Excuses for remaining monolingual

Why don’t more (English) people study languages? Here’s 10 reasons which are actually just excuses.


  1. I’m too old to start now

What are you, on your deathbed? Your age wouldn’t stop you starting a long book, or booking a holiday next year, so why is this acceptable to put off language learning?

  1. If you don’t learn when you’re young, there’s no hope

Closely linked to excuse number 1. Yes, some research shows that language learning (and learning in general) is easier when you’re young, as you’re brain and personality are still flexible.

But plenty of things are easier when we’re young. It doesn’t validate ignoring these things completely when you grow up.

  1. I can’t make those strange sounds!

Oh this one makes me laugh. All humans are capable of making all sounds in all the languages in the world. As babies we quickly focus on our mother tongue and neglect the rest. But that capability still exists – we just need practice.

  1. I don’t have the time

Translation: it’s not a priority. There are plenty of great reasons to learn another language, from increasing your career prospects to changing your entire world view. Are you sure you are willing to miss out on that?

  1. I’m just not a language person

These are the worst! All this means is either you haven’t actually tried and need a reason to protect your image of yourself of someone who totally would do fantastic things if it were possible. Or it means you believe success has more to do with innate talent than hard work.

First, read Outliers, and then think back to learning at school. Was it fun? In all likelihood, if you didn’t enjoy the subject, it didn’t seem worth trying particularly hard. Maybe you started to hear adults talking about their lack of the magic language learning instinct. When you did less well in class as a result of less effort, you begin to apply this definition to yourself, so you can stop trying. What we hear about ourselves, what we tell ourselves, can often become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once ‘I’m not a language person’ becomes part of your identity, it will affect the choices you make and significantly block your ability to learn.

For the record, I don’t consider myself gifted at languages. But I love them. And when I look at linguists I admire, I know it is their effort, confidence and willingness to persevere that helps them learn so much and so well.

Learning something new requires sacrificing your pride, talking to lots of people, and commitment. It’s the final one I struggle with, rather than a gene for languages.

Some individuals certainly have an aptitude for learning, yet there are many different ways to learn. You need to find yours and believe that you too can be ‘a language person’.

  1. Everyone speaks English everywhere, there’s no need

First of all, no.

Second, this is really the excuse you want to use? That you are too superior to do what you expect billions of others to do for your convenience?

Unless you stay only within resorts, or never visit non-English speaking countries, you need to learn a few phrases at the very least.

The arrogance this excuse implies is pretty unattractive as well as missing all the wonderful benefits of language learning that go beyond basic comprehension and ordering your full English abroad.

Besides, it is highly unlikely that a global language will emerge – the dialects that split off are already diverging from ‘standard’ English. Even if one did, Mandarin and Spanish have a greater shot at it than us.

  1. A language is not something you can ever be ‘done’ learning – so why bother starting?

Perfection is a myth. There is nothing we do that can ever be fully ticked off, swept tidily away. I’m not suggesting everyone go out and become professionally fluent in several languages (although that would be awesome). You can set yourself different goals, from conversational to being able to read signs, or a book in the original.

  1. It’s too hard!

Well guess what, you can do hard things. The things worth doing are not going to feel like lying-on-the-sofa-esque comfort. The whole point is to push yourself, and to understand that you are capable of this.

PS. You might also enjoy my adventures in Spanish and German. I am the ultimate language dabbler, but actually becoming multilingual is one of my top life ambitions. Why not join me?