Why do I have to learn a language?
"Why do I have to learn a language?" What I said to my high school Spanish teacher before you all were born.
In the process of buying and moving to a new home, I was pleasantly surprised how many languages I was exposed to within a month.
The real estate agent I met at an open house was Greek. I tried to impress her by repeating the Greek alphabet in a couple of seconds. Many, many year ago I joined a fraternity and part of the initiation we had to repeat the Greek alphabet 6 times on a lit match and finally I had an opportunity to use this knowledge. She was not too impressed but she did speak some Greek so I could hear what it sounded like.
Buying a bed at a Swedish store, I asked the saleswoman what other languages she spoke. Finnish was her native language but she also knew Swedish. Same deal, she indulged me and spoke Finnish and Swedish to me.
The guy from the Internet services hooking up my WIFI was from Ecuador and we had a conversation in Spanish. I told him I had trouble with the Mexican dialect first time I was exposed to it and he said he had a hard time too.
The guys delivering the bed from the Swedish store also spoke Spanish and were happy that I spoke a little Spanish. Their dialect was different than I have encountered and they used some new words to me for some common phrases. Unfortunately, I didn't find out what dialect they were using.
So, why should you learn a language? You never know where you will go and who you will meet. Note to self: Add Swedish, Finnish and Greek to language list...
You never know when and where a language might come in handy. Every single bit counts and may help you - or help you to help someone else. With only tiny bits of French, I have helped people who only spoke French to find their way to certain places. At least I am hoping they eventually arrived where they wanted to go. :) I used my Chinese in Italy, when a Chinese tourist asked me in Italian where to buy a ticket. When I answered in Chinese: "Sorry, I can't speak Italian, but the tickets can be bought in the small house over there" his face was so priceless. :) Now working on my Italian, so next time I can tell him this in Italian. ;) When visiting the Netherlands, I found out that people there usually don't eat a warm lunch and that many places were closed at noon. But Chinese restaurants were usually open, and my Chinese did help me to order a warm lunch when my (as good as non-existent) Dutch did not. And then, being able to communicate is one thing. Being able to talk to people in their mother tongue is even better. Even if it is just a few words, you might make someone very happy with just these few words; and spreading happiness is a great reason to learn languages, no?
Well, you sort of described the general attitude of proud monolinguists and most teens in highschool -- especially teens who are from homes where the parents are proud monolinguists.
They just never know how handy their language class is in school. They dismiss it as unnecessary or what's worse -- uncool.
Yet when we become adults, suddenly there is a charm to knowing another language and we understand how handy it is. I remember as a young woman, all I wanted in life was to marry a man from Europe. It didn't matter to me if he was Italian, German, Spanish -- or even if he was someone from South America or Asia... just anything other than Canadian, but I wanted the charm of being from somewhere else. (Oddly enough, I ended up marrying a First Nations Canadian man.)
But what I have noticed is that the snubbery of knowing anything other than what's in your own backyard is something many kids grow out of as they branch out and ache for independence and knowledge of what's going on in the world. I guess it's why so many young people are environmentalists, and why so many 20-somethings go backpacking around the world. They have a surge of interest in the whole planet after getting out of highschool.
In my case, I have always been interested in tourists. Whenever someone was visiting Canada or maybe just moved here from another country, I would latch on to them and want to know everything about where they came from.
Why are Germans so well-traveled? Why do Italians just naturally seem sexy? Why do Jordanians make the best pizza? Why are Filipinos so cheerful? Why, why, why?... Once you meet enough people, and get to know their surroundings or their country's politics, things start to make sense. You never get to know these things unless you travel or open yourself up to a foreigner.
One way to show interest is to know their language, or at least some of it. It's a way of saying "I respect your culture so much that I invested time and attention to know how to communicate with you." :)
Yes, learning a language is (obviously) the best way to communicate with those who speak that language. But it's more than that. Once you get past the basics, it also starts to give you a feeling for the culture, attitudes and the real differences between peoples - the way words are used, the variations in meanings, the existence of words we don't have (and the lack of some words we do have).
It's also great brain exercise. It gets you thinking in different directions, as well as improving memory and flexible thinking.
