I’ll admit it. Studying a new language is hard.
During high school I spent about three years studying French. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t take my classes more seriously. I can probably count with both my hands the number of things I can remember how to say en Français.
If you asked me why I didn’t study very hard, I’d say it was due to the fact that I had only had one specific motivation – to further my career. Where I grew up, speaking French was almost a requisite to get a decent job.
Now that I live in 中国 , I have plenty of reasons to learn the language.
Here’s one reason. I like food. Because the food here is so cheap, we eat out a lot. And I like knowing what I am about to order.
Yesterday evening, my wife and I went out for dinner to check out one of the 炒面 (stir fried noodles) shops that a friend recommended to us. Upon arrival, the restaurant owner asked us what we wanted to eat. There were about 30 items on the menu, and I recognized maybe 2 or 3 of them. So in my broken Mandarin, I attempted to order one of the few dishes that I could read: 番茄鸡蛋炒面 (fried noodles with egg and tomato).
Now my food ended being rather 好吃 (delicious). But for me it was the joy of understanding what I was about to order and successfully receiving what I wanted that was just as rewarding as the taste of my meal.
There are many more rewards that you will encounter upon learning another language! Here are 3 reasons why you should learn a new language.
You Can Communicate with More People
You don’t have to move to a foreign country to find people who speak a different language than you do. I’ll guarantee you that you don’t even have to leave your home country to find someone with a different mother tongue!
It blesses people immensely when you try to speak with them in their language, especially if they can’t speak yours. I know this one Brazilian family who barely knew any English before they moved to Asia, and I was incredibly blessed by how hard they worked to speak with me in my language (I couldn’t speak any Portuguese).
It Helps You Overcome Fear
I know there are some people who have no trouble tackling a new language and going all in. But if you’re anything like me, fear of failure can be a huge barrier. I also tend to be a perfectionist, and so making mistakes is something I try to avoid at all costs.
While learning French, I was afraid of making mistakes. I hated looking silly or ridiculous in front of others, so I never really tried that hard to speak French. Now that I realize how much that fear prevented me from certain relationships (as well as possible job opportunities), I’m trying that much harder to just speak Chinese even if I sound ridiculous. Which I do about 99% of the time – just ask my wife!
The more you speak and the more you try, the easier it gets. Fear subsides and is replaced by confidence.
Lots of people will tell you that language acquisition is difficult and will require a lot of self-discipline. That’s all true.
But guess what? It’s actually a lot of fun.
Today during class, for instance, I learned that 方便 can mean “convenient,” but that it can also mean “using the bathroom.” So if you wanted to ask me if meeting right now was convenient for you, you could ask 你方便吗? But for the foreigner, it could very easily be misinterpreted as, “Do you need to use the bathroom”?
When my teacher was explaining this to me, I couldn’t help but be amused by the potential misunderstanding that this word could cause. (And there are many more similar instances, which I hope to share with you in a future blog!)
It’s Your Turn
So what languages are you currently learning? What are some of the reasons why you decided to learn a second (or third or fourth!) language? What are some of the funny things that have happened to you in the process? I’d love to hear about your experiences!