Difficulties Learning Foreign Languages

Difficulties Learning Foreign Languages can be made much easier and less discouraging when you begin with Easiest Foreign Languages.

Difficulties Learning Foreign Languages have been experienced by many people.

Some of the various difficulties of learning a foreign language have been well described by humorist David Sedaris.

The following difficulties experienced by David Sedaris in trying to learning French are excerpts from his books ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’ and ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’.

Difficulties learning a foreign language can be overwhelming, to the point of discouraging many beginners after initial difficulties or failure.

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Learning a foreign language is never EASY.

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Difficulties Experienced by David Sedaris in Trying to Learning French:

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1. HUMOR OF TWO TYPES OF FRENCH

Humor of Two Types of French spoken by Americans is from the book ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’ about struggling to learn French, by David Sedaris.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter ‘Make That A Double’

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Two Types of French Spoken by Americans:

“There are, I have noticed, two basic types of French spoken by Americans vacationing in Paris:

the Hard Kind

and

the Easy Kind.

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“The Hard Kind

involves the conjugation of wily verbs and the science of placing them alongside various other words in order to form such sentences as

‘I go him say good afternoon’

and

‘No, not to him I no go it him say now.’

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“The second, less complicated form of French

amounts to screaming English at the top of your lungs,

much the same way you’d shout at a deaf person or the dog you thought you could train to stay off your sofa.

The speaker carries no pocket dictionary

and never suffers the humiliation that inevitably comes with pointing to the menu and ordering the day of the week.

With Easy French,

eating out involves a simple

‘Bring Me A Steak’.”

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2. DIFFICULTY OF KNOWING ONLY A FEW FRENCH WORDS

Difficulty of knowing only a few French words is adapted from ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’, a humorous book partly about struggling to learn French, by David Sedaris.

Here are excerpts from the chapter ‘See You Again Yesterday’:

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“I went to France knowing only the word for ‘bottleneck’.

I said ‘bottleneck’ (in French) at the airport, ‘bottleneck’ on the train to Normandy, and ‘bottleneck’ when confronted with the pile of stones that was Hugh’s house in the country.

The house is located in a tiny hamlet, a Hooterville of eight stone houses huddled in a knot and surrounded by rolling hills decorated with cows and sheep.

There was no running water, no electricity, and nothing to buy but the pipes and wires needed if you wanted to live with plumbing and electricity.

Because there was nothing decent to buy, the people greeted me with great enthusiasm.

It would be the same if a French person were to visit, say, Knightdale, North Carolina.

‘My goodness,’ everyone said (in French), ‘you came all this way to see us?’

Had my vocabulary been larger, I might have said (in French),

‘Well, no, not exactly.’

Times being what they were, I offered my only possible response.

‘Bottleneck.’

‘Oh, bottleneck,’ everyone said. ‘You speak very well.’

They were nothing like the French people I had imagined. If anything, they were too kind, too generous.

I seemed to have reached my mid-thirties only to be known as ‘the guy who says bottleneck.’

I picked up a few new words, but the overall situation seemed hopeless.

Neighbors would drop by while Hugh was off at the hardware store, and I’d struggle to entertain them with a pathetic series of simple nouns (in French).

‘Ashtray!’

‘Yes,’ they’d agree. ‘That’s an ashtray all right.’

‘Hammer? Screwdriver?’

‘No, that’s okay, we’ve got our own at home.’

I’d hoped the language might come on its own, the way it comes to babies, but people don’t talk to foreigners the way they talk to babies. They don’t hypnotize you with bright objects and repeat the same words over and over, handing out little treats when you finally say ‘potty’ or ‘wawa.’

It got to the point where I’d see a baby in the bakery or grocery store and instinctively ball up my fists, jealous over how easy he had it. I wanted to lie in a French crib and start from scratch, learning the language from the ground floor up.

I wanted to be a baby, but instead, I was an adult who talked like one, a spooky man-child demanding more than his fair share of attention.

