Motivation and Language Learning (Intermediate)

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In this episode, Steve and  Jill talk about the importance of motivation in language learning.

Steve: Hi Jill.

Jill: Hi Steve.

Steve: I was reading at LingQ.com where our members are starting to contribute content. There was one content item submitted by one of our members who happens to live in Germany. She submitted a content item that was called Speak White. It’s mostly in French with a few English words in it and it’s a poem by a Quebecois, that is someone from Quebec, a French speaking person from Quebec in Canada and it’s available on LingQ so people can download it and listen to it in French but basically the theme is one that English represents colonialism and that the, of course, from the perspective, or let’s put it this way, the mythology of the Quebecois is that they are somehow a colonized people. And, I think historically that’s true but today if you look at the statistics French speaking Quebecers earn as much, more money in fact. Bilingual Quebecers earn more money than bilingual; excuse me, bilingual Francophones in Quebec have a higher average income than bilingual Anglophones in Quebec. Monolingual, unilingual Anglophones in Quebec earn more than unilingual Francophones but on average they do just as well. So, I think today, I don’t think the Quebecois really are in a, in reality they run their own province, and run their own affairs but historically of course, the French were defeated in a battle in the year 1763 and as a result Quebec became part of the British empire so there is this whole we were colonized by the English and therefore, of course, in this very kind of, deliberately inflammatory language, speak white to see how all the sort of colonialism, racism, whatever. Fine, she’s a poet. She can do what she wants. But, in reading that of course, we believe at the Linguist and the reason we’ve developed LingQ.com is because we think everybody should learn other languages. I agree that the overwhelming influence of English is a form of cultural imperialism. It doesn’t have to be deliberate but the fact is that English is so convenient. People speak it in India, they speak it in the Middle East, they speak it in Africa, even in Europe it’s become the dominant language for a variety of historical and economic reasons. One of our goals and I set this out in my book that I wrote five years ago, that anyone can be a linguist. Anyone can learn more than one language. In some ways Anglophones have an advantage in that other people have to learn their language but they are at a disadvantage because they are not as motivated to learn other languages because they don’t need to. So, that’s all a lead up Jill, to a hopefully an embarrassing question and that is, you are an Anglophone but you speak French and you have dabbled in Spanish. But, would it be fair to say that today you’re not tremendously motivated to either improve your French or to work more on your Spanish or on another language?

Jill: Yeah, that’s fair. I think there’s part of me that would really like to improve my French. I mean, I really haven’t used it for five or six years, since I’ve been out of university and I love the language. I think it’s a beautiful language and when I listen to it I really like hearing it and I wish that I was completely fluent in it. After the many years that I spent learning it, over 20 years, I have to say that I still would not consider myself fluent. I have a good grasp for sure of the language and I want to learn it better but I think I’m like many people who say they want to learn English or they want to learn a language but when it comes to actually putting in the effort, and I hear this all the time from people on the Linguist and now LingQ. Not everybody because some people are very motivated but from some people they say you know, I just don’t have time. You hear that from a lot of people. I know that I sort of, I would use the same excuse. You know, you’re busy. You work all day, you have time to spend, you have to have time to spend with your family, you might have to make dinner, you might have a long commute, whatever, but again, I could listen on my way to and from work just as almost everybody could. But, you know, when it comes down to it I’d rather listen to music on my way to and from work. That’s more relaxing to me. So, when I say that I would like to improve my French, I would, but I’d really like it to be very easy. I don’t really want to put in a lot of effort and I think that’s a lot of people.

Steve: Now, for me, because I’m, of course, a language fanatic, I enjoy it. I would rather listen to Russian now than to music. If I go running I listen to Russian. If I’m in my car I listen to Russian. One thing I do believe is that, you know, different people have different interests. I am not into gardening. I don’t know one flower from the next. I‘m not that keen on golf. My wife is very keen on golf. Yeah, people have their interests and I don’t think there’s anything more noble about being interested in languages as opposed to being interested in cooking. In fact, cooking, I’m not into cooking but I sure enjoy eating other people’s cooking. So, yeah, you’re interested in what you’re interested in, absolutely. One thing I would say though is that a lot of things are a matter of habit. So, once you get into an activity, motivated by whatever, like if I told you Jill, that we were opening an office in Paris but the condition for us to send you there is that you have to improve your French, tell me what you would do

Jill: I think I would do it. I think I would. I’d be over the moon, I’d be excited, I’d want to do it and I’d want to be better when I went there. I wouldn’t want to go there either without having a better working knowledge and so, yeah, I think I would be more motivated.