But... there are always some who will disagree, particularly many English people who seem to think that the best way to get any foreigner to understand is to talk louder... (yes, I'm English, and I've seen it so often from English tourist abroad, less often from Americans but some of them are guilty too!).
So, as a last thought, something I remember from my schooldays:
Student to English Grammar Teacher: "Sir, why do we need to learn grammar? We already speak English." Reply from English Grammar Teacher: "It helps you with your Latin."
Student to Latin teacher: "Sir, why do we learn Latin?" Reply from Latin teacher: "Mainly it's to help you with your English grammar."
That's great! In my school, every day I am exposed to 3 languages, Chinese, English, and Korean. Actually It was really nice to know that there are a lot of Korean students in my class because I have studied Korean for few years, I have got the first opportunity to practice Korean with native speaker! When I was in Japan, I had never spoke it with people, sometimes I thought that studying Korean may be meaningless, but yes, I never know I will go and I will meet! From that experience, I started to think that I will be able to have chances to use every languages I study in my life some day!! Because of globalization, there are a lot of chances to meet its native people anywhere without visiting the country. I think this is brilliant and I have to continue to make effort to improve my language ability.
I am English speaking, born and bred. When I talk to friends about learning Spanish, I say that it is because I am considering retiring to a Spanish-speaking country. The comment I get: "It's ok, most of them speak English anyway." My response is: "That's not the point! If I'm moving to their country, I want to speak their language, just because that would be so much more COOL!"
I agree with you. I think it would be kind of rude to move to someone else's country and expect them to speak your language for you, instead of trying to adapt to them and learn their language.
I don't understand people who say this, because they're simply wrong. Is there a single hispanophone country where the majority speak english at a B1 level or higher? I don't think think so - Argentina is probably the closest? Mexico, like 15% of people speak English, something like that. Even Spain, it's only 40%. Sure, if you're in a well to do highly educated urban center, the levels will be better - but is that the only place you'll ever go in the country when you retire? People will also say "well, everyone young is learning english". That's true in Spain (those under 30 are much more likely to learn English) but guess what? Those older people probably will NEVER learn English, and there will be many of them your entire lifetime - and there are always young people who do poorly in languages and never properly learn. You're shutting yourself off from being able to talk to the majority of the country now, and a huge portion of it later if you don't learn the local language. It's just a silly argument to me, I don't get it.
I think there is another important point by learning a language. I'm software developer and I think I don't have to say there comes a lot of logical thinking with it. By learning a language in my free time I train something other of my brain and it will make me think differently. Also I think this will keep my brain more healthy than just do my job and learn whatever I need to do that.
The german school system (where I come from) is terrible if it comes to languages and I think that's really sad. In my school time I didn't want to learn english and I really regret that I didn't do more in school for it because I had a hard time learning it while I studied computer science to become a software developer. If you want to learn a programming language everything is in english and to barely understand what you want to learn because you have a language barrier is really exhausting.
I think at least english is really important to know, if it comes to career opportunities or travel around the world but a lot of people I know just don't know english and miss a lot if it comes to the point where it is required.
Yes maybe my english isn't great but I can communicate with others and I can apply to jobs where I need to communicate and write in english if it's not that important to write everything absolutely right and I still learn english. (I finished my computer science education last year)
I was just thinking how well you speak English (or write at least). You're right. Your English isn't "great"? It's perfect! :)
That's awesome! Thank you for sharing~ I helped one of my bunkies while I was incarcerated talk to the guards. We were in a "10-man" a cell considered adequate for 8 people but they lump two more people in. My direct bunkmate was nervous and didn't speak to anyone so I spoke to him in a bit of Spanish, letting him know I haven't had many opportunities to use it and I am not at all good at the language. I ended up using way more than I thought I could (I hadn't practiced in a year or so) and he kept on telling me how good my Spanish was. We became friends and taught eachother the language, and then he wanted me to tell the other guys that he wanted to be friends. He was way nicer than my fellow Americans. I talked to him and got close for two weeks before he was moved somewhere. The last message I got from the guard for my new friend was that he was being deported to his home country Mexico and that would mean he'd be away from his girlfriend and daughter. :( Another time, while I was free as a bird, I ran into a small hotel owner who spoke little English but was a native Gujarati speaker... one of the most beautiful languages I've heard in my life! Other than that, I would love to be able to use Hebrew and learn Yiddish because it is big in the Orthodox Jewish community and I have a lot of family that speaks those. In the Secretary of State the other day I was listening to a woman speak French but she had an accent that sounded like a French spoken as a second language with an "African" flair to it. It was the most beautiful French I have heard.
