For many of us, the passion for languages starts in our teens. Watching foreign TV shows, playing games, or even learning a foreign language at school could all spark this fascination. Learning is easy with a regular school schedule—we have weekly classes and plenty of free time for hobbies.
If we’re lucky, our school teachers become our mentors, who not only administer a weekly dose of homework but help us see the value of what we’re learning. Good teachers become our coaches; they explain learning methods, and show that being motivated by grades can only take us so far—what really matters is to find an intrinsic motivation for learning.
However, we only realise how much free time we had at school or college after we’ve left.
That was certainly true for me as it really didn’t seem like I had plenty of free time at that age. There were too many demands! It was only after I’d been to university and started work that I understood the value of the free time I used to have.
When days suddenly seem so much shorter, the passion for hobbies wanes and the time is eaten up by other, more important, activities. It takes determination to find and re-kindle our dormant interests. But this is exactly what one of our students, Kurt Bender, did. We had the pleasure of talking to Kurt recently, and he shared with us his inspiring story.
Meeting the mentor
Like many of us, Kurt’s language journey started at high-school, where he was learning Latin. “My love of languages slowly started growing”, said Kurt. This initial hook encouraged him to continue his Latin studies at college.
Kurt met his first mentor, Dr Michael Wise, an expert on semitic languages, at the University of Northwestern. Dr Wise is one of the leading translators of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient religious texts that include the earliest manuscripts of the Biblical books. Apart from being a leading international authority on the Scrolls, Dr Wise is an inspiring language learner himself, employing over 20 languages in his academic work.
A language mentor will help you develop and maintain a passion for learning.
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It was Dr Wise who showed Kurt the value of learning foreign languages, and motivated him for further explorations. “He taught me what it means to really love languages and how they teach people about culture and open you up to a world bigger than your own”, said Kurt.
Blown away by languages
It was natural for Kurt, having completed his Latin classes, to go on to pursue some of the related, romance languages. As a musician, he decided to study singer’s diction for French, Italian and Spanish, as well as German, one of the main languages used in classical music pieces.
“Blown away by the depth of variation there was throughout these languages”, Kurt also became more sensitive to their linguistic features. He started noticing similarities between the related ones, like Italian and Spanish, and interesting differences between those from different language groups, such as German and French.
You might expect that Kurt would go on to study linguistics, and would probably become a famous polyglot. But that didn’t happen.
After graduation, Kurt no longer had easy exposure to languages. With no more classes to attend and no support from any teachers or mentors, he abandoned language learning. “I made up for it by exploring the foods of different cultures, and music” he said. Keeping up his interest in foreign cultures, “somewhere along the way” he even became a fan of Korean pop music. But soon he realised he hadn’t actually studied a language for about two years. This realisation was like a wake-up call for Kurt, who understood that if languages really were his passion, he couldn’t afford to take long breaks like this.
You can't afford to take long breaks from language learning!
At this point, he realised how vital it is for us to incorporate study into our daily schedule in order to make progress in learning. It must become an integral part of our lives. With this in mind, Kurt sat down and started to make a plan.
Finding motivation through planning
“I made a list of languages I would like to learn: Korean, Japanese, French, Italian, German.” Many of us have hesitated in making this decision, asking—what is the language I would really like to learn? It’s hard to focus on just one, especially if we feel a similar affinity towards them all. What helped Kurt make a decision was a travel opportunity—“I visited Japan and fell in love”, he confessed.
Experiencing the culture first hand can be a strong call to action, especially if we can clearly see how it could fit our personality and career plan. Kurt not only loved his time in Japan, but also found an extrinsic motivator related to his profession: “as a musical theatre artist, [I knew] Japan would be an excellent place to work”.
What is your call-to-action in language learning?
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With that in mind, it’s obvious that Kurt’s choice of a language to learn was not hard to make. The question now was about choosing the right method.
Finding motivation by exploring
As an experienced language student, Kurt was aware of the market tools available for self-learners. He had some idea about his preferred learning style, but sought to explore some of the other popular language tools. After all, you won’t know if something works for you until you try it!
His first choice was Pimsleur, a popular approach based on an audio course. With Pimsleur, the learner listens to sentences in the target language followed by a translation, and is then asked to translate the phrases himself. As a musician, Kurt thought an audio-based approach would resonate well with him. Yet, the experience made him realise he was, after all, a very visual learner: a course with only aural input did not suit his needs, and even worse, it left him confused.
Don’t base your decisions on assumptions. Test them before making up your mind!
Then Kurt’s friend, who had been using LinguaLift, recommended the platform to him as an efficient tool for self-learners. To test the idea, Kurt first subscribed to a newsletter, then called “Japanese For Clever people”, and now the “Online Language Learner’s Guild”.
The second step was the free 14-day trial of the Japanese course. The course contained all the elements Kurt had valued in his early learning experiences, which encouraged him to study with a new-found enthusiasm.
“I jumped on LinguaLift with full abandon!” — Kurt
A native-speaking Japanese tutor helped him keep in touch with the culture, constantly reminding him about the source of his language passion. At the same time, the language coach helped him to structure his learning—to study regularly, as he had done at college, and to use techniques that fitted his visual learning style.
”For a visual learner, learning the script has been the best study aid I could ask for.”
Kurt quickly learned Hiragana and has kept on progressing since then. The best part of it is that he now enjoys the process of learning as well as having a clear goal, and sees how sticking to a clearly defined path will lead him to fluency.
“I’m really looking forward to my future learning with LinguaLift and I can’t wait until the day I can have a full conversation in Japanese.”
It’s always a blast to hear how LinguaLift brings back the joy of language learning. Kurt’s story gave a boost to our team of tutors and language coaches, and I bet it inspired you too!
If you also use LinguaLift, we’d love to hear about how it makes your life better. Write to: [email protected]— we can’t wait to hear your story!