By Corey Heller
Photo © 2011 J. Ronald Lee
For those of you who read Top 10 Excuses We Like to Give for NOT Learning a Language, this post is my rebuttal for why those excuses don’t hold water. They are things we say to buy a little more time or to get people off our back but the truth is, no one falls for them anymore.
Of course, there are people who really, honestly don’t feel any desire or need to learn another language. I can understand that. And I totally accept that as a very good reason not to learn a language! There are all sorts of things that others rave about that I don’t think are important, so to each their own!
I also know many monolingual parents who never learned a language themselves yet go out of their way to help their children learn a second language, often because they never actually learned another language themselves.
For the rest of us who would like to learn a language, and we know who we are, our excuses are more about not setting priorities than anything else. As mentioned in the comments after the original post, motivation is key. It is hard to put language learning at the top of the list when (1) we don’t feel that we have any place to use the language regularly and (2) when it is going to mean that we won’t have time for more important things. Some may say that language learning is one of the most important things we can do in our lives, but that is for each person to answer for themselves.
Read these rebuttals to the Top 10 Excuses in the hopes that they will help us break out of excuse mode and jump into language-learning mode:
10. Wrong Fit: The truth is, short of living in a country where the language is spoken, there will probably never be a perfect language learning environment. The key is to change our mindset rather than wait for the perfect program to come along. After using a variety of programs in Language Challenge 101 (Spanish) and Language REFRESH 101 (German), I was reminded of how important our state of mind is in all of this.
If we are excited about learning a language, pretty much anything will help us stay on track. Yes, some programs should be thrown in the garbage, but there are many others that we can use to have challenging fun while learning a language. Free online language-learning programs like the ones we used in Language Challenge 101 and Language REFRESH 101 are all over the place and many are fantastic! They key is to find out where they are. Start asking around today!
9. Return On Investment: This is just plain untrue when viewed on a global perspective. Companies everywhere are taking language skills into account when deciding who to hire. Having worked in the software industry for 13 years, I can say for a fact that just because language skills doesn’t appear on the resume this doesn’t mean they dosn’t come up when discussing who to hire for a position. At the very least, it is an added bonus.
Even if there is no financial benefit where you work, the personal rewards can be out of this world. Each time we hear someone speaking our target language, we will light up and get excited. We’ll be able to speak to people in our community and start reading books and online resources in the language. We will start thinking about visiting the country where the language is spoken. We’ll feel a sense of great accomplishment as we learn new words and sentences each week. The list goes on!
8. Don’t Travel: Well, all I can say to this is that if you are able to travel, you should be traveling. And if you aren’t physically capable of travel for whatever reason, then visit international districts in cities. Enough said.
7. Not good at it: Excuse me? I have heard that excuse so many times, it blows my mind. Ok, let’s say this: You are stranded in a small village in the middle of India for 9 months. You can’t leave for 9 months. No one can speak your language. No one. I guarantee it that you will realize just how darn good you are at learning languages after mastering the local dialect in those 9 months.
I agree that language learning seems to go more smoothly for some than others. However, when people say, “I’m not good at learning languages,” what they are really saying is, “I don’t have a need to learn it because everyone else speaks my language.”
6. Finances: For those of us who are on a budget (which is something I can relate with!) and feel that there are no good free programs out there, think again. Sure, there may not be any free comprehensive language programs in your target language but there are most certainly resources, support and people who can help point us in the right direction. The first step is to get out of our shell and reach out. Start asking people what they recommend. The other idea is to see if you can do some kind of trade. You help someone with your language and they help you learn their language. Don’t have time for this? Ah, well, that is number 3.
5. Too old: Are you serious? Did you watch that Dr. Kuhl Ted Talk and believe that only children can learn languages? Wrong! Yes, you may miss a window of picking up a native accent (which is what she is talking about), but who cares. Jump in anyway and ignore all of that stuff about how hard it is to learn languages when we are older. In fact, studies have shown that adults learn languages faster than children. Really! We already have the knowledge of how languages work so we can more easily piece things together.
