In 2019 we were travelling by train from Winona to Chicago (an 8-hour train ride!!) and in the train restaurant we met an elderly American couple.
They asked us how many languages we spoke, I said six, Primo said five. They seemed a bit shocked, but tried to hide it and said “you see, people in America just expect everyone to speak English, even when they travel, so they don’t feel the need to learn another language”. It struck me – why does everyone associate language learning with a necessity, something that you “need”?
I think this is where modern society is fundamentally wrong.
Sometimes I get asked “why Korean and not Chinese? Chinese is much more useful! Why don’t you learn German? Germany is a rich country, you should learn it!” This is where we’re wired differently. Typical person thinks of a foreign language mostly as of a skill needed to achieve something, to get a better job, to move to a better country, etc etc. It’s just one of the skills in CV, like knowledge of HTML or business certificate.
The exactly same people go snowboarding, dancing, fishing, hiking, they go to movies, they travel, they learn a musical instrument, take photography or cooking courses, they learn how to ice skate or to horse ride… Why? Because it’s fun! They don’t think how it will look on their CV, they go for it because they want this skill and they learn it. This is how I feel about languages. It’s not something that I have to do, it’s something that I want to do. Because it’s fun and in reality is actually very addictive. The first steps are usually slow, everything is confusing and I feel stupid most of the time. But gradually more and more words stay in long term memory and I’m starting to be able to piece small sentences together. And from there it is a constant rise to the top. First real conversation. First phone call. First chat with a friend with whom I only used English in the past. And each of these firsts gives me a sense of indescribable high, serotonin rush, sense of achievement, I don’t know what it is, but it makes me feel amazing.
Every time I speak Korean I feel so happy just because I remember the hardships that I had to endure to get to where I’m now. Even when I say simple words like directing a taxi driver or ordering food in a restaurant, it still fills me with joy. And don’t get me even started on the friendships I’ve made only thanks to my ability to speak languages beside English. If I spoke only English and Russian, I would never be able to experience even nearly as many things as I’ve experienced…
So the whole difference is in the mindset. Learning a language is not a job. Neither it is a boring school subject. It’s not a skill that you need only for your job. It’s actually something really fun that can make your life richer. Look around you. The society around us, the teachers and parents, all of traditional language learning is so outdated and old school. The modern world needs to change the way we think and teach the languages to children, switch them from passive to active learning, and base it around the fact that you need to feel inspired while learning, inspired by the cool stuff, and not discouraged by useless boring grammar drills. I haven’t done any grammar drills for over 10 years and I still managed to learn 4 languages to a decent level. Why? Because I liked it and I became addicted to it, not because I HAD TO do it 😉