This article was co-written by Lauren Fung and Stephanie Kiang.
Lauren: Learning a new language seems like a big challenge in the beginning, and that’s because it is. Many of us started our language learning in the classroom, where we’re taught through memorization, written exercises and oral presentations. Others grew up speaking another language with their parents and family, or hearing relatives speak it without knowing how to do so themselves. For those of us whose first language is something other than English, transferring into the American education system can make learning a foreign language even more of a struggle. Needless to say, everyone has had their own experience and challenges with language learning. But continuing to develop your language skills can make a huge difference in the future.
Stephanie: As someone who has had a passion for language learning for several years, I can say that it has completely changed me for the better. I am extremely passionate about language learning is because once I realized how amazing languages are, I started to appreciate and love them. After I become fascinated with a language, I become addicted to learning it. This means that I will do everything I can to learn it, and I won’t stop. I never get tired of reviewing concepts or learning new ones, because that’s part of the adventure of language learning.
Lauren: I wasn’t very fond of the Chinese schools I attended when I was younger, since the teachers would always have us learn Mandarin from worksheets rather than actually speaking it. As I grew older, I found that speaking it with my family made it easier for me to understand key words and phrases, some of which were never mentioned in the classroom. We all learn differently, and it’s important to remember that there’s always another method of learning that could work better for you.
Stephanie: When you begin to learn a language, you are embarking on a journey that will never end. There will be many times in which you will have to persevere, but trust me, learning a language is totally worth it. You will meet new people (maybe make some new friends like I did), learn more about yourself, and feel rewarded when your dedication pays off. The language learning community is absolutely amazing because of all the different people in it that are willing to help and learn together.
I will admit there have been times where I thought to myself “This is challenging, almost too challenging, and I don’t know how I’m going to learn this.” I have learned over the years that if I want to do well and gain proficiency, my mindset has to be open and I need to be willing to work hard.
Many people think that they aren’t “language people,” or that they’re incapable of learning a new language. It is definitely true that for some people, myself included, learning new languages is easier than other subjects, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. There were times when I just didn’t understand how a Spanish verb tense worked, how a tone changed to another tone in Mandarin, or how to use dative verbs in German. But my eagerness to succeed eventually paid off.
Not everyone can become like Tim Doner, (a polyglot who became well-known for learning multiple languages as a teenager), but that’s perfectly okay. Not everyone can become a hyperpolyglot (a person who can fluently speak 12 or more languages,) and again, that’s okay. What isn’t okay is telling yourself “I’m not a language person.” If you can already speak your first language fluently, you’re definitely capable of learning a second one. Constantly telling yourself that you aren’t good at something will negatively affect your overall performance, and the same concept applies to learning a language.
Learning a new language will introduce you to a new culture and way of seeing the world. We can say from personal experience that we would have never had some of the experiences that we have had if it weren’t for learning other languages. We have learned so much more about the world than we could have ever dreamed of. We’ve found our passion for learning about other cultures through language learning, and you can, too.
Language learning will also teach you a lot about yourself. We are different people when we speak German, Mandarin, and Spanish. Different languages bring out different parts of our personalities that we wouldn’t have known were there. Every language we have been learning has taught us something new and different about ourselves, and that feeling on its own is wonderful.
Even though learning a language is hard work, it is so incredibly rewarding when you have mastered a new concept or get the feeling that you just understand part of the language. After some time, you will just “get” the language after you have built up your foundation to a decent level. A switch will go off in your brain, and you will suddenly feel much more comfortable with your target language. In order for this to happen, it is necessary that you practice your skills and immerse yourself in the language daily. You can practice by writing to a penpal, or by speaking with a friend. You can watch tv or movies, and listen to music from different countries, in order to immerse yourself in the language. Just know that you should spend an equal amount of time on immersion and practice.
Nothing will ever be able to compare to this feeling, and that is what makes it such a great one. It’s so nice to look back and say to yourself “I used to be a complete beginner, but my proficiency has gotten so much better with time and effort.” When you eventually decide which languages to learn, we hope that you will realize how beautiful languages really are. We hope that you will realize that language learning is one of the best things you can ever do. You will become a part of one of the best communities ever, and you will learn so much about others, the world, and yourself. Languages are crucial, powerful tools that deserve our appreciation, love, respect, and time.
Photo from Creative Commons.