You probably heard it a hundred times: guy falls in love, girl speaks another language, guy learns girl’s language just to be with her (replace girls with guys as you fancy). But does it really work that way? Being close to the person you love is a strong motivation to do something – anything – but does it actually help you learn a language? Let’s look at some pros and cons, and maybe find some solutions!
“The Ultimate Motivator” – The things we learn for love
First of all, let me assert one thing: the stories mentioned above do happen. I have several friends and colleagues who managed to learn Polish (one of the harder languages to learn, and that’s official) after getting married. Now they speak good Polish, and function amazingly well in both languages.
So – yes, falling in love with a person speaking another language is a huge help in learning how to speak it. Here’s how it helps:
- It motivates. This alone counts for a lot. The most diligent, ambitious and hard-working learners are frequently the ones who have someone to learn the language for!
- It gives you a learning partner, and a language model. Why pay a native speaker when you can just date them?
- It intensifies the experience. A regular language lesson will never be as exciting as spending time with the person you love. You’re therefore likely to remember more – and retain the memory for longer.
- It provides positive reinforcement. You learn something – you show off in front of your significant other – they’re proud – you’re happy and willing to learn another thing – and so on…
The Great Distractor – Romance’s Risky Results
If the items from the list above worked all the time and for everybody, language schools would be out of business (and I’d be working for an online dating website). In many cases, a romantic relationship between speakers of different languages doesn’t need to facilitate language learning – or sometimes it even inhibits it! Clearly, we need another list.
- Learning for the relationship’s sake may be intensive, but it’s rarely extensive: you’re likely to be perfectly okay with a handful of words and phrases. Thus, it’s often hard to learn a language really well – especially if your partner is satisfied with what you’ve learned and stops pushing you forward.
- Whose language should you learn? Just because her English is more popular than his Polish – should this be the excuse for him to do all the work, and for her to rest on her laurels? Clearly, this is a very difficult decision.
- If relationship = the ultimate motivator, breakup = the ultimate demotivator. ‘Nuff said.
Learning for Love: Dos and Donts
Okay, I may know a thing or two about learning languages. But definitely not enough. And as for love, well…nobody’s an expert, really. So I’ll just start the list here with a few suggestions.
1. Meet in the middle.It’s only fair for both partners to learn the other person’s language. That way, you’re both doing work to make the relationship better – and you’re both benefiting from the positive feedback.
2. Consider learning a third language. This is not as crazy as it sounds. A Polish friend of mine got married to a German guy. They both spoke good English already. So why not use a perfectly good language? (Related: their kids are going to be geniuses, rather like the ones in Luxembourg.)
3. Celebrate and appreciate. If your teacher gives you a bad mark, you get over it. But if the person you love fails to recognise how hard you’ve worked…well, that’s a bummer to end all bummers. So learn to take pride in what you’ve learned for one another.
4.Never stop using what you’ve learned. Notes on fridges, dirty text messages, chats over breakfast, captions under photo albums – hey, there’s so many ways to be romantic about the language you’ve learned!
Okay. Your turn. Has this worked for you? How and why / why not?