Why are you learning this language?
We all have a good reason to learn a new language; discovering our roots, passion for travel, academic purposes, pure interest etc. Once again, I’ll start off my post with another frank and sweeping statement; these reasons are useless if you want to become fluent quickly. They are vague, with no necessary (or very distant) time limit and you may just have one “big” reason that can’t be broken down and is too huge to be achievable in your own mind. In the next post I am going to suggest that you redefine your goals into smaller achievable chunks.
But first, it’s important to redefine your overall motivation for learning a language, i.e. having a few things to aim for as well as your “overall” purpose for learning the language. Survival and having a basic social life (without relying on expats) in a foreign country are good motivators themselves, but are still ignored by a lot of people. I also like to combine my language learning with other hobbies to give me more motivation to speak it on a daily basis. However what has worked really well for me is having short-term projects that involve the language. To give you an example, let me tell you my motivation for wanting to learn Czech and why I needed to expand on this.
My motivations for learning Czech
My initial reasons were actually really bad; I woke up one day (actually about 4 weeks ago) and decided to spend the summer in Prague. They speak Czech in Prague and I like learning languages so I may as well learn that! I don’t need to learn it for work, for academic reasons, for love, etc. and if I don’t learn it after my planned 3 months here, will anyone (myself included) really care? This is definitely not the kind of attitude you want when starting a language.
So, in the same morning and in the same spontaneous decision-making stream, I decided to make this website! I have a lot of language learning tips I want to share anyway, but in having the side-story of seeing if I reach this goal of “fluent in 3 months” by applying these tips and learning some more along the way, and trying to get as many people as I can to follow my story, I now have some pressure to achieve my goal. My site already has 130 subscribers (and counting) in just a few of weeks, so that is at least 130 people I have promised to reach this goal. I have also not been shy about telling every Czech (and non-Czech) person that I’ve chatted with in Prague about this “experiment” of mine. Imagine how embarrassed I’d be if come mid-September I can still barely string sentences together! That’s a lot of finger pointing and laughing! “How arrogant! I told you he couldn’t do it!” Although I’m not really that pushed about impressing people, on the other hand I consider myself a man of my word and try my damnedest to fulfil promises I make, including this one. So this self-invented pressure is going to be a huge motivation for me!
As well as that, around September I plan to make a short video entirely in Czech (as well as in English, Spanish etc.) about how to learn Czech and may remake some of my previous videos as well as possibly future ones in Czech too. I plan on making a lot of Czech friends this summer and writing to them online through instant messaging, texting them and keeping in touch with them when my travels continue, and I will be writing them just in Czech. When I learned Spanish and French a very good motivator was signing up for (and passing!!) CEFR examinations (no courses required, just a small exam fee and show up on the exam day to give it your best; if you pass, then it’s excellent for your CV as proof of language abilities and required in order to be able to study in some universities of the country speaking the language), i.e. DALF or DELF in French and DELE in Spanish. I haven’t decided if I’ll do something similar in Czech yet.
Around August I plan to start travelling a bit around the Czech Republic, and in being outside of my safe bubble of touristy Prague in the company of a lot of people who speak English, I will definitely need to communicate much more in Czech. I will be going to Liberec (north of the country) first in late July, but that’s actually to speak Esperanto for a week. Even so, travelling there and talking to people outside of the event will require me to be able to communicate in Czech. At that stage I want to be able to casually converse at least at a basic level and not be simply ordering food or asking for directions etc.
Learning Czech can also be very beneficial for further language studies! As well as being able to speak with Czechs themselves (and Slovaks thanks to mutual intelligibility with Slovak), it would be my stepping stone into learning other Slavic languages (Russian, Polish, Croatian etc.), all of which would have at least some similar words and grammar (more in some compared to others), it just means that the workload would be greatly reduced if I speak Czech well when the time comes to learn one of these languages. After learning Spanish, all other Latin based languages were a lot easier than they would have been if I had started them from scratch. This polyglot feature of learning languages is obviously not so important to most people, but you can probably tell by now that I enjoy learning languages! So for my longer term projects, speaking Czech well is quite important.
I will also be looking for even more reasons (Giving a speech to hundreds of people in Czech? Appearing on Czech TV? We’ll see!) to make sure that I am truly motivated. If you are learning a language just for your work, academic studies or even “just” because you live in the country, you should find (and invent) as many reasons as you can to make sure you really are motivated! Now, just in case that isn’t enough, you can also create very practical short-term goals for yourself… more on that very soon!
Do you have any thoughts on expanding on your motivations when learning a language? Agree or disagree with anything that I said here? Have any more suggestions for me for why I should be motivated to learn Czech other than what I have discussed here? Please do share in the comments!
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If you enjoyed this post, you will love my TEDx talk! You can get much better details of how I recommend learning a language if you watch it here.
This article was written by Benny Lewis
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