How to Choose Which Language to Learn
Hi there, Steve Kaufmann. Today I want to talk about how to choose a language to learn. Now, if you enjoy these videos, please subscribe, click on the bell for notifications. If you follow this on podcasts, Apple Podcasts, or Spotify or elsewhere, um, please leave a review. It's always appreciated. Know how to choose the language to learn. Well, first of all, you know, this is to me, a very interesting subject because most people who are learning a language didn't really choose that language. I start with the situation in Canada where it's, because Canada has two official languages. If you are in the French language system, you're going to learn English.
And if you're in the English language, school system, you're going to learn French. Uh, how motivated are the kids to learn? Did they choose those languages? I think that in reality, probably the kids in the French school system are more motivated to learn English than vice versa, because English is so much more important than the North American context than French. Kids in the French, in the English language, school system are not tremendously motivated to learn French, which is a big reason why they don't do very well.
If you live in the United States, probably Spanish is the language that you're most often asked to learn. So the first thing I would say is that if the language learner has the opportunity to choose the language to learn, there's a greater likelihood that they will do well. So that's number one. So I have always said, or have often said that it's unfortunate that let's say in Canada, kids are told to learn French, that it's their obligation to learn French somehow, because it's an official language.
If they had the choice to learn whatever language they wanted and if they were then able to learn that language, they will subsequently always be able to learn French because once you have learned one language, you have the confidence, you know how to do it and your brain is a little more flexible.
You're going to find it easier to learn another language by and large. So I think in our schools, we would be better to give the kids a choice. Now it used to be that, you know, if a school doesn't have, like, you can't give the kids the choice of any of 10 languages, because then we would need to have teachers of each of those 10 languages and the schools can't afford to carry teachers of all these different languages. That's no longer a factor because nowadays there are so many language learning resources available on the web, including teachers online, including, uh, audio books and movies. And, uh, you name it, LingQ of course, that if the schools had the teachers who were knowledgeable about how to learn languages, uh, via the internet, that's all they would need. They wouldn't need to have specific teachers for each language. They can even find those teachers online. So it would be great if in schools, people were given the choice.
Now, assuming we have the choice, which language should we learn now? The next, so my whole thing about language learning is get rid of the obligations. So the first sort of obligation is the school system says you shall learn English or French or Spanish or whatever the case might be and give people choice, give the kids choice.
Second of all, very often, uh, parents of immigrants are very keen that their children should learn the call it ancestral language, sometimes called the heritage language. I'm also against that. If that works, if the parents speak with the kids around the house in that language and the kids pick it up, that's great.
Or if our grandparents live together with the kids and they speak the language and they pick it up, that's great. But if that's not the situation, uh, I'm not tremendously in favor of sending the kids to Chinese school or Russian school or, you know, Persian school, uh, to learn that ancestral language, unless the kids are interested.
Uh, it may be that the kid whose, whose family was Chinese speaking might be more interested in Spanish or some other language. And so always, I favor the idea of letting people choose the language that they are most interested in. So then how do you choose which language to learn? People are going to be more successful if they're motivated.
So, you know, if you feel a tremendous interest in the culture of a particular country, If you have relatives because you come from a certain country and you want to communicate with those relatives, uh, if, uh, you saw a movie, if you're interested in anime, in other words, wherever you have a motivation, uh, that's the language you should learn.
Uh, even if it theoretically is hard, uh, it doesn't matter. You should go for the language you're most motivated to learn because that motivation will carry you through the difficulties. Uh, and as I said, in other videos, you know, the initial period is you're learning few, you know, new words. You're able to understand some things, but the path to sort of genuine, comfortable communication in the language, you know, is a long one.
And therefore you need to have this, this motivation to sustain you. So I would very much favor learning a language you're very interested in over one that you think might be more useful because once you've learned one language, it's easier to learn another language. So go for the one that you're likely to succeed in, and you're more likely to succeed in the language that you're very motivated to learn.
Okay. Um, other considerations, obviously, if you know related languages, if you know a related language, if you know Spanish, you might want to go for... spanish or French or Portuguese or Italian, because obviously if you have success again, that's going to encourage you to continue or at the very least to stay with it.
So I have tended to want to do that. I learned Russian. Then I went from, uh, Czech and then Ukrainian and then Polish. And because I knew Spanish, I wanted to learn Portuguese and Italian, the so-called low hanging fruit. So, uh, obviously we, we like to push where there's the least resistance. One consideration is your degree of motivation, obviously.
And I think that's the that's paramount, but another consideration is how easy is it going to be for you to learn that language? Now, if you are not interested in the language, even if theoretically it's easier, you're going to have a tough time learning it. Because I repeat in my experience, motivation is the biggest consideration, uh, in choosing a language, um, Obviously the things that make it easier could also include the writing system.
You really have to commit to learn a language where the writing system is different. Uh, it's a lot tougher because reading is such a big part of language learning. And when we're dealing with a different writing system, even if we learn what the characters represent and so forth, it's always harder for the brain to, to read in a different script.
At least that's been my approach. Uh, because if I spent 75 years, not 75, but if I spent most of my life reading in the Latin alphabet, my brain is very used to the Latin alphabet. No, no matter how well I can read in Chinese or Korean or Japanese or Russian, I will never feel as comfortable in those alphabets as I do in my own alphabet.
And the same is true in reverse. If you are a Japanese reader, speaker, or a Persian speaker or Chinese or Russian, then you're always going to be more comfortable I think in the language, in the writing system that you've spent most of your life reading. So motivation is number one, but then how difficult is it going to be?
And so there is this tendency to want to go for something that's, you know, um, easier. Now I should, one final thing, and, and this is probably what ends up being the main reason why people learn a given language, you know, in the real world is because it's useful. So, you know, English tends to be the language that's, uh, studied the most around the world because it's been perceived to be the most useful.
Uh, now there are people who say Chinese is going to be useful because it's such a huge country with a, you know, huge economy. Uh, so that's, uh, you know, if you consider that to be useful, but if you are a, if you want to work in Germany or you want to work in Japan, or you want to work in Brazil, then there are reasons why in those scenarios, those languages or in other similar situations, wouldn't be the most useful.
So usefulness obviously is a big factor. Uh, but if, if you find that, that if you are convinced that that language is going to be useful, but you're not genuinely motivated to learn it because you don't like it, you may find it difficult. So in an ideal scenario, you can combine the useful. Things that motivate you.
If you can combine the usefulness and, and, and pleasure, you have the best of both worlds. And particularly if the language is, you know, if you're an English speaking person learning French or Spanish, it's written in the same alphabet. A lot of the vocabulary is in common. Actually, if you are combining pleasure with use utility and it's not too difficult, you should have an easy time of it.
Right now I'm learning Persian and Arabic. I've learned Chinese. I've learned Russian. I've learned, uh, Japanese. So if you are motivated enough, you will overcome all the other obstacles. So I hope that's helpful in how to choose the language to study, to learn. Thanks for listening.