“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning a different way to think about things.” – Flora Lewis
When I was young I didn’t see the point in learning French or Spanish in school. I wasn’t particularly inattentive in school, and foreign languages seemed to be my huge weak spot; I don’t think I could see the merit, and as a result I didn’t put in any effort. Eight years later and I would wake up on a beach in a small french town, breaking down to a point of utter fatigued frustration as I struggled to order my “petit dejeuner,” or breakfast to us English. It soon became clear that I was misguided, and that paying attention in French lessons would have been useful. Later, I would come to realize that there are far more reasons to learn another language than being able to order breakfast. Here are some of them:
1. Being Able to Order Breakfast
I said there would be more reasons than this one, but being able to order breakfast is certainly a valid starting point. Of course this extends further than breakfast… to lunch and dinner too! And also to manners, ordering a taxi, using transport, and everything else that gets you by in a different country. It doesn’t take much to learn some basics; the locals appreciate the effort, and going abroad becomes much, much easier and more enjoyable.
2. Communicate with people from other cultures
Nothing is more satisfying than managing more than an awkward moment with a local; learning another language makes for more intimate travel and the possibility to get more deeply involved in a culture. Having a second language under your belt also opens up interactions with other travelers, whether you are out of the country, or they are visiting yours! The world is a small place now, and there exists the possibility of connecting with people all over the world. When you get the opportunity to talk to someone using a language you are learning it is extremely challenging, and deeply rewarding.
3. It is mind expanding (and polite)
Before I made the effort to learn another language I was stuck in the false reality that English was the global language, and that it is therefore unnecessary to make the effort. This view could not be any more arrogant or close-minded, but unfortunately I believe it is fairly typical of countries which speak English as a mother-tongue. I am generalizing of course, but many have this attitude.
It is rather embarrassing to discover that this is not a universal condition; many countries speak two, three, or more languages close to fluently. Many Eastern Europeans speak English so well that you forget they are using a second language, one which they do not think in naturally. Isn’t is time we English speakers reciprocated?
4. It improves life opportunities
Many doors previously bolted shut suddenly swing open when we can communicate well in multiple languages. College and university applications which demonstrate this skill are valued, and the opportunity for life changing exchange courses is a possibility. Obvious choices for jobs include translators of all varieties, but any CV will benefit from what is an obvious asset for most businesses.
The freelance market is also rife with work for transcribing text or audio across languages, and there is also the opportunity to teach your second language, or teach english to native speakers of your second language. Opportunities to work abroad suddenly open up en mass; ever fancied working in a holiday resort abroad? How about on the slopes?
5. It is always good to learn!
We don’t always have to have a purpose for everything. Many people learn languages for enjoyment, for a challenge, or simply to learn something new. It is good to keep our brains fresh and our life interesting, and the option to learn another language is more accessible than ever before, with courses and groups, on and offline.
6. It improves native language use
Some people say that when they immerse in another language and culture, they gradually lose their ability to think well in their own language. I think this may only be true in cases of full immersion, and where the native tongue is no longer used for a long period of time. In my case learning another language (I know a little french, and a little little spanish) definitely improved my understanding of my native tongue, and of language in general. It was the first time I had ever consciously considered sentence structures, and nouns and verbs and what not. The differences in the usage of language allowed me to understand how it is innately tied to our concepts and constructs, and how language is inherently linked to culture, and perspective.