Language Learning Tip #1: Have a good reason to learn!

So, you have decided that you're going to learn a new language - hopefully French :) - but have you really thought about why you want to learn it?

For some people, the love of the language and the culture are reasons enough to learn a language. These people usually learn a language quite easily: have you ever seen these Youtube videos of people boasting about speaking 5, 10 or even 15 languages?! I know these videos are supposed to help and motivate us but when I see how easy they learn a new language I find these actually quite discouraging! If, like me, you need a bit more motivation than just loving baguette, fish'n'chips, bibimbap or tortilla to learn a language, then keep on reading.

When I started learning English at school, my motivations were through films and music. I was/am a fan of various English bands (Depeche Mode, Placebo, Muse...) and, like almost everyone, I enjoyed watching American films. Listening to the music wasn't enough, I wanted to understand the lyrics too and dubbed films were always of poorer quality which is why I liked watching films in their original version from a young age. I have always been quite independent so the thoughts of having to depend on someone translating lyrics for me or having to read subtitles and miss some scenes in films were frustrating. So, I studied a lot, was happy when I had good grades and was head to head with the best student of the class (just in English!) and I was able to understand more and more on my own. Growing up, I decided I wanted to travel a lot and become an English teacher so English was obviously very important for me. After my first trip to London, I knew that I would, one day, move to this city so I just had to learn English - my goal was very clear and this is why my English improved a lot.

I also studied Spanish in secondary school - it was either Spanish or German as a second foreign language. German was never a very popular choice as it is considered a difficult language so I chose Spanish, like all of my friends. On second thoughts, I should probably have opted for German as I prefer German culture to the Spanish one. Spanish is generally quite easy for French speakers as both languages are very similar in terms of grammar and vocabulary but still, I was not motivated by learning the language. I loved my first teacher: a young, nice and energetic teacher who had interesting ideas and activities. My other teacher, for the next 5 years, was an older lady and, although I know now that she was actually nice, as a teenager I thought the she was mean and her lessons boring. From then on, my interest in learning Spanish vanished. Now, I understand it pretty well still, probably at a good B1 level, but my speaking skills are seriously lacking and couldn't hope for anything better than A2 level, even though I have studied Spanish for more than 10 years!

In university, I learned Japanese for one semester as part of our study options. It was interesting and I really enjoyed it because I love Japanese culture but, again, this wasn't enough. I still struggle reading Hiragana today and can't remember any of the Katakana and only a couple of easy Kanji! Because I had no other reason than passing my semester when I learned Japanese, I didn't improve a lot. I still plan on learning Japanese later on but I know that my level will never be really good as you need more motivation than that to really become fluent.

The last language I tried to learn is ... Korean! I lived in South Korea from April 2017 to September 2018 and there are a lot of things I really enjoyed over there (and a lot I didn't!) but overall, I miss it. You probably think that, because I lived and worked there, I had reasons enough to learn and must now have a decent level. Well, that's wrong... My Korean is actually very basic, at best. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Reason #1: I worked for a French Language school, Alliance Française, and all of my colleagues were either French or Korean but fluent in French. When teaching, I used French 99% of the time or English if the students really struggled. So I didn't need Korean at all when I was working.

Reason #2: I didn't meet a lot of Korean people and I was always with my (superb, lovely, amazing) French colleagues / friends and, because they had been living in Korea for a much longer time than me and did more effort to fit in, their Korean was really good. When we went out, I relied a lot on them - I wasn't always happy about it but, at that time, I felt overwhelmed between the new language and the (very different) new culture.

Reason #3: I had a hard time adjusting to this new life. If I had stayed longer, I know that I would have made more efforts and would have probably fit in a lot better than I did then but my husband didn't like his job and none of his colleagues spoke English / he didn't speak Korean... So I knew that our time over there was limited. Why bother spending a lot of time and making a lot of effort learning a new language if you're going to leave soon?

With Korean language, I really regret not having made more efforts so I am still learning Korean now! It might sound surprising but, the next time I go to Korea to visit my friends, I don't want to have to rely on them for everything: I want to be more independent, fit in better with Korean people and discover more. Also, Korean is not a language a lot of people learn and speak so I have to say that I like saying "I know a bit of Korean" as people are always impressed :D

From my own experience as a language student, having specific and realistic goals is VERY important when you want to learn a new language. Let's recap:

English = Goal: become an English teacher, travel around the world, live in London. Success: YES.

Spanish = Goal: have good grades and language is "easy" for French speakers. Success: PARTLY, needs improvement.

Japanese = Goal: general interest in the language / culture. Success: NO.

Korean = Goal in the past: try to use Korean for basic daily activities. Success: PARTLY.

New Goal: understand the culture and people more, be an independent user for daily activities and impress my friends. Success: IN PROGRESS!

So, here is my tip #1 as a language teacher:

Have a clear goal in mind.

Liking the language and the culture will, in most cases, not be enough for you to obtain a high command of French, English or any other language. If you are generally good at learning new things and / or are still quite young, you can set up a more general goal ie. understand films without subtitles, have a conversation with a native speaker, work / study in a foreign country, become a language teacher / a translator etc. If you struggle a bit with learning or if you are a bit older (yes, age matters when it comes to learning from scratch!), set up baby-step goals ie. order a meal at a restaurant, introduce yourself to a native speaker and ask basic questions, understand a short story / film / music you know and like, make a compliment to someone who's a native speaker of this language, greet business partners etc. With baby-step goals, you will see your progress a lot better than with general goals and this motivates adult students a lot more. When you are a teenager, learning a language is easier so general goals are good but when you are an adult and start being busy with everyday life (work, family, children, taxes!) it's easy to forget why you are learning a new language.

Going abroad for the first time and ordering your very first meal in French (and being understood!), is one of the best feeling there is. Understanding even just one sentence without having to read the subtitles is one of the best feeling there is. Surprising a friend by exchanging a few words in their native language (and them being so excited about it they will start rambling in said language!!) is the best feeling there is.

When studying becomes too hard, and it will at some point, remember these few small successes; however small they are, don't forget you have come from "Bonjour" to "Je peux aller en France pendant deux jours et parler français seul/e !" Your next goal being "Je ne suis pas tout à fait d'accord avec vous; laissez-moi vous faire part de mon expérience personnelle".

Alors, êtes-vous d'accord? What are your goals in learning French (or any other languages)?

A bientôt :)


Typical street in Seoul - Make sure you can read the signs!

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