Do you think it’s possible to learn a language without a desire to learn it?
My husband and I were recently discussing this during one of our weekly Sunday night existential crises about where we want to live.
We keep going back and forth about whether or not we want to stay in the UK, and the question we keep coming back to is… where next?
He’s desperate for us to move to Greece.
I’m determined to go somewhere I want to learn the language.
And I can’t explain why, but I just don’t want to learn Greek.
I even (unsuccessfully) tried it once — can’t remember a word. And if you ask me, that proves my very unofficial hypothesis that you NEED a reason and a desire to learn a language to, well, actually learn it.
But I’m not here to tell you about my living arrangement woes…
I’m here to talk about why people choose to learn languages and what that means for you, as a language teaching business owner.
Because here’s a truthbomb: no one is buying your language courses just because they’re great.
In fact, no one is buying language, full stop.
There are TONS of reasons why someone might want to learn a language. But it’s never simply because of a teacher, a course, an offer (or a husband).
If you want to position yourself and your services as THE solution to your ideal students’ language learning challenges, you need to understand what’s motivating them to study. And that means going deeper than ‘work’, ‘education’ or ‘interest’.
Don’t get me wrong, these reasons serve as a good starting point. But if you want to write super specific, effective copy, you shouldn’t stop there.
Because the language learning market is crowded, and you need to work hard to stand out.
This all comes back to the idea of niching down. Before you start building or marketing your courses, you need to have a clear idea of who they’re for and what they help your students achieve — which is directly linked to their reasons for wanting to learning the language.
And that information should form the basis of everything you write – from your emails to your sales pages. The more relevant your copy is to your audience’s needs, the higher your chances of catching their attention, forming a connection and proving that you’re the perfect teacher to help them reach their goals.
Which takes a liiiittle more detail than ‘learning for work’, don’t you think?
Here are 45 different reasons why people want to learn languages
Believe it or not, a 2016 survey by Babbel listed job or career advancement among the least common reasons for learning a language.
Surprised? Me too. I’ve worked with several teachers whose clients want to learn English and French for professional reasons. Some of those reasons include:
- To get a promotion
- To get a higher paying job
- To build a better life
- To gain a competitive edge
- To connect with colleagues
- To work abroad
- To fulfil job seekers requirements in host country
- To relocate with their company
- To get a specific job in a specific company
- To work in a certain industry
- To get a job they’re qualified for
- To communicate more effectively with clients
I know, I know — this category is broad as hell. But so too are our motivations for learning a new tongue…
- To make connect with people in a new place
- To fit in with their peers
- To navigate daily life in their home country
- To understand bi-lingual children
- To communicate with a romantic partner
- To understand their in-laws
- To make travelling easier and more rewarding
- To better oneself and expand their horizons
- To fulfil a personal goal and challenge themselves
- To understand their heritage
- To pursue volunteer opportunities
- To apply for citizenship or residency
- To keep their heritage alive
- To improve their brain health
- To be able to move abroad and settle into a place
When we think of education, we typically think of young people learning at school or university — but that’s not necessarily true.
From passing school exams to conducting academic research, there are a host of educational motivations that could be driving your people to seek support.
- To study a particular degree
- To go to a certain university
- To get extra credit (harsh but true!)
- To study abroad
- To pass an exam
- To join a language exchange program
- To gain a competitive edge
- Because they have to!
- To access a wider range of educational research resources
- To pursue a particular research field
Last month, I ran a copywriting workshop with a small group of teachers, and they were adamant that their students don’t have tangible reasons for learning — they’re just learning out of curiosity!
I get that. Heck, I’ve been there myself — I started learning Chinese just because it intrigued me. But by the time I decided to invest in a Mandarin language course, I clearly understood WHY I was learning: because I wanted to better understand the country and the culture.
My point? While it’s true that many people learn a language out of curiosity, there’s almost always a more specific reason behind it. For example…
- To understand the history and culture of a place
- To broaden horizons and gain a new perspective
- To better understand a place and its people
- To experience a different way of life
- To enjoy literature or media in a language
- To discover connections between languages
- To add another language to their list
- Because they like the sound of the language!
What if your students don’t know why they’re learning?
Chances are that if you’re already teaching someone, they do know why they’re learning a new language. It might just be that they haven’t given it much thought. But dig a little deeper, and I bet they’ll be able to explain why.
And if they actually don’t know? These people probably aren’t your ideal students.
You know better than anyone that learning a language takes hard work and persistence, and for that, we need to keep our big goal in mind. So, if they don’t know what that goal is, chances are they’ll give up when things get hard.
Plus, let’s face it — language learners who don’t know why they’re learning or what they want to achieve are the least likely to invest in a teacher.
Chances are they downloaded Duolingo a while ago and stopped after an initial week-long streak.
People always learn languages for a reason
And as a language teaching business owner, it’s super important you understand this reason. Because when you know WHO you want to work with, WHY they want to learn the target language and HOW your offer will help them get there.
This won’t only save you the stress of trying to instil motivation, but it’ll also make it far easier to attract the right students to you.