Musings on whether language learning is hard.
Hardness is an elusive concept.
I saw a video of someone who "learned" to play a musical instrument in under 20 hrs. 300 hours into French and am still horrible. I have heard people who have learned both musical instruments and a foreign language say that music is far harder.
I have heard the comment that language learning is not hard it just takes a long time - but isn't that a good definition of hard.
You can learn chess in under 20 minutes; does that make it trivially easy. But Gary Kasparov spent 20 years or more studying chess and was still learning new things.
One thing is for sure, there are a lot of things where you will feel like you are pretty good at it in a far shorter time than learning a foreign language.
When people say "learn a language" and "learn an instrument" I wonder what they mean by "learn".
Personally, I find learning a language difficult. It comes brings emotions that I don't appreciate having like frustration, self-doubt, impatience, boredom, and so on. It is also rewarding so, I continue through those feelings. And, as you say it takes time, immense time for what many people's goals want to achieve. Less time for other people's goals. And, different people retain language at different speeds.
You raise a good topic for investigation. :)
I think that it depends on the person and what they're inclined to. Some people are musically inclined and pick up on it quickly, although they still put time and effort into it and must spend years and never finish learning, etc. For some people, that's math or art. And for some people that's language. Someone who isn't "inclined" in that area can still learn it, but it typically takes more time to get a good grasp on it, which isn't a problem.
I think that for most people and most languages, it takes a relatively short time to get okay/passable understanding, and a very long time to have a complex, fluent skill.
I think language learning is "harder" to learn in certain formats. Because language is essentially something used to communicate, it seems reasonable that learning it practically in a place where the language is spoken would make it "easier". Think of how you learned your native language. You probably spent the first three or more years of your life listening to people speak the language and practicing sounding out the words and learning how to communicate. Throughout young childhood, older speakers correct young children on their grammar and pronunciation sometimes multiple times until they remember it. Only after all of this do teachers introduce letters and reading and complex grammar. Not to say that this is how adults should learn a second language, but I believe a learning plan that goes back to the heart of language would be most effective. So to tie this back into the original discussion point, I think that the "hardness" of language learning can depend on multiple things, from personal tendency to the format of the course.
I saw a video of someone who "learned" to play a musical instrument in under 20 hrs.
Would you care to share it? I can't imagine anyone would play anything very well after that time (unless it's something like the Jew's harp or the spoons...)
You can learn chess in under 20 minutes; does that make it trivially easy.
Here, you are merely learning the rules. You can also learn how to stock market works in 20 minutes but it won't make you into a Warren Buffet. Language also has rules to be learnt, but it isn't a game in the same way—the goal is comprehension and communication, not so much strategy and innovative thinking; it is largely a combination of a great deal of rote learning with (perhaps, depending on the language) a great deal of rule-assimilation. The reason why languages cannot be learnt in very short periods is simply that the brain requires time and sleep to transfer information into the long-term memory.
I will be butchered in less than 20 moves by someone who knows what castling or en passant means
These are part of rules, which you would have learnt; if not, then you didn't learn how to play chess. You'd only be butchered by someone who has a better grasp of strategy; you cannot blame your opponents for knowing the rules...