We returned from France. Nice place. My wife speaks French rather well, and I seriously improved my listening comprehension on the trip. One night we were eating cheese and drinking wine with some friends and talking about language. There was a bit of translating back and forth for myself and one native French speaker whose English was just a bit better than my French. This situation called for repetition and explanation and further questioning. It was exhausting but what a great way to learn!
At one point discussion turned to the English form of the subjunctive and grammar rules in general. Talk turned to difficulties associated with learning languages. French is very difficult according to the French. Personally, I would claim English is very tricky. My wife tried in vain to convince the French speakers that Italian was actually more difficult than French. And I have never met a Chinese person who hasn’t told me Chinese was near impossible. It seems everyone wants their native tongue to be difficult to learn. We take pride in the crazy nuances of our languages. It’s no surprise really given how our identities are so wrapped in our language. But I felt myself disagreeing strongly with the concept that learning a foreign language is hard.
The problem, as I see it, resides in the idea that learning a foreign language means knowing all the rules and nuances. I prefer to think of language learning as merely learning to do things. The more things you can do (with more language and less gesturing), the more fluent you are. And learning to do things is really not that complicated.