8 Important Life Lessons Learned Through Language Study
I’ve been learning languages for the better part of three decades.
I’m counting the many, many years spent reaching a near-native level in English (seriously, why is English such an insane language?). I’ll add my disastrous decade-long campaign to learn isiXhosa. And, more recently, my (sort-of) successful attempt at learning conversational Mandarin.
I won’t count my toe-dipping exercises in Korean and Dutch just yet.
Over the years I’ve had some successes and many more language learning fails. Here are some important life lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Comparison is the thief of joy – Theodore Roosevelt
Ever meet someone who has been learning your target language for a far shorter period than you, only to find them chatting away with a level of confidence that you could never hope to achieve? It can be pretty disheartening when that happens.
It’s tempting to compare your progress to that of others. Social media, especially, makes it easy to look at other people’s seemingly perfect lives and feel just a bit meh about your own.
The thing is, everyone’s language learning path is different. Comparison, unless used as a positive motivator for improvement, is a waste of energy that could have been spent on learning something useful.
There’s always going to be someone better than you. Keep in your lane and focus on your own goals. The only competition you should be in is with yourself.
Setbacks aren’t failures unless you give up
Setbacks in language learning (and in life) are inevitable. You’ll likely face a number of mortifying language fails (like my recent gaffe in my local tattoo parlour) along the way. The only thing you can control is how you respond to those obstacles.
Education is lifelong
No matter how proficient you become at a language, there will always be something new to learn. Yesterday, I finally learned how to pronounce ‘quinoa’ (it’s KEEN- wah). Every day is a school day.
Nothing will work unless you do – Maya Angelou
Learning a new language is hard work and requires consistent effort. Despite the many claims on the internet that you can learn a language in 5 minutes or through hypnosis or some other wacky ‘hack’, there really is no shortcut to success. You get out what you put in. But all that hard graft makes the payoff all the more rewarding.
Communication leads to community – Rollo May
Language learning opens doors to different cultures, worldviews and traditions. It allows you to build meaningful relationships with whole new communities in ways that simply aren’t possible when sticking to English as a lingua franca.
Besides the native speakers you’ll befriend, you’ll also gain access to a vast community of language learners – readily available at an internet forum near you.
Your habits shape you
What you do on a daily basis defines who you are. Habits have the ability to shape our lives for better or for worse. Learning to build productive habits is an essential part of mastering a foreign language and this is a mindset you can put to use to improve other areas of your life.
Also read: 17 Tips For Making Language Learning a Habit
Little by little becomes a lot
Want to know the secret to learning a new language? Consistency, consistency, consistency (important things need to be repeated three times). Language learning has taught me that working persistently towards your goals, one small stride at a time, will get you there in the end.
It’s never too late
There’s a pervading myth that acquiring a second language is somehow impossible for adult learners. While it may be a bit more of a challenge, adult learners are perfectly capable of learning a second language. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that late learners can achieve native-like levels of use and neural processing. It’s never too late to learn a new skill.