Why Learn Languages?

Why learn languages? Why would anyone want to learn someone else's language? Obviously, there are a lot of reasons, and if the question is on your mind, then you probably have a desire or need to learn a language yourself. The answer is often different for people. Put 10 random people together who are learning another language and you will probably have 7 or 8 different reasons and 5 or 6 different languages. Every answer is valid. Every reason is the right reason for that person and every language is the right language. There is no wrong answer to the question 'why learn a language?' and there is no wrong language to learn.

The ability to learn another language is not limited by economic background, ethnic background, nationality, gender, race, religion, age or the grades you got (or are getting) in school. While everyone is different, and we all have differing abilities and strengths, we all have language ability to some degree. Maybe we all aren't going to become great orators or novelists in another language, but we all have the ability to learn, and communicate in other languages.

There is no danger of learning 'too much.' You can't fill up your head with too much language, and there's no danger of you losing knowledge of the languages you already know. In fact, learning a foreign language (or more than one) improves memory, math skills, analytical skills, problem solving and increases critical thinking and creativity. Furthermore and most remarkably, learning a foreign language actually improves our reading, writing, speaking and listening skills in English.

Languages don't just pop up out of nowhere, they evolve from other languages and change over time. Many of the most widely spoken languages are related and share some vocabulary, and even if they aren't, languages are always borrowing words from each other. English is full of words from many other languages. Learning another language not only gives you new knowledge, but expands upon your existing knowledge of English and gives you a whole new way of understanding it. Furthermore, you begin to learn how to learn languages, making it easier to learn other languages and understand how language and communication works in general. Other languages are not just a word for word translation of English, but an interpretation of events and opinions from a different point of view.

So, why learn languages? Ok, so there are some benefits. Can learning a language benefit everyone? In a word - Yes. I'm sure if you look around and evaluate your life you will see lots of opportunities to use different languages. We are all surrounded by people who use other languages, or opportunities we could benefit from by using other languages. The possibilities are there if you look for them.

You may have relatives living in Japan, or you want to visit China. Perhaps you have a life-long desire to see Italy or you are planning a vacation in Argentina, or retirement in Costa Rica. All are valid reasons for learning a language. Learning for travel is one of the most common reasons to learn a language. There are more opportunities to travel today than there have ever been before, and they are likely to increase in the 21st century Global Village.

Many people learn a language to connect with their roots. You may still have relatives living in the 'old country', or you may just want to define yourself a little bit. Learning the language of our ancestors can help bring us into better contact with ourselves and open up a whole new understanding of ourselves and how we got to be who and where we are.

Do you have a new addition to the family by marriage whose first language is not English? Learning even a little of your new family members language can bring both families closer together. Or maybe you're looking for love yourself. Think of the possibilities when you learn another language. The increase in possible social contacts is tremendous when you add a whole way to communicate. That goes for love, friendship, travel or business.

Learning a language for business is a very common reason. The business opportunities that have arisen in the last few decades have made it almost imperative for a businessperson to have language skills. English may be spoken by many people and it is the language of the internet, but in order to really cultivate business relationships and get ahead in the business world, language skills are a must. There are a wide variety of industries in which having language ability is a great advantage. It broadens our job skills and career options.

The reasons for students to learn languages are many, and not just because you need it to graduate or get a certain degree. Obviously, improving English skills and overall communication skills are both valuable to students. Improvement of memory, creativity, problem solving ability and analytical skills also are of significant importance to a student. Studies show that bilinguals routinely outperform monolinguals in all areas of testing. Scores for SATs and other tests are shown to be higher for foreign language students, and the longer the foreign language study the higher the average test scores. Having second language skills also makes a student more competitive in the job market.

Learning a language isn't just learning some new grammar concepts, vocabulary and different sounds. It gives insights into other cultures. It creates a more positive attitude toward people who are culturally different and gives us a better understanding of what it's like to be an immigrant. Accomplishing this life skill will give you increased prestige in your own culture and a markedly increased status in other cultures. It's a required skill to become a World Citizen. Ultimately, learning other languages gives us a better understanding of our own language and our own culture, and a new viewpoint to look at the world in which we live and define our place in it.

One of my favorite quotes about language by Ambrose Bierce :

Belladonna, n.: In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues.

It's meant to be funny and it reminds us that languages really are different, but it makes me laugh every time I read it. This, to me, also reminds me why I like to learn languages. It's fun! The inner workings of each language are full of little nuggets that are downright enjoyable to learn. So, Why learn languages? Lots of the reasons above pertain to me, but my answer is much simpler - because I enjoy it.

 

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"Those who know nothing of foreign languages,
know nothing of their own."

- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

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