The Truth About Learning a New Language for the First Time

by Vanessa Eagles

When I moved to Brisbane to start studying I astounded by all the amazing people I met and absolutely mesmerised by how many languages they spoke.

Listening to the circumstances and reasons why they spoke this language or that, if anything it made me feel guilty. I had lived such a privileged life, being born into an English-speaking family in an English-speaking country. It was never a necessity that I learn a second language for survival. So, in my endeavour to be a better global citizen and broaden my horizons I decide to minor in a second language. That language was French.

Having never gone about learning another language before I did not know what to expect from my classes or the experience as a whole. The first day was extremely confronting and it took all I had to keep from panicking and fleeing from the room.

Learning a language for the first time is hard.

I don’t know why I thought that simply enrolling in a language course would grant me the ability to speak fluently in a foreign tongue. It was a rude awakening to discover it was in fact not that simple. It takes work. Hard work. And time. A lot of it. It also takes patience. Motivation. A willingness to embarrass yourself when mispronouncing words aloud.

It won’t be easy. That is the first thing you need to know before entering the classroom on day one. Be prepared to be caught off guard. Not being able to understand someone when they are trying to communicate something to you is confronting. Especially when you’re in their home environment and you’re the one out of place.

In my opinion, that is a learning experience in itself. As a white, English-speaking Australian I’ve had very little difficulty trying to communicate and express myself in my life. Learning a second language and grasping the difficulty of communication between language barriers gives you perspective and a little insight into what it may be like for those who are forced to learn another language out of sheer survival.

It’s uncomfortable to constantly live outside your comfort zone. That’s what language lessons are. Each week you are presented with a new word or phrase and you put so much energy into mastering it only to be presented with something new again the week after, realising just how big and complex a thing you are trying to tackle. But here’s the thing; learning a language is more than just learning a language. It’s learning motivation and dedication. It’s learning to let yourself make mistakes. It’s learning how to give yourself time to grow. Learning a language really is a special experience, and I encourage you to let yourself experience it. Too many people give up after day one, before they’ve even really started, and its disappointing to see.

If I could give you any advice it would be to stick with it. You won’t regret it.