Language · Personal

Why I learn languages

A challenge

My journey in self studying languages started about 8 years ago.
At the time I was doing a preparation course in order to gain access to college in my home country, Denmark. It wasn’t really a high school education, but more of a course designed for adults needing to catch up with qualifications in order to be able to study further.
The course consisted of a wide range of topics from history to social sciences, math and natural sciences. The only foreign language studied was English.
Having spent the last three or four years as a cabinetmaker’s apprentice, bookish education, indeed, was different. To my surprise, I was really good at studying, and had a lot of success with all of the subjects. English was no exception, and after having finished the highest level offered with great results, I was positively surprised with myself, and maybe even a little too self-satisfied. Along with most other subjects, English, as well as anglophone literature and history excited me, and reaching the end of my studies, I decided that I would continue to self study on my own. Although most of my subjects were really interesting, I decided that starting over and learning a new language from scratch would be a great challenge and a fitting way of continuing the academic pursuit that I had enjoyed so much in school.

Learning French through self-study

My choice spontaneously fell on French.
It’s ironic to think that it only took a day or two to decide taking up French.
I was going to dedicate hundreds of hours over a period of over four years to be a fluent French speaker, but it’s been one of the best decisions in my life!

Working on learning French alongside with my new more-than-full-time occupation as as student at the architecture school, was hard work!
I took a lot of trial and error even to find a good method as a beginning language learner. How was I to learn vocabulary, grammar, listening comprehension and so on? Just pick up a grammar book and read?

How I actually went about learning French, will be the subject of another post. I did, however, find a method that worked, and I was well on my way to fluency.

French, and how it changed my life

As I progressed with my language studies, spending many a morning with my nose buried in French books, my studies at the architecture school continued. I became aware of the possibility of going abroad for a semester at a foreign university as an exchange student.
I immediately started making plans!

I signed up for a semester at an architecture school in Paris – now I had a clear goal, as well as a deadline! As my stay in Paris approached, I upped my efforts, and once I arrived, I realized that I now was francophone! At first, it was quite difficult, and it wasn’t easy to socialize and go about everyday stuff in French (let alone read and write reports!) but I did it all! It was an amazing feeling to finally realize that I now speak and understand that language that had appeared only gibberish a couple of years back.

I started making friends with people who spoke French. It’s amazing how the knowledge of a language can open up doors and make the world bigger. Before, these people would be impossible for me to reach out to, simply for lacking a way to communicate. The French language suddenly added another dimension to the world. A new set of possibilities presented themselves in form of books, media, people, points of views, humor, ways of expressing oneself. I was truly amazed to witness this effect.

Today, I can easily say that French changed my live. I live in a French-speaking marriage now, and it’s quite difficult for me to imagine what my life would have been like, had I not spontaneously decided to take up a foreign language.

Self-studying Arabic – now that I knew it could be done

The feeling of success after having reached my goal with French was indescribable. Language learning takes enormous amounts of patience and the results may not be visible before years of studies. It’s as far as as possible from the idea of instant gratification, which is also part of the reason that it feels so great once all your hard work finally cashes in results.
When I was in Paris, living, studying and making friends through the French language, I made another spontaneous decision. I was going to learn Arabic – I knew now that it was possible!

I went straight out to a “Fnac” bookstore in the Parisian shopping center “Les Halles” and picked up a volume of Assimil’s L’Arabe sans peine. What a crazy feeling it was to open up the book and look at that beautiful, yet indecipherable script! What appeared to be one word was a whole sentence. The grammar was immensely different from what I knew from other languages, and the letters had strange and difficult pronunciations.

I quickly confirmed that learning Arabic would be an even bigger challenge that French had been. I was thrilled, and I was in for the long run! I realized, though, that I couldn’t just go about learning Arabic the same way as I had previously done with French. The language demanded something else, and I spent some substantial time experimenting with different methods. I will write about the specifics of how I have been studying Arabic in another post. (How to learn Arabic)
Now, my mornings were occupied with Arabic. I continued to get up early and study every morning, trying to figure out the alphabet, the pronunciation, and most difficult of all: remembering words!
At some point I had to work as an intern in an architecture firm 90 minutes from my home. The long train ride was a great excuse to squeeze in some study time, and I studied for hundreds of hours!

Several years into my Arabic studies, I still don’t speak the language! I do, however, start to notice that things are changing. I’m at a turning point where my vocabulary is growing significantly and I’m understanding texts better and better. The presence in Denmark of many Syrian refugees have also granted me many speaking opportunities (read my experiences with language exchange with refugees), and I am starting to feel like there’s light somewhere in the end of the tunnel. I can’t wait for that feeling that I once experienced from learning French. It is safe to say, that Arabic now too is an important part of my life. Especially due to the fact that I have become a Muslim. This is just another case of language learning changing my life. I wonder where the future will take me!

You might have noticed, that in learning French and Arabic I have set upon my language learning missions passionately and without much of a rationale. The reasons have come by themselves later on though! While learning Arabic, I discovered Islam as well as the vast history of Arabic literature and the possibility for making Syrian and Iraqi friends. With French, an opportunity to become and exchange student presented itself, and later on I found myself living a married life is French!

Why learn a new language? The “why” comes later

I hope that this can be an encouragement for everyone to take up language learning as a hobby. It’s a great investment of your time, if you have enough patience to wait for the results. Learning a language also has a great probability of changing your life, like it has done multiple times for me. It reveals new dimensions and facets of the world that you never knew about, and it will make you more curious, humble and who knows.. you might find your future spouse!

All it takes is to start to rise early!

5 thoughts on “Why I learn languages

    1. I couldn’t agree more. The key is to somehow make the language part of your life. Make friends in the language, get addicted to a foreign tv series or start reading the paper every day in another language. For me, English is my internet language, I speak French with my wife and Danish is my native language, so these three are hard to forget! As to Arabic, I spend a lot of time reading literature through it, and I’ve made friends that don’t speak my other languages well, but it’s still work in progress !

      1. Other than Spanish, there is little use for multiple languages in the US which makes me sad. Being born in Germany I used to be fluent but not many people speak it in the US outside of school. 🙁

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