Monday, December 3, 2012


This morning I was reflecting on learning languages.  I've lived in Europe for over 6 years now, and in that time I have spent about 30 months in full time language study and achieved fluidity in two languages that I did not previously know.  Now anyone who has learned another language knows that I am not done learning.  I'm not even done learning English.  Just a few weeks ago I learned an English word I had never heard before.  (Skeuomorphic)  Naturally there are many thousands more Bulgarian and Polish words that I have yet to learn.

I am of the opinion that if you are going to live in another country for any extended period of time, learning the local language is important.  Naturally it is important for communication, but if you know English well you can probably survive in most European countries on that alone.  The real importance is in quality of life.

Now, I'm married to a Bulgarian.  I have family members that speak little to no English.  On top of that, my two best friends are Polish and Texan, so getting good at other languages has to be a priority for a guy like me.  For the rest of you though, if you are living outside of your native language and don't learn the language of your neighbors you will miss out on so many of life's joys.  Cultural events, local TV shows, sitting down for a meal or drinks with your neighbors, none of these can be appreciated without knowing the language well.

Without knowing the language, every conversation is like a conversation with this guy.

When I finished my full time study of Polish several years ago, I was invited over to my teachers house for a meal.  I sat and talked with him, and his family for a couple hours entirely in Polish (even though several of them spoke great English).  I remember thinking how nice it was to have gotten to a point where talking in Polish was an enjoyment just like it was in English.  When we moved to Bulgaria, I worked hard to get to that level quickly because I knew what I was missing.  Living without the language is living a half life.

Different people have different levels of ability when it comes to learning a language.  If you are on the lower end of that scale and are frustrated, you may think that you cannot cut it because you lack talent.  Don't give up.  I'm sure most of us know someone who was not very athletic who decided one day to run a marathon and did.  It took them months if not years of training to get to where they needed to be, but they did it regardless of talent.  Motivation is key, and the reward is worth it.

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