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July 2018

Reasons Why Some People Only Speak One Language

Language learning is a blessing we often take for granted

It’s often good that we take a step back from the grammar tips and lessons to reevaluate the social benefits of learning a new language. Communication has always been a fundamental part of social activity, whether it be from forming tribal alliances during the stone age to trying not to sound angry via text today. Humans across the world are, at their core, very much alike; we need to eat, breathe, love, bathe, and we tend to appreciate connecting with others, more or less.

This is the absolute core of learning a new language: its ability to help us connect with others. Whether it be in a business or governmental environment, in school, or on vacation, the ability to speak with another person in their native language enables us to truly expressive ourselves. Add to this the popularity that is travelling today, and we can understand why language learning is such a hot topic.

You practise what you preach

So why, with all the benefits inherent in language another learning, do some people in the world only speak one language? Surely they must’ve been afforded opportunities in learning second languages in school. One notable answer is that many people around the world simply don’t need to learn a second language.

Wanderlust is somewhat a sensation of privilege; those that have the travel bug are usually those who can afford the time and/or funds to leave home. For many people embroiled in the daily workings of life, travel isn’t at the top on their agendas. Add to this the fact that many people around the world live within large countries such as China, Russia, and the United States. Travel for them isn’t so simple as hopping onto a train for an hour to experience a new country and culture, as it is in, say, Europe. Without the constant exposure to other countries and languages, many people don’t learn a new language simply because there is no pressing reason to do so.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”


U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously issued this now-famous line in his first inaugural address. Fear is a powerful sensation, and it often prevents us from stepping outside of our comfort zones to improve ourselves. It goes without saying that the common criticism for those who speak only one language is that they are ignorant. Many view poorly travelled, monolinguistic individuals as uncultured, but this is hardly fair. While travel and experiencing other cultures in countries foreign to us help us to understand the world, it does not mean that those who do not do the same cannot experience the same knowledge.

That said, one big barrier to finding the need to learn a new language is fear. Whether it’s fear of change, fear of planes, discomfort with foreign places, or worries about the state of the world, when a person has no desire to travel and prefers to stay within a homogenous culture, the need to learn a new language is diminished. True, there is much to be said about learning for the sake of learning, but it’s much less of an impetus than the possibility of practical use.

Sisyphus had it easy

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king who was punished for his arrogance, forced to roll a great boulder up a hill for all of eternity. Sometimes language learning can feel like a never-ending uphill struggle. There are always new words to learn, there are always new mistakes to be made. In a way, Sisyphus had it easy; at least he didn’t have to think as he pushed the boulder up! Language learning takes daily practice to become proficient, and this dedication often turns away perspective students who feel they may have better things to do with their time. Additionally, some people struggle more with language learning than others, further adding to the seemingly Sisyphean task.

It isn’t until we reframe language learning as a journey rather than a goal that we appreciate again why we started in the first place. Unlike Sisyphus, whose boulder rolled back down the hill requiring him to start again at the beginning, we are made richer with learning a new language, no matter how slowly we learn or how difficult the road may be. When approached correctly, we take great joy in learning each new word and rule, additional morsels that help nourish our linguistic hunger. It’s a journey we choose, hopefully not only for the destination but for the road itself.

Mindful learning is key

There are many judgments against those who don’t learn additional languages. Most are unfair criticisms, especially as we cannot generalise across broad groups of people. We don’t know their daily tribulations or their fears. But instead of judging others for what they won’t or cannot do, we ought to be grateful for that which we are able to do. Language learning is a blessing we often take for granted, and mindful learning is key to appreciating the blessing for what it’s worth.

Why is your inspiration for learning a new language? Let us know your thoughts on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more language learning articles!

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