I was talking with a Chinese friend about her son who is enjoying his Summer vacation after his first year of college. “I helped him get an interview at a pizza restaurant for a summer job, but when he was in the interview and they asked him about his English, he said ‘My teacher always said from the time I was little that my English was not good.’ He blew the interview and now he is just sitting around the house with nothing to do.” Her son has shown great proficiency in math, science, and Chinese, but he seems to have trouble with English. He can speak a little bit, but not very well.
It just so turns out that this entire conversation I had with the mother was in Chinese. In fact, the mother has been working in an English environment for five years but can speak only about 10 words or phrases in English. I asked her why she hasn’t learned English after all these years. Her reply “Oh, I’m not smart, not like other people. I can’t learn English, it’s too hard!”
I’ve heard this one before; “I can’t learn [insert foreign language of choice], it’s too hard!” I’ve heard this from a German colleague about Chinese, an American friend about Spanish, and Chinese people about English. Curious enough, I have also heard this from individuals who can speak but not read Chinese; “I can’t learn Chinese characters, it’s too hard!”
Is it really that hard? To this dear lady, I pointed out that despite not even trying, she has learned a handful of English words and phrases: no, thank you, sorry, what are you doing, etc. When I first met this person, my Chinese was limited to “ni hao, xie xie, duoshao qian”. Fast forward 4 years later, despite my Chinese being nothing close to what you might think as fluent, we’re having a full conversation in Chinese.
“Imagine how much English you would be able to speak if you had only started to learn.” What was holding her back? The exact same thing holding back her son: believing you can.
You can learn Chinese. You can learn Spanish. You can learn French, Bulgarian, Russian, Zulu, or any other language. There is no ‘secret’ to learning a language. Having faith in yourself is the very first step in accomplishing anything worthwhile. All that it requires is consistent effort in the belief that you can learn. The perfect time to start is now.