In this, the 200th post on Howtogetfluent, I thought I’d step back a bit and share some inspirational quotes for language learners from language fans past and present.
Since 2014, I’ve been sharing language learning information and tips, my own learner ups and downs and the stories of others, all to encourage you on your language learning journey. Or, at least, to warn you off mistakes I’ve made and let you know that you aren’t alone in the frustrations that you feel.
Here’s a list of posts on the site: => How to get fluent – all the articles If you’re new around here and just want to check out one, I’d suggest One hundred language learning insights (guess which number that was 😉 )
For today’s dose of language learning motivation, it’s over to a cast of philosophers, kings, writers, linguists….and even an ad man! 🙂
Language and connection with others
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013, revolutionary, political leader, philanthropist).
If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something,it seems to me you should use their language, the language in which they think
David Ogilvy (1911-1999, advertising executive)
Language is not a genetic gift, it is a social gift. Learning a new language is becoming a member of the club – the community of speakers of that language
Frank Smith (1928-2020, psycholinguist)
Language and character
There are many traditional proverbs that stress how learning a language can benefit our character. Do we really become a different person when we learn a new language? Is it, rather, that a new dimension is added to our existing personality? As someone who doesn’t have a quick ear for accents, I’m reassured by what Amy Chua has to say.
Un homme qui sait deux langues en vaut deux // A man who knows two languages is worth two men
Bir lisan bir insan, iki lisan iki insan // One who speaks only one language is one person, but one who speaks two languages is two people
Ahány nyelvet beszélsz, annyi embert érsz // You are as many times a man as the number of languages you speak
Քանի լեզու գիտես, այնքան մարդ ես // The more languages you know, the more human you are
زبان نو، زندگی نو // New language, new life
To have another language is to possess a second soul
Charlemagne (king and emperor; 784-814)
Learning another language is like becoming another person
Haruki Murakami (b. 1949; writer)
Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.
Amy Chua (b. 1962; law professor, writer)
Language and understanding
When researching these inspirational quotes for language learners, I came across many that imply that language comes before thoughts and that language changes our thoughts. That’s actually pretty controversial in linguistics and, as I understand it, the effects of language on thought are at most very marginal. Let’s guard against the idea that certain languages are “better” for certain things….Imperialism isn’t far behind. I’ve left such quotes out in favour of those that stress how language can unlock knowledge….not least of our own native tongue. I remember marvelling at the richness of my elderly monolingual aunts’ English. They had no idea of the complexity of what they were saying, phrases like “Gone for good” (i.e. gone for ever). I did, because I’d had to simplify my language right down to express myself in other languages at all….and been thrown by the challenge of translating such idiomatic expressions from one language to another.
Knowledge of languages is the doorway to wisdom
Roger Bacon (1219/20 -1292; philosopher, friar)
Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiß nichts von seiner eigenen // He who knows no foreign languages knows nothing of his own
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832; writer, scientist, director, statesman)
You can never understand one language until you understand at least two
Geoffrey Willans (author, journalist; 1911-1958)
Language and new worlds
Discovering a new culture through travel, even if only from the comfort of an armchair, is one of the main reasons that many people learn a language. If that’s you, these are your inspirational quotes. As a learner of two minority languages, Dr Johnson’s quote speaks to me very directly.
Absolutely nothing is so important for a nation’s culture as its language.
Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835; philosopher, linguist, diplomat)
I am always sorry when any language is lost, because languages are the pedigrees of nations.
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784; writer, critic, lexicographer)
Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt // The limits of my language are the limits of my world
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951; philosopher)
The world is a mosaic of visions. With each language that disappears, a piece of that mosaic is lost
François Grosjean (b. 1946; psycholinguist)
Language and achievement
The thrill of communicating with a different set of sounds has motivated me all through my language learning life. The relationship between hard work, practice and fluency is never fully clear or direct. How good we feel can be very subjective. Our mood as learners goes up and down. Getting a good “working knowledge” is so satisfying but there are always new heights to scale. The view is amazing and fluency sometimes feels like a miracle.
