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September 26, 2017

The Truth About Learning Another Language


Learning another language sounds exotic, but it’s a long journey to reap all the benefits that come along with being fluent in another tongue. On the surface it’s glamorous, interesting, and cool, but these factors don’t happen overnight. To speak another language requires a lot of effort, and vulnerability to put yourself in uncomfortable situations for the long term benefit of becoming adept as bi or multi-lingual. It’s also one of the most respectable things one can do to show their appreciation for another culture, and I’d advocate anyone who was interested in learning (at any age) to do so.

The absolute best way to pick up another language is assimilating into the culture by living in a certain place for a little while. There’s a reason why you’ve heard this before – it’s because it works! When I moved to Italy in 2009, I spoke decent Spanish so I thought I had a leg up in learning Italian quickly. I was very wrong. Italian is a much more complex and dialects are the norm, making “textbook” Italian pretty ineffective. But I lived with locals, and forced myself to go out with Italians and Italians only  (even though I missed half the commentary) and that was the best thing I could have done to not only get the lingo down, but truly understand the Italian culture and way of life. If you’re thinking about learning another language, my advice would be to relocate to a destination and spend some time there. I cant imagine speaking Italian the way in which I do if I had stayed in America.

The European day of Languages, every September 26th, recognizes that there have never been more opportunities to work or study in a different European country, but lack of language competence prevents many people from taking advantage of them. But that’s an easy fix if you have the mindset for change.

Here are a few honest truths on what you can expect in the learning journey and beyond:

  • You’ll be very frustrated, especially in the beginning.
  • It’s hard to “be yourself”. Be ready to miss a lot of jokes, and get ready to feel steps behind the conversation. It’s not only hearing words properly, it’s the dialects, historic and pop-culture references, and cultural nuances that make it difficult to gel.
  • It’s very easy to get caught up in the “expat” scene – don’t be one of these people or you will learn nothing.
  • There are many methods of studying to find what’s right for you, so you need to explore every thing before analyzing what’s working. Strengthen the methods that work and ditch the ways that aren’t.
  • You become respected in the eyes of those that are native; you really get them and have made a clear effort to do so by learning their language.
  • Finding someone to “barter” with is a helpful technique – you can offer someone time spent speaking your native tongue and visa versa. If you’re single, finding a cute partner to practice with never hurts 😉
  • You feel like a boss ordering at restaurants back home, or anywhere else in the world where you can pronounce dishes and know the wine menu like a champ.
  • Certain expressions or words for things just feel better expressed in your secondary language; I often substitute words in my native tongue with Italian. It just feels right!
  • You will dream in your secondary language, and that’s super fun (and sometimes weird)!
  • The cultural connection you develop surpasses any other activity when traveling; when you can truly speak with those in the country in which you are visiting, your bond and experience takes on another form, and is richer than you could ever imagine.


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