As I sit in Naples writing this blog, I am thinking about what motivated me to master a second language. For ESOL learners - there is one essential reason – English is the gateway into a global economic and business community. For careers, business ventures, and even holidays, basic English opens doors. For many people, they have no choice but to take English lessons.
But learning a language because we HAVE TO can sometimes rip the joy out of it. In reality, millions of people all over the world CHOOSE to learn a second language not because they have to, but because they are up for the adventure.
For an ESOL learner it might be easy to fall into the trap of feeling like mastering English is all about not missing out on opportunity. Not missing that promotion, not missing that client. If you are not advancing quickly enough, if your English isn’t perfect enough it is easy to feel like you are coming up short.
Watch here But what about this: what about the ADVENTURE that lies before you as you learn a second language? Yes, we want doors to open for us, but there are also doors that we do not know are even there!
I didn’t learn my second language, Italian, out of necessity or, in fact, out of any talent in languages at all. A French teacher at school advised me to drop languages after I famously asked a woman at an aquarium in Lyon what time she breast-fed the fish!
But during a holiday with my parents when I was 18, I sat on a wall in the hills above Florence looking at the lights of the city below, the dome of the great Cathedral, the terracotta and yellows of the buildings and I thought – I want to truly experience this. I knew that the world was black and white if I did not know Italian, and I wanted to be there in screaming colour!
I had never attempted Italian before this. It was not a language offered at school. I had no Italian friends. I didn’t have a master-plan; I just knew my life would be better if I could speak Italian.
After I began to learn it, I discovered opportunities which allowed me to spend time in Florence, Bergamo and Naples, I hiked in the Dolomites alone, spoke memorably to an old man from Eritrea in his own tongue and met wonderful Italian friends who have explained food, drink, history, culture and frankly, the art of loving to me. As someone from an Anglo-Irish background, all this has been a far cry from Irish Stew and a kiss on the forehead. But I can teach you about that!
My world is infinitely bigger with a second language in it. Plus – if you need inspiration to keep trucking - I had no talent at languages at all, and no plan, just a desire to explore a world I did not know.
A second language secures the possibility of learning and adventure, forever.