That's why there should be an international auxiliary language, to spare the unnecessary effort. Not everybody is cut out to learn many foreign languages, besides, it takes time. Esperanto or Ido would not be bad, as they're relatively simple and use many international words.
"Thats why there should be an International auxiliary language" ? I disagree on this one, that to me sounds like a "culture-killer". If you think learning a new language is unnecessary effort, it's not.
So, if a large percentage of people around the globe could speak Esperanto, for instance, that would be a culture killer. How so?
I lived in Panama for close to two years and in South Korea for 18 months. In neither instance did I learn much of the native language, but I most definitely learned a great deal about the cultures of those countries.
Currently, I live on a street whose neighbors include recently immigrated families from the Ukraine, India, and three different Asian countries. If I were to socialize with these families on a regular basis, I am certain I would learn about their holidays, their food, and much else. This would happen irregardless of which language we were speaking. Culture is in our stories, our food, our holidays, our outlooks on life, and less so in our language.
There are several countries that speak English, yet each has their own particular cultures. We all speak the same language, yet our cultures are different. And the culture of my area here on the west coast of the US, in the middle of a large metropolitan area is vastly different than a person living in Iowa or Montana. Why is that? There is something else at play other than language.
Opening up lines of communication via an auxiliary language very well could lead to people understanding each other more easily. Understanding usually leads to more respect and appreciation of other peoples’ viewpoints. I think that would lead more to preserving culture, than killing it. Also, I think most people who learn a foreign language, including a language like Esperanto, develop a deeper appreciation for being able to use a foreign language and how it opens up one’s opportunities and horizons. We discover how cool it is to speak with people very different from ourselves and explore the unknown.
Good point. My focus here is for reluctant students wondering why they have to learn another language in school. No one in my town that I knew spoke Spanish and I couldn't see the point of learning it. I could when my travels took me to Mexico, Central America and South America.
Songve. Great comment. This is so true. The pleasure and pleasantries shared with my two Italian baristas, Gabriele e Lucia at Coffee1, cannot be measured. I only speak this one language (other than E of course) but mamma mia, it is a singular joy.
And, for the person you are talking to it is a joy too! Those baristas probably feel so welcomed and understood because you speak Italian with them. I always can just feel myself lighting up when I get a chance to speak Italian.
If memory serves, it was to stop people communicating and co-operating with each other. If so, we are contesting the Divine Will being here on Duolingo!
Even if you learn 2 other languages besides your native one, you will probably still not be able to understand the majority of people. If a small percentage of people are able to learn 10 or 15 languages, it's not that big of a deal. I think the problem is when everyone (or close to everyone) speaks the same language. There's no commandment against learning other languages.
I am not trying to be rude or arrogant, but if you are trying to talk about religious things, with the name pooperscoop, Nobody is going to take what you are saying seriously.
Well, partially true. The common language was divided at Babble because the people didn’t follow God’s commandment to disperse and move out from just one place, so He separated the language to “force them” to disperse.
You mean "the language" , supposedly was only one spoken at that tower. But someone forgot about Chinese and Aborigines of Australia who were carving art into rocks when Neanderthals dominated Europe before modern man made his appearance.
Well, if the flood happened as the Bible says (meaning that it didn’t ever rain before that and much of the flood water came from essentially a water bubble around the earth), then current carbon dating statistics on anything before that time are WILDLY inaccurate. Something to ponder, although fairly off-topic for this forum.
Trying to respond to garpike: Carbon dating is inaccurate for things submerged in water, like sea life. I don't know the physics behind it, but something about being submerged in water messes up the decay rate. He is not talking about carbon dating the water itself.
the flood water came from essentially a water bubble around the earth
Much of our understanding of physics and cosmology would also have to be wildly inaccurate for this to be case. However, if it did happen, it would be excellent evidence that we're living in a simulation.