4. Commitment: Yes, language learning takes time. This is the main reason we should start when we are young – we’ll have so many more years (decades!) to pick up new words and master our pronunciation and grammar. The question is whether you want to put language learning toward the top of your priorities or not. If not, then no worries, but then use a different reason for not learning a language, which is: my personal choice is to not make language learning a high priority.
3. Consistency: Same as #4 above. If you don’t have 20-60 minutes of undivided attention to pay to language learning each day, then so be it. But make sure that it is clear that this is simply a choice of priorities – language learning isn’t high enough on the list. I encourage you to write down what is at the top of the list to make sure you are happy with those being there. What if we limited our Facebook, Twitter and internet browsing by 20 minutes a day? Hmmm.
2. Embarrassment: Even though few people admit it, most are worried about looking like a fool when learning a new language. This is another reason why we should start when we are young. Kids don’t care if they say something incorrectly. They haven’t yet learned that saying something wrong is such an embarrassment.
The only answer I can give is: get over it. In fact, learning to feel stupid while learning a language is an extremely cathartic process. I wrote about my own experiences of feeling like a child during my first year in Germany in the book Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering. And you can see me speaking German in front of the camera for the first time. I can tell you, it was pretty painful sharing that video with everyone but after I did it, I realized how many of my fears started melting away.
1. Global lingua franca: Yep, you got me here. If you speak one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world then you will not have the same motivation to learn a language as someone who doesn’t speak one of those languages. But wouldn’t you rather be able to speak with people using words that they intimately understand? The words we use influence how we see the world. Wouldn’t you like to know how the world is seen by others? At the very least, learning a new language just might help you save a wad of cash or catch the right train when traveling abroad! Here’s just one of many real life, practical example from my experiences for why we do want to know at least the basics of a community’s conversational language:
Long ago a boyfriend and I were in on a whirlwind holiday travel venture through Europe. We had leased a Citroën in Paris and were fine until we arrived in Germany. As soon as we entered the gas station we realized that we didn’t know what “unleaded” meant in German (we didn’t know any German for that matter). As we looked at the different options, the word for diesel was pretty clear but we weren’t sure what Beifrei meant. Did it mean “with lead” or ” without lead”? Or maybe something totally different.
Confounded, we consulted the gas station attendant (in English) who replied something in German that clearly meant “I don’t understand you.” We asked a few people who came by and no one spoke English. Finally, many hours later, my boyfriend threw a coin to decide and proceeded to fill the tank with the gas that did not say Beifrei.
We shelled out over $100 of our hard-earned student money to fill the tank and were about to drive away when someone arrived who spoke a little English. He said, “Bleifrei means ‘lead free’. You just filled up your tank with gasoline that has lead.” Four hours later (and many mouths tainted with leaded gasoline), my boyfriend and three other men were able to siphon out the leaded gas. We filled up with Bleifrei and shelled out more than $100, yet again.
Later that evening we found ourselves drawing pictures of chickens, pigs and cows to order dinner. I think the other patrons actually enjoyed watching two Americans make animal sounds and flap their arms around.
I am the biggest excuse-giver for why I haven’t practiced my language skills over the years! I even have a perfect need to do so: I am raising my children in one of them!
The biggest problem is keeping the language alive. As someone said in the previous post:
I learned French for 7 years at school, the last three on college level. Yet I have forgotten most of it because I have few opportunities to speak it here in the US. So why bother learning another language?
Yep, I hear you!
And now, before I end this post…
We can take this all one step further and think about how our children feel when we tell them why it is so important/wonderful/valuable to learn languages. Without having a good reason for “why” (the “need”) and language resources to utilize, it is hard for anyone (children and adults alike) to stay motivated!
What are your thoughts on language learning? What are your answers to people when they dish out a list of excuses?