Rather than admit defeat, I decided to change goals. I told myself that I’d never really cared about learning the language. My main priority was to get the house in shape. The verbs would come in due time, but until then I needed a comfortable place to hide.

I left promising to enroll in a French class and then forgot that promise as soon as my plane landed back in New York.

Hugh and I returned to Normandy the following summer, and I resumed my identity as the village idiot.

‘SEE YOU AGAIN YESTERDAY!’ I said (in French) to the butcher.

‘Ashtray! Bottleneck!’

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3. DIFFICULTY OF GENDERS IN FRENCH

Difficulty of Genders in French is adapted from ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’, a humorous book partly about struggling to learn French, by David Sedaris.

Here are excerpts from the chapter ‘Make That a Double’:

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Male and Female Genders in French:

"Of all the stumbling blocks inherent in learning this [French] language, the greatest for me is the principle that each noun has a corresponding sex that affects both its articles and its adjectives.

Because it is a female and lays eggs, a chicken is masculine.

Vagina is masculine as well,

while the word masculinity is feminine.

I spent months searching for some secret code before I realized that common sense has nothing to do with it.

I have no problem learning the words themselves, it’s the sexes that trip me up and refuse to stick.

What’s the trick to remembering that a sandwich is masculine? What qualities does it share with anyone in possession of a penis?

Nothing in France is free from sexual assignment. I noticed that the French had prescribed genders for the various land masses and natural wonders we Americans had always thought of as sexless,

Niagara Falls is feminine and, against all reason, the Grand Canyon is masculine.

I wonder whose job it was to assign these sexes in the first place.

Hoping I might learn through repetition, I tried using gender in my everyday English.

'Hi, guys,' I’d say, opening a new box of paper clips. 'Hey, have you seen my belt? I can’t find her anywhere.'

There are times when you can swallow the article and others when it must be clearly pronounced, as the word has two different meanings, one masculine and the other feminine.

My confidence hit a new low when my friend Adeline told me that French children often make mistakes, but never with the sex of their nouns. 'It’s just something we grow up with,' she said. 'We hear the gender once, and then think of it as part of the word. There’s nothing to it.'

It’s a pretty grim world when I can’t even feel superior to a toddler.

Tired of embarrassing myself in front of two-year-olds, I’ve started referring to everything in the plural, which can get expensive but has solved a lot of my problems.

In saying ‘a melon’, you need to use the masculine article. In saying ‘the melons’, you use the plural article, which does not reflect gender and is the same for both the masculine and the feminine. Ask for two or ten or three hundred melons, and the number lets you off the hook by replacing the article altogether.

A masculine kilo of feminine tomatoes presents a sexual problem easily solved by asking for two kilos of tomatoes.

I’ve started using the plural while shopping,

and Hugh has started using it in our cramped kitchen, where he stands huddled in the corner, shouting, ‘What do we need with four pounds of tomatoes?’

I answer that I’m sure we can use them for something. The only hard part is finding some place to put them.

They won’t fit in the refrigerator, as I filled the last remaining shelf with the two chickens I bought,

forgetting that we were still working our way through a pair of pork roasts.

‘We could put them next to the radios,’ I say,

‘or grind them for sauce in one of the blenders.’

Hugh tells me that the market is off-limits until my French improves.

He’s pretty steamed, but I think he’ll get over it when he sees the CD players I got him for his birthday.”

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4. DIFFICULTY OF LANGUAGE TAPES

Difficulty of Language Tapes in French is adapted from ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’, a humorous book partly about struggling to learn French, by David Sedaris.

Here are excerpts from the chapter ‘The Tapeworm Is In’:

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“Before leaving New York, I enrolled in a month long French class taught by a beautiful young Parisian woman who had us memorize a series of dialogues (in French) from an audio cassette that accompanied our textbook:

‘What do you want to do, my friends? Go out?’

‘Go out where? Go out to the discotheque?’

