There can be countless reasons why someone may want to learn a new language. Maybe we need a foreign language for work purposes, to be able to talk to friends, or maybe even family. Perhaps we want to learn the language because we are interested in the different culture, or the country where this language is spoken. In the end, it all comes down to the same, which is the desire to speak a foreign language fluently.
In my case, I was pretty much brought up multilingually. I was born in Holland, moved to Spain when I was 9, my mother is german, so therefor I learned german at a very young age, and I learned English due to my lack of spanish skills in the first few months I lived in Spain.
I have always had a deep interest for languages, cultures and the differences from country to country all over the world. I live in a place that’s very attractive to tourists, given that it’s a beautiful spanish town on the south coast where the skies are always blue and the sun always shines. You can understand why this is an interesting place for people to visit, and even to migrate to. Due to this, there are plenty of different languages being spoken here, like spanish, english, german, norwegian, bulgarian, russian, and so on.This gives us a great opportunity to learn about different countries, cultures and languages without having to leave our home town.
Of course this isn’t always the case. I have been lucky enough to be exposed to so many languages ever since I was little girl, and therefore find it fun and easy to pick up new words and to learn new languages. For other people, it’s not as easy. Most people have lived in the same town their whole life, and unless it’s a major touristic city, it’s not very likely to naturally get in touch with foreign languages.
Let’s take a look at a language like German and the ways I use german on a daily basis, even if I don’t have anyone to speak it with. I learned German when I was very little, so never had any major difficulty with it, luckily. My mum taught me since I was 3 years old, made me watch german television, and made me read german books. I remember that at the time I hated it, and it seemed unfair as my older brother was allowed to watch normal TV, and didn’t have to sit there watching german cartoons. But now that I am older, and that I speak this language fluently with no effort, I’m very glad she made me learn.
Given the fact that I never learned german in school, I never learned the official, proper way of spelling and writing in german. I never learned grammar or why a certain word is placed at a certain part of the sentence. I don’t know why… I just know it goes there.
Because I missed out on this important part of learning a foreign language, I had to find other ways to figure out how to spell. I live in Spain, so german language courses are not very easy to find, and when I do find one, it’s likely that my german is much better than theirs. So instead I bought lots of books, I got my older sister to send me some of her books from germany, I bought magazines that interested me and got german TV at home again. This way I can read and learn about the ways of spelling, writing, expressions, and so on.
As german isn’t a language I use every day, I try to think of other ways to use the language as much as possible in order to keep it fluent and up to date. I love to read and listen to music, so I use my love for literature and music to practice my languages. I do this with all the languages I speak, and it works great! Studies have proven that it is much easier to learn a language by reading stuff that interests you. In my case, I read thrillers, fiction, fantasy, everything really, so I have a wide selection of topics to choose out of.
To learn a foreign language, I have come to find out that personally, I prefer audiobooks and movies. It’s easier to get used to hearing the language you are trying to learn. As you get use to it, even if you don’t understand anything, you’ll pick up loose words, you’ll listen to the pronunciations, and you can even repeat after them to practice for yourself. But honestly, there are countless ways to learning new languages, and I hope I can try them all! And there is not just audiobooks. Watch your favorite movies and series in that language. It’s most likely that you know what they’re saying, you know the dialog more or less, and you know the story line, so it’s much easier to assimilate the words and understand their meanings. If you want to learn about food in that language, watch cooking programs or read recipes in that language. If you want to learn about history, culture and politics you can either stream national radio online or download podcasts. Listen to the foreign radio while driving, on your way to work, while doing the chores around the house or in the background while studying. There are endless opportunities for us to interact with foreign languages of our choice, and learn about the country and its culture.
So far i’ve always lived where the language I was learning was spoken, but if this hadn’t been the case, I’m sure I wouldn’t be as much into learning languages as I am. The fact that I already speak 4, makes new languages so much easier to learn. I have a lot of vocabulary to compare to, and words that sound similar in different languages, are therefore easier to remember.
I am now starting to learn swedish and norwegian. The reason I chose to do this is because my fiancee is swedish. We’ve been together for over 3 years. He speaks fluently english, which makes me lazy as I just speak in english with him. If he only spoke swedish and norwegian, I wouldn’t have any other option but to learn. Even tho he speaks “ Oxford English” , his grandparents don’t. The first year we were together he took me to Sweden around christmas to meet his family. His grandparents are the sweetest people. They live in a beautiful house by the coast near Borås. It’s the typical swedish house you’d imagine. Surrounded by nature, 50m from the beach, made out of wood, and covered in snow ( In winter that is…)
Only problem was, they don’t speak English. I talked to them, but mostly thru improvised sign language and having my fiancee as a translator. I figured, it’s time to learn. Two years have gone by and I haven’t learned much more than a couple loose words and that’s only just about enough to explain that i’m hungry, and to tell my fiancee I love him. Nop, not exactly enough to have a full one conversation with his grandparents. So it’s time to put some elbow grease into it!
Some people are motivated to learn another language in order to be able to use it on their next visit to Mexico or Italy on holiday. Their motivation is to just to speak, to say a few things in the language. That is quite understandable. However, it has been my experience that when I try to learn a language just in order to say a few things, since I have so few real opportunities to do so I don’t do very well. I find that I don’t really understand what people are saying, and struggle to say much beyond a few phrases. This happened when I tried to learn Russian.
My former boss signed me up for a 6 weeks long intensive russian course. Sadly, russian had never been an interest of mine. On top of that, I was 16 and learning to become a dental assistant, learning russian wasn’t my top priority back then. Because of this, I didn’t pay attention to the lessons,didn’t look forward to them and didn’t put the necessary effort into learning. Now I know how to introduce myself, and count to 10 in russian, that’s it. I “wasted” a language course because of lack of interest. Learning a language is challenging, so you really have to want it and stick to it, if you are willing to be able to speak it fluently one day.
Perhaps the majority of people are motivated to learn another language because they need the language for academic or professional reasons. These learners usually spend a lot of time in classrooms and study the language with great determination, often focusing on preparing for language proficiency tests, and studying grammar rules and vocabulary lists.
Even though these learners put in more time and effort than the tourist planning to visit Mexico or Italy, the results are often disappointing. If these learners are able to acquire a more intrinsic sense of motivation, an interest in the culture and the kinds of things that inspire them to learn languages, they are more likely to achieve their more “practical” goals of achieving a high level in the language that they need for their tests and professional purposes.
I have always found that when I am able to acquire a familiarity with the language through my interests, and gain different perspectives on the culture, current events, history or even cooking, I connect more strongly with the language. As a result, not only my listening comprehension and reading skills improve, but my speaking ability develops very quickly once I have the opportunity to use the language.
I don’t think it is possible to do well in language learning without committing to going beyond the language itself. We need to use the language to take side trips into the culture, into whatever interests us, not just what is in the text book. This makes the language learning journey more enjoyable, and ensures that we reach our goals.
Why did you start to learn another language? I look forward to discussion in the comments.