Mark Twain once said, “My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.”
Well, how hard it is to learn a language depends on what language you speak to begin with. If you speak English you have a head start as it’s a Germanic language. But German doesn’t make it any easier with all of its genders, 12 ways of forming plurals, etc.—and that’s only scratching the surface.
Some years ago, when a grandson started high school, he needed to choose another language to study, so he chose Spanish. However all the classes were full, but as he was passing an open door to the German classroom he saw it was nearly empty, so he went in and took a seat. A clever way to choose a second language.
Another grandson took three years of Spanish in high school, 4 years at university, and went to Spain for a semester of study. He lived with a Spanish family, and took his classes in the language, but when we went to visit him in Granada, and I said how happy I was he could translate for me he blithly told me “But I can’t speak Spanish!” The pronunciation was different, and people spoke much faster than he could translate.
A granddaughter fell in love with French and made it her major at University. I’m sure she speaks it beautifully, as it is a beautiful language, and the best part is that she married a man who also speaks it, so they can chat away and people like me who doesn’t even speak Latin can’t understand a word. I’m beginning to watch a lot of French movies though.
We live in the age of possibility though. Living in a diverse community, our schools teach a variety of languages. At the voting polls this month alone the ballots were printed in five different languages. English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, and Russian!
When I was a student the choices were limited to Spanish, French or Latin. I chose Latin, probably because there was a very good looking boy signing up. But I took it for four years and I can’t speak a word of it, and had no desire to become part of the medical community. But yes, it is possible to become somewhat fluent in a number of languages today (maybe not Latin.)