We have a fair share of articles that discuss language learning on our blog. We’ve told you what to do if you’re stuck at the intermediate plateau and discussed whether accent reduction is necessary. However, all of those tips only come in handy if you’ve already started learning a language. Here, we’ll take a different approach and ask if it’s really necessary for you to learn a new language at all. If you haven’t made up your mind as to whether or not to learn a language, this article is for you.
Let’s take a look at five reasons why you probably should not take up a foreign language and remain monolingual.
Reason #1: You don’t need it
Let’s face it: if you needed to speak a foreign language, you would probably not be reading this article. There’s a fair share of people who claim to “need” another language but, in fact, they don’t. The most common reasons for hiring a tutor or attending special courses are:
- Work: some materials might only be available in a foreign language and/or have very little to no chances of being translated. Some students say they were only hired after promising that they would learn a foreign language later on. However, if knowing a language other than your own was actually crucial for that position, a monolingual would probably not have landed it in the first place / would be fired shortly after arriving.
- Travel: many of my students believe knowing English is key to having a more comfortable travel experience. I tell them that this is the case if they travel to English-speaking countries. If you travel to other places, chances are you’ll be stuck in a situation where only a local language is useful. For example, for those who frequent Mexico, Spanish gets you further than English. If you travel regularly to more than one destination, Google Translate is the way to go, as learning 4-5 languages at once is hardly an option.
- Content: watching foreign shows and movies and reading foreign books is always a lot more exciting when done in the original — that’s a fact I won’t deny. However, reaching a level where content can be consumed (and understood) comfortably takes so much time that taking up a new language only for that reason is rash, to say the least. If what you really want to do is consume content, you’ll probably find more satisfaction by spending thousands of hours consuming content (in your native language) instead of learning a language.
Another reason you should think twice before taking up a new language is your own life goals. If you live in your native country, don’t travel much, and don’t plan to change that anytime soon, a foreign language is nothing but an impractical hobby.
Reason #2: It’s not a priority
And that’s okay. Everybody has different lives, and taking up a new hobby (or anything new, at that) is hard. We try not to make assumptions, but language learning takes very much time and effort, and many people don’t want (or need) to bother. Having a class once a week with no homework is not productive — but spending hours on homework is cumbersome, and doing that after work is hardly something anybody wants. If you are not ready to turn your language into a long-term commitment, you should probably think twice.
Let’s not forget that learning a language is very difficult. Standard rules of logic sometimes cannot be applied to it, and the only way to learn certain parts of a language is to drill them until you know them. The same can be said for learning words which have to go from being a weird combination of unfamiliar sounds and then, as if by magic, become… Well, a (meaningful) word.
Basically, If you’re not ready to drill and spend time doing monotonous tasks, think twice before learning a language.
Reason #3: You don’t really like the language
A fair share of people learn a language not because they are fascinated with the culture of those who speak it but because there are other circumstances pushing them to do so: the widespread use of that language, for example, or that it’s necessary for their work. Many people, had they been given a choice, would drop learning altogether. It’s difficult and boring, and, nevermind all the “objective” reasons it may be useful, people would rather spend their time doing something else.
Not everyone is supposed to like everything — even objectively useful and/or widely beloved things may not be appealing to certain people. That lack of interest leads to a reduction in efforts made, whether consciously or not. And making less effort means requiring even more time, which extends an already long process even more. This never ending grind, in turn, leads to even more disdain. In short, the whole thing is a vicious circle. Do you really need that?
Reason #4: It can be expensive
Learning is tough, so you will most likely need some help. Hiring a tutor or attending courses can be quite costly. Furthermore, textbooks and other materials are a must — and trust me, you don’t want to know how much a single book can cost (spoiler: it’s a lot). Some people even have to drop learning altogether because they can’t afford a good tutor or up-to-date learning materials. Given how much time learning a language can take, it’s a financial investment that can become quite hefty.
Speaking from my personal experience, I learned English as a kid. One of the reasons I could do so was because it was completely free for me: my mom and grandma were English teachers. They had the necessary competence and materials to teach me. Not just that, they occupied a position of authority over me, so lessons could last as long as they felt necessary. Pre-teenage me spent long hours doing exercises and learning words, because otherwise I would have been punished. If my family had to pay for all that learning time, it would probably have cost them an arm and a leg. Had my English classes been reduced to a few hours a week with limited homework, however, I would probably never have learned it at all.
Reason #5: It won't change you
Please know that learning a language won’t change you. You’ll remain exactly the same person as you were before starting — you'll just happen to know another language. If you think you’re going to land a better job just because you know a foreign language, I'm going to have to disappoint you: If you don't have a marketable skill in your native language, learning another one means that you'll simply end up not having a marketable skill in two.
Finding new friends likely won't get any simpler, either. Learning another language is just that — knowing another language. It means being able to express your thoughts and feelings in another language, but those underlying thoughts and feelings you're communicating will remain just the same as before. They won't sound deeper or more interesting in another language. You won't suddenly gain social skills, and being bilingual isn't a personality trait. (On the contrary, if you run around talking about how you speak all these other languages, people will likely find it annoying.)
Learning a language is just one thing you could do that might come in handy in the long-term. Having said that, there are many things you could do instead, and most of them are more likely to land you a job than this potentially useless, expensive, and very exhausting activity that is langugae learning. So why not instead focus on something that truly excites you? Or — If you're struggling with health, worried about your social life, or looking for a better job, why not try addressing the sources of those problems more directly?
Having said that
The key is simply remembering that learning another language gives you opportunities, not guarantees. You must follow up on those opportunities. Furthermore, you could make and chase opportunities even without learning a language. If you find that these above reasons aren’t relevant to your situation, or that you feel strongly about learning a language in spite of them, then learning a new language is worth it. Not everyone needs to learn one, but if you can stick the process out, it can a be life changing experience. It has been for me, at least.
As for now, that’s it for today, folks. Have a nice day, see you later, and bye!
Want more tough-love advice?
- Thinking About Moving Abroad? Read this first.
- Overcoming the Intermediate Plateau: Keep Calm and Carry On
- What It Takes to Master a Language
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