‘No, go out to a restaurant, to the House of Butterfly.’

‘The House of Butterfly! Is that a pleasant restaurant?’

‘It is not expensive, if that is what you mean.’

‘Oh, good. The matter is settled. Let us all proceed to the House of Butterfly!’

Fabienne, Carmen, and Eric spent a great deal of time in outdoor restaurants, discussing their love life and enjoying colas served without ice.

Passing acquaintances were introduced at regular intervals, and it was often noted that the sky was blue.

Because it was a beginning course, the characters on our tape generally steered clear of slang and controversy.

Avoiding both the past and the future, they embraced the moment with the stoicism common to Buddhists and recently recovered alcoholics.

Hoping it might help with my memorization assignments, I broke down and bought a Walkman.

I found that walking through New York became a pleasure. Crossing Fourteenth Street, an unmedicated psychotic would brandish a toilet brush, his mouth moving wordlessly as, in my head, the young people of France requested a table with a view of the fountain.

If a person who constantly reads is labeled a bookworm, then I was quickly becoming what might be called a TAPEWORM.

The tape made me eager for our move to Paris, where, if nothing else, I’d be able to rattle from memory such (French) phrases as

‘Let me give you my telephone number’

and

‘I too love the sandwich.’

As it turns out, I have not had occasion to use either of these sentences.

Though I could invite someone to call me, the only phone number I know by heart is Eric’s, the young man on my French tape. My brain is big enough to hold only one ten-digit number, and since his was there first, I have no idea how anyone might go about phoning me.

I guess I could stick with the line about the sandwich, but it hardly qualifies as newsworthy.

I sometimes wonder why I even bothered with French class.

‘I am truly delighted to make your acquaintance,’

‘I heartily thank you for this succulent meal’ --

I have yet to use either of these pleasantries.

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5. DIFFICULTY OF VOCABULARY CARDS

Difficulty of Vocabulary Cards in French is from ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’, a humorous book partly about struggling to learn French, by David Sedaris.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter ‘See You Again Yesterday’:

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“I began the practice of learning ten new words a day, [words in French for:]

exorcism

facial swelling

death penalty

I found my [French] words in the dictionary, typed them onto index cards, and committed them to memory while on my daily walks to the neighboring village [in Normandy].

slaughterhouse

sea monster

witch doctor

By the end of the month, I’d managed to retain three hundred [French] nouns, none of which proved to be the least bit useful.

The next summer we went to France for six weeks, and I added another 420 words, most of them found in the popular gossip magazine VOICI.

‘Man-eater,’ I’d say [in French].

‘Gold digger,

roustabout,

louse.’

‘Who are you talking about?’ my neighbors would ask.

‘What social climber? Where?’

On my fifth trip to France I limited myself to the words and phrases that people actually use.

From the dog owners I learned

‘Lie down,’

‘Shut up,’

and

‘Who shit on the carpet?’

The couple across the road taught me to ask questions correctly, and the grocer taught me to count.

Things began to come together, and [in French] I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly.

‘Is them the thoughts of cows?’ I’d ask the butcher [in French], pointing to the calves’ brains displayed in the front window.

‘I want me some lamb chops with handles on ’em.’

By the end of our sixth trip to France, the house was finished and I’d learned a total of 1,564 words.

It was an odd sensation to hold my entire vocabulary in my hands, to look back through the stack and recall the afternoon I learned to effectively describe my hangovers.

I kept my vocabulary in a wooden box built to house a Napoleonic hat, and worried that if the house caught fire, I’d be back to square one with ‘bottleneck’ and ‘ashtray’ and would lose the intense pleasure I felt whenever I heard somebody use a word I’d come to think of as my own.

I’m determined to learn as much French as possible, so we’ll take an apartment in Paris, where there are posters and headlines and any number of words waiting to be captured and transcribed onto index cards.”