You also seem to misunderstand how radiocarbon-dating works: water does not contain carbon-14 regardless of where it comes from.
I have read that some physicists have given serious thought we are living in a hologram.
If I should study all the languages I encountered during my college studies and job now I would need at least three lifetimes of studying.
To clarify I am living and born in Belgium (Dutchspeaker). French, English and German are taught in school already.
Roommates from Greece, Italy, Slovakia and Germany + visitors from Switzerland, Austria and France. From the moment someone "international" came in conversations turned to English.
Spanish guy flirting on the train to college. Some Jewish friends at college with family in Israël and other Israeli train encounters so I'll add Hebrew to the list. (I Should probably add my train passes a big airport. I also talked to people from the US, norway, Sweden (yes she works at Ikea), Ireland...)
Exchange students from: Tailand, Brazil (Portugese), Canada, US, Finland
School project with the whole european union and new facebook friends (too many countries so I'll skip these :) )
On my job now: native Russian, Turkish, Marrokan, Arabic, Polish, and Italian
But hey, I just want to watch nordic tv without subtitles so I'll study scandinavian languages here.
I was in high school in the late 60's and, had I been exposed to the Greek alphabet at that age, I might have had more than a glimmer of hope for completing the Greek language tree on Duo at my current age, 66.
It was the first Duo language tree I didn't complete. I tried finding other alphabet resources for Greek, all to no avail. Why Greek? One of my very first online loves was a boy from Greece. And long before that I spent a few months on the beach and in the cafes on the island of Ios. Ya, high school, I could have been learning Greek! Now I can't remember that alphabet from one day to the next.
After that failure I then made an attempt at Russian. The alphabet was easier, but still not easy enough. Conclusion, tossing out Greek and Latin in schools, except for law and science streams, was a bad idea. Diverse alphabets are way too valuable for the brain.
YouTube has some helpful beginner Greek lessons, including alphabet ones. I started out with the Living Language workbook set before starting on Duolingo. It helped a LOT. That alphabet course was NOT fun
Love this post!
I am learning/wanting to learn languages that I know I can have outlets to use around where I live.
Obviously if you live in the U.S Spanish.
Arabic has been rapidly growing in my area, we still don’t have a mosque but the Arabic population where I live is rapidly growing. So I would like to learn that language.
Tagalog, This is the language I hear most right after Spanish and English. I actually have a Tagalog church a few miles from where I live.
because you never know when you will run into someone who is asking for help in a language you just learnt:)
I am learning Chinese because I love Chinese culture. It is one of the harder languages, but I have experience from age 7 so it hasn't been that hard for me. Many people in my extended family are ethnically Chinese or from China, although they speak Cantonese. Some of them grew up in Vietnam and speak Vietnamese, so Vietnamese is high on my list as my next language...
Hopefully Duolingo adds Taiwan Chinese and Cantonese soon. There's not much difference between the spoken languages of Taiwan and Mainland Chinese (kind of like British English and American English), but the writing is much different (they use traditional characters instead of simplified). I read traditional characters better than simplified, so it would be nice to be able to learn both.
Cantonese I have always wanted to learn as well, because many people in my extended family speak it (as I mentioned), and I love Cantonese culture as well. The written language is the same as traditional Chinese, but the spoken language is much different. It has thirteen tones as opposed to the five in mandarin (flat, rising, falling and rising, falling, and neutral).
Norwegian has always interested me, too. It's the only European language that has, in fact. No offense to anybody who likes them, but all the popular European languages like Spanish and French have never attracted me for some reason. Neither have any of the lesser-learned ones, like Czech and Slovenian. And the fictional languages like Klingon and High Valyrian? Forget it. No offense to anyone who likes them either, but in my opinion, that's not the point of a language. I think the point learning a language is to get to know the culture and people who speak it better, and making one up just seems... artificial. Esperanto is different though, as it was created to foster international peace and understanding. But it still doesn't attract me either...
And another point in learning a language is job opportunities to make money :)
I don't like fictional languages either. Chinese has always interested me, too. I'm making progress with my tree.
I tried to impress her by repeating the Greek alphabet in a couple of seconds.
