Can You Decide Which Languages To Kick Off Your To-Learn List?

Do you have a long list of languages to learn in your life?

Feel like you started a language years ago and now you're stuck learning it forever?

This week on the Fluent Show, I've got tips to help you streamline that list.

Sheela emailed a question to kerstin@fluentlanguage.co.uk - don't forget that you can do the same if you'd like your question to be answered on the Fluent Show.

Here's a summary of Sheelas question:

I would love to get your thoughts and advice on how to narrow down or simplify my ' to learn ' languages list!

How do I decide and know what to keep and what to omit, from my languages list?

I feel moreover, if I have studied the language in the past, I am obligated to 'keep' it on the list. Is it okay to let go of some languages and concentrate on others, you think?

What an interesting question! Language choices are a regular polyglot dilemma, but it's not every day that a learner grapples with how to clean up i.e. how to reduce the languages on their list.

What To Consider When Choosing A Language To Learn

Here are a few helpful thoughts when you are working on that list of languages to add to your "lifelong homework".

You're Destined To Leave Something On The Table

With over 7000 languages spoken by humans on planet Earth, one thing is clear: There is not enough time to learn them all. Even a very accomplished and focused learner who has accumulated way more languages than most of us can imagine doesn’t usually go far above 50. So in other words: We’ve got to make friends with the idea that we’ll miss out in life, and we’ll have to leave a little bit of language on the table.

It's Possible to Have Different Target Levels

Some people differentiate when it comes to language levels and ambitions. We can dabble in more languages (say up to 40 hours) than we can start learning (say 100+ hours), that’s natural. And this can feel like a serious choice to make.

The question only you can answer is what you are expecting to gain from learning your target language. If you want to feel accomplished, hold conversations, feel like you are adding a useful tool to your list of skills, then dabbling in a language can feel more frustrating than fun. But if you’re preparing for a temporary trip or you’re curious but not committed, by all means have that fun play with a language.

It's Possible To Re-Learn a Language You've Studied Before

We forget languages we’ve learnt, but not entirely. This is especially true if you have learnt several languages from a similar language family, but it applies to all. For example, I remembered completely forgotten Russian words in Croatia, and I can still muddle through Spanish for 15 minutes even though my last straight up lesson was 10 years ago.

For more information about re-learning a forgotten language, check out this Fluent Show episode.

Before I go into a few more tips in relation to this week’s question, I want to address a really great point that Sheela makes in her email, which is that there is no rule that says…. This is RIGHT! There is no rule that determines how you go about learning your languages, what your list looks like, and how you personally decide this.

Gaining Clarity In Your To-Learn List

Here are a few options for getting more clarity in your list:

  1. Do allow yourself a dabble in some languages and choose only one or two big focus languages in a year.
  2. Focus on the languages that are most relevant to your life right now. This could be because you have travel plans, people to speak to, or you’re simply drawn to a special language.
  3. It is ok to let go of some languages. Trust that re-learning in the future will be easier than expected.

One final thought about missing out:

Most people I know have a pretty long bucket list, but very few squash it all into a short period of time. I don’t know your age, but there’s a good chance you have at least 20, maybe even 40 or 50 years left in life to learn languages. Consider the many polyglots who are in their 60s and 70s, and still adding languages.

We have so much more time than we think!

Have You Ever Kicked A Language Off Your To-Learn List?

I'd love to hear how you deal with your "language list" if you have one. Leave a comment below and share your story!