Why Learn a Second Language?

Good question. And I think it’s one I’ve answered here and there across different posts, if not all in one go. It’s a question I’ve been asking myself more often recently.

I spent most of last year learning and using French, as I so often reminded you. Learning pretty informally mind you, as I never took any actual French lessons, though I sometimes wish I had.

Now, I’m back in Ireland and don’t have any immediate, obvious stimulus to learn a second language. At work and in my personal life I only need to use English. In fact, most of the time I only can use English, as attempting to use any other language would usually only lead to confusion. Comme ça, dtuigeann tú?

When I first arrived back in January, I wasn’t too pushed about continuing my efforts. Partly there was of course the lack of pressure to do so, but I think it was also just a bit of a relief not to have to put in the mental effort necessary to learn and use another language. And believe me, it is a lot of effort.

In the last few weeks though, I’ve started yearning to get back into learning again. Partly I think that’s because I’m surrounded by people learning and teaching English every day at work. But mainly I think it’s because I just miss it.

Learning and using another language is simply interesting (to me, anyway). Noticing the little patterns and idiosyncracies of a language, the ways in which it’s different from English: I really enjoy those aspects of it. And I actually find that thinking so much about another languages gives me lots of ideas about English to write about. And of course there’s the immense satisfaction of getting something right, of making yourself understood, or figuring out something tricky.

And there are advantages to learning a language. It helps your general cognitive abilities, particularly in terms of noticing patterns. I also think it helps you become more open minded and empathetic. It’s not like different languages always involve different ways of thinking, but it’s certainly true that the different structures of languages do help you to see things another way, and make you more aware of other cultures.

It can also be a social thing if you learn as part of a class. And that’s the best way to do it, by speaking to other people and actually using the language.

And most importantly of all, you learn something new. For me, that’s reason enough to learn a language. Learning can be for its own sake: there doesn’t have to be a practical goal involved. You sit down, look at a book, listen to someone, or talk to someone, and afterwards you have new knowledge: that’s amazing in itself, isn’t it!?

So, I’ve decided I’m going to do some language classes. I’m going to do them in either Irish or French, as I’ve got enough knowledge of both built up to maintain a decent level by going to classes (my little Italian wouldn’t really be worth developing sadly, but I hope to always keep it in my head). I’ll probably go with Irish, simply because I have more passive exposure to it in my daily life, and I’ve no experience of learning it outside of school. I’ll still keep my French alive with Duolingo, and a few days in France before the summer though.

I have to admit I’m quite looking forward to getting back to being a language student again. How about you? Are you planning to learn any languages?

39 thoughts on “Why Learn a Second Language?

  1. If you’re learning another language, I’d have a look at Memrise. Duolingo is not always correct – often far from it. Memrise, at least in the A1 Spanish I’ve just completed, uses realistic vocabulary and covers the types of things you might need if you visited Spain. I can’t speak to what their Irish courses might be like, though. You can also create your own course in Memrise, which you couldn’t do last time I looked in Duolingo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. But surely you could head to the Gaeltacht to practise the other language of Ireland – Polish, er, Latvian, Vietnamese, sorry, I mean, Irish?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I learned English as a second language, recently threw myself into trying to learn Russian. It’s a slow progress for both languages but at least I can speak English somewhat fluently by now. I think the internet has made it easier to learn languages, because most, if not all of the people I speak with daily on the internet speak English.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I learnt french while at school, and found I really enjoyed learning it. I dont remember much now mind! My eldest son is obsessed with learning languages. he speaks fluent french and Turkish, (his girlfriend is Turkish) and has just started spanish. Im not sure if, as you get older, your ability to learn language changes? It just will not stay in my head anymore!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes Duolingo is wonderful.. I can normally make a 6 day streak – can’t seem to make it for 7 days straight. But I’m learning. I did a year of french at school so was drawn to it. I agree – it is good for quite a few things. I like the “brain” things.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. For those of us who teach languages, I think that learning one ourselves can make us better teachers too! Apart from the communication benefits – I use my second language in class sometimes – it teaches you a lot about learning methods, how it feels when you are struggling to communicate, tips to pass on to your students etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ive been taking German courses for the past several months. I really enjoyed the first two A level courses, but now I am in the A2.1 level and it is moving too fast for me. Several of the people in class have been in Germany for several years versus my several months, so they are WAY more advanced that I am . So, I feel overwhelmed. I may take a break for a bit to develop my vocabulary, then start back with courses.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Besides my mother tongue (Dutch), I have learned French (which is quite obvious when living in Belgium), but also German, English and Spanish. I loved learning other languages at school, but it’s such a pity that you forget so easily when not using them… These days I only use my English (besides Dutch of course) and I must admit I neglect my French, German and Spanish!!


  9. I work with a man who is hearing impaired and I would love to learn American Sign Language. I understand that it’s quite different from written and spoken language, and can be challenging, but I’d like to be able to communicate with him in a way that he’s comfortable even just a little bit. Maybe a summer course is in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve just started learning French so that when we head there on holiday I can get a little more into the local culture. I’ve been using Duolingo too and love it so far, although sometimes it tells me I’m wrong when my answer matches perfectly… I’ve started listening to French podcasts too and although half the time I don’t know what they’re talking about its super helpful with the more conversational side of things. Good luck with your new lessons!

    Shan// http://www.cultureandcouture.co.uk


    • Podcasts are a great way to learn a language, and I think they’re particularly helpful with French, as listening in French is quite difficult as the words tend to run together.


  11. I have struggled to learn Korean for more than 10 years, despite living there for 3 1/2 years and having one or more Koreans in the house here. My biggest barrier is that I’m not prepared to make the kind of mistakes which second language learners inevitably make (which is something I have to keep in mind as my students don’t talk or make mistakes).

    Recently, my wife’s sister-in-law visited and we *had* to speak Korean, because her English is limited to those loan-words used in Korean.

    I recently attended a job interview. They asked me ‘What super-power would you like to have?’. I said ‘Speaking other languages’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think language teachers are often hard on themselves when learning languages, and are resistant to making mistakes, even if we understand they’re necessary and inevitable. That’s certainly been my experience with French.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s