Would you be impressed by a foreigner who could recite the English alphabet quickly but couldn't actually speak any English? I'd imagine not...
Of course not. I use some artistic license in some of my posts for the sake of brevity. How it went down was I asked if her name Zampeta was Greek and she said yes. I told her about learning the Greek alphabet and asked if I repeated it if she would tell me if my pronunciation was close. She said close enough. And we got back to business. OK, I did try to impress her but not too much as my wife was with me. But I did impress myself as it had been over forty years since I had learned the Greek alphabet.
I told her about learning the Greek alphabet and asked if I repeated it if she would tell me if my pronunciation was close. She said close enough.
I'm curious now. Do you pronounce β, δ, μ and π as beta, delta, moo or mew and pie?
But I did impress myself as it had been over forty years since I had learned the Greek alphabet.
Και εγώ, εύγε! (Me too, well done!)
Note to self: Add Swedish, Finnish and Greek to language list...
If you moved to that neighbourhood, I can almost guarantee that there will be plenty more Greeks around to practice with. We have a tendency to clump together, where there is one there is sure to be more!
hmmm, wondering this sometimes, too. English is my second language and it is the one that was worthwhile to learn: many years ago I got a particular job thanks to speaking English; then I immigrated to Australia, finally it comes in handy when traveling.
Frankly, because English is not my first language I don't feel guilty about being the English speaking tourist. Nevertheless I learned Spanish with Duolingo some time ago for a longer trip to South America, where it was "nice to have", but not very helpful as soon as it got a bit more complex.
Now I learn Mandarin for another holiday, but I feel Google translate is the only thing I really need... well, it might be nice to look at characters and not being completely intimidated. I noticed in my preparation for the trip that some characters I have learned will reoccur in real life.
After all it is good training for the brain.
I write an average post and get a plethora of outstanding, thought provoking replies. I'm busy reading everything. But I have noted a serious problem learning languages here. When I type an email in a foreign language to a friend on my keyboard, the autocorrect feature attacks me. Sheesh, it's bad enough being attacked by a green owl for not doing lessons. The price we pay for learning a language..
I think forcing kids to learn a language in school teaches them to hate the language, because the courses are very boring and tedious, and I definitely think we shouldn't force kids to learn a language if the school doesn't offer enough options (like only spanish, german, and french). There is nothing worse than having to take classes and tests for a language you have no interest in.
I agree! I felt like that for Spanish. It was the only language in my high school. Plus, the way traditional courses teach languages is pretty terrible. All of my friends who have taken classes have given up because schools teach stuff we barely will need to use at first, like vocabulary for things in a living room, instead of teaching most frequently used vocabulary and grammar first.
I had to take German in High School, and then again at University, and when you really hate learning a language, your brain tries as hard as it can to learn as little as it can get away with, because you don't want to be able to speak it. Now that I'm out of college, my hatred of learning German has gone away, but it is still strongly associated with being a chore and something that is not meant to be fun, so I think I might learn it one day, but it will be a while because it is low on my priority list, and I need to slowly lose that association of German with negativity.
Your thread is very discouraging to me, as I am a high school language teacher. We do the best we can. At least those like me who go to conferences and so forth. Usually our districts impose a textbook we have to follow, and then there are state and national standards that we have to cover. I cannot agree with what you say about the vocabulary, because most textbooks do start off with the most necessary things like greetings and so forth. I've been lucky because I've been working in a private school where I'm able to incorporate games and such to try to make learning fun, but still, I can see that there are sometimes students that aren't motivated. These students don't do the work and of course don't go above and beyond... and as a consequence they don't do well on tests and quizzes, which makes them dislike the subject even more. It's a vicious circle. The magic key is motivation. A good, motivated student will enjoy themself even if the teacher is boring, and if the teacher is dynamic, then wow! But the question is, how can you motivate someone? It's like leading a horse to water, you can't make it drink.
