Recently, I became an expat in Belgium, where I don’t speak the official languages (Dutch, French and German).
Since my arrival, I’ve realized how much quicker I could have established myself in my new community if I had learned the local language beforehand. I’m lucky my mother tongue is English, which is widely spoken in Europe, but knowing the local language is vital for job hunting and making friends. Learning a language takes commitment, motivation and enthusiasm, which can be difficult to keep up all the time especially settling into a new country.
Getting Started on Learning a Second Language
It’s a big learning curve once you start – but don’t get discouraged and quit!
You must keep in mind that becoming fluent in a language does not happen overnight or even in one year. There will be times when you will feel isolated and frustrated. Be patient and eventually you will experience the “click”, the moment when a language begins to make sense to you.
Once, while living in Finland, I had an enlightening and memorable conversation with a Somali bicycle repairman about learning Finnish.
He had immigrated to Finland 20 years ago to attend university and managed to achieve a functional level of Finnish in five months. He advised me, “Humans instinctively have an emotional and intellectual need to communicate with each other. This need is so strong that one’s intellect, drive, and emotions will work together to learn a new language as quick as possible.”
The Benefits of Knowing Another Language
The process may be a lot of work but the results are worth it! Here is a list of a dozen benefits that I have noticed:
1) A second language increases your personal and professional opportunities.
2) It’s always good to know how to ask someone over for tea, or, to know how to tell someone when they’ve crossed the line.
3) New friends will appreciate your consideration and efforts to connect with them in their language.
4) You’ll gain more confidence from your new skill and the hard work it took to get there.
5) You’ll discover your own learning patterns and use the methods that work best in other areas of your life.
6) Learning a new language expands your thought process and increases open-mindedness.
7) Your new language will impress friends and family and it’s fun to teach them the interesting words and phrases.
8) Making those first few sentences with strangers can be tough. Use this opportunity to see how you react under pressure and then train yourself to think clearly and stay calm.
9) You will learn to be kind and patient with yourself. Accept you will make mistakes and move on.
10) Learning a new language is an intellectual and emotional journey that will give keen insights into your own personality.
11) Discover new ideas and concepts in your new culture via literature, music, film and television that were previously not accessible.
12) Explore a different side of your personality. This is a perfect opportunity to be more direct and straight-forward with your peers.
Anyone, of any age, can learn a second language if they are motivated and feel passion for the culture. So don’t let others tell you that once you get older its becomes a very difficult task. If one of your personal goals is to learn another language, just go for it.
The moment you have a casual conversation with a native speaker and they understand you, it will be one of the most gratifying experiences of your life.