The three types of language learner

Yesterday, I shared a theory of mine that people learn English for a few reasons:

  • to get a job
  • to get into school
  • to make friends or relationships
  • to travel
  • because they like the feeling of accomplishment

As I started to think about it a little bit more, I realized that it's even more basic than that. I think that there are basically three categories of motivation for learning a language. Most people study a language because they want to use it for something, they want to experience something different, or they just like the feeling of learning. I call these three types the Pragmatist, the Adventurer, and the Accomplishment Junkie.

The Pragmatist

A "pragmatist" is someone who's realistic, practical, and efficient.

The pragmatic language learner studies a language because it's useful. It helps him get a job, get into a good university, or operate a business more effectively.

Pragmatists often study a foreign language very intensely for a short period of time in order to pass a test or an interview. After it's over, the Pragmatist might move on to something else.

Pragmatists usually take the most direct and obvious path to learning a language: they sign up for a class, get a textbook, or hire a tutor.

The Adventurer

The Adventurer is someone who loves learning a language because it opens up new possibilities. 

Adventurers usually enjoy traveling to foreign countries. Imagine a young traveler who wanders around with a backpack, starting up conversations with the locals and forming quick friendships before moving on to the next town. 

There's also a more intellectual kind of Adventurer. She may not want to physically travel to a different country, but loves to experience another culture's literature, music, film, and so on.

The Accomplishment Junkie

Some people start learning a foreign language and realize that they love the learning process. Learning a new word, or understanding a conversation that would have been hard to follow before, gives them a kind of "high". They get addicted to the feeling of improving their language skill.

Accomplishment Junkies like to make lists and use flash cards. They have study apps on their phones so that they can learn while waiting in line or riding the bus. They also use foreign language podcasts, films, radio shows, and TV as "learning material".

What kind of language learner are you?

When I first started out learning Japanese, I was a bit of an Adventurer. I moved to Japan to have interesting experiences. I wanted to make friends, meet girls, read comic books, and have fun. But as I started to learn more, I became more and more of an Accomplishment Junkie. I tried to learn as many words and Japanese characters as I could. These days, I'm much more of a Pragmatist. My goal is just to keep up my conversation skills so that I can speak to my wife's parents without sounding dumb.

I think that it can be useful to ask yourself why you're interested in language learning. The better you know yourself, the easier it is to get results that will make you happy. 

So what kind of language learner are you?

  Print this Article