The bell curve of language learning

There’s a sort of knee-jerk stance by many Internet linguist — not just Benny, but also people like Steve Kaufmann — to say that anybody can learn a language.

I suppose it serves a pedagogical purpose in that it fosters pessimism.

Still, I can’t help but feel it misses the point a bit. After all, the same polyglots will happily admit that some people are really good at it, even though they say a lot of work is involved.

But there’s a flaw here. If there are some people who are naturally or otherwise better at learning languages, then it stands to reason that there are others who are on the other side of the bell curve. That’s where I am, I think. I think I may very well be one of those people that just suck at learning languages.

I keep thinking of the following analogy: Two people dive off a whose boat that has sunk a few kilometers off an island. The strong swimmer can make his way to shore. The weak swimmer can’t even do that. He’s trapped there in the one spot, treading water. And even treading water is taking all his focus and concentration and time. If he stops treading water for even a second, he’ll start to sink.

That’s what it feels like to me. I’m working fairly hard (not obsessively hard, not every single moment, but fairly hard) at trying to learn Japanese. But it still feels like I’m making little progress.

It feels like I’m that guy treading water and making no progress.

I guess that’s what I wanted to say. There’s no larger point here. In the future, there needs to be a larger point.

But psychologically, I feel I’ve got a long way to go…


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