There are many movies celebrating very particular hobbies. From surfing to stamp collecting, cinema illustrates the thrill of hobbies that capture our obsessions and imaginations.
What, then, about our favorite obsession: learning languages? Though there are plenty of actors who speak multiple languages, and quite a few movies where they switch fluidly among and between spoken languages, it is hard to identify a film that is about language-learning as a hobby.
Enter “The Hyperglot”, a 2013 short film celebrating the self-directed language learner. The story is simple: a talented, self-directed learner of languages in New York City is looking for connection. Switching fluidly among languages, he actually finds a greater degree of understanding from those UN-like him in speakers of languages from all corners of the world.
All of his interactions are with people who would otherwise be passers-by. Instead of leading separate lives intersecting only in time and space, our hero finds real connection with the people and linguistic worlds around him.
After the screening of this film at the NY Polyglot Conference 2015, the italki team decided to get together on a Thursday night, and watch it with a few friends. After the 25 minutes it took to watch the film, the mood of the room had changed. There is something magical about seeing one’s obsession affirmed in a work of art. The conversation among us became lively, excited. Various hidden language talents of the room burst forth and bloomed among us. We even decided to have a small language challenge of our own, to memorize “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King in a language we have not studied before. The choices ranged from Chinese to Icelandic, and we are sure to see some hilarious renditions of this song by italki staff on our instagram feed soon.
The bigger insight from this italki activity is this: language learning is a fundamentally community-oriented exercise. In the same way that we we build community around our passions in a local context, creation of art and media like “The Hyperglot” film provides additional motivation from inspiration and a feeling of partaking in a larger, more global experience. Learning foreign languages in isolation is self-contradictory, as language is the medium of connection and interaction.
Having our passions affirmed by our own “tribes” and communities helps us stick to the work involved in achieving our language goals, not just because of accountability, but because of the real rewards that come from interacting within and belonging to a group of friends. The presence of media dedicated to our passions helps us feel this on an even greater scale, and inspires us to dream and to succeed.
The trick to staying motivated, then, is surrounding ourselves with those who share our passion, as well as seeking out those inspiring works of art that celebrate and affirm our belief that our passion is worth pursuing.