Sometimes you have a hobby or duty that you feel is actually more like a heavy stone than like a source of genuine joy.
Throughout my time learning languages, many of them have brought immense joy to me. However, sometimes one (or some) of them end up “losing the spark”, and sometimes this really happens with languages that I used to know very well (Russian and Northern Sami come to mind immediately).
But as a polyglot myself, sometimes I feel it genuinely hard to “say goodbye”, even for a while.
I really want to learn languages from the Pacific, and I’ve been making small progress. I’m very happy about what I’ve been doing with Palauan, Tongan and Gilbertese.
However, whenever I tried to refresh Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, Russian or Ukrainian, it felt hard for me. It felt that, at least for the time being, that the spark is gone. And if you speak one of these as your native or fluent languages, I will let you know that it has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with you.
Ever since writing this blog, I’ve become a lot more aware of dynamics on how people make choices.
Often people get trapped into jobs or relationships that they don’t particularly like, ones that they keep just because a logical part of them says that it is a “sensible” or “right” thing to do.
I’m giving up global languages for small languages of developing countries. It isn’t a logical decision in the slightest but I know it will make me happy.
What’s more, I know that, should the spark ever “reignite”, I could easily choose to come back to any of the languages I’ve studied over the course of my life and have an excellent head-start.
Above all, you just really have to ask yourself: “what do I really want? What does my heart want? Would I feel relieved if I dropped this hobby or language or other thing or relationship that provides a lot more pain than it does joy?”
I remember exactly how painful it was when I decided to become less religious than I was (and it was a LOT more painful than choosing not to study a set of languages. It felt, in a sense, like losing the trust of a family member, feeling betrayed and greatly confused). But above all, I made the decision because it was something that my heart wanted. I wanted to live my own life without a fear of punishment, thinking that every little sinful thing I did was somehow going to result in a punishment of sorts (bad grade, computer problem, illness, rejection of any variety, etc.)
But since then, I’ve learned to make what I want the primary goal in my life. And I’ve been better off for it.
The little child inside me wanted to learn more about places that I knew nothing about. The logical brain inside me told me to focus on projects I’ve already invested in. And the little child in me always wins, because no matter what happens, my deepest dreams and desires have to go first.
I’ll still hold pieces of my forgotten or “paused” languages with me forever, even if I’m not studying them actively, and of course I can always return should I feel that I feel that same longing for them that I used to.
We live under such extraordinary pressure a lot of the time. A lot of us, being trusting sorts, often give in to a lot of that pressure, and as a result we live a life that isn’t really ours.
I didn’t want that for myself, I don’t want it for you.
So in regards to language learning:
If you want a language, anywhere in the world, then go ahead and begin with it!
If you know a language, to whatever degree, and somehow feel that it isn’t serving you, you are under no obligation to keep it, especially if it isn’t making you feel happy or bringing great joy to your life.
You deserve that great joy. Nothing less.