Can you fall in love with a foreign language?
One of the most profound and rewarding teachings a person can experience is to communicate in a language other than one's own. Communication is an instinctive, elementary impulse that has always been with us.
I once asked my Spanish teacher what his favourite language was and he answered me that, although it was very difficult for him to decide, he was in love with Portuguese. I was very surprised and automatically wondered why. Portuguese is not a language that is taught in schools and does not belong to the most popular and important languages to learn nowadays. His explanation surprised me a lot: he told me that he loved Fado, the poetry of Pessoa, and that the sounds of Portuguese had always reminded him of the sea.
I realize now that for most people, these would not be enough reasons to learn a foreign language. For me, there are no better reasons to fall in love with a language.
I speak of falling in love because I am one of those who think that one of the most regrettable plagues that this society has imposed on education - whatever kind it may be - is that of eliminating, from its root, any emotional component. And I believe that without this emotional component, education is useless. If one does not feel what one is doing, if one does not experience what one learns, if one leaves aside the emotion of continuing to motivate oneself with the next step, any teaching becomes a meaningless obligation. If we talk about a language, this learning translates into simple frustration. It is essential not to kill that innate and natural curiosity to learn to communicate with codes other than our own, but sometimes I get the impression that we are killing it by filling in the gaps in routine activities, taking exams and completing study programs where a language is just another etiquette, a black spot, superficial, in our school or in our working life, but rarely a personal, emotional, artistic or cultural motivation.
When encouraging the study of a language, the reasons are usually simple statistics: number of countries where a language is spoken or is an official language, number of careers that require it, professional opportunities, productivity... I think Finnish, Thai, Gaelic, Arabic, Catalan or Polish are fascinating languages, but for something different from what is usually said in schools, at home or in the media. They are fascinating for the universe that they build as they go along, interpreting reality in a different way. They are fascinating, in short, because they draw in your mind a different, new landscape, full of filters that dilute the boundaries and limits of your world.
I think it's healthier to learn a language simply because its sounds created that song you love so much, because it's the mother tongue of your favourite writer or because its lyrics, its structures, make you curious. With languages I often have the same problem as with people: if I like it, if I feel this attraction, I don't try to explain it with data and statistics. I have started to learn a foreign language many times without the goal of obtaining an official diploma. Although I understand the usefulness of diplomas and exams, I try first of all to feel that language from the inside. And so, knowing it little by little, letting myself be surprised by everything that makes it special and discovering what unites us and what makes us different, I can end up falling in love with it. I assure you: if you ever fall in love with a language, you can never stop learning it, hearing it and unveiling all its secrets.
Falling in love with the language means falling in love with its musicality, the power of words, culture, history, people, traditions. Like any love, this is an intense, intimate and extremely personal experience.
Love is neither easy nor difficult. It is, however, always a challenge. As much as you and your sweetheart can share laughter and good times together, difficult times are just as likely. You can quarrel, do things that damage the relationship, or even cause the relationship to break up for some time, or forever. If a relationship between two people is to last, then their love will inevitably follow such a cycle. The good gives way to the not-so-good and comes back. This is only natural and must be accepted as part of the process. The love of language follows much of the same pattern. Your attraction to a language is an essential part of your learning, and you must make an effort to develop and maintain that attraction over time to avoid a difficult moment causing a break. Just like in real relationships, any good language learning adventure should start with a spark. In fact, you need to build a strong attraction from the beginning if you want to have any hope of successfully "marrying" the language in the long term.
Falling in love with the language you are learning is probably the most important thing to do to ensure long-term motivation. They say that you cannot fall in love, but there are certainly some things you can do to increase your passion for languages. The problem is that the only experience that many people have had with language learning has been a few lessons at school.
Traveling is undoubtedly one of the main reasons why people want to learn a new language and a great way to fall in love with it. People often visit a foreign country for a few weeks and spend a wonderful holiday. They are surrounded by language, culture, history, good food and amazing people. This makes them infatuated with the language and they are very motivated to learn it or deepen their knowledge of it once the trip is over. Even though all the things that made them fall in love with the language have disappeared, it is important to continue living the language when you return home.
Art and media can also be a wonderful tool to increase the passion for a language. Music, books, films and podcasts can be used to create an artificial immersion in the language. Stop studying once in a while and experience the language by listening to sounds and perceiving the beauty of words through reading.
Meeting people who speak the language you are learning can be incredibly rewarding both if you know these people physically and online, for example on studenz.com (physical proximity is no longer necessary to create a real human connection). If you have conversations with them, you learn more than you can imagine. But most importantly, your love of language will only increase. So, learn about the people you interact with. Learn about their hopes and dreams, and how they are connected to where they come from and the language they speak. Get rid of the assumptions and prejudices that discourage you from pursuing a goal that is meaningful to you. To know a language, you need to approach it with an open mind towards everything connected to that language. Do not be dissuaded by appearances, or by the distance between you and the object of your affection. You have what it takes to "take the first step", so it is always up to you to make an effort to know a language on your own terms before deciding whether or not to pursue a relationship.
In conclusion, learning a foreign language is like entering into a romantic relationship. It all starts with falling in love, which hopefully will soon turn into true love. Your relationship with language will require time, energy, compromise and sacrifice to survive in the long term, just like any human relationship. It is important to do whatever it takes to make that fire burn brightly every single day, and for as long as you can keep it burning.
Have you already fallen in love with the foreign language you are deepening with your language exchange friends? Have you ever loved a language, its sounds, its words, the culture and traditions of its speakers? Let us know in the comments!
- 19 Jun, 2020
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