Are you clear about “the why”?

Like any plan worth pursuing, learning a foreign language has to have a reason behind it. Whether you are motivated by a promotion, a pay increase, a romance with a native speaker or simply wanting to travel, you should find the why behind your desire to learn a language.

Finding the why is easy when the desire is extrinsic, like in the examples mentioned above.

But what if none of these things applies? What if you just want to learn for the sake of learning or because you’re simply attracted to a foreign culture and you’d like to know more about it?

That is perfectly fine, but the motivation is harder to sustain.

What you can do is this:

On the first page of your language journal or notebook, write the reason. For example, I really like Mexican soap operas or I just found out that learning a language can delay the onset of Alzheimer by four years.

Under the reason, give yourself five secondary reasons to fall back on when your motivation starts to wane. Let’s say you also think that maybe you’ll travel to Mexico or Spain some day. Or learning kanji might improve your drawing skills. Maybe you’re a graphic designer and you think Arabic type will spark your visual creativity.

Brainstorm secondary reasons. Don’t stop until you think of at least five.

The point is this: at every stage in the learning process you must have clear reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Here are a few reasons that can drive your language learning journey:

  • get in touch with your roots. Do you have foreign ancestry? What was your Italian grandma’s favorite storybook as a child? Can you read it in its original language?

  • read a recipe in its original language;

  • explore your own country’s ethnic neighborhoods;

  • understand movies and music without the filter of translation;

  • be perceived as knowledgeable by others; yes, showing off is a valid enough reason if it makes you happy;

  • give your brain a workout;

  • improve your memory;

  • increase the network of people you’ll be able to communicate with;

  • gain a better understanding of the world and global politics;

  • understand your own culture from the perspective of an outsider;

  • get better in a debate;

  • become more comfortable in unfamiliar situations.

The point is this: at every stage in the learning process you must be clear about the reason you’re doing this. Why are you investing time, energy and possibly money in this? You don’t need to have grandiose goals. You don’t need to read Voltaire in French after just one year of studying French. If you can read Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, then that is a goal worth pursuing.

Photo by Sue Clark

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