Learning a second language becomes progressively more difficult and challenging the more different it is from your native language.
That isn’t to say that learning a new language is easy. Just because I have managed to become fluent in more than one language doesn’t mean I didn’t have to work very hard to acquire these skills. As such, I can see some plain truths about learning a new language.
Stay Close to Home
The first universal truth of learning a new language is, the further you move from your native alphabet, language, and culture, the more trouble you will have. Young children learn languages with ease, often two or more languages at a time, because they have not yet completely internalised the native culture around them. They are fluid, and everything seems natural to them. By the time we’re adolescents, however, we have a firm belief in what is ‘natural’ in terms of religion, language, and culture, and it becomes more difficult for us to comprehend vastly different systems.
As a result, you’ll have much more success with a new language if you stay close to your native one – start with a close relative, in other words. For example, if you’re speaking a Romance language – say, Spanish – you’ll have a much easier time learning French or Italian, because you share both an alphabet and an ancestor. Words will be familiar, alphabets are the same, and some of the culture behind the grammar and vocabulary is also shared. If you try to learn Chinese, on the other hand, the completely different systems of characters, grammar, and culture represent a much higher obstacle to get past.
A Slow Start Dooms the Race
The related aspect here is that a slow, painful start is discouraging. If you are learning a closely related language you will get a fast start: The words are easy to remember, and your stumbles will be in grammar and pronunciation, both of which can still enable you to be understood and to understand.
On the other hand, if you must start from scratch to learn even the most basic building blocks of language anew, your progress will be very slow at first. You will reach a point where your understanding ‘clicks’ and your progress speeds up, but this can be months or even years after you begin. This frustration is deadly to any ambition, as it becomes very easy to assume it is impossible.
So, if your ambition is a second language, go easy and stay close. You can challenge yourself for the third language!