@jairapetyan You're obviously a highly motivated (and gifted, I might add) language learner yourself! For the question "How can you motivate someone?" I think the answer lies mostly in the dynamic motivation of the teacher. The two best teachers I've ever had were/are language teachers. In my high school (in the 1970s), only Spanish and French were offered. I chose to study French. My French teacher LOVED teaching the language. Every year, her classes were filled to capacity, while the Spanish class was struggling to even get a second year beyond Spanish 1 approved because of lack of student enrollment. I think the disparity was due to the differences in motivation between the teachers. It was a public high school, but our French teacher managed to include and go beyond the textbook in just 50 minutes of class time each day. I learned so much about French culture, history, art, food, and literature in addition to vocabulary and grammar in 2 years of high school French. My lifelong love for the book Les Miserables, which I've read several times, exists because my teacher took the time to narrate the story to us in the last 10 minutes of class every day for six weeks. She told it so well, that we were eager to complete grammar exercises just to get to that part of class. Even to this day, a good part of my French vocabulary is what I remember from high school!
Not everyone has a language learning aptitude, so there will always be students who don't do well in language class. But even for those, a motivated teacher can help them find a pathway to make the class tolerable, through what aptitudes they do possess. Not everyone in my French class had the same aptitudes, but when it came to singing the French translation of Liza Minnelli's "Cabaret", we could all belt it out.
My hat's off to you, as you teach high school students. I'd say, continue to follow your passion as a language learner and teacher, and more often, albeit not always, "those horses will want to drink the water." :-).
Based on personal experience as a student, I think a teacher or professor needs to "hook" students the first day of class. Two different examples come to mind. First one was a Geologic Science prof who promised if you went to every class, lab and field trip, you could get a B without taking any notes. I accepted that challenge. Then he went on with some personal anecdotes about his travels in the Middle East looking for oil and debunking some of the myths of the Old Testament from a scientific and geologic perspective. I got my B and after so many years when I am traveling I can identify the name the geologic structures I see.
Second example was my Russian History prof. I hated history with a passion but it was the only elective available to me so I'd have enough credits to graduate. First day of class he explained what history was, how it changes with every generation and how there is debate about it all. In essence, he motivated me by presenting history as something I could finally relate to. History remains one of my favorite subjects.
Unfortunately, the great teachers I have had were in the minority. I had a few who were well published and advisors to Presidents but read their lectures for 90 minutes. I bought their books and only showed up at midterms and finals. The world would be a vastly different place if the great teachers were in the majority.
Language classes in school are not necessarily the bane of all schoolchildren. Our French teacher was very respected and much loved as were our Latin and Greek teachers. We really worked our ass off for them. An unusual number of children took Greek as an exam subject (Latin was required but Greek was not) because of the teacher, mr Swart.
I think the best way to motivate them would be to offer a lot of languages so that the kid can pick one they really want to learn, but this is not financially practical for most schools. A lot of kids just aren't interested in Spanish, German, or French.
Too bad these teachers did not manage to make language learning fun. Even German can be fun. ;)
Just my luck I had to take a Russian history class to graduate from a university. It was the only elective course available that term. Up to that point, I hated history with a passion, having to remember all these dates and stuff associated with them. First day of class, the professor discussed what history actually was, how it changed from generation to generation and it was rife with disagreement. In four years, he was one of about four professors who were good in this huge university.
My paper was on the Mongols and how they invaded and subdued most of the known world, with Vietnam being the exception. How they absorbed the language, culture and religion of those they subdued. Although they conquered much of the world by horseback, they could not administer it by horseback. But I digress. This professor got a grant to study aspects of Japanese history and was intensely studying the language so he could read all the old texts without relying on someone else's interpretation.
Education of kids is one of the most important jobs in the world, next to good parenting, and when I look back at 16 years worth of teachers who made an impact one me, what they taught is still with me, amounted to maybe 6 teachers and professors. That figure should have been for the rotten teachers.
History, language, mathematics, science, etc would be so much more meaningful with good teachers. They should be making the big bucks along with sports figures and actors.
I, a mexican can understand why you didnt understand mexican dialect. It's because we use words that are not appropiate to teach at school or they just simply dont teach it. We use words like hueva, a huevo, güey, ❤❤❤❤, pendejo, al chile, no mames, que pedo, ni de pedo, es puro pedo, buen pedo. None of these "pedos" mean the same thing and they dont mean fart.
Made me laugh, I live in Southern Cali, so I hear these phrases being used, and I don't always understand.