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6. DIFFICULTY OF LANGUAGE COURSE IN FRANCE

‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’ is a humorous book partly about struggling to learn French, by David Sedaris.

Here are excerpts about taking a French class in Paris from the chapter of the same name, ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’:

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French Class in France

“I’ve moved to Paris with hopes of learning the language.

At the age of forty-one, I am returning to school and have to think of myself as what my French textbook calls ‘a true debutant.’

...on the first day of class I arrived early, watching as the returning students greeted one another. Regardless of their nationalities, everyone spoke to me what sounded like excellent French. Some accents were better than others, but the students exhibited an ease and confidence I found intimidating.

The first day of class was nerve-racking because I knew I’d be expected to perform. That’s the way they do it here—it’s everybody into the language pool, sink or swim.

The teacher marched in and proceeded to rattle off a series of administrative announcements [in French]. I’ve spent quite a few summers in Normandy, and I took a monthlong French class before leaving New York. I’m not completely in the dark, yet I understood only half of what this woman was saying.

‘If you have not MEIMSLSXP or LGPDMURCT by this time, then you should not be in this room. Has everyone APZKIUBJXOW? Everyone? Good, we shall begin.’

‘All right, then, who knows the alphabet?’

It was startling because (a) I hadn’t been asked that question in a while and (b) I realized, while laughing, that I myself did NOT know the alphabet. They’re the same letters, but in France they’re pronounced differently. I know the shape of the alphabet but had no idea what it actually sounded like.

‘Ahh.’ The teacher went to the board and sketched the letter A. ‘Do we have anyone in the room who’s first name commences with an AHH?’

Two Polish Annas raised their hands, and the teacher instructed them to present themselves by stating their names, nationalities, occupations, and a brief list of things they liked and disliked.

The first Anna hailed from an industrial town outside of Warsaw and had front teeth the size of tombstones. She worked as a seamstress, enjoyed quiet times with friends, and hated the mosquito.

‘Oh, really,’ the teacher said. ‘How very interesting. I thought everyone loved the mosquito, but here, in front of all the world, you claim to detest him. How is it that we’ve been blessed with someone as unique and original as you? Tell us, please.’

The seamstress did not understand what was being said [in French], but knew this was an occasion for shame.

The two Polish Annas surely had clear notions of what they loved and hated, but like the rest of us, they were limited in terms of [French] vocabulary, and this made them appear less than sophisticated.

The teacher forged on, and we learned that Carlos, the Argentine bandion player, loved wine, music, and, in his words,

‘making sex with the womens of the world.’

When called upon, I delivered an effortless list of things that I detest: blood sausage, intestinal pâtés, brain pudding. I’d learned these words the hard way.

Having given it some thought, I then declared my love for IBM typewriters, the French word for ‘bruise’, and my electric floor waxer. It was a short list, but still I managed to mispronounce IBM and assign the wrong gender to both the floor waxer and the typewriter.

The teacher’s reaction led me to believe that these mistakes were capital crimes in the country of France.

‘Were you always this PALICMKREXIS?’ she asked, ‘Even a FIUSCRZSA TICIWELMUN knows that a typewriter is feminine.’

I absorbed as much abuse as I could understand, thinking—but not saying—that I find it ridiculous to assign a gender to an inanimate object incapable of disrobing and making an occasional fool of itself. Why refer to Lady Crack Pipe or Good Sir Dishrag when these things could never live up to all that their sex implied?

[For more on this, see the web page Humor of Genders in French.]

The teacher proceded to belittle everyone from German Eva, who hated laziness, to Japanese Yukari, who loved paintbrushes and soap.

Italian, Thai, Dutch, Korean, and Chinese—we all left class foolishly believing that the worst was over. She’d shaken us up a little, but surely that was just an act designed to weed out the deadweight.

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We didn’t know it then, but the coming months would teach us what it was like to spend time in the presence of a wild animal, something unpredictable.

Her temperament was not based on a series of good and bad days but, rather, good and bad moments.

