What Happens When You Study Foreign Languages For Over a Decade?

In a world where most people stop after a few weeks.

Mathias Barra
May 1 · 5 min read
Photo by Anthony Intraversato on Unsplash

I will never find enough words to express my love for languages. I’ve been learning languages as a hobby since I left high school. I’ve dabbled in over 10 languages and became a polyglot speaking 6 languages.

To my current self, not learning languages seems out of the question. It’d mean missing out on too many amazing experiences and discoveries. I remember, however, that I didn’t always think that way.

When I started, I found it interesting but didn’t think much further into it. Now, I can’t insist enough when I say everybody should learn a foreign language. More than one would be better but it all starts with one. Any language is fine.

All you need is that one language that’ll open your eyes to how wide our world is.

It won’t happen in a day or two. It might take months, if not years, before that realization. But when it hits you, your life will brighten manifold.

You Wonder Why Others Aren’t Doing It

When you realize how much languages changed your life, you’ll be as shocked as I am to see other people giving up too early.

I sometimes wonder how oblivious I was as a teenager, feeling oppressed in a culture that I never fully understood while other languages and cultures were just waiting for me to discover them.

Languages open more doors than any other endeavor you could ever take. They allow you to connect with millions of more people, around the world.

Without even talking about job opportunities (which they can help with as well), languages enrich your life by allowing you to understand more people, travel more easily, and live experiences that no monolingual person could ever have.

We all use our native language every day without thinking about it. When a foreigner comes to talk to us and speaks our language, we automatically feel thankful and open our arms with more ease. That’s what you can enjoy when you learn a foreign language. Make it plural and the opportunities grow exponentially.

Since I know what learning languages does to one’s life, it makes no sense to me that people give up early. They are missing out on an exciting world.

You Become Ecstatic Looking at New Languages

I don’t know a single person who studied a language for a long time and didn’t become curious about other languages.

Even though many people don’t ever move on to learn a second or third language to proficiency — whatever that means for them, — they all dabble at one point or another in another language. They wonder why this or that language feels so strange. They question their a priori about this or that language. They are curious.

The ones who start studying more languages go even further. After dabbling in a few languages, they get a hit of dopamine whenever they see a new language. They see the well-rounded characters of Burmese and find it cute. They recognize a few words of Catalan and, suddenly, they find themselves playing around with it.

It’s only been 13 years since I started to learn many languages, but I believe this only grows with time. When you look at polyglots like Richard Simcott or Luca Lampariello, they don’t stop learning new languages. Hell, they can’t stop.

For language lovers, new languages are like new toys. Sometimes, they’ll want to play with them for a little while. Sometimes, they’ll become entranced by them and won’t be able to stop. Sometimes, they’ll want to talk about it to everybody, like I’ve been amazed by Sinhalese’s beautiful script for over a year.

New Methods and Resources Become Entrancing

After you’ve studied a few languages, you know pretty well what works and what doesn’t for you. You’ve fallen into pitfalls enough times to know how to avoid like the pest what doesn’t work.

Once in a while, however, you’ll fall upon a new method, a new twist in how to use a certain tool, a new webpage you wished existed 10 years prior. In these times, you’ll lose all sense of time and will dive into those.

For instance, I fell upon the Refold method from Matt vs Japan a few months ago. It relies on heavy immersion coupled with flashcards. Nothing new to me until here. But when I joined the Discord server, I saw people sharing links and tips for each language. I found great podcasts to listen to in Taiwanese Chinese, resources to check books and textbooks before buying them, places to find subtitles for lesser-watched TV shows, and so on.

The day I realized the wealth of information, I scoured through everything, trying things to improve my setup in Anki — the Spaced-Repetition Software I use. By the time I looked at my clock, I had been going at it for 5 hours. I don’t even remember the last time 5 hours flew by that quickly.

When you know what works and what doesn’t, it’s easier to spot good and bad resources. And, when it’s the former, you can’t stop but digging further and further.

And it feels amazing.

You Wake Up Excited Incredibly Often

I have my bad days, like everybody, but I wake up most days excited to discover something new.

When you’ve studied languages for a long time, you realize not a single day passes without a new discovery. Every moment you get is an opportunity to learn something. Even Netflix binges, thanks to its subtitles.

There’s an unlimited amount of things waiting to be explored and most only take a few minutes here and there to be found. How could you not be excited when you know that?

Learning languages for a long time transpires into the rest of your life. You become curious about other activities. You dig into specific cultural aspects or other countries. You get a thirst for knowledge in certain programming languages because you wonder how different it is from a “normal” language.

Every day means new opportunities. Whether you learn languages or not. But doing it makes it easier to spot them.

And who wouldn’t be excited about that?

Final Thoughts

So. What happens when you study foreign languages for over a decade? It’s simple.

Your life will become more amazing than you could ever think when you start. It will change for the better, without a doubt.

I love self-improvement and won’t deny all the positive changes it has brought to my life. But it’s a lot more work. A lot more self-doubt. A lot less tangible for a long time.

Languages start improving your life in a matter of weeks or months. Within a year, you could be having conversations. Within two, you could feel at ease in the language. Within ten, you could be a polyglot speaking even more languages than I do.

All you need is to start and not give up. Time and consistency are your best allies here.

And, one day, you’ll struggle to remember a time when you weren’t learning languages and discovering this beautiful wide world we live in.

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Mathias Barra

Written by

Polyglot speaking 6 languages. Writer. Helping the world to learn languages and become more understanding of others. Say hi → https://linktr.ee/MathiasBarra

The Ascent

The Ascent is a community of storytellers documenting the journey to a happier and healthier way of living. Join thousands of others making the climb on one of the top publications on Medium.

Mathias Barra

Written by

Polyglot speaking 6 languages. Writer. Helping the world to learn languages and become more understanding of others. Say hi → https://linktr.ee/MathiasBarra

The Ascent

The Ascent is a community of storytellers documenting the journey to a happier and healthier way of living. Join thousands of others making the climb on one of the top publications on Medium.

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