wanderlust: n. A very strong or irresistable impulse to travel.
Within the context of language learning, wanderlust refers to the desire to flit from one target language to another, usually without having achieved one’s goals in the previous language. In this age of productivity, I think we automatically assume that wanderlust can’t be a good thing– after all, it’s more efficient to finish what you started before starting the next project, right? If your goal is fluency in a particular language, any time spent away from that goal is only making that goal take longer to achieve.
I don’t really agree with this, and I think we should embrace wanderlust (as the title says!). When we talk too much about efficiency, logic, and single-tasking at a time, we forget that we’re people, not computers. People are curious about different things, and different things catch our interests at different times. Language lovers are prone to this, and how could we not be, what with the dizzying variety of languages out there?
Dabbling is the solution!
I have had “problems” with wanderlust before, but now, I follow my curiosity. At least, to an extent. If I’m curious about a language, I dabble. This means that I go ahead and listen to radio to get a feel of the sounds of the language. I read the Wikipedia page on it. I might get a textbook out of the library or find some lessons online. I watch a few cartoons in the language!
Usually, my curiosity is just that– plain curiosity. I wanted to know more, I dabbled, and now I’m satisfied. For instance, back in October or so, I found a beautiful Finnish hymn/folk song, O Kriste Kunnian Kuningas. So, I started listening to some more songs in Finnish, and I flipped through some lessons in a Teach Yourself Complete Finnish book. I kept up with my main target languages, but obviously I did devote some time to Finnish. And, after two or three weeks, I was pretty happy with the extent of my dabbling. I didn’t really want to go further at that point, so, curiosity satisfied, I went back to my Spanish/Dutch/French schedule full force. I’m dabbling a bit in Latvian right now with a phrasebook and dictionary (I’m listening to Latvian radio right now :P), just to see what it’s all about.
Schedule a language timeline.
So, what happens when I like what I see? Well, I’ve dabbled in Dutch a number of times over the years, as chronicled in this post, and I did end up picking it up at a time when I could devote the appropriate amount of time and resources. It was in the back of my mind as something I might like to pursue in the future, and I eventually did just that.
When you discover a language you want to add to your hit list, then you have to take a good look at the languages (and other projects) you’re working on now. You have to look at your available time and energy and work out if you can add another. I find it’s really helpful to put a date on it– think, “I’m working on Spanish right now, but in six months, I think it’ll be at a high enough level that I can add Dutch/Polish/Hindi/Latvian.” That doesn’t mean you stop doing Spanish at that point (unless you want to), it just means you’re deliberately focusing on something now, and you’ll be able to shift your focus later, with more ability to maintain what you’ve learned in the first language. Scheduling can be a big help– when you schedule your languages in the mid- to long-term, you’ll know that you will get around to it, and so you’ll be happier sticking to what you have right now!
Follow your curiosity!
All in all, I think wanderlust is a real joy of language learning. After all, we love languages, so it only makes sense that we would be forever curious and interested in a number of languages. Following that curiosity and satisfying it a little helps us polyglot-inclined-types to discern the languages we might like to learn in the future. Unless you have pressing life-related reasons to add another language, it’s hard to know enough about a certain language or culture without embracing a little wanderlust every now and then.
There are so many ways to engage with learning languages– learning includes everything from memorizing a couple of words all the way to native-level fluency. Feel free to enjoy all of it!