What can a language get you?


  1. The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.
  2. A system of communication used by a particular country or community.

It is estimated that there are 6,500 languages spoken across the world, the most common being Mandarin Chinese which is spoken by 1,213,000,000 people. For many of us learning Chinese seems like an impossible task, falling into a different language family there are next to no similarities between English and Chinese. You can’t simply put a Chinese accent on an English word and hope to get away with it as many of us do whilst travelling. But it’s not just different language families that stop us from learning languages, but moreover an inherent laziness in native English speakers to learn a second language.

Is the English languages increasing popularity enough of a reason to limit ourselves to one means of communication?

A friend whose second language in English recently argued that as native English speakers we have no need to learn or indeed speak a second (or third language) everyone speaks English. Meanwhile, in order for him to be able to travel and work in other countries, his mother tongue did not equip him with a skill set to do this, in order to achieve his dreams of living aboard he needed another language. For many people the language they choose to learn as that vehicle of communication is English. As we see it, speaking another language is an amazing ability and skill. At CBTHBN we want to experience life in full colour and to do this we don’t think we should limit ourselves to speaking English.

One reason to learn them is because they are tickets to being able to participate in the culture of the people who speak them – John McWhorter

Granted learning a language can be troublesome from different alphabets to retaining the grammar formations that are often different to how you would usually form a sentence for example:

“I didn’t send it to him.”
Je ne le lui ai pas envoyé.
I not it to-him have not sent.

You can see how it’s easy to fall at the first hurdles, yet the same is true in the reverse, our sentence structuring is mind-bogglingly strange for most who learn English. In fact, once you have your head around how your chosen language forms its sentences you should be able to form what you want to say relatively easily. Growing up we had friends who went to Italian school on Saturdays or opted for French Club rather than Basketball of a lunchtime. Yet in the UK there is no heavy focus on learning a language. A blasé attitude that comes simply with speaking English. Yet over the last ten years times have changed, you no longer need a textbook or tutor to learn a language. From online YouTube tutorials to Applications such as DuoLingo you can learn a language at any time in any place.

“Today you can lay down — lie on your living room floor, sipping bourbon, and teach yourself any language that you want to with wonderful sets such as Rosetta Stone.” – John McWhorter

Maybe not lying on our floors glass of bourbon in hand is where we’ve gone wrong with our respective quests to learn French and Japanese. But with each dream to travel and experience the world there is another language to add to our list of ones we could learn. How do you decide what is right for you and should you learn different languages in different ways? We all learn differently, be we visual, auditory, read-write, or kinesthetic learners, the first thing we need in order to learn a language is drive.

Increasing evidence is that being bilingual is cognitively beneficial.

So why do we idolise being busy?

Usually when we think of our brain we imagine a giant motherboard, with many different parts each doing different things — for these purposes we’re going to remove that analogy from the table and suggest instead you imagine your brain as a muscle. To keep fit one must train and exercise their muscles, the same can be said for your brain. Simply allowing it to function in one language is like learning to ride a bike but never taking the stabilisers off. When learning we constantly strive to improve our own abilities yet when it comes to training and challenging our brains in the mind aerobics needed to process a second language we seem to struggle.

“Learners who are integratively motivated want to learn the language because they want to get to know the people who speak that language ” – Gardner and Lambert

The best way to learn a language is an immersive one, in theory you could learn everything in the class room, but it isn’t until you get out and surround yourself with native speakers of your chosen language that you truly realise how much or perhaps little you know. Often we think a smattering of a language lessons taken during school or for a 6-week night school session will be enough. That we will have the mobility to understand and communicate our chosen language yet, realistically what we learn in classrooms is only the nuts and bolts. To truly learn a language we have to speak it, hear it, read it and even write it as much as we can. As we said the way to do this is to immerse oneself in the language but what if you aren’t in a position to work or live abroad? There are many other means we can recommend, from watching films in your chosen language to reading your favourite books or starting a coffee / drinks nights with fellow speakers where you can socialise whilst still practicing your new language. The best way is actually to speak the language little but often even if its just 10–30minutes each day.

Whether you choose to learn Italian a a result of your love for pizza or Spanish because you’re itching to to visit South America, there are plenty of different methods and means to learn a language so why not flex that brain muscle. Learn more than the text book “Parlez-vous anglais?” and step outside your comfort zone, we can guarantee it will be a challenging and also fulfilling experience and you never know when you might need these skills — from explaining that your hire car has a puncture to finding out what’s good from the locals. If we limit ourselves to English we will only experience things from an English point of view. Let’s expand our verbal skills and broaden our horizons.

Also published on Medium

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