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Learning a second language can be one of the most difficult but beneficial academic challenges you undertake. Sure, learning another language can impress your friends, but that is just the beginning. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and the University of North Carolina, foreign language benefits range from improved memory retention to better career outlooks. Language study can also improve cognitive development and boost grades and SAT scores.
Still, mastering another language can be tricky, especially in the United States where the ACTFL notes that serious language instruction in public schools rarely begins before middle or high school. Generally, the later you begin learning another language, the more difficult it is to master.
A skilled language tutor can help you learn another tongue relatively quickly; the key is to know what challenges you are likely to face, and how to find the right tutor to tackle them.
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It's all Greek to me: Common learning challenges by language
Language students often wonder which languages are the most the difficult (or easiest) to learn. There is no simple answer: unique characters make some languages more difficult to read and write while complex sounds make others more difficult to speak. Your native tongue and chosen second language can also complicate matters. Here is a language-by-language guide to some of the most common second languages and their challenges.
English has its share of rules and unusual exceptions, but is generally easy to learn, especially if your native language is also Latin-based. English does not assign word genders, uses generally short words, and verbs usually only vary in the third person. English is largely phonetic, and as one of the world's most popular languages, it's easy to practice. English tutors can help you learn special rules while fine-tuning your pronunciation.
Spanish is another relatively easy language to learn, especially for native English speakers since many words are shared or similar. Spanish is considered grammatically simple, and is almost entirely phonetic. It is also common in the U.S., so if you want to know how to learn Spanish fast, immerse yourself in a Spanish-speaking community near you. In addition to basic grammar and vocabulary, Spanish tutors can help you tackle special sounds, like your rolling Rs.
French is the language of love, but like love, can be complicated. If your native tongue is Latin-based, you will probably recognize many French words on sight. Pronunciation is difficult, however, and you may wonder how a single word could ever include so many silent letters. French also assigns genders to words, and verb conjugation shifts with points of view. French tutoring can help tremendously; a good French tutor can help you overcome grammatical challenges while improving pronunciation.
Chinese is widely considered a difficult language to learn as it uses Hanzi, or special characters that assign completely different symbols to individual words. It is not phonetic at all, and inflection counts: Mandarin uses four separate "tones" to express meaning. Chinese also has a tendency to use homophones. Skilled Chinese tutors are worth their weight in yuan, but are less common than English or Spanish tutors.
Japanese can be a difficult language to crack. In fact, the U.S. State Department classifies Japanese as a "superhard" language, allowing agents three times as long to master it than, say, Spanish or French. Japanese's written language is different from its spoken language, so you have to tackle speech and reading or writing separately. Japanese students also must memorize more than ten thousand Chinese-borrowed Kanji symbols. A solid Japanese tutor can help you overcome these challenges.
Finding a great foreign language tutor
When it comes to learning another language, tutors can make all the difference in the world. Before you can find one, however, it is important to assess your needs. Note whether you learn best visually (by watching or reading) or through listening. Would you benefit most from self-guided, web-based instruction, or from regimented, face-to-face instruction? Also consider your grade-level: kindergarten tutors, elementary school tutors, middle school tutors, high school tutors and college tutors will each approach language study quite differently.
Once you identify your tutoring needs, find the right person or program for the job through one of these resources:
- Tutor matching. Our TutorFinder can help you find a tutor, online or locally, by subject and grade-level.
- Peer tutoring. Many schools and colleges have organized peer-tutoring services, meaning you will likely receive free help from a fellow student. Informal arrangements--begging a proficient classmate for help--work, too.
- Online. Sites like StudySpanish.com offer free Spanish tutorials and a more comprehensive program for a fee.
- Area colleges. Many college students offer tutoring at reasonable rates. Contact your local university's foreign language department.
- Tutoring centers. Professional tutoring centers tend to staff certified instructors who can provide private or group instruction.
- Self-guided software. Foreign language programs like Rosetta Stone can be expensive, but effective, if you learn well on your own.
Language proficiency can be hard won, even among the most savvy students. The right language tutor can help you master another language faster and easier.