Steve: And, I think there that once you got into it you would start to enjoy actually learning it. But, yeah, you need something to kick-start that interest. This is true. And, it can be a friend, it can be a trip, it can be an interest in the culture, it can be a, whatever, any of those things. So, yeah, the question is how do we get that started with people? I think we are lucky at the Linguist and at LingQ because many of our learners are motivated party for professional reasons or for their education or because they need to pass a test but many of them out of pure interest and they enjoy it. And that’s, you know, somebody came up in schools, what do you do in schools? What do you do with kids who have to be there? You know? They don’t have, they’re sitting in a classroom and now it’s French. Any ideas there? How do you get a 14 year old boy or girl, it doesn’t matter, what can you do to make say French or any language? Would it matter if they were able to choose the language or is it just for someone living in North America, English speaking North America, basically other languages don’t matter? Do you think that’s part of it?

Jill: Yeah, I don’t know. Probably part of it is that, that it’s just so easy to get by with only knowing English and I think that’s probably why most North Americans or Canadians and Americans only speak English is because yeah, you can go anywhere in the world and probably get by with your English which is, I think a bit sad because I think there is a lot, I think it’s very interesting to learn another language because you learn a lot about the culture and that was always my favorite part. I hated the classes that focused on grammar. I just couldn’t stand going to them even in university. You know, I never, I don’t think I improved from probably grade five to my fourth year of university in terms of my grammar in French. You know, even after having so many classes that were focused on grammar and university courses focused on grammar, I hated going to them. They were so boring, so dry and it didn’t help me. And, I think that the classes that I loved were the ones where we got into the cultural stuff and not, and other people are different. Some people, I guess, maybe like grammar and maybe aren’t so interested in festivals and cultural norms and things but for me, I’m very interested in that which makes the language more interesting to me.

Steve: But then, getting back to the level of a 14 year old, you know, in countries like Sweden or Holland where all television shows are in the original language they learn their English through television. But, there again, we get back to our original discussion and that is the sort of cultural imperialism of English speaking culture. Everybody in the world has heard of some of these start of Hollywood or the pop stars and whoever they all are. I don’t even know their names myself but we don’t know who are the leading Arabic singers or Chinese singers or French even. We don’t know who they are so it doesn’t have the same attraction. I guess there’s not much we can do there.

Jill: Yeah and with young people, going back to young people I think so many kids and teenagers are too young to see the benefit of learning another language and it’s just something that’s work and I think some people do enjoy their French class or whatever class, whatever language they’re learning in school because some people are more inclined towards artsy type classes. But, I think there are some people that may never enjoy learning a new language. Not everybody wants to learn a language.

Steve: You know and this is where, what I would do in schools because a lot of people take music from the age of let’s say five to 12 and then they, after much, many tears and scenes they’re allowed to quit. That was my case. But, when kids are very young they’ll do whatever you tell them to do. And, I think what they should do is they should have language in the early years and it should not be limited to one language like in Canada, it’s French because it’s national language. It should be, let them try out a variety of different languages, let them listen to stories and you can do it in a variety of ways. You can listen to a story in the language and read it in your own so you get used to the sounds. And, just expose kids to language through the first five, six, seven years of schooling and then if they want to continue, fine. If they don’t want to continue fine. Once they’ve had that exposure to the language, if at age 20 they decide to learn a language they will be better language learners. And, I think all you need to do is to prepare their brains so that at that point when they become motivated to learn that they will learn more quickly. They’ll have an easier time pronouncing, their brain will be more flexible, that’s all. But, what we do right now, at least in the Canadian school system, 95% of the kids who study French in the English language school system end up not being able to speak at all so it’s completely useless. They’re far better off to have this early exposure just as, you know, a boy might play the violin or a girl play the piano and then at age 12 he or she is allowed to quit and that’s the end of it. But, if they ever do decide to go back to it they have something there that they can really, you know, that’s going to help them.

Jill: Right.

Steve: Maybe one day we’ll set up LingQ Junior. It’s my next project once we get all our problems resolved here. Okay then. Thanks Jill.

Jill: Thank you.

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