IWTYAL 189: Should I learn Spanish or Japanese?

Begum asks: “Should I learn Spanish or Japanese?”

Episode Summary:

Resources Mentioned In Today's Episode:

Full Transcript:

Olly: What just happened? After 188 episodes of the I Will Teach You a Language Podcast I thought it was finally time to get something a little but more upbeat and lively and just change things up, do something a little bit different for the intro and the outro of the podcast. I hope you liked that.

You may remember in fact a few months ago I mentioned here on the podcast that I wanted to do this and if any of you guys were audio editors or knew how to do this kind of stuff then perhaps you could reach out and let me know and one guy did. A really great guy, George de Lima from Brazil currently living in New Zealand I believe, reached out and said, “Hi Olly I would love to help you put this together” He is a long-term listener of the podcasts and so I said, “Yes cool. Let's do it” and so we went back and forth some time and he had lots of different ideas.

But I am quite fussy so I would say, “Can we change the music here and can we turn down the music here and can we shorten that bit?” Lots of requests. But he very very kindly kept doing the amendments that I had asked for and we have ended up with this cool new intro. So, I hope you like it. I wasn’t sure whether to keep making the little announcement at the start or whether I should just start immediately with the music, who knows? But I think it is quite cool to have the number so you kind of know where we are at. So that way when you are listening in 10 years’ time and I say, “This is the I Will Teach You a Language Podcast number 1,283” or whatever. You are going to be able to look back and think wow all of those episodes.

Enough of that. Listen for the outro as well, I think it is quite cool.

Today we have got a question about choosing a language. It has come up before and here we are again with another variation on the theme. Before though I would like to thank the sponsors of the show who are the wonderful italki. Get speaking practice in your language. You have heard me say it before, it is super important italki is the best place you can get that because you can take lessons on Skype from the comfort of your own home and you can get a free lesson by going to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/freelesson.

Now let’s dive right in to today’s question.

Begum: Hi Olly, this is Begum from Turkey. Firstly, I have to thank you because your wonderful podcasts. I always very excited before listening and while listening also and waiting your episode with excitement. Secondly, I have a question. Actually, I am hesitating about some issue is that I really want to learn Spanish. I feel I am so quite motivated about that and after a little search I found that Turkish speakers, like me, is really easy to learn Japanese. So thirdly, which one I will learn and speak quickly? Spanish that is I am so motivated to learn, that is why I allow or Japanese that so easier to learn.

I know it is a very long question. I am so pleasure if you answer. Bye.

Olly: Hi Begum and thank you very much for your question. I think that is the nicest question that I have ever heard anybody ask. Thank you so much for the compliments on the podcast as well. I am really happy to hear that you enjoy it so much, I really enjoy making it and so it is great to hear things like this.

So, let’s talk about your question. Should you learn Spanish or should you learn Japanese. Now let’s assume that you don't any particular requirements. So, I am going to assume that you don't need either language for your work. I am going to assume that you are not married to a Spanish or Japanese speaker or that you don't plan to move to Spain or Japan any time soon. In other words, there are no extrinsic motivation for you to learn either of these two languages.

So, what we are talking about here is learning a language for pleasure or for self-enrichment. Now you have given two criteria. You have told me that you are passionate about Spanish and you can’t wait to learn it and then you have told me that Japanese would be very easy to learn. Now based on those two things alone I think you only have one option. You have to learn Spanish. If you are passionate about Spanish, if you are excited about it. If you can’t wait to get stuck in and to learn the language to meet Spanish people and maybe travel to Spain that is the language you have to learn Begum. That is what you have to learn.

Even if Japanese is very easy for you why are you going to learn it? If you don't have any particular connection with Japan. If you are not moving to Japan, if you don't have Japanese friends around you, then are you just going to learn Japanese because it is easy? Well I am not sure that is going to be a very rewarding pursuit for you overall. It might be intellectual quite stimulating for a few months as you learn this crazy new language that is very different from what you are used to linguistically and culturally I think.

But then long term what is it going to mean for you? What I have discovered, for example, over the last year with Thai is that I went to Thailand and I didn't think it was going to be easy but I was quite excited about it and I studied Thai and then I came back to the UK. But then now I don't have any Thai friends here in the UK. I don't have any way to practice learning Thai and it is really frustrating for me, because I really like the language but it just doesn’t– I am grasping at straws to try to figure out how it makes sense in my life.

