It seems I am constantly being asked why I learn foreign languages. Every time I chat with somone online in their language, their first question is why I learned it. Every time someone finds out about my web site, they want to know why I'm doing it.
If you think it's hard explaining one language, try explaining a new one every year! Although I have a feeling it will make a handy conversation starter at the holidays.
Well, the truth is, it's not hard. Without much effort, I can think of several good reasons for learning at least one foreign language. Some of them may even surprise you!
1. It will makes you a better speaker of your own native tongue
This probably isn't what you expected to see, but it's a very good reason, and one that everyone can relate to. Maybe you don't live near any hispanic immigrants; maybe you don't have any Russian friends; maybe you'll never visit another country, but I can guarantee you that learning to understand another language will have a profound effect on your understanding of your own.
2. So many immigrants!
In the US, it's hispanic immigrants. Throughout Europe it's muslim immigrants. Wherever you live, there are surely immigrants. If you learn their language, you will be able to conduct business with them, buy goods in their stores, understand them in a hospital, or a law office, or a school. Learning to understand them gives you an advantage over everyone else who doesn't.
3. Never be a slave
When you are surrounded by people whose language you don't understand, you are their slave. They can do and say whatever they want, and you are left with only what they give you. At its best, this is awkward. At its worst, this can be downright dangerous. Whether you're in another country, or just in a different part of your city, knowing the language means never being a slave.
4. Secret communication
Once you're not a slave, you can be a master! You can tell someone a secret without having to hide. You can discuss someone's outfit without embarrassing them. Or, if you feel like simply cutting someone else out of a conversation, you can just switch languages.
5. Make friends all over the world
Even though I haven't yet been to Russia, I have managed to make several friends there online, just by chatting. I help them with English, they help me with Russia, and in the process we become friends. Now, when I travel there — maybe even this year — I have people I can count on. And I will do the same thing with people in Italy after this year. And on, and on, and on...
6. Understand foreign music, movies, literature, etc.
I am less than a month into my Italian project, but already, when I look at the lyrics for The Barber of Seville I understand quite a bit. Likewise, imagine my satisfaction at watching Pan's Labyrinth without relying on the subtitles. And believe me, reading Pushkin, Tolstoy, or Dostoyevski in anything but the original Russian means missing out on something special. I expect that The Divine Comedy will be the same in Italian.
7. It's charming
People find it charming when someone has mastered another language. Being able to speak fluently in another language says a lot of posititive things about you: it says that you are intelligent; it says that you are open-minded; it says that you have the ability to stick to something, rather than giving up or losing interest; it says that you are aware of different cultures. Basically, your ability to speak a foreign language does all the work of telling people you are interesting, so that you don't have to.
8. It's an excellent job-skill
The ability to speak a foreign language can be a very desirable job-skill. Whether it's understanding a medical need, negotiating a contract, or just translating an email, there are no shortage of situations in which it can be useful, and the hiring manager knows that.
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