Languages, Lifelong Learning and Learners
Updated: Jan 25
Why learning English (or any language) should be approached as a skill for life
We associate the word ‘learning’ with school or work-based necessities, like tests, qualifications, and employability. But learning happens all the time, and lifelong learners are people that intentionally dedicate time and energy to finding out more about things that interest them.
Lifelong learning is arguably the most beneficial kind of knowledge acquisition because it’s internally driven. The topics we approach as lifelong learners could be anything, like languages, crafts, cooking, art, science, and are selected because of genuine interest. We give time and energy to pursuing these topics because they grab our attention and our human nature says, “Ooo, tell me more!”
If we allow ourselves to follow the topics that interest us, we grow in the truest and most rapid way because we care and are invested in discovering more or developing skills in this area. With this type of learning, no one lingers over us; there’s no threat of a low score or risk that our options will be reduced in the future, so we somehow feel safer and braver with lifelong learning.
Valamis, a digital learning platform for individuals and businesses, says that lifelong learning can be defined as, “A form of self-initiated education that is focused on personal development,” and as something, “voluntary, with the purpose of achieving personal fulfilment.”
This means lifelong learning is invaluable because it makes us feel successful and satisfied.
Some of the benefits of following our interests are:
1. We are competitive because we’re innately interested and motivated individuals, which helps us succeed.
2. We are proactive and thus employable. The knowledge we seek improves our employability because we have a range of interests and skills.
3. We are social and can interact with different groups of people because of our varied knowledge. We are interested in responding to others’ ideas, which tells us we are healthy conversationalists and gives us positive peer feedback.
4. We seek out groups and places to acquire knowledge, as a result, we exist within or create clubs and organisations. We like to include others in these spaces, so lifelong learners cohesively contribute towards society, building connected, happy communities.
5. And we continuously develop by introducing new things to our routines and diversifying. We often experience a feeling of growth and satisfaction from this.
Humans are naturally driven to explore and learn. We are proud of our mind’s ability to continually expand. Almost nothing makes the human brain happier than knowing we have progressed, regardless of the field or rate of progress.
As we improve, we see our quality of life change and our sense of self-worth blossoms. Acknowledging interesting ideas inspires us to stretch out our metaphorical roots and reach up for more growth opportunities. We want to feel personally fulfilled.
For me, it took a long time to understand and appreciate the feeling of personal fulfilment. I often confused it with social or peer recognition (external feedback from others that told me I was doing well rather than understanding internally that I had met a goal).
I started to mix up feelings of personal fulfilment and social recognition as a teenager. I was a national-level pentathlete and received positive feedback for my sporting achievements. In sport, I knew what I wanted to achieve, I felt success in my body, I saw it in my results, and I was praised. This all made sense.
In school, I managed to get good results and was praised, but I never really understood how the results came to be. I was unsure a lot of the time about what I was even supposed to be doing or achieving in my lessons (maybe that comes with juggling school and sport). When I did do well, I questioned it because I didn’t fully connect with the practice of learning in school and I didn’t have clear outcomes. Yes, I wanted to pass. But I didn’t get what skills I needed to develop in order to achieve this. So I questioned myself all the time. Had I really succeeded? Or was it just luck?
My two worlds were emotionally colliding. Then, I started doing badly in sports and it became more confusing because I questioned every feeling to do with fulfilment and growth (or regression). Was it me or luck? Did I really control any of it?
When I look back, I see that I passed through school on intuition rather than figuring out how to learn: that came much later. I was rudderless, responding and reacting but mostly floundering. As a result, I didn’t really know what I wanted to learn about.
I said I wanted to be a sports therapist because that’s what my pentathlete peers were going to do, but I was awful at Biology and suffered for three years studying it for A levels (I barely passed).
After college, I stopped training and competing. I took a year out of everything and worked in a pub so I could go travelling. This time was when I really began to learn. I read and realised I loved it. I bought a sketch book. I started drawing and writing poems. I wanted to become a tattoo artist. My parents weren’t very happy. Luckily for them, I was pants at drawing so they got their wish. Eventually, I did decide to go to university but not to do what others thought was right. I went to study my new passions, literature and creative writing.
University turned out to be an amazing learning opportunity but not for all the papers and numbers that come from it.
I read more.
I met people from all walks of life.
I saw how they learnt.
I set roots.
I became a lifelong learner.
When completing teacher training, planning schemes of work for young people guided me through the philosophies and ethics of the thing we call ‘learning’. It taught me the skills of peaking interest, and then, I was hooked.
As soon as I knew what I wanted, a sense of fulfilment quickly followed.