On his deathbed, Richard Burton took a deep breath and uttered his last words. The words described his never ending fascination with the actress known as Elizabeth Taylor. His diaries later confirmed his ongoing obsession with her. Perhaps all love is based on fascination.
By studying a foreign language you open yourself up to new things that are exciting, and different. Furthermore, if you use your new language to get a job abroad, you will place yourself in a world of opportunities.
Virgil once said, “fortune favours the bold.” Consider Virgil’s words very carefully, and ask yourself when you last took a chance on life.
The world has changed in many ways, and some of those changes may not suit you. Not all changes are good, and sometimes old fashioned thinking can be liberating.
What I am offering to do is give you a fresh perspective from a time gone by. As with fashion and music, nothing is truly original, but instead recycled from old ideas.
If the key to love is fascination, perhaps a foreign language and different culture is a lock just waiting to be picked.
Who are you?
Feel free to take a ten minute break from this article. Grab a pen and some paper, and think about who you are and what you want.
Do you want to party on a rooftop in Shanghai until the early hours of the morning? Would you like to stroll through a park in Japan as the cherry blossoms fall to the ground? Or would you prefer to spend your time at home using italki and watching a movie with friends?
By knowing what you want, you will begin to understand who you are and what you need. It is worth considering your goals for the next two years. You may come up with a wish list like the following:
- Learn the Japanese language.
- Study Mandarin.
- Travel more.
- Make more friends.
- Party like a rock star.
Your list will reveal your personality. It could be that you are an extrovert, or perhaps an introvert who prefers to stay home and spend time with your family. It is not important which of these two personalities describe you. We are focused on what you want, and what will make you happy in the years to come.
Now that you know who you are, and what you want, how can you achieve what you are interested in?
You need to create a life for yourself that you are happy to live in. If you are happy with your lot, you will radiate happiness and draw like minded people towards you.
If you want to learn a new language and party in a foreign city, you should try to combine these two things. When you decide on a language to learn, consider when you will practice it and give yourself a timescale.
You do not need to master a language overnight. Having a realistic goal will help you. If you’ve decided to learn Japanese, think about a trip to Japan and the language skills you’ll need the most.
It may help to write yourself out a contract. It could be along the lines of the following example:
- In six months, I will understand enough Japanese to be able to order food and drink, as well as ask someone their name, where they are from and for directions.
You may be able to achieve more than that in six months, but you should ensure that your goal is realistic.
If you can achieve a short, six month goal, you can then move on to a long term goal:
- In the next two years, I will increase my knowledge of Japanese. The focus of my goal will be to get a job teaching English in Japan. I will use that time to study Japanese culture, train in the profession that I want and make friends with Japanese people who live in my country.
I want you to try this system. If you find yourself achieving a one month or six month goal, you may have found a technique that works for you. This will place you in a position where you can be happy, and are able to enjoy the opportunities that life will throw at you.
Be comfortable with yourself
Knowing who you are and what you want will increase your confidence. People are attracted to individuals who are focused and successful in their goals.
Another form of attraction is in your ability to be comfortable with yourself and your own company. No one wants to be truly alone, and some people dread spending a small amount of time on their own. A friend of mine recently confessed that they would never go to the movies alone.
I’m not suggesting solitary confinement, but just a little practice at being comfortable alone. You are more likely to be approached by others if you look comfortable in your own skin.
If this seems a daunting task, you can practice being alone for short periods of time. Try visiting a local coffee shop in the morning before work. Take a few language flashcards so you can practice while there. Study the flashcards for ten minutes, then take fifteen minutes to sip your coffee and relax.
Do not spend your time at the coffee shop playing with your smartphone. You need to look approachable, not like a busybody who has no time for anyone. If you spend your visit doing nothing but staring at your phone, then people will not want to bother you.
The aim of feeling comfortable spending time alone is worth conquering. With more confidence, you will stand out from the crowd because you will look relaxed and poised. Again, this will draw more people towards you, and if people realise that you are studying a language, it will give you something to discuss.
Even people who are not studying a language will have an opinion on the subject. I recently struck up a conversation with a stranger. I told him about my travels in Japan, and he ended up buying my old Japanese language CDs.