It has become in a way like a bit of a curse, which is a horrible thing to say. But it is not a language that I can really devote myself to because it is not in my life, I don't have the surroundings. So, the question is always what happens after the kind of honeymoon period is over. Sure, you can study Japanese for a few months and you might enjoy it and who knows, you might end up falling in love with it and learning it for the rest of your live and moving to Japan, maybe. If you have that kind of passion you haven’t told me about it in your question.

But now let’s talk about Spanish. If you are that passionate about the language, if you are that committed to learning it, if you have that much interest in it then I am sure it is going to have some meaning in your life. Spain is much closer to Turkey than Japan. I am sure you have plenty of Spanish speaking people living in Turkey. It is a relatively easy language compared to other languages. So, I think really you have no choice. I think you must learn Spanish, because the passion that you have for it will mean that you keep it up and it is going to be much more meaningful in your life. That is a very straightforward answer from me.

The other comment I would make is the first time that I have that Japanese is easy for Turkish speakers, I don't know what that is based on. In my experience, there is nothing easy about Japanese. It is a very difficult language and one that never really gets any easier. The exception would be if you were Korean perhaps or maybe Chinese then you have a certain advantage. With Korean in terms of the grammar and Chinese in terms of being able to read. But Japanese is not an easy language, it takes a very long time to learn. So, I would definitely investigate that a little bit further before you decide to dive in to Japanese.

The other thing I wanted to mention was I am more and more convinced that the languages we learn have to have personal relevance to us. I have always thought this. But there was a comment left by an online colleague of mine Richard Benson a few months ago, in fact it was after my Thai excursion last year, and he said that one of the best reason to learn a language is to learn the language of the people around you in your local community. That way you can have value to everybody and he called me up on that because I didn't mention that in my reasons to learn Thai blog post.

It ties in to my philosophy with language learning to the extent that I always learn languages that are meaningful for me. But now that I am back in London and I am based permanently in London I have been thinking more and more about this and the language that I really want to learn right now is Polish. Why? Well because I am surrounded by it. I don't really know anything about the language. I don't have many Polish friends, I have a few. But all the Polish people I meet are super nice, I really like them, and the language is– I also come across Polish people that speak no English at all. So, there is a clear avenue there for not only being able to practice the language and practice speaking, but also being able to be of some kind of service in the community and improve communication.

Now I am not sure I am quite brave enough to do that yet because I still have so many other unfinished projects. But the other thing that has happened recently is I have started to get more and more interested in Italian again and for you those of you who know my story will know that Italian is a language I used to speak quite well but I lost it because I learnt a very similar language, Spanish, and then didn't keep up my Italian. So, I have lost my Italian which is a real shame although I still understand quite a lot.

But recently I have had all of these encounters with Italian people. So, I went to the British Podcast Awards the other day and met Francesco who is the co-host of Coffee Break Italian. We had a long chat that night about Italian. Since then all the kind of cafes that go to and work around London I keep meeting Italian people who are really nice. So, all these kinds of signs out there that I should be learning Italian. But the reason is that I am surrounded by it and that for me is the most powerful reason to learn a language.

That is me trying to tie this back in to Begum’s question. You really have to think about that because language learning is like a dog. It is not just for Christmas it is something that takes a long time to nurture and it grows with you over your life. So, it has to be something that makes sense.

So, Begum in your situation based on what you have told me, which is not that much, but based on what you have told me learn Spanish no question about it. I hope that is helpful, you should enjoy it. It is a great language, one of my favourite languages.

If you would like to ask me a question you can go to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/ask. If you have enjoyed the podcast I would really appreciate a review on iTunes as well. You can go to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/review and that will take you to the iTunes store. Alternatively, you can just open up the iTunes store search for I will teach you a language and leave a review there. Most appreciated. It helps other people find the show.

Now at the end of every episode I like to leave you with a resource of some kind on the topic of the show. But today I am not going to do that because we have got a really cool new outro and I am going to leave you with that.

Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode, I really hope you enjoying it. You know one of the questions I get asked most often about language learning is how to improve your memory because things get so much easier when you learn new words and you don’t forget them later in conversation when you really need them.

So, what I decided to do was to put together a short email course. It is a three-part email course over three days that teaches you my favourite techniques for memorising vocabulary and actually putting that vocabulary in to your long-term memory. It is a short course, three days, it is completely free and if you would like to sign up for it please go to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/freememory course.

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