Imagine spending a lifetime doing one thing, and enjoying it. Creepy? With learning a foreign language, this can actually happen. Here are four things to consider if you’re planning to learn foreign languages for a long time.
0. Lifelong learning and its merits
There is a lot to be said about lifelong learning, but I’ll just point out the main things that inspired me to write today. Feel free to add your own thoughts below.
First of all – as Sir Ken Robinson or Seth Godin may have already told you – it’s not a good idea to rely on school education to prepare you for the rest of your life. In fact, the opposite tends to be true: adapting to change requires learning forever. And every age is an age of change.
Secondly, learning something in your adulthood helps improve your self-esteem and overall well-being. Feel free to consult the sources here if you like, but this isn’t a difficult concept to grasp: learning new things brings about excitement, fresh perspectives and new skills. These are positive things, and hard to come by in a reality where nothing changes.
Finally – and this brings me close to foreign languages – lifelong learning is an intensely social thing. Many people in their adult life are limiting their circles of friends and colleagues. Learning a foreign language can extend this beyond belief (read here on why this matters).
So there you have it: lifelong learning is good for you. Now, how to do this with a foreign language course?
1. Become a native-like speaker of a language
This eludes many learners. They are quite happy to remain at their quasi-intermediate level and “get by” in most situations. But with a long-term perspective comes an exciting possibility: you can actually be as proficient as many native speakers!
This isn’t exactly easy to achieve on a term-based, regular language course. You would need lots of practice and exposure to trim and tweak the accent, the grammar patterns, the idioms. In short, you’d need lifelong learning. It’s a great goal to have, and quite achievable: becoming just like the native speakers is a definite bragging right!
2. Find a foreign language niche
The similarities with the first goal are obvious – this, too, takes time and sets you apart from the “everyday situations” that most language learners strive to function in. Once that’s done, though, the options are more exotic – and more tempting for the polyglots who are ready for the long run.
Do you want to become an expert on French Romantic literature? Subtitling Swedish films? A go-to authority on Japanese calligraphy? These are all things that most language courses simply wouldn’t cover – and you realize, as a beginner learner, that there’s a huge gap between your level and being able to do them.
Once you’ve bridged that gap, though, it makes sense to move on, and find something you truly love. By doing this, you’re practically guaranteeing that you’ll keep learning more things about the foreign language of your choice.
3. Teach others languages
The simplest, most frightening (or enjoyable!) step of them all. You’ve been through it all. You started out from zero, made your way through the plateaus and levels, and now your command of a foreign language is remarkable. Do you just leave it at that?
Teaching is not everyone’s cup of tea. But you don’t necessarily have to think of it as full-on, classroom-and-coursebook teaching. Maybe help a colleague out at work every week. Or sit down with the kids and their French homework. A community centre could use some volunteers.
The benefits are immense. You’ll get some new insights into the language you’ve learned. You will spend time with people you care about. And if you go into teaching full-time, you’ll get paid for your skill!
4. Learn a new language
This may sound counter-intuitive at first. What do you mean: start again!? I’ve gone all this way…
Hear me out. It’s not just a foreign language you’ve picked up along the way. You’ve now got your strategies, methods of learning and memorizing things, awareness of how language works and how people use it. That’s precious – and that’s what would help you learn a new language better and more effectively.
And apart from that – it’s true that many languages are related. French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese can influence one another positively when it comes to language courses. German and English come from a common historical background. The Poles, Czechs and Slovaks can understand one another on most occasions – and so on.
A new language is a new challenge, a new set of friends, new ways of looking at the world. This, for a lifelong learner – and for anyone curious enough – is one of the greatest gifts.
What’s your lifelong learning option?
Hey, long-term polyglots. Got a reason for never stopping your foreign language journeys? Share it below!