language and uses it effortlessly; everyone also has a voice, but only a few can sing well. The two aren't really directly comparable, but I think reaching a very high standard in any language is more straightforward than doing the same on a musical instrument—the former puts one in the majority of the speakers of that language, whereas the latter puts one in a very small minority of the learners of that instrument.


Learning your native language does not compare very well to learning an instrument. As children, we need to learn the language and we are surrounded by it daily, so improvement and practice are pretty much infinite. However, instruments are generally out of choice and we don't need to learn them in order to express ourselves, unlike languages. If our native communication form was playing the guitar or piano, then it may be a different story.


Learning your native language does not compare very well to learning an instrument

Which is why I said 'The two aren't really directly comparable'.

However, instruments are generally out of choice

A lot of children are forced to learn an instrument; it is only the ones who have the requisite talent that become good players. I should think that, at any given time, the unwilling obligatees outnumber those who choose to learn. This suggests to me that musical skills lack the universality of language skills.

we don't need to learn them in order to express ourselves

If music could be expressed in language then no-one would write music. Playing music is very much about expressing oneself; it cannot express logic statements, true, but it excels at expressing the emotional subtleties that exist largely as inscrutable nuances in the realm of language. If nothing were being communicated by music then no-one would play or listen to it.


We need to have some kind of exact measurement in order to define which is harder. Define ''learning''. Are we learning to play a few short nursery rhymes on the piano, or mastering long epic Beethoven symphonies? Are we learning to briefly exchange about the weather in a foreign language, or aiming to read the most complicated novel?


Well, since we can't really put a limit on how much anyone learns ether of the two, I was just talking off the thought of which one is harder to be learning. I mean, if you were talking about how hard it is to practice an instrument, compared to how hard it is to practice a language, than that would be a answerable question. But if we are talking about learning it to a certain level, that would be like asking "How long is a piece of string". So, long story short, I think practicing an instrument is more easy than practicing a language :)


Oh boy, I'd say they're around the same. I'm doing both so...


I've been playing guitar for 20 years and teaching it for about 13 of those years. An instrument seems generally more difficult, in my opinion. I think just about anyone can learn a language, but to learn an instrument requires a very specific set of skills, knowledge of those skills (which is not always easy to come by), and a lot of practice. You are also more limited in how and when you can practice your instrument (compared to a language).


True, but you cant really put a limit to how much you learn either of them. It's kinda like asking how long is a piece of string. So I was just answering the question based on how hard it is to practice a instrument compared to how hard is it to practice a language.


I think it depends on your skill set. For me, learning a language is incredibly easy. I grew up trilingual, so that's where my talents are. This guy I'm seeing, he's a music major. The way I can navigate my way around languages comfortably, he navigates around music. To each their own. =)


It's much harder to learn an instrument because it requires coordination of multiple skills. Your ears need to be able to distinguish sounds whose difference can be more subtle than words. Your eyes need to be able to see the music notes really fast and you need to read ahead and translate them to hand movements. Your fingers have to move differently and exert different pressure. It can really push you physically. If you manage all that, it's still not enough because to not play like a robot, you need to be able to put in some soul into your music and that requires some artistic skills.

I've spent some time learning classical guitar and classical piano and found them really tough. Violin and jazz guitar are pretty hard too. If you just want to strum some chords for rock songs, it'll be much much easier.

There's a reason why it takes much longer for people to master an instrument than a language.


I did four years at university for music and have an aptitude for music. I have very little aptitude for foreign language learning. For me, learning to play piano as an adult was easier than learning a language. It was easier for me to correct my mistakes in an instrument because my ear could tell that the note was wrong or had a funny timbre. In French, I don't really have an "ear" and can practice my mistakes and don't really know it.


Putting aside the question of what level of accomplishment (learning) is meant, in general (it seems to me) it depends on what you are naturally better suited to do. Some people have great musical talent (or none) and the same is true with ability to learn languages.

In the U.S. it may be that the proportion of those who learn to play a musical instrument well (compared to all those who try) may be greater than the proportion of those who succeed at learning a second language fairly well

What a fascinating question!


The one you love more is the easier the one, hence, the one you love less is the harder one. I totally agree with Midnightwards, It totally depends on haw much you learn them, although, music is so much like a language. lets say you could learn the language of Classical, that would be harder than learning the language of Rock. It would be the same way to compare, lets just say French to Russian. Personally I think language is harder because I like practicing music so much. So, it's up to you which one is harder :)


IMHO it depends on the person. For me, it would be learning to play an instrument because I am a disaster at music-related stuff, whereas languages are something that takes me less effort


instruments I think are a bit easier in that once you have understanding of the theory of the instrument your progress strictly depends on your time commitment to improvement. where as there isn't a point until much further into a language where you have the "theory" of it and can start just improving through practice. however I find both very difficult. I have my degree in music and also find my self quite comfortable traveling utilizing about 4 languages (I have a fifth but I wouldn't say its a language for travel just more for communication with my friends family). but I struggled much more with retaining words than music. :)


It seems we've been able to define ''learning'' ourselves. More people pick up languages because we are surrounded by them, we hear our native language daily and have to speak it daily... it's not the same with instruments. Supposing it was though, I would say that the two are very similar in difficulty, there isn't much difference in the time or effort it takes to master one or the other.


i think language because i play 2 instruments and i'm now a composer

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