We soon learned to dodge chalk and protect our stomach and heads whenever she approached with a question. She hadn’t yet punched anyone, but it seemed wise to protect ourselves from the inevitable.

Unlike the French class I had taken in New York, here there was no sense of competition. When the teacher poked a shy Korean in the eyelid with a freshly sharpened pencil, we took no comfort in the fact that, unlike Hyeyoon Cho, we all knew the irregular past tense of the verb ‘to defeat’.

In all fairness, the teacher hadn’t meant to stab the girl, but neither did she spend much time apologizing, saying only,

‘Well, you should have been VKKDYO more KDEYNFULH.’

Though we were forbidden to speak anything but French, the teacher would occasionally use us to practice any of her five fluent languages.

‘I hate you,’ she said to me one afternoon. Her English was flawless. ‘I really, really hate you.’

Call me sensitive, but I couldn’t help but take it personally.

After being singled out as a lazy KFDTINVFIN, I took to spend four hours a night on my homework, putting in even more time when we were assigned an essay.

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My fear and discomfort crept beyond the borders of the classroom and accompanied me out onto the wide boulevards. Stopping for a coffee, asking directions, depositing money in my bank account: these things were out of the question, as they involved having to speak.

Before beginning school, there’d be no shutting me up, but now I was convinced everything I said was wrong.

When the phone rang, I ignored it. If someone asked me a question, I pretended to be deaf.

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My only comfort was the knowledge that I was not alone. Huddled in the hallways and making the most of our pathetic French, my fellow students and I engaged in the sort of conversation commonly overheard in refugee camps.

‘Sometime me cry alone at night.’

‘That be common for I also, but be more strong, you.’

‘Much work and SOMEDAY YOU TALK PRETTY.’

‘People start love you soon. Maybe tomorrow, okay.’

Over time it became impossible to believe that any of us would ever improve.

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It was mid-October when the teacher singled me out, saying [in French],

‘Every day spent with you is like having a cesarean section.’

And it struck me that, for the first time since arriving in France, I could understand every word that someone was saying.

Understanding doesn’t mean you can suddenly speak the language. Far from it. It’s a small step, nothing more, yet its rewards are intoxicating and deceptive.

The teacher continued her diatribe and I settled back, bathing in the subtle beauty of each new curse and insult.

‘You exhaust me with your foolishness and reward my efforts with nothing but pain, do you understand me?’

The world opened up, and it was with great joy that I responded [in French],

‘I know the thing that you speak exact now.

Talk me more, you, plus, please, plus.’"

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7. DIFFICULTY OF FRENCH RESULTS IN GIVING UP ON FRENCH SCHOOL

Giving up on French school is adapted from a humorous book by David Sedaris: ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’, with this part about struggling to learn French.

Here are excerpts from the chapter ‘In the Waiting Room’:

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“Six months after moving to Paris, I gave up on French School and decided to take the easy way out.

All I ever said (in French) was ‘Could you repeat that?’

And for what? I rarely understood things the second time around

and when I did it was usually something banal,

the speaker wondering how I felt about toast,

or telling me (in French) that the store would close in twenty minutes.

All that work for something that really didn’t matter,

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and so I began saying ‘D’accord,’ (said with a silent final –d)

which translates to ‘I am in agreement.’ and means, basically, ‘OK.’

The word was a key to a magic door, and every time I said it I felt the thrill of possibility.

‘D’accord,’ I told the concierge, and the next thing I knew I was sewing the eye onto a stuffed animal belonging to her granddaughter.

I said ‘D’accord’ to a waiter and received a pig’s nose standing erect on a bed of tender greens.

I said it to a woman in a department store and walked away drenched in cologne.

Every day was an adventure.

When I got a kidney stone, I took the Métro to a hospital and said ‘D’accord’ to a cheerful redheaded nurse, who hooked led me to a private room and hooked me up to a Demerol drip.

