Language Is A Means, Not An End

avatarMille Larsen
4 mins read

As the saying goes, life is a journey, not a destination. What's important is not where you're going, but what you do along the way. And the same thing goes for learning a language. There will always be more to learn, you can never know it all.

As children we start talking even knowing only a handful of words, and yet we credit children with having an incredible way with words. This is because they don't wait until their vocabulary feels sufficient, they simply say what's on their mind. And so should you.

I've seen some crazy stuff lately

Not long ago, I watched as LingoSteve, the author of one language-learning blog started a holy war against Benny the Irish Polyglot, the author of another language-learning blog. Steve dedicated the majority of his written and audio blogging acitivity for nearly a month to nothing more than attacking Benny. And why? Because he disagreed with Benny's opinion that you should start using your new language right away. Really!

I've recently seen comments on my own web site, talking about choosing to learn a language because knowing it "makes you awesome and unique". Anyone who learns a language for such a reason is, in my opinion, terribly misguided. I can't get past the irony that language is a means of communication, an act which requires other people to achieve, and that being unique works against that!

And similarly, I recently learned Esperanto, only to find that I had no one to talk to. Sure, I could arrange to join the monthly meetings of my city's local Esperanto club, and I could fly around the world attending Esperanto meetups, but why go to all that trouble when it will just lead me to use Esperanto in discussions about Esperanto! I've said it before, in my opinion Esperanto adds up to very little more than a notch in a polyglot's belt. This may be a matter for debate, and it may not be true for everyone, but if you ever find yourself learning a language just for the sake of knowing it, it might be time to re-evaluate your priorities.

Everyone has their own motives and their own motivations for the things they do in life. And if you want to learn a language because it makes you cool, or because you enjoy the study of linguistics, or even because it allows you to posture to all of your colleagues... go ahead. Really, I don't care why you're learning — just keep reading my blog, leaving comments, and maybe clicking on the ad banner occasionally.

What is the point?

Let's take a moment and think about this. You don't learn carpentry unless you're going to build something. You don't learn auto-mechanics if you're not going to work on a car. I don't care how fascinating you think quantum physics is, or how many books you read, you're not going to spend the time memorizing the equations unless you plan on using them. And you don't go to bartending school if you're never going to mix a drink.

So why would you go to all the work of learning a language if you're not going to use it?

You learn it so you can use it. And that is the single best reason both for what language you should choose, and for why should you start using it right away. Language is a means of communication, not a badge of honor. Whether you're learning so you can travel, or so you can do internation business, or just so you can write letters to your family in Denmark... you're learning to communicate, so start communicating!

The goal isn't the knowledge of the language. In fact, the goal isn't even the use of the language. In the end, the goal is what you say, and what others say to you. Telling people you had a conversation in Esperanto may make you feel good — and there's room for that in our lives — but the real substance is what that conversation was about.

So whatever the language is, get out there and use it, and say something worthy of being said.