Inflated claims about language learning

I recently posted about the trend of “productivity gurus and marketers” making inflated claims about how much people can learn or otherwise accomplish in a short time.

This trend is particularly common in the domain of language learning. Language-learning apps routinely make absurd promises of fluency in their marketing materials. This spreads the notion that learning a language is (or ought to be) quick and easy. If that is what people expect, they are likely to be disappointed and give up language-learning when it turns out to be neither quick nor easy.

The most egregious example I’ve seen: when I was in Thailand a few years ago, I worked with a Thai tutor who assigned a book called “Master Thai in One Night.” No one believes that. But it is tempting to believe that there may be shortcuts to learning a language.

I recently posted an answer on Quora to the question: “How difficult is it for an adult to learn how to write in Chinese?” Short answer: very difficult. There are more and less efficient ways to learn Chinese, but there is no fast or easy way to learn Chinese. Learning Chinese (or Japanese) is a lifelong project.

I’ve tried to learn Chinese and had to make peace with the fact that I did not have the time I would need to invest to elevate my ability beyond the basics. I had to let that project go to make room for new projects.

My answer to the Quora question is reproduced below:

Ryan McCarl
Attorney | Writer | Educator