Learning is exhilarating. Learning is rewarding. Learning is the best path to discovering who we are. We do not realize this until much later in life and often when we are conveniently out of school and have placed ourselves inconveniently in a rat race for survival but thanks to Google and technology, we can learn anywhere, anytime and on any subject under the sun to our heart’s content.
Learning is at the foundation of cultivating zen habits and discovering our best self in the process. We learn, we change. We learn, we grow. We learn, we realize our mistakes. We learn, we appreciate. We learn, we can teach others. We learn, we do things better. We learn, we open to new experiences. We learn and only then do we live fully.
And we don’t learn, we age. We don’t learn, we slow down. We don’t learn, we fester. We don’t learn, we forget. We don’t learn, we lose excitement for life. We don’t learn, we lose purpose for living. So never, ever let the wheels of learning stop from turning.
Speaking of learning brings me to the topic for today where I want to touch on two topics: First, on why we should bother to learn new languages and second, determining which language is right for us by answering 10 smart questions.
Why Learn a New Language?
Learning new languages is one of the best ways to exercise your mind and to sharpen your listening and learning abilities. It wakes up your vocal chords and enhances your auditory reception. It arouses your curiosity and keeps you alert and focused. Learning to read, write, speak and understand a new language is a gift you can keep giving yourself, a gift which will always open doors with new opportunities and always enhance your social network and introduce you to a new world of possibilities and people.
Learning a language comes down to ease of assimilation. First you learn the small bits, the seeds of foundation, then your mind slowly starts to put the bits into bytes – an 8-bit chunk – and soon those bytes grow into fields of sensible data swimming in your head, translating for you back to your mother tongue and flowing out of your mouth in harmony. You will be in awe during the first few moments when sounds and words click and phrases begin to form. Speaking a new language is as much joy as understanding it when spoken, if not more. For me, the latter is always doubly joyful.
When you learn a new language, you do not stop with the daily expressions and the survival phrases. You learn to go beyond your own bubble of existence and invite in new cultures, new countries, and new people. You step out of your comfort zone and into a foreign land, virtually or literally depending on your luck, and soon, it will be like a second home because language mastery is the greatest way to break barriers and connect with other people on levels well below the surface.
10 Smart Questions on Which Language is Right for you
Perhaps, or rather, most certainly, you are now convinced and compelled to learn a new language! The hardest part is over. Congratulations!
The next decision is to know which language to learn. You may have a special language in mind, a language you have always wanted to learn, maybe a long lost one as a mother tongue, or another one which has a special meaning for you. If you are like me, you cannot count all the languages you wish to learn with one hand!
In either case, a self-examination of the right language is key! Below, I put together these 10 smart questions to ask ourselves during a self-imposed brainstorming session with my husband to see if we can pick up a new language together. I encourage you to answer these questions to guide you into choosing a language that is right for you. Depending on your situation, you can see whether the one you already love is indeed right for you or you find out more about which if any other you should be learning. The goal is to select a language that would best fit into your lifestyle and your personality.
So imagine the language of your choice and see if you answer favorably to these questions:
1. Do you love the language, the way it sounds to your ears and feels on your tongue? Does the alphabet, the sound, the enunciation and cadence of the language thrill and excite you?
2. Do you love the people associated with it, the culture, the country, the origin of this language? Does it interest you to know the nuances and eccentricities of that culture and country?
3. Can you easily make the sounds with your nasal passages and your vocal chords?
4. Would this language be useful or beneficial in any way in your current or future desirable travels? Do you wish to explore the country of its origin?
5. Do you possess the joy of learning, speaking, reading, understanding signs and menus and words from a movie or a dialogue in this language?
6. Does this language enhance your professional career in any way or open doors with new opportunities in your career path?
7. Does this language work your mind and require you to stay focused to learn? In other words, is it different enough from your current Mother Tongue to sufficiently challenge you?
8. Would you be able to use this language as a way to spend time with others in your circle or your community? Do you have friends who can speak it with you?
9. Would this language open up possibilities that are of interest to you – say, living in a country of your choice, joining communities from this country, or joining a workplace where you can fully use and grow into the language?
10. Can you picture yourself speaking this language, having conversations in it, watching a movie in it, listening to music in it, reading a book or a website or even thinking and dreaming in it?
Ideally, you want to answer favorably to all questions. Realistically, the more you answer favorably, the more practical it would be for you to learn that particular language and you shall form a stronger affinity with your particular choice.
To my surprise, Japanese which has been for years my second most desirable language of choice, did not make the cut here. I realized after answering these questions that it would be too impractical for me to seriously pursue it on my own at this stage of life. Therefore, I am focusing on improving my French and Farsi with a little Italian to spice things up.
Learning a language is not isolated in itself. To truly embrace a new language, you must think holistically and that is why these questions are important to think through before committing.
Whatever you decide, refuse to remain a monolingual for life!
“To have another language is to possess a second soul.”
A Penny, A Euro or a Yen for Your Thoughts
If I could, I would study languages all day. I would live in my favorite countries and immerse until the magic of assimilation becomes second nature in every tongue. What about you? Do you crave to know other languages and the meaning of conversations when people switch to speaking their own tongue? Are there reasons why you believe knowing only one language, perhaps English, is sufficient to living fully and completely? And what favorite languages do you secretly hold in your heart? Please share your thoughts in the comments!