I think that today is the perfect day to review my blog posts from the past year and summarize what I’ve learned about language-learning. I hope that you have been learning along with me. Overall, I found that learning languages improves my character, my professional life, and my community. The process of learning languages teaches me how to set and achieve difficult goals. Learning languages is not enough, though; I’m learning how to take language love out to my broader community.
Learning languages improves character.
When we learn languages, we train ourselves to think in new ways. We become more creative and we move outside of our everyday thinking patterns. As we advance, we talk to new people and take risks in looking silly–facing down immobilizing fears. Understanding new people comes more easily, and we become more open-minded. Confronting our fears and opening ourselves up to those who think differently from us forces us to grow and mature.
(See Moving out of Yourself through Language; Living Abroad–Learning Languages?–Enhances Creativity; Vulnerability and Weakness, Growth and Connection; Language Learning for Veterans; Languages: Failure is Gain; A Money-Mouth Situation; Language, fear, and childishness; Seek to understand rather than to be understood; You can learn a new skill!)
Learning languages improves professional success.
For those who work regularly with speakers of other languages, we can engage with them in more positive and constructive ways if we learn their language. Though they may speak English, we show that we recognize the effort they constantly put forth to speak to us in a language that is foreign to them; we sympathize with them. Moreover, we understand more deeply the needs and desires of our clients and customers because we have made the effort. All of us will spend increasing amounts of time in the future with more non-native speakers of English, and the more we speak another language, the more quickly we will succeed in our dealings with those for whom English is not their native language.
(See Are English-Only Speakers Squeezed Out?; Communication Problems Slow Business Growth; Learning Languages for Global Development; Languages, Marketing, and Customer Experience; Languages Benefit US Employees.)
Learning languages improves the lives of expat spouses.
As a corollary to the above lesson, I’ve found that the spouses of expats will experience a more positive, constructive transition if they learn the language of the country they go to. They can benefit from this exciting adventure, teach their children, advance their career, and grow personally. Ultimately, the company profits from spouses who have a good expat experience.
Learning languages offers social benefits.
As Americans we find ourselves in the contradictory position of being surrounded by multiple languages every day, yet understanding none of them. Our communities are full of language resources that we do not seek to learn from.
At the same time, we Americans hear our news largely from American sources in English. We lack access to differing points of view because we cannot understand the languages in which those views are formed. If we sought to benefit from the languages of our fellow-Americans, we would understand the world in a more sensitive, nuanced way.
(See “We have a listening problem”; Learning Community Languages; Language Deficiency; فارسی برای همه Farsi for everyone!; To be American is to be multilingual; Learn Languages for a Different Take on the News.)
Setting goals is important, but one must continually evaluate what is most effective.
This year I decided to learn Farsi. I wanted to see how much I could learn with the resources I could find, without going to the country. I set out in the beginning with certain goals for listening, vocabulary, and interactions.
Examining what works always helps, but what works in one phase of learning or of life may or may not work in another phase. I found some of my learning tasks easy and some of them impossible. I kept up in some areas but not in others. Sometimes I lost my “balance.” I made some fast progress in vocabulary, then lost momentum. I more recently learned the beauty and necessity of speaking to natives. Moving and changing jobs radically altered my ability to study my language, but I am still striving to learn however I can. I learned that setting goals is not the same as setting expectations–goals I aim for, but expectations hurt when I don’t get to them. Ultimately, the notion “progress, not perfection” will ensure that I learn the language–though not necessarily as quickly as I may like.
(See Setting Goals: Why take on this task?; Stuff happens; Problem of Intermediate Language Learning; Farsi at Six Months; Progress and perseverance in learning languages; Just make progress!; Re-motivation: Sharpening the axe; Overcoming fear to end a slump; Don’t just practice–engage!)
Importance of teaching languages
Finding myself in a community filled with Somali immigrants, I want to develop a local team to figure out ways for us non-Somali Minnesotans to learn from our neighbors. We need to figure out how to develop more language teachers here. I want my kids to grow up knowing more than one language, preferably one they can speak every day. Education will improve overall through greater language education. I also want the Somalis at my work to teach me and my co-workers their language. Knowing that learning and teaching languages takes a lot of time, I’m learning how to use lunch time for learning time.
I hope that you have a happy new year! I hope next year to enjoy all kinds of improvement in Farsi and Somali. I want to teach more people how to improve their lives by learning languages in the situation where they find themselves, whether in the US or abroad. I also hope to develop Somali education in local schools here. I hope we all love languages even more in 2013!