Language learning is a great excuse for escapism

Ever since I was little I’ve always loved reading books. I was a very early reader: I remember learning to read when I was 3 by trying to hammer keys on my old DOS computer to get into Windows so I could play with Paint (people my generation who had a PC back then will understand). I slowly discovered what each letter looked like on the keys and eventually figured out how to read like that. Then, in elementary school, I got hooked on fantasy books (series like Shannara) and my life has never been the same since. I remember my teachers being annoyed at me for choosing to read books rather than play with other kids during recess, but I really needed to know how the story ended and I was fully immersed in that world.

As I grew up, in my teenage years, I began to read books in English. This was mostly for two reasons:

  • The translation of some books I read in Italian was very wrong. While I appreciate and admire the work of translators, those books I read were really badly translated, and discovering the original work really opened a new world to me.
  • The English version was, ironically, cheaper to buy in the store. It was an age before digital reading and ebooks, and as a teenager with not a lot of money to spend, saving every penny helped. The English version was much cheaper than the Italian one, because not many people in Italy bought books in English at the time anyway.

On the side, while I was enjoying books, I also got into videogames and gaming, mostly JRPGs. I’ve always been fascinated the most by the narrative and storytelling rather than the gameplay. If a game has a good and compelling story to me, it can be a great game even if the gameplay is mediocre. It’s another great chance to immerse and discover a new world, like an interactive book.

After graduating highschool, for a reason I don’t really know, I somewhat grew away from books and reading as a hobby. I spent most of my time doing game development and programming, studied computer science in university, and got started in my current career. I also nurtured my other hobby which is guitar and music production.

A lot of my time in my 20s was spent traveling (for work), living abroad, practicing music, and also playing a lot of CSGO. I don’t think there was any real reason why I grew away from reading but it just happened and I always assumed it was a thing adults did. I’ve always heard people say “I don’t have time for reading as an adult” and similar excuses and I kinda internalized them myself too.

Then, my late 20s/early 30s hit, and I got into Japanese learning. Japanese learning changed my world once again (for the better or worse I can’t tell yet, but probably for the better). I was already familiar with the idea that if you want to learn a language well you need to live it, and that the best way to live it is by reading and immersing in that language’s media, so that did not come as a surprise to me.

What surprised me, however, was how good it felt to get back into reading as a hobby without feeling like I was “wasting time”. I could excuse my reading by telling myself “It’s for language learning” and just spend hours upon hours immersed in manga, books, games, etc guilt free. It gave me back a feeling that I had forgotten: the feeling of escaping the current world and joining adventures and stories from faraway lands full of unknowns. It brought me back to my teenage years of blissful fantasy reading and story-focused gaming.

Language learning is an amazing way to not only learn about a new culture and interface yourself with a foreign world, but also to give yourself a chance to catch a breath in this modern frantic world and tell yourself that it’s okay to just open a book and read. You owe it to yourself.

If you’ve never enjoyed reading, I think you’re missing out and you should give it another chance. If you used to enjoy reading and ended up growing away from it, consider coming back. It is worth it.