Why and what for

In many cases we make no difference between these two questions. If you ask someone why they are taking driving lessons, they’ll tell you ‘because I want to drive my own car’ – and this is not the reason, but the purpose.

In logical terms the distinction between the two is very clear: the reason comes BEFORE you do something, the purpose is what you achieve AFTER you do it. If you want to explore your reasons for a decision, you should reflect on

‘ I do it because….’;

if you want to explore your purposes for a decision, you should reflect on

‘I do it in order to…’

Make sure you keep them apart. In our example, it’s a bit difficult to think of reasons for getting a driving licence: maybe you’ve bought a car but haven’t got the licence yet? or everyone else has it? It’s a lot easier to imagine what you are doing it for: in order to get independence, comfort or flexibility of moving around, in order to commute to your new job, to show off in your own car etc.

With languages there’s something special. I think we are just as aware of the WHY as of the WHAT FOR.

I’ll take myself as an example.

I learned English BECAUSE I loved the sound of it and because of The Beatles, the BBC Shakespeare plays, the British humour and manners etc. but I learned it IN ORDER TO… – hmmmmm, maybe actually in order to become English myself.

I learned German BECAUSE I had to, spending a long time in Germany, but I learned it IN ORDER TO survive in a foreign country and gain the respect of the people there.

Italian was on my list BECAUSE it was an easy language (I thought), so why not…?, but I learned it IN ORDER TO make my CV look better and maybe boost my career chances.

I learned Spanish BECAUSE I was fascinated by South America and attached to an old – and very dear – friend there, but I learned it IN ORDER TO come closer to that person and to their world.

I refused to try to learn French BECAUSE I was afraid I wouldn’t get its many sounds right, and I refused to learn it IN ORDER TO keep  my self-confidence unbruised.

Most people learn English BECAUSE they need it in their job, or their company forces them, but they learn it IN ORDER TO deal with their professional tasks, to gain status, to get access to better positions etc.

When learning different skills we tend to consider our goals more than our reasons. We don’t really reflect on why we want to get our driving licence in my example at the beginning, but mostly on what we wish to do with our licence when we’ve got it. With languages I think the motivation behind learning is sometimes more present in our minds than the purpose.  We very often feel a strong impulse in favour of, or against a language, and the purpose, or the utility of this decision is not so important. We are sometimes pressed by circumstances to learn a language (in business, for example), and then our goals are more definite. In both cases, the reasons will be decisive in how fast and how well we learn.

Your reasons are the engine behind your learning. But are they reasons of your choice? Ask yourselves these questions:

‘I want to learn …. (English etc) because …..; more specifically, it’s because of my …………….. / it is dictated by …………..’
Or think back of why you learned the language in the past:

‘I wanted to learn… because…; more specifically, it was because of my ………….. / it was dictated by………..’