“Why on earth do you waste your time learning so many languages when the entire world speaks English?”
Me: “Ughh, here it goes again…”
I get asked this question over and over again by people who are still not convinced about why I learn languages such as Greek or Norwegian, or better yet, why I spend my time on learning languages at all. So why don’t I just stick to English and forget about other languages?
Hmm.. you might be right about that after all.
But what if I tell you that my life has completely changed since I first dived into the great realm of languages?
Let me outline the three the most rewarding things that languages have brought to my life:
Languages have boosted my self-confidence. I used to be very shy at school, and had a pretty hard time engaging in the most basic conversations with the students in my class. I was constantly underestimating myself by feeding my brain with thoughts like “I can’t do anything, I’m useless”, “people at school don’t like me because I’m not as cool as they are”.
But then I started learning my very first language at the age of 16 (German), Then I got fluent in it (nearly 2 years later) and started speaking it regularly with people. And then everything changed.
What seemed to me impossible was now in the palm of my hand. That burning desire to speak German finally became part of my reality, and of who I am.
Working towards my goal and achieving it made me believe that I can actually do great things. I realised I’m not this reserved and unaccomplished person I thought I was. For the most part, it has made me believe in myself, and in what I could be doing in life.
At that time, I noticed a huge shift in my attitude; I became more outgoing, I started having more friends, I engaged in conversations with more ease… Even my mindset started having more positive thoughts such as “If I can do this, then I can do that”, “Nothing is impossible if I put enough time, energy, and passion into it”.
That was the first turning point in my life.
My knowledge of languages was growing deeper and deeper with each one that I learned. The more I delved into a language, the more bewildered I became by its vastness and complexity. The more languages I dealt with, the more I began to acknowledge the immense linguistic and cultural diversity that our world has to offer.
Being part of this overwhelming diversity taught me that each and every one of us is different in a way or another. There is no right or wrong way to look at something. There is no right way to think about something It is just about us being different and having different perspectives on things. Therefore, I couldn’t help but feel humbled by all this greatness.
Apart from that, the entire process of learning a language requires you to stay humble. You need to tolerate negative feedback from natives about the mistakes you’ve made, and also learn from these mistakes, so you end up speaking fluently with time.
3. Amazing travel experiences
Well, I could’ve travelled everywhere just speaking English, and interacting with people as a tourist, right??
But the entire experience is different when you speak the local language. Not only will you get around much easier in the place you’re visiting, but you’ll also have a very enjoyable stay, meeting local people, speaking their language (you don’t have to be fluent by the way), and making a good impression on them.
I remember for instance when I was staying at a hostel in Oslo back in July 2016. I was comfortably lying on a couch in the lobby when a guy, who was sitting on an armchair facing me, started babbling something in Romanian about his phone not working properly. He seemed furious about it, so I decided to get up and see if I could help.
I stood right in front of him, and asked him very hesitantly in Romanian:
“Care este problema, domnule?”
(What is the problem, sir?)
He then looked at me surprised about my Romanian, and responded:
“Nu stiu cum sa activez noul meu SIM card! Toate instructunile sunt scrise in limba engleza. Nu inteleg nimic!”
(I don’t know how to activate my new SIM card! All the instructions are written in English. I don’t get a thing!)
So I suggested:
“Lasa-ma sa-ti vad telefonul tau. Cred ca te pot ajuta cu asta”
(Let me have a look at your phone. I think I can help you with that)
He then handed me his phone, I followed the instructions in English written on a manual he had, and ended up activating his new SIM card.
“Oh, iti multumesc foarte mult, frate!”, he said
(Oh, I thank you a lot, brother)
After that, we carried on talking for two hours, about Oslo, his job, and his life, all while in my very rusty Romanian. But who cared? We communicated on a different level, and that was very exciting and enriching for me. He even pulled out of his bag a bottle of “Tuica”,a well-known Romanian brandy, and poured me two glasses of it.
Andrei was so happy because he’d finally found someone he could talk to without any language barriers. I made him feel comfortable, secure, and above all, I made him smile. He didn’t feel like a stranger any more. This is one of the many examples of how people open up to you and approach you differently when you speak their language. To their eyes, not only do you become a friend of theirs, but you come a step closer to their hearts.
Patrick Khoury is a polyglot from Beirut, Lebanon who speaks 12 different languages. His video on YouTube now has more than 1 million views.
Check out his YouTube Channel!