That was undoubtedly the best that ‘D’accord’ got me, and it was followed by the worst.

After the stone had passed, I spoke to a doctor, who filled out an appointment card and told me to return the following Monday, when we would do whatever it was I’d just agreed to.

‘D’accord,’ I said,

and then I supersized it with ‘génial,’ which means ‘great!’”

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8. DIFFICULTY OF UNDERSTANDING FRENCH

Difficulty of not understanding French is adapted from a humorous book by David Sedaris: ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’, with this part about struggling to learn French.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter ‘The Man in the Hut’:

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“On one of these trips, he ( a Frenchman) attempted to explain that he had a metal plate in his head.

My French comprehension wasn’t very good at the time,

and his pointing back and forth between his temple and the door of the glove compartment only confused me.

‘You invented glove compartments?

Your glove compartment has ideas of its own?

I’m sorry...I don’t...I don’t understand.’”

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9. DIFFICULTY OF SPEAKING FRENCH

Difficulty speaking French is adapted from a humorous book by David Sedaris: ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’, with this part about struggling to learn French.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter ‘The Man in the Hut’:

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“I’d lament the sorry state of my French.

Oh, my comprehension had improved —

I could understand just about everything that was said to me —

but when it came to speaking I tended (and still do) to freeze up.

It wouldn’t hurt me to be more social, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

The phone rings, and I avoid it.

Neighbors knock and I duck into the bedroom

or crouch behind the daybed until they’ve left.”

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10. HUMOR LEARNING FRENCH IN PRISON

Humor learning French in prison is adapted from a humorous book by David Sedaris: ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’, with this part about struggling to learn French.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter ‘The Man in the Hut’:

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“Though harsh in other respects, prison would be an excellent place to learn a foreign language—total immersion

and you’d have the new slang before it even hit the streets.

Unlike the French school that I actually attended, this one, when it came to verbs, would likely start with the imperative (in French):

‘Bend over.’

‘Take it.’

That kind of thing.

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Still, though, you’d have your little conversations.

In the cafeteria, in the recreation room or crafts center, if they have them in a French prison, and I imagine they do.

‘Tell me, Jean-Claude, do you like the glaze I’ve applied to my shapely jug?’

Of the above, I can say (in French),

‘Tell me, Jean-Claude, do you like the... jug?’

‘Glaze’ is one of those words that shouldn’t be too difficult to learn, and the same goes for ‘shapely.’ I’m pretty good when it comes to retaining nouns and adjectives,

but the bit about applying the glaze to the shapely jug—that’s where I tend to stumble.

In English, it’s easy enough – ‘I put this on that’ –

but in French, such things have a way of biting you in the ass. I might have to say, (in French)

‘Do you like the glaze the shapely jug accepted from me?’

or

‘Do you like the shapely jug in the glaze of which I earlier applied?’

For safety’s sake, perhaps I’d be better off breaking the one sentence into three:

‘Look at the shapely jug.’

‘Do you like the glaze?’

‘I did that.’

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If I spent as much time speaking to my neighbors as I do practicing imaginary conversations in the prison crafts center, I’d be fluent by now and could quit making excuses for myself.

As it is, whenever someone asks how long I’ve been in France I wonder if it’s possible to literally die of shame.

‘I’m away a lot,’ I always say. “Two and a half months a year in America, and at least two in England, sometimes more.”

‘Yes, but how long ago did you come to France?’

‘What?’

‘I asked, “How. Long. Have. You. Been. In. France?’

Then I might say,

‘I love chicken.’

or

‘Big bees can be dangerous,’

anything to change the subject.”

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Below are links to buy David Sedaris' two books about the difficulty of learning foreign languages:

'ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY'

'WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES'

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FRENCH NO LONGER IN 10 MOST POPULAR SCHOOL SUBJECTS IN ENGLAND. Foreign languages are believed to be among the most demanding subjects in the curriculum, with fears that many pupil are abandoning them to boost their overall results.




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