Language Learning: The Means or the Ends?

I’ve always thought that having a solid reason to learn a language is the best – and possibly only – way to see the learning process through until you reach any sort of useful fluency. When I say a ‘reason’ to learn a language, I mean that the language is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.

For example, if you could be learning French because you want to be able to read French literature in the original. The French is just the means to allow you to read the literature you want in the form that you want it.

Too many people who write about language learning seem to lose sight of this fact. Instead, it’s about what tests did you pass, how many vocabulary words do you have in your SRS program or how many languages you’ve added to your list. If you feel like you might be doing this, take a step back and think about it. Think about what the ends really are for you.

Languages are a means of communication. Communication is the end goal – whether it is communicating with your spouse’s family in his or her native language, discovering the works of foreign writers or reporting a story about a foreign culture.

The study process is not just about communication – it involves drills and lessons and probably a little suffering. But it is not the end goal. Using the language is.

So go do some communicating.