Being afraid of spending time alone is not healthy, and fear can cause a lot of damage. Fear is toxic to achieving your goals and dreams. By using italki, you have proven to yourself that you are not afraid to study a new language.
For many people, foreign languages are considered to be something only available to the clever and privileged. You now live in an age where language lessons and study materials are accessible to all. To be afraid of something is to miss out on some of the best things in life. We are blessed to live in an age where opportunities are more easily available than ever.
Being fluent in a foreign language is great for your resume. More importantly, speaking any language fluently will allow you to make connections. If you are in a foreign country alone, the time you spend travelling will be far more comfortable if you can speak the local dialect.
Even if you only speak a small amount of your destination language, the people living there will appreciate the effort you are making and you will have more social contact.
Do not dismiss anyone you meet. We can learn something from everyone, and they can also introduce us to more social contacts.
A few years ago, I arrived to start a new job in a country in Asia. I was working long hours, and was struggling to meet people. I had made a few friends, but due to their work schedules, we had never been out on a Saturday night.
I was faced with the prospect of spending a Saturday night at home with the television. After watching twenty minutes of a terrible game show, I decided to head out alone.
Before arriving in that country, I had spent eight weeks travelling by myself. Spending time alone had not been easy, but it did make me more forward in meeting people and introducing myself.
Around 10pm that night, I arrived at a local nightclub popular with tourists. I was too early and the party had not yet started. Placing myself on a stool at the bar, I ordered a drink. There was a friendly tap on my shoulder and I was asked where I was from.
The person I was talking with was the nightclub’s deejay. We talked for a while about the club, music, and the city. He gave me his card, and told me to let him know if I was coming again and he could get me on the VIP list.
For the following hour and a half, I was at the bar alone. I then started talking to a young woman who asked where I was from, and was I at the club alone?
When I answered that I was alone, she insisted on dragging me over to her table. I then spent the rest of the night talking and dancing with her friends. So much for sitting at home with only the television for company.
If you have the confidence to go out alone and you look approachable, you are halfway there. Also, if you can master the art of small talk, you can turn any stranger into a friend.
Making contacts by talking less
Not everyone has a lot to say. There are also a lot of shy people who struggle to begin a conversation. When we meet someone for the first time, we can become nervous and tongue tied. Once we get to know someone, we loosen up and talking to them becomes a whole lot easier. Is there a way to beat first contact nerves?
When meeting someone for the first time, try to be a back seat driver. Let the other person do the talking. Rather than focus on being nervous, try to focus on what someone is saying. When practicing a foreign language, you must listen attentively to what someone is saying.
Take a genuine interest in what the person has to say. Ask them questions about what they have told you. This will confirm to them that you are enjoying their presence and conversation. Be sure to nod to show that you are listening, and look for any common ground the two of you share.
By letting the other person talk, you will discover more information about them. This may also give you an opportunity to drop in a story about you or where you are from.
This is particularly good if you are learning the local language. The more the other person talks, the more of their vocabulary you absorb. You you can then study anything you did not understand later.
Respect the culture
Learning about a foreign culture should go hand in hand with learning a foreign language.
It is good to practice a foreign language. The more time I spend practicing listening and speaking skills, the more confidence I gain. This confidence offers more opportunities to use the language.
However, all that practice can be for nothing if I inadvertently offend someone’s culture.
You will not be expected to know every nuance of a culture, but there are some mistakes that you do not want to make. For example, it may be okay to walk through someone’s house with your shoes on in your country, but this would be considered rude and offensive in other cultures.
Many books will discuss watching and taking account of another person’s body language. Are they pointing their feet towards you? Are they leaning towards you or moving away? When you take a sip of your drink, do they also sip their drink? These may be indicators of interest in your country, but in another country, these motions may be expressing the complete opposite.
Keep in mind that different cultures will have different forms of body language.
To become absorbed in a foreign language, we must be genuinely fascinated. Think of the language you have decided to learn and ask yourself if it fascinates you.
The more you practice a language and study the culture behind it, the more fascinated you will become with it. Constant practice will make future learning effortless.
Think of the people you are most at ease with: your family and close friends. Your relationships with them are based on years of shared experiences and, more importantly, time.