I recently came upon this quote by Kató Lomb:
We should learn languages because language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly. If someone knows how to play the violin only a little, he will find that the painful minutes he causes are not in proportion to the possible joy he gains from his playing. The amateur chemist spares himself ridicule only as long as he doesn’t aspire for professional laurels. The man somewhat skilled in medicine will not go far, and if he tries to trade on his knowledge without certification, he will be locked up as a quack doctor.
Solely in the world of languages is the amateur of value. Well-intentioned sentences full of mistakes can still build bridges between people. Asking in broken Italian which train we are supposed to board at the Venice railway station is far from useless. Indeed, it is better to do that than to remain uncertain and silent and end up back in Budapest rather than in Milan. (HT)
I agree with Lomb’s sentiment. I may never master Spanish or French, not to mention Chinese or Korean. But even learning a small amount connects me with cultures that would otherwise be closed off.
And, although it’s a popular sentiment that everyone in the world speaks English nowadays, they really don’t. This statistic puts the total number of speakers at only 10.7%-21%, meaning a full 80-90% of the world would be unable to understand you if you spoke to them.
I also believe the idea of learning something, even poorly, is a good attitude with language learning. Too many people think speaking poorly is something shameful, so they don’t try to speak another language at all.
Other Things Worth Learning Badly
I depart from Lomb in her assessment that languages are the sole object of study worth doing, even poorly. While there is certainly a category of things without tremendous value if they aren’t learned well, the complement to that category is certainly larger than just languages.
I could take this moment to go through a list of which I feel falls into each category, but I’d rather leave the question open to comments. What do you feel is worth learning, even poorly? And, why do you think that even mediocre ability is worth the time to learn it? Finally, what separates skills worth learning poorly from those that are only worth learning if you plan to learn them very well?
I have my own answers to these questions, but I’m eager to hear your thoughts. Write in and if there’s enough interest, I’ll try to highlight the best in a future post.