Even as a pretty serious language geek, who actually learns other languages for fun, I still find myself making excuses sometimes. I spotted this chart the other day (I’m not sure where it originally came from, but I found it when translation agency Finverbus shared it on their Google+ page) and recognised a lot of the excuses as ones that I’ve made at one time or another. It also backs up what we learned in our recent survey. How many of these excuses have you used in the past?
Most of us learn at least one foreign language at school. But sadly many people drop it after that and possibly never take it up again. But why? According to research, there are many reasons (or excuses) that people have for dropping a language or not taking one up. Most commonly, many people say they don’t have enough time (24%) or that they don’t have enough money (11%). Well, if it’s the first reason, check out our top tips on how to fit language learning in to your busy week. Or if you’re struggling for cash, check out our guide to learning on a budget.
The other main reason cited by many is lack of motivation (16%). I have to say I recognise this! When you start learning a new language it’s really exciting. ‘I can say “dog” in French!’, ‘I can say “hello” in Italian!’ But then when you get to memorising long lists of verbs, tenses and grammar, enthusiasm often starts to wane. You have to put quite a bit of time and effort into learning a language properly, and often, life gets in the way, and the latest episode of Game of Thrones seems more interesting than another round of German adjective endings. If this is the case, I feel your pain! But there are ways to boost your motivation and get back into learning if you’ve lost momentum lately.
Try breaking up your language learning into a small chunk each day: ten minutes of using a language app or program like uTalk or Talk Now; reading a newspaper article or language book on the train or listening to a short podcast. Make learning fun by listening to music or podcasts, watching videos or films, reading books or magazines or using fun language games. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to master perfect grammar – just enjoy it. Find people to chat to and impress yourself with how much you can say already.
Try thinking about what your motivation for taking up a language could be: a holiday to a fantastic new country, moving abroad for work, finding new friends, talking to someone you know in their language, understanding the culture of a certain country (be it Japanese anime, French cinema or German heavy metal) or enhancing your CV. Somehow half an hour of practising verbs and vocabulary seems much more appealing when you picture yourself using your newly-learned ‘un caffè grazie’ to order a coffee in Rome, or asking ‘dónde está la playa?’ in the south of Spain.
Finally, another common reason that I can definitely identify with is feeling embarrassed when speaking another language (11%). I was pretty embarrassed this week when speaking Spanish to my Argentinian colleague and accidentally using the Italian word for butter (‘burro’) instead of the Spanish word ‘mantequilla’ (burro in Spanish means donkey, not butter!). But in most cases, even if you make a silly mistake like this, you can just laugh it off and carry on. It might take a little time to gain confidence when speaking, but the best way to do this is simply to try it, make mistakes, realise it doesn’t matter and carry on. If you’re quite shy, try finding another learner to practise with, doing a language exchange with someone who is learning your language (so you’re in the same boat) and practising with friends before you actually go to the country.
Saying that, the BBC language page has some funny examples of when languages go wrong!
So, whatever your reasons for slacking off in your language learning, I hope we’ve given you a few ideas on how to get back into it, or get started on a new one if you’ve been putting it off.
We had a great response to our recent language learning survey; thank you to everyone who took the time to complete it. First things first: we’re delighted to announce that the winner of the iPad mini prize draw is Konstantia Sakellariou. Congratulations, Konstantia – your iPad is on its way!
We wanted also to share a few of our findings with you. Some of the results from the survey were as we expected, others were quite surprising. Here are just a few of the things you had to tell us. Thanks again for all your thoughtful responses, we’ll put them to good use.
Which language(s) are you learning (or would like to learn)?
The first question was pretty straightforward. A couple of people ticked every language on offer (over 100) – now that’s what we call ambition! – but most chose between 1 and 5. Here are the top ten most popular languages: Other popular choices included Greek, Swedish, Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese, Norwegian, Irish, Polish and Icelandic. We also got some requests for languages we don’t yet offer, like Guernésiais and Twi – we’ll do our best to add those languages to our list, so watch this space!
Why are you learning a language?
Next, we wanted to know why you’re learning a language. Nearly half of the respondents chose travel as a reason, and almost as many said they were learning a language just for fun. 36% of respondents said it was for family reasons or for a relationship, and 27% for work. The results were quite evenly split though, showing that there’s no one overwhelming reason – everyone has their own motivation. Among the other reasons, we had a range of answers, including an interest in the culture of the language, personal challenge and wanting to follow literature, film and music in other languages. Many people are living in another country, which was their main motivation for learning the local language. And one person said that their heart asked for the knowledge, which we loved 🙂
What prevents you from learning a language?
We were also interested to know what stops people from learning a language, so we asked you to rate the following reasons out of 5. The most common barrier to learning is a lack of time, followed by not having found the right method, and then the cost involved. Incidentally, if you’re facing any of these barriers, you may like to check out our recent posts, on finding time to learn a language and learning on a budget. And if you’re looking for resources, did you know you can try out the EuroTalk learning method for free? Either visit our website, or download our free app, uTalk for iOS, to give it a go. We believe learning a language should be fun, because our research shows we learn much better if we’re enjoying ourselves, and this in turn makes it a lot easier to overcome the obstacles that get in the way. See what you think! Other answers included not having an opportunity to use the language, a lack of motivation and difficulty finding resources for the particular language they wanted to learn (we may be able to help there – we’ve got 136 languages and counting…).
How have you used your language when travelling?
Finally, we asked how knowing another language has been useful when you’re travelling. There was no clear winner here, which just goes to show knowing a language is always useful! But the top response was that it gives you the ability to talk to locals in their own language; many people added that they felt more welcome as a result and that it gave them independence so they could make the most of their trip. There were lots of practical reasons too, with getting around and eating out narrowly beating shopping in the poll.If you missed out on the survey this time, don’t worry – we’re planning another one soon, so keep an eye on the blog (you can subscribe by email above to get the latest updates), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And if you didn’t answer this survey but would still like to have your say on any of the questions, you’re very welcome to email us or add your thoughts in the comments below.
Data above based on 877 survey responses.