Ah, oui, the mysterious, musical magic of a foreign language.
If you’ve ever studied another language, you know how romantic an experience it can be. It’s new, it’s fun, and it helps satiate the curiosity we have for this world and all the different types of people in it.
I remember filling notebooks upon notebooks with French and Spanish vocabulary when I was a kid, always finding myself enamored with studying a new language. Whether it was French, Spanish, or that one time I tried Vietnamese for a few weeks so I could talk to my best friend’s grandma–I was always enchanted by learning a language that was not my own.
What a fun time it is. Until you realized you just asked the cute French waiter at the local café if you could have some condoms with your toast–on the side, please. You realize that 1) merde! Jam is preservatives, pas preservatifs! 2) you can’t come to this café anymore, and 3) all this French stuff is harder than you thought.
Yes, being excited about a new language is a beautiful thing. But once you realize how annoying it is to learn its noun genders, how difficult it is to learn all its subtle peculiarities, and how impossible it can be to make time for it every single day–that shit wears off fast.
The hard truth: learning a language is a daily grind. It has its ups and downs–sometimes you’re overcome by intellectual ecstasy and want to do nothing but study that language for the rest of your life, and sometimes you’ll wonder why the putain you even bother. You keep going like this, you’re going to get burnt out.
It’s hard stuff, and that’s totally fine. It’s rewarding–and trust me, it’s all worth it. But what do you do when you want to give up? How do you fire up your language learning passion again?
You take a break. And you go back to square one: you love your own language first.
Why Showing Some Love For the Ole Mother Tongue Helps
Say what, now? Kind of sounds like the opposite of what we want to do–rekindle our passion for a second language, not the one we already know. But hear me out. Feeling gratitude for your native tongue serves your language learning journey in 2 ways.
First, it gives you that much needed break from your language studies. It takes your mind off tricky conjugations, difficult pronunciations, and your vocabulary gaps. We don’t think twice about that stuff in English, God bless it.
Second, it reminds you of why language is such a special part of life on earth. It reminds you that all of a culture’s beliefs, traditions, attitudes, and behaviors can be represented and shaped by its language, intermingling with its people and its history in a way uniquely its own.
When you realize that there are things best said in English–things that are best described, felt, and understood in English–you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever been unable to convey quite what you mean in another language, or you’ve come to realize that there isn’t even a word for word translation for what you’d like to say, you’ve felt this phenomenon in action. When you find these phrases–these feelings, these subtleties–that are best written and communicated in English, savor them. Through them you’ll learn to appreciate your own language and how it always knows how to serve you in the exact way you want it to.
This realization alone has the power to make you curious again. While you’ll realize that some things are best said in English, you’ll begin to wonder what those quirks are for your second language, too. What Spanish subtleties haven’t you learned about yet? What uniquely French ideas have you yet to uncover?
The way a language interacts and evolves with the people who speak it is a sacred thing. When you remember that this is true not only for your language but for every language, you’re able to reignite the passion you’ve recently lost while studying a second language. Show some love for your own language first, and you might end up surprised at how easily you rediscover your spark for learning another.
How to Spark a Love Affair with Your Own Language
We’re talking about actively showing some love for your own language, here–not just a half-hearted “I guess I like English.” All it takes is a few extra moments of awareness and silent gratitude.
- Watch some TV. Homework ain’t so bad when it involves Netflix. While you watch, notice the use of slang. Notice how quickly the actors are speaking. Notice how their carefully-chosen words seem to convey exactly what they mean, and take a moment to appreciate the fact that you’re catching every single bit of it. Ah, isn’t that nice? No subtitles, no problem–you know exactly what’s going on.
- Read the greats. Great works of literature from great English-speaking authors, that is. If Hemingway, Austen, and Poe can’t teach you to love your own language, no one can.
- Seek laughter. What makes you laugh? I’ll bet a huge portion of your sense of humor is based on the colorful way people use language. Watch some SNL or stand-up comedy and say a silent prayer of thanks for all the jokes made possible by a deeper understanding of the English language.
- Be mindful of how you communicate. It’s simple. When you send a text, use slang, or make a joke in your native tongue, stop for a moment to appreciate how comfortable you are with your own language. Recognize that you’ll never be more intimate with another language than you are with your own–and if that’s not the most romantic thing you’ve ever heard then get out my face.
Make it a regular part of your language studies to return to your roots and grow your love for your mother tongue. Take a step back and set a date to return to your foreign language studies–you’ll feel refreshed and ready to begin again.
It’s counterintuitive, but when you stop and think about all the ways English helps you communicate exactly what you’re thinking, it’s hard not to feel lucky that it’s the language you get to call your own. Love your own language first and before you know it, you’ll find yourself ready to love another, too.