“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”
Languages have always been an important part of my life and I’ve grown up with the view that I will be fluent in several one day. From an early age I was exposed to languages other than English, and more importantly encouraged to communicate in a language other than my native tongue. At 14, I wrote in my diary that it was my dream to become trilingual – English, French and Spanish. Rereading this at age 26, I feel a pang of sadness for my teenage self, as I had completely forgotten this once burning desire to speak Espagnol. Spanish has turned into Dutch. Passions change, but the end goal still remains the same; I want to speak as many languages as I possibly can.
I can’t pinpoint what first sparked my interest in languages, but they’ve always seem to come easy to me. My Dad says it’s in my genes, but I don’t attribute language skills to the random luck of genetics. Benny Lewis, an Irish polyglot (FluentIn3Months.com), is tribute to the fact that anyone can learn a new language whether they are naturally gifted or not. Even though he studied languages at school, by the age of 21 he still could not speak anything but English. This is incredibly common for Irish people, and quite frankly I find it really embarrassing. In my opinion, the main reason for us as a population (and perhaps for other English speaking countries too) for not being able to speak multiple languages is the way languages are introduced to us in school. The learning is too structured, and you are made memorise long lists of verbs and vocab, which are rarely put into real life context. My little brothers are taking French at school, and they find it boring. They say they cannot remember what they have learned after a lesson. But whenever I help them at home through animating and acting out the language with them, they will remember! Learning a language should be fun. If it was taught in a more realistic and fun way, than maybe people would have more confidence to put into practice what they learn in a classroom environment.
This week I received the nicest email from a gent called Matthew who had stumbled across my blog and as a result was inspired to kick start his Dutch learning. He wrote that he is currently learning Polish but had recently found himself trying to justify learning Dutch, as it is a minority language and we are often told that German is more ‘useful’. Matthew made a point in his email that really resonated with me. You should never have to justify your reasons to educate yourself to anyone. He believes that choosing to learn a specific language is relative depending on the individual. He writes “I would say that I’m more likely to encounter Dutch in my own life than German….. although I have no real practical need to learn Dutch and will be doing it just for the learning experience and because I like it!”
This got me thinking about why we choose to learn a language in the first place. In school we are often given a limited choice of two or three; French, German or Spanish for instance. But what if you are not meant to learn French, German or Spanish as your second language, the language that will introduce you to the magical world of language learning. What if the language you really want to learn is Danish, or Greek, or Korean, because you’ve already been exposed to the culture. Because these are not offered, you are forced to study a language you have no real interest in and this taints your first language learning experience, thus making you believe you cannot learn a language at all. If this sounds like you, I urge you to reconsider, and look beyond the negativity of your French or German classes at school, and go for a more appealing language for you. Languages can open so many doors, and they’re a lot of fun too. Omniglot.com compiled a list of reasons and benefits of learning a new language, and here are some of my favourite ones below.
We learn a new language to…
…understand our own language and culture better
The nerd in me loves finding comparing and finding interesting differences between my languages, and cultures.
…keep our minds healthy
Move over sudoko, if you want to keep your brain working while educating yourself, you should learn a language!
…find your future husband/wife
I like this one haha. Finding love in a new country, or speaking the language that your other half speaks is always a bonus!
…better understand the rest of humankind
Speaking a different language makes you more compassionate, and helps you to understand other cultures and appreciate our differences.
…talk to friends without others understanding
All Irish people do this when in other countries! Féach ar an buachaill te in aice liom… (Look at that hot boy beside me) 😉
…learn songs in other languages
I use this as a way to improve my languages and to keep up to date with culture! Recently Maria and I have been partial to tweeting each other the Dutch versions of our favourite Disney songs!
…express things that are difficult to express in your native language
Yes!! There are words in different languages that we do not have in English that can help you communicate with increased precision. My favourite Dutch words are gezellig and lekker – you won’t understand their versatility if you’ve never been to the Netherlands or understand Dutch culture!
“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”
Let me know what languages you speak, how you learnt them and what is your favourite thing about speaking a language other than your native tongue!
This Day Last Year – 8th November 2013 – Day 8: Sharing The Love
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