It’s astonishing how much enjoyment one can get out of a language that one understands imperfectly
Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve (1831-1924; Classical scholar)
We should learn languages because language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly
Kató Lomb (1909-2003; interpreter, translator, polyglot)
Being able to read a book in another language is a source of ego-stroking pride
Emily O’Beirne (contemporary author)
After that dose of inspiration, I hope you feel fired up, like me, to carry on learning languages.
Inspirational quotes for language learners are a great quick fix but deep, lasting motivation to learn a language comes from inside. It’s personal.
Why do YOU want to learn your new language?
Never lose sight of your language “Whys” but remember too that motivation won’t get things done.
Yes, language inspiration is all very well, but language learning requires lots of action.
Action needs to move you towards you goal.
But you can’t get there in one fell swoop. Instead, break that goal down into specific tasks that you can manage. Plan for staging posts – and the odd detour – along the way.
How do you ensure that action will happen, though, even when your language learning inspiration’s running low?
That’s where routine and discipline comes in. You need to get the language habit.
It’s not dramatic and, as you get down to some focussed study, another one-to-one class over Skype or a language exchange, you may not be feeling very inspired.
But here’s one of the most inspiring things of all: motivation often comes not before, but after, you get stuck in!
If you’re a long-time regular read of the site, thanks for being with me! I’d love to hear if any of my 200 posts in particular has spoken to you.
Have you got the fluency mindset?
Ernst Krudl says
Really a wonderful collection of sayings, how languages are in the heart of our being. Mila esker!
With Basque I have´decided for two approaches this year. One is to listen a lot and to hear fast spoken sentences, like the Arian A1 DVD with videos plus audios. For a beginning course it’s quite a challenge, the speed, the changing of volume, nearly swallowing intermediate/connecting vowels and words, so low volume, even follwing the text I cannot really hear everything/match it with the written words. I wonder how natural speed of a language and approaching it does fits into your understanding of language learning?.
2nd approach is inspired by your Basque Japanese tandem. I receive (per e-mail) a Chinese one word a day + an example sentence, both with audio, which I listen to, and I try to translate that sentence into Basque, Quite funny!
All the best for this year of learning!
Kaixo, Ernst! Glad you enjoyed the sayings. I think the sooner we listen to native- or near-native speed audio, the better. After all, that’s what we’ll be confronted with in real life. It’s better to listen multiple times at a natural(ish) speed to try and capture as much as you can (and get used to getting the gist and guessing some of it) than to listen to artificially slow audio and understand first time. I haven’t worked with Arian A1 so I don’t know the audio. I am doing a lot of work with book B2.1 and the whole course is excellent, including audio, so I’m sure the A1 audio will be graded material, set at A1 level, which gives you a fighting chance of learning from it. I love the idea of translating from Chinese into Basque. You are a braver man than me. Sorte ona!
Grahame Boocock says
Hi Gareth, thanks for all your posts over the years – 200 posts is an amazing feat! The posts are always helpful and thought-provoking. I have been learning German on and off (mostly off) for over 50 years. I did not grasp until relatively recently that motivation is key to language learning, closely followed by building good habits. These themes come out time and again in Gareth’s posts. In the quotes above, I can especially identify with the ‘ego-stoking pride’ of being able to read a book in another language.
I can also personally recommend the language courses that Gareth offers – motivation and establishing a learning routine are the building blocks of his flagship German intermediate course.
Finally, I hope that Gareth finds a wider audience for his output in future, whether blogs, videos, Conference talks or whatever. Spread the message folks!
Thanks, Grahame. I really appreciate your words of support.
Ernst Krudl says
Learning German, the bravery is all on your side 😉 [[ an easy example: Ch->Ba: Wo ai wode mama. -> Nire mama maite dut ]]
listening to very fast Euskara tracks is like reminding my brain of its elasticity 😉
Almost German says
I really liked that joke about the German cases being the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, with Vasnetsov’s painting as a handy visual. The part about us unfortunate students of German being piled up in the foreground was a nice flourish.
Dick Howeson said that funny stuff helps with learning by stimulating dopamine production, which helps us grow synapses. That was news to me, though maybe I’m the last to find out. And apparently, giving people valium before they study has the opposite effect of jokes.
Merry Christmas, everyone, and Happy Holidays!
Dr Popkins says
Frohe Weihnahcten! 🙂