As global citizens, we can no longer expect to experience economic, scientific, and educational success speaking only our native language. Therefore, a number of people have been making the effort to learn English, which “is the current lingua franca of international business, science, technology and aviation,” according to the Wikipedia definition of lingua franca.
Those of us who have learned a second or foreign language know exactly how much time, effort, dedication, and perseverance we needed to achieve fluency or near-native fluency. For some of us, it was a pleasant journey, but for others, it might have been a challenging experience, especially for those who realized that there were no shortcuts to learning a new language.
However, it should be some consolation for all language learners that even acquiring our first (native) language (L1) in childhood was quite a long process, a natural process which we are not particularly aware of since it was mainly a subconscious process. Therefore, it should be of no surprise to anyone that second language acquisition (L2), especially in adulthood, is one of the most difficult tasks for the human brain. That is the reason we do not often come across people who can call themselves multi-lingual, yet there are thousands of languages spoken worldwide. If learning a language were not as challenging as it is, would we not all, with some exaggeration, speak several languages fluently, especially knowing the benefits of being multi-lingual?
So what can a learner of English as-a-foreign language do to improve his or her language skills? Since language learning is not just a mechanical way of getting through the process of memorizing vocabulary words and grammar rules, it is important to have an agenda. For example, passing exams to be able to graduate from university is certainly one valid reason to study hard, but why think short-term when language learning is a long-term process? Most language learners invest tremendous amount of time, effort, and money throughout their educational career only to forget all they have learned soon after passing the required exams. In order that the process of second language learning has significance, each student needs to identify why the learning of this language is meaningful in his/her life. Students can easily outline the benefits of learning a second language and the positive impact this skill would have in employment, world access, and social interaction. By succinctly outlining the advantages of learning a second language, the language learner not only justifies the time, effort, and money expended, but the outline/agenda acts as a reminder of the benefits and goals while taking language classes.
The ultimate goal of learning a language should be to be able to communicate with people who do not speak our native language. And, communication encompasses language in its various forms: spoken, heard, and written. Relating the student’s list of how learning a language is meaningful, we can point to the value of having the ability to read other languages. If you enjoy reading, your goal can be to read books and magazine and newspaper articles published worldwide in English. Having world access can be found in other forms of media, say movies. If you enjoy watching movies, your goal can be to watch and understand movies directly in English without relying on Korean subtitles. And if you enjoy traveling, your goal can be to be able to find your way around uncharted territories without relying on guides and even be able to converse and get an insight into the culture of some of the local residents. These three benefits are just a few examples to consider. If you have an agenda to learn a language, it will be all the more meaningful and even more exciting as a process. Since we are not born with fluent native language skills, we will also not be able to achieve fluency in a foreign- or second language overnight, especially in adulthood. However, the more effort we make and the more time we invest in language learning with an agenda or definite plan in mind, the more we can expect to gain in the end. Aristotle said it best: “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Hopefully, you can all one day confidently say that you are a fluent reader, writer, listener, and speaker of English.