A critical reflection of a language freak on studying languages, and some advice

There are countless reasons to study foreign languages and I am sure that you know them well. However, have you ever thought of languages as a stress factor, as a barrier to getting a job, a huge business or a medium of dominance? If not, then read further. I am offering you some of my thoughts and suggestions.

Since I was 15 years old, I was interested in learning foreign languages. As I was not born into a bilingual family, moved across countries or grew up in a country with a top-notch education system, I had to work hard to acquire the level I currently possess. So, I spent a lot of my free time memorizing vocabulary, practicing exercises, reading books, watching films, listening to recordings, writing letters to pen friends, getting tandem partners and eventually working abroad. At one point, I realized that there is an adverse side to studying foreign languages, which I have summed up into four points.

Mental pressure

While learning languages should be a hobby, people often feel frustrated about making mistakes, not studying enough, forgetting vocabulary or not being as good as their peers. Sometimes the pressure, that people put on them, can become quite extreme. Having studied three foreign languages made me realize that the more I was learning one language, the more I was forgetting the other one. Simply because there was no time to handle three things at the same time, unless I wanted to dedicate all my time and energy to it. Well, solution was simple. Do Less. Do Better. Know Why. I decided to focus on one language without trying to be too perfectionist and the pressure has disappeared. Sometimes, it is good to realize that you cannot do everything.

Barrier to fulfilling your dream

In the field of International Relations knowledge of languages is essential and if you do not know at least two international languages on top of your native language, you risk not being even considered for a job interview. I find many job offers mesmerizing. A graduate student is not only to have relevant work and volunteer experience, but in addition a perfect knowledge of two to three languages. I am wondering how that is possible without dedicating all your time to adorning you CV. Anyways, I think that employers should not refuse somebody who can be a genius in his field only because he does not have a C1 level in xyz language. The knowledge of the language is not the only determinant of the personal qualities.

Business and money

“Teaching of English has morphed from being a mutually beneficial practice to become a massive international business that it is today,” says Patricia Ryan, who has been teaching English at the British Council for over 30 years in the Gulf countries, in her Don’t Insist on English TED talk. I could not agree with her more! In the last years, there has been an explosion of foreign language schools, high schools, kindergartens, summer camps, certificates, courses, exchange programs and so on and so forth. I do not say that it is bad; I only say it should not be that commercial. When I was attending a German course in Österreich Institut, I was very surprised that grammar was divided into separate sections, so that students would enroll in the following semester. Furthermore when I started learning English, there were 3 levels – beginner, intermediate and advanced. Later I found out that there were 6 levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2) and nowadays they are 12 (A1.1, A1.2, B1.1. etc.)! The number of language certificates and tests has also boomed, and millions of people are paying lots of money to obtain them. There has to be some way out!

Dominance of English versus loss of native languages

We can simultaneously observe globalization of English, which is currently being studied by 2 billion people, and loss of native languages. Did you know that a language dies every 14 days? It is estimated that there are 6,000 languages and in 90 years, the number is expected to reduce to 90 only. It’s shocking and sad. That’s why United Nations declared 21st February as the International Mother Language Day in order to promote the language diversity. On one side it is good to have a common language for many nations and beat the legacy of Tower of Babel, on the other side it should not become a mania. I am myself proud about my mother tongue (Czech), which is an incredibly rich and beautiful language.

Whiny articles are not helpful, so here are some of my suggestions to help you escape the trap.

  1. Don’t be a mean perfectionist.

Unless you must speak on TV or publish a book, you should not be so worried about your mistakes. Rather be proud about yourself. Easy to say, hard to do, but try.

  1. Don’t pay, if you don’t have to.

You can learn languages low-cost. Borrow textbooks and books in library, check free online apps (Memrise or Duolingo), subscribe to good YouTube channels (Easy Languages) or get a tandem partner.

  1. Stick with one book.

This has proven helpful to me. Do not get overwhelmed by abundance of textbooks, websites and applications, it will only get you confused. Once you are done with your textbook, pick a new one.

  1. Be proud about your mother tongue and promote it.

That’s it, those were some of my reflections. I would be happy, if you could tell me your opinion or share the article with your friends. If you are still interested in learning more, do watch this 5 minute video on The World English Mania by Jay Walker and BEAUTIFUL 14 cute illustrations of untranslatable words in Portuguese, Norwegian, Arabic, Japanese, Yiddish, Spanish, French, Swedish, German and Pascuense.

2 thoughts on “A critical reflection of a language freak on studying languages, and some advice

  1. Chua Han Au napsal:

    Oh my. Being one who wants to read languages in the university, your post has resonated well with me. Coupled with your eloquence and well structured paragraphs, this post is wonderful. I am looking forward to reading more great posts from you! 🙂

    To se mi líbí

    • Veronika Gregušová napsal:

      Dear Chu,

      Thank you for your attentive comment. If you are only about to start your college (study of languages), then choosing a good attitude will help you escape this vicious circle and studying languages will be a joyous activity for you. 🙂 I am happy you liked my article, your poems are beautiful, too!

      To se mi líbí

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