Why are you learning a new language? Looking to score a better job, foster multiculturalism? Maybe even travel the world a bit?
These are all great reasons, and there are many, many more, but I can’t help but feel as though there is one motivator that teachers and learners alike are often loath to even mention: romance.
But are intimacy and sex really good reasons to pursue a second (or fourteenth) language?
A few months ago I was perusing the feed of the Facebook group “Polyglots” – one of my favorites and a really great place for language lovers to commune, share ideas and just generally be nerdy with one another. It’s an extremely active and engaging group jam-packed with people from every corner of the globe. I highly recommend you check it out.
Anyway, as I said, I was cruising the channel and someone popped a question about Skype and its relevance as a language learning tool. Of course I took the chance to toss in my two cents, postulating that Skype is quite possibly the greatest thing since sliced bread when it comes to language learning. It instantly allows users to connect with anyone, either via audio or video, anywhere in the world in real time. What the heck could there be not to love about that?
However, one of the comments struck me as both hilarious and odd. The comment read something to the effect of “I don’t engage in Skype conversations because I’m always afraid that I’ll start having intimate feelings towards the person I’m working with.”
This excuse baffled me on so many levels, and it’s the only time I’ve ever actually heard anyone come right out and say it. But interestingly enough, and despite it being a ludicrous reason not to use Skype, it did ultimately raise a reasonable question in my mind about motivation in language learning.
To what degree do we pursue foreign languages for romantic purposes, and more importantly is this necessarily a bad thing?
Romance as a motivator
A large number of those within the language learning community have confessed to me over the past couple years that they have found romance to be a significant motivator when it comes to language learning at some point in their lives.
When you think about it’s not really all that strange. Human beings are naturally drawn to that which is foreign to us, an attribute that manifests itself in many different ways. In terms of evolution, a greater difference in genetics can be an indication of a more suitable mate because the genetic diversity increases the chance of having a better trained and more robust immune system in one’s offspring, leading to less disease and of course a longer, more fruitful life for future generations.
While we don’t spend an awful lot of time consciously thinking about these things when we go looking for a romantic partner, many of us are still horribly and inexorably drawn to the foreign, and we know it. Not to mention language lovers’ frequent obsession with sexy accents.
Many of us who count ourselves among those that have ever learned or started to learn a language for love (or sex) seem a bit ashamed to admit this as a motivational factor. Perhaps we see it as in some way self deprecating, or we’re embarrassed to talk about romance in general because we feel that it simply too personal a topic to divulge to the world at large. It’s like we think this reason to learn is somehow less worthy than other reasons.
But should we be ashamed? The way I see it; learning a new language is a good thing, period. If you find motivation through romance good for you. Throughout all of human history there have been few motivational factors more powerful than sex and intimacy
Attempting to learn, or even just speak a little bit of a foreign language, no matter how badly, can be a very romantic gesture. At the very least your awkward mispronunciations and flawed gender usage can make for a rather entertaining icebreaker.
In a survey of over 270 British dating sites performed by Kaplan International it was determined that multilinguals are deemed more appealing than their monolingual counterparts, so if you’re on the fence about learning another language perhaps the promise of raw, animal magnetism could be the grain of rice that tips the scale and gives you the kick in the pants you need to get the ball rolling on your language project.
Dating across language barriers
Whether you’re in a relationship with someone with whom you don’t exactly share mutual fluency in any language or you’re trying to pick someone up at a bar with no more tools than those of an amateur mime, romance with a language barrier can be both electrifying and terrifying.
The reasons for why dating someone with limited communication capability might be a challenge are quite obvious, so instead of dwelling on those things lets focus instead on the pros.
Besides meeting people, it serves as a fantastic learning experience that takes you outside of your comfort zone and puts a lot of pressure on actually speaking.
If your language learning strategies consist of things like Pimsleur or formal language classes you might be in for a rude awakening when you venture out into the world looking for love. People don’t really talk that way. Life is full of slang, of dialects, of geolects, of people who talk too quickly and people with strange nasally voices. These are things most of us, myself included, are often totally unprepared for. This is why after 6 months of French and the notion that I was doing well, French movies make me want to bang my head on the wall by the end of the first three sentences.
Being in a relationship with someone or even just trying to flirt around casually is going to require that you expand your lexical arsenal into some seriously unfamiliar territory and a romantic partner can make the perfect aide and motivator.
It doesn’t matter if you’re searching for a soul mate or just looking to get laid, there are very few bad reasons to learn a language and these certainly aren’t that.
Not only does it stick some serious dynamite into your language learning projects when it comes to keeping motivated and on task, but relationships with native speakers can serve as the single greatest study resource you have, especially when it comes to informal conversation or slang – something that can be hard to find serious resources for elsewhere.
Many folks seem oddly ashamed to admit that romance could play a part in their reasons for studying a 2nd language, and certainly for many, if not most, it doesn’t come into play. It surprised me, still, that we’re so self conscious about it, that we won’t mention it when we talk about it openly as a legitimate learning opportunity. Adding a little bit of zest to your project in no way cheapens it, nor does it have to be the foremost reason you learn.
Have you learned a language for love? Does romance come into the picture for you when you think about travel and language study? Do you have prior experience dating across language barriers? Let me know in the comments, and don’t be shy!
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