Today I had a friend whom I had not seen in some time ask me how my languages were coming. I spoke truthfully and said that I am now conversational in Italian, French and Spanish as well as some Swedish. This prompted a response which I get a lot and spend most of my time trying to refute: "You have a gift - languages are hard (rough paraphrase)." I responded to this as I always do saying that nothing is hard.
For whatever reason I always get strange looks when I say this to people, but let us reflect on it a bit. According to the dictionary.com hard means "difficult to accomplish; fatiguing; troublesome." While most skills might be challenging, I do not believe any of them are actually hard. Take an example from the athletic world, if one wants to learn a particular sport or fundamental of a sport there is a process involved in acquisition:
If this sequence, or some rough form of it, is followed acquisition is unavoidable. I have a friend who is a U-14 soccer coach. One day he was explaining to me how he was teaching his boys to strike the spherical, showing me the proper technique. Afterwards, I went home and for a week practiced the proper technique in slow motion making sure that every bit of the form was correct. When I saw my friend again and was playing around pretending to strike a ball he exclaimed that my form was nearly perfect. In fact, he mentioned that he wanted to take me to a practice to show his boys how the form looked! This is huge for me, considering that I am not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination! Now in reality I have not taken this skill to the next step of application, however I know that if I wanted to I could become very good at striking a soccer ball because I have already laid the groundwork through my practice of the instruction given.
I have unwittingly applied this same process to many skills throughout my life, from my basketball shot, to my billiards playing, to singing and language acquisition. Overall the process is always the same!
The other mantra that goes along with the concept of nothing being hard is "Slow and steady wins the race." Going back to the model of the soccer strike I only would practice the form for maybe thirty seconds at a time multiple times during the day and within no time at all I was able to have perfect technique. In singing, I have never been one for marathon practice sessions, however I consistently put in time every day, multiple times a day. In language acquisition, I only study for approximately 30 minutes a day and then speak to myself and others here and there throughout my day. Do I make progress as fast as others? Not always. However, the progress is consistent and always forward. My fiancée today remarked that my French has now gotten to a level that she doesn't understand what I say. That is in only three months of steady work as compared to her four years of schooling! Similarly, when I began the road to becoming a singer I was bad; not just mediocre but flat out horrible. I even had people questioning why I was a voice major, but over time with my consistent and constant practicing (generally not in an actual practice room, but more on that in a minute) I eclipsed the majority of my graduating class and am one of only a few still following my career path.
The key to this mantra is to always be in a state of practice. As a singer, I sing all the time. That may seem like a "duh" statement to some, but let me expound a bit: I literally sing ALL THE TIME. I sing in the shower, when I get in the car, walking through the store, in the practice room, in my apartment, in my mother's house, in church, etc. The difference between me and others is that I am always attempting to sing my technique whenever I open my mouth to sing. This is how I have gone from worst to best in some circles of singers. It is not always about the amount of time spent in the practice room, or in the library or on the pitch. It is about the amount of time spent. It is better to spend 5 minutes practicing 20 times a day then 1 hour practicing once a day. If you want to learn a skill, any skill, learn the technique and practice it constantly. Before long you will become an expert without even realizing it.