Externally one of the most imposing aspects of learning a new language is the thought of tackling all that vocabulary.
If you’ve ever seen an unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, you know just how vast a lexicon can be. Grammar rules and even exceptions can be memorized easily and tend to be finite, learning a new writing system only takes 15 minutes or so, but there are hundreds of thousands of words out there. So how do you face this imposing wall of verbiage? How in the world can you possibly be expected to learn all of that in any reasonable amount of time?
That’s ok though, because you don’t have to learn everything.
There are a lot of reasons to learn a second language. These can range from the extremely practical (being relocated to a country for work that doesn’t speak your native language) to the extremely personal (you enjoy a good challenge and love to study new things) to comfortably in-between (you want to be able to make personal connections with speakers of another language or in another country).
Some people would say your reasons for learning a new language isn’t important. They’d say that every reason is perfectly valid as long as it inspires you to start learning. After all, everyone’s reasons are their own and who are we to judge and let’s all just hug and be happy.
Those people are imbeciles.
Imagine for a moment that you’re walking down a quiet street minding your own business when a car driven by a distracted teenager veers around the corner and up onto the sidewalk and clips you (don’t text and drive kids).
You tumble through the air and hit the ground in a heap a few yards away and the teen speeds off. You’re a bloody mess, and are barely hanging on to consciousness when you see a stranger running towards you. He runs up to you and kneels down.
“Wow, you’re really messed up,” he says. “Your one leg’s popped out of its socket, want me to put it back for you?”
“Are… are you a doctor?” you ask.
“No. But I’m a really nice guy.”
While all that business about every one of your cells being replaced every seven years isn’t entirely true, people do tend to go through major changes in their lives in cycles of seven years or so. Think about your own life broken down into 7 year chunks. How different were you at 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, 56 and so on?
Beyond the fact that we tend to change in tastes and personality every 7 years, we also tend to refresh our social networks every septennial. That’s not to say you completely abandon your old friends for new ones every seven years, but people tend to replace a majority of them and your primary friends shift. Add on to that fact the general guideline that it takes roughly seven years or so on average to master a new skill or profession and you wind up with what almost amounts to a brand new person every seven years.
I think that’s absolutely fantastic.
I am 26 years old – and it terrifies me.
It terrifies me because I recognize that my life is at least a quarter over. Sure I might get hit by bus tomorrow, but even if I have a good run I can’t reasonably expect to make it much past 100. So I’m a quarter done. I’m a quarter done and that terrifies me because I feel like I should be further along in my goals toward achieving the life I want to live.
I know, I know – people will say to calm down and enjoy my life as it is. To be happy with what I’ve got. I am, to be honest, and this shouldn’t be seen as a complaint. While grateful for everything I’ve got I hate complacency. I’m an ambitious person, whether you apply that word as praise or as an insult, so complacency is anathema to me. You can be simultaneously grateful for what you have yet hungry to accomplish more and that is the terribly uncomfortable place I find myself sitting in now.
So – both to assist those who find themselves younger (or older) than myself and yet to seize their ideal life, and for the entirely more selfish purpose of assuaging my own dread that I’ll find myself twenty-six years hence with my goals still unachieved – I’ve collected a list of 26 lessons I’ve learned over my time spent circling the Sun.