Languages, Academics, Travel

Learn the Language Your Heart Tells You to

Learn the Language Your Heart Tells You to

Or alternatively, “Why You Should Learn the Language You Want to Learn.”

If you and your family or friends are familiar with your language learning endeavors, you’re probably not a stranger to “What? Why THAT language? Why don’t you study X language instead?” or something along those lines.

Most language learners probably just roll their eyes and ignore this kind of comment, but sometimes it’s not enough to push you  to go with your gut feeling. Sometimes it IS easier to be swayed by society; knowing that a LOT of people speak Mandarin, Spanish, and English, might make you think “maybe I should learn one of those” because it’ll make it “easier to get a job” or just because you’ll “need it in the future.” (Nothing against people who like or want to learn those languages, I’ve studied them all. This is just for those that don’t want to study those languages and prefer other ones!)

In the past, I’ve gotten a few questions about whether one should learn X language or X language, but picking which language to learn is 110% an individual choice. Whether you like the sound, or the written aesthetic, or the country, or the people, whether you have blood that ties you to the country that speaks that language or not, I’m going to give you the main reasons why you should learn the language you want to learn:

1. It’s YOUR life

This can be a general rule for things in your life, not just language learning. But it’s YOUR life! Take control and do what you want with it! If your friends think that Spanish is cooler than French, or if your parents tell you that you should learn Mandarin or be a doctor, just know that they are not the ones who have to live with that decision, YOU are.

It can be easy to give into the wishes of others; parents are usually trying to make sure their child is in the best position that they can be to be successful, and depending on what it is, peer pressure can always be a factor. But if it’s not in your heart or your goals to do those things, it’s okay to say no. Blaze your own trail. It may not be easy, but you’ll (hopefully) be happier.

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2. It’s harder to learn something you’re not passionate about

Whether you learned this in a class or experienced it first hand, it’s a known thing that motivation can play a huge role in how well you learn something. The first two and a half years of my high school Spanish knowledge was passive because I didn’t care about it at all, but when I started loving it and wanted to improve, my awareness, openness, and ability to learn shot up 100%.

3. Because….travel.

If you have a case of wanderlust–enough said. In general, learning a language in X family can help you get around in countries that speak a different language in the same family, but if you’re learning a language that has no family members, it helps even more to get around if you’re traveling within that specific country.

Whether your language learning experience inspired you to visit the country that speaks that language, or whether the country (or culture or people) inspired you to learn the language, language and travel go hand in hand. Knowing the language helps you connect on a deeper level with the people and the culture, not to mention makes you feel a lot more at ease than if you didn’t speak a lick of that language.

4. Everyone has different tastes

Just because your parents took college Spanish, doesn’t mean you have to take high school or college Spanish. Even if your friends like Icelandic, it’s okay that you want to learn Norwegian. Just because your dog likes broccoli, doesn’t mean you have to eat broccoli too!

And as a side note: some people may find X set of languages easier, while someone may find Y set of languages easier to learn. My friend thinks Japanese is really easy structurally (SOV) to learn and didn’t enjoy Spanish, while I personally prefer Romance languages over Japanese, structurally.

Enough said.

5. You just never know

There’s always a sense that “you never know what language a person speaks” or “you never know where that person comes from.” Languages are entirely an internal skill that no one knows about unless they hear you speaking that language, but you can’t always assume that whatever country you’re in, someone speaks X or Y.

I was on a connecting flight to Peru and I was seated next to these elderly Japanese people who only spoke Japanese. Apparently the woman next to me sensed that I was understanding, but she saw my passport (American) and figured that it can’t be right….

At the end of the flight, I spoke with two of the Japanese women next to me (in Japanese). What are the odds that, despite being raised in the U.S., that my grandma gave me the gift of Japanese language and culture, and that I was seated next to these lovely people that shared those language and culture points with me.

You just never know when you’ll meet someone or see something that triggers that language skill.

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6. Just because the majority speaks X, doesn’t mean there aren’t people that speak Y

A list of the “Top 10 Most Spoken Languages of the World” is a thing. On job applications (where I live), “Spanish/Chinese preferred” or “Vietnamese preferred” is a thing. But just because these things are a thing doesn’t mean there aren’t people in the world who doesn’t speak other languages.

Even if popular media isn’t available in that language, it’s because you haven’t discovered it yet 😉 But being serious, you can most likely find people online from the country of your target language that may or may not speak your native language, but let me tell you that there will be at least someone who is very surprised or grateful that you’re learning their language.

7. It changes you AND your life

Language does that to people. Let me tell you, when I FIRST started learning Portuguese, it was kind of a mistake and just to see if I could do it. I did not think at all that it would be so important in my life today, I didn’t think that I’d ever get to travel to Brazil, I did not think I’d get myself to a point where I’d consider myself “fluent.”

Without Portuguese or Brazil in my life, I would be a different person, and I feel like my life would have taken on a different route. I may or may not have experienced the same thing but with a different language, but I’m so glad that it’s with Portuguese, that I can live part of my life.

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Whether you want to learn a more common language or a less common language, I think this post should just have an image that says “LEARN THE LANGUAGE YOU WANT TO LEARN” because everyone deserves that kind of happiness in their lives.

I’m not saying it’ll be easy, or stress-free, but it is rewarding, and your life (and perhaps other lives) will thank you for it later.

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3 thoughts on “Learn the Language Your Heart Tells You to”

  • I can relate to this post. I speak english and french but spanish is my native language, and someone said to me “why are you studying french?, it’s only spoken in France!” (which is not true, actually).

    • A lot of people learn French! That surprises me about French because where I live, a lot of people learn either French or Spanish in schools. Keep studying French and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise 😉 Thanks for your comment!

  • This is spot on – I wish more people took such an approach when learning a new language. It’s easy to make the mistake of considering things such as popularity, number of speakers etc but what really matters is whether it is a language you truly want to learn.

    I think this is something many polyglots actually realise once they have studied quite a few languages.

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