12 “secret” reasons why people want to learn a new language

People might give lots of different reasons on why they’re thinking of learning a new language. Yet when you get right down to it, they might really mean something else entirely.

700 reasons?

I’m just finishing up an exciting European project called hello! (Home of European Language Learning Opportunities) and together we’ve created a powerful portal for language courses at www.languagelearningportal.com.

One of the project partners is LLAS (The Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies), and in a previous project they brought out a list of 700 reasons to study a new language.

That’s a lot of reasons. You can find the list here.

A reason is usually a benefit, it’s why it’s good for you. It’s like saying that losing weight is good for your health. However, the real underlying motivation behind losing weight is almost always self-image. It’s because we want to look good in tight trousers.

What does a language student really want?

It’s your job to find out what the underlying, most powerful reason is for why your potential students want to come to learn a language.

Sales used to be about leading the prospect where you wanted them to go. It used to be about closing. There is an old video clip from a great film called “Glengarry Glen Ross” that illustrates this.

Yet with individual empowerment, mostly due to a heck of a lot of free information out there on the Internet, techniques like “Always Be Closing” just don’t cut it anymore. You come off as aggressive, annoying and fake.

So I believe that the most powerful question we can ask when talking to potential language students is “Why do you want to learn”?

Here is a quick graph to show you why asking why is so important:

Screenshot 2014-12-18 17.28.19(2)

  • Asking why sets you on the road down to a greater chance for enrolment for the reasons shown in the graph.
  • Showing empathy means you are interested in the person and care about what they want.
  • Showing you understand sets you out as an expert, and someone who can be trusted to find the right solution
  • When you do this, you raise more motivation for the person to enrol. It can often mean the difference between a sale or a “I’ll think about it”.

Obviously, you can’t do this by email, the best way is over the phone. I wrote about listening techniques in a previous blog post.

What is interesting in this exercise is that once you get used to the responses that people give you, then you can engage them in an even more concrete conversation, because you know what they are thinking and what they want. The enrolment process becomes easier.

Chimp reasons versus human reasons

However, sometimes the reasons they give you are just very mundane and not the real reason why. Human beings are complex animals, and motivation is actually a lot more linked to the animal part of our brain than to the human part.

I mean we all know what is good for us, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we do it. For example, one part of our brain could be screaming “I want chocolate” and the other part is shouting at the same time “But you’re over 1500 calories for the day and you’ve only walked 1000 steps!”.

Some “real” reasons for learning a language

For a bit of fun for Christmas, and to the taken with a pinch of salt, I thought it would be nice and different to give alternative reasons for learning a language compared to the more mundane ones you hear everyday.

So here are our top twelve real Christmas festive reasons for learning a new language.

The reason they give

The “real” reason

To help me find a new job Jobs that need a fluent foreign language speaker pay much better
To help me in my new job I may have said a teeny white lie about how good my level is and need to get it up to scratch.
To help me in my current job I have a new manager and I need to make a good impression
To help me apply for a new job in my company I really want this new job and will do all it takes to get it
To help me get into a foreign university I want to go to university abroad because I’ve been rejected from all the ones here, so I have to look elsewhere. 
To help me get good grades I’ve been slacking off all year and now my parents are threatening to cut off my allowance unless I get better grades in my language classes
To help me communicate better with my loved one(s) My wife speaks to my kids in this language, and I have no idea what they’re saying.
To help me communicate with someone important to me My neighbour is from X. She is gorgeous. I want to impress her.
I have a passion for all people from that country Their accent drives me weak at the knees.
Because I have a passion for learning new languages What can I say, I’m naturally gifted. I’m talented, intelligent and very smug too. Just put me straight into the intermediate class. I’ll have sailed through beginner’s class on the plane down.
Because I have a passion for the country where they speak this language I want to move there as soon as I can
Because one of my parents is from that country and they never taught me I want to reconnect with my family roots before it’s too late

So there you have it. Like I said, take the table lightly and look out for more articles in the new year!

Enjoy Christmas!

1 reply
  1. Sumathi
    Sumathi says:

    This is the different perspective of analyzing students’ psychology. Would you mind let me know